Thursday, April 2, 2009
Posted by Tenley at 6:55 PM
Philadelphia coffee shops have become my office away from office. Had I an office in which to sit, I would leave that office and go sit in a coffee shop and do much the same thing I would do in said imaginary workspace: position myself in front of my laptop, mug of coffee in hand, half a dozen browser tabs open, iTunes downloading something to watch later, and at least three Word documents underway. I would type noisily in this little cubicle of my fancy, as I do here at the shop, averaging about 100 wpm and gazing around me all the while. But would I be able to observe humanity quite as well from my corner office on the 47th floor—as I stand there in my impeccably tailored suit, weight balanced evenly on my Louboutins, hands masterfully on my hips—as I can from the table near the outlet, prime real estate of the coffee shop neighborhood?
And perhaps in this dreamscape office, all flashing lights and stainless steel and flat panel screens, staffed by agents who look like Daniel Craig and talk like … well, like Daniel Craig … perhaps in this office I wouldn’t be exposed to quite the species diversity I’ve found in the java huts of our fair city. It goes without saying that at The Last Drop you get hipsters, at La Colombe you find your euro-types (trash is such a derogatory term, I shan’t use it!), and at Cosi there'll be office workers grabbing the same quick and overpriced sandwich they come in for at least three times a week. But every so often, here in the caffeinated realms, you find a Jerry. Or more to the point, he. finds. YOU.
I use the name “Jerry” as an erudite and timely reference to Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, in which a derelict character of that name can NOT STOP TALKING ON AND ON AND ON AND ON to the unsuspecting middle-upper-class Peter as he attempts to read a book. Peter sways from disinterest to interest to disgust and back again any number of times throughout the one-act play, much as I did the other afternoon as I was accosted by my very own Jerry. I have no idea what his actual name was; thank the heavens above we did not exchange names, or I would be in serious trouble. (Having a unique first name means that sharing it with someone is as good as giving them your address, phone number, and top five favorite hangouts. True story.) At any rate, I will call him Jerry.
Here I am, sitting in the crowded café, drinking my cuppa and attempting to find job postings that sound like something I could conceivably do without loss of sanity or dignity or clothing. Within five minutes of my sitting down, Jerry moves in. A seat opens up next to me and sure enough, Jerry swaps his seat for this one; he begins to make small talk. I am a friendly person. I like people, and I’m apparently rather approachable. So talking a little bit about the coffee, and the day, and what I’m doing, does not seem unreasonable. At first. But over the course of the next five hours (no lie), as I try to make use of my dwindling online time (can’t afford internet access at home), Jerry proceeds to share with me his life story, or stories. The time he was in Thailand, going from ashram to ashram. The cat he befriended while he was there. His work as a stand-up comedian. How different this coffee shop is from the ones he likes in Paris. How he hates the internet, and can’t understand people who come to public places like coffee shops and then don’t want to be talked to. (Oh, Jerry, where to begin with my explanation of this phenomenon!) Seriously, I think I’m accidentally making the man sound interesting. And the thing about him is, he could be interesting. He had more interesting life experiences than most people, even if they all only happened in his mind. But Jerry, as with all Jerrys (no offense to people actually named Jerry), has no sense of social cues. Had I been sitting there in the coffee shop hoping someone would come talk to me so that I could turn him into a character in a book (a very long book), I would have been set. As it was, I spent five hours and wrote one (1) cover letter. I didn’t even have a chance to update my facebook status! THE HORROR!!!!!
I’m realizing now that I could go on and on about Jerry, and my inability to cut someone like Jerry off mid-sentence with a stern “I’m trying to work here.” But perhaps, in doing so, I would become a Jerry myself, leaving you to give thanks that you are reading this rather than sitting next to me in a coffee shop. Instead, I'll leave you with this: Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, which is comprised of The Zoo Story as a second act and a new play, Homelife, as the first act, is now playing at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, home of the Philadelphia Theatre Company. I saw it opening night, and it was the first show I’ve seen in quite a while that didn’t leave me making mental tweaks during the performance. I recommend it.