16 September, 2009

I got a flat on Monday's ride, the second time my tires have been smote (smote?) while out on one of my "long" rides. I'll tell you more about my flat on Monday's wonderful 70 (or so) miler a little later, but I was reminded of my last flat, which happened a couple of weeks ago while my grandmother was staying with us. I was shooting for a forty-five miler or so, but lost the tire at 37 and although I changed the tube, I wasn't able to get my CO2 canister to work (it was my fault, I'd forgotten how to use the thing in the year-and-a-half since I'd stopped riding). So I found a Starbucks in the unknown neighborhood where I was stranded, (like the once-mighty 7/11 network of yore, there's always one nearby when you need it), called Blair, told her where I was, and settled down with a smoothie in one hand and a coffee in the other to wait.

And then I was witness to a most tragic scene--or rather, as the kids of today are wont to say, "a most epic FAIL."

At a table in front of me sat a pair of college age girls, laughing, gossiping, entertaining each other. Usually at a Starbucks you find the middle-aged and the post-college grads outnumbering those between 18-22 by a large margin, but this place seemed to be much younger in demographic than typical (turns out we were near a high school and a community college). So young kids were working the register, young girls and a fair number of similar vintage dudes were in and out of the place, occupying most of the tables, setting the vibe. I was the old man in the bike shorts (always creepy in a public space), huddled in the corner.At some point, I'd wanted to use the restroom, but it remained occupied the two times I'd tried the door. So I sat and waited, sipped my coffee, slurped my smoothie.

Then out came this guy.

He was a nice looking guy--in fact, he struck me right away as a good match for the girls at the table in front of me. My drawing makes him look a little too old and a little to pudgy/scraggly--he was none of that, and he had a nice collared shirt on over the tee-shirt--this is a hasty, hasty sketch from instant memory. You could tell he was just beginning to fill out, look less like a kid. In his self-conscious walk he was still getting used to living in an adult-sized body--but he was at pains to seem approachable, and attractive, if in a studious way. It seemed like he was just beginning to try to figure out this girl thing, and that in his reckoning going to Starbucks with his nice Apple laptop to hang out and get friendly with the staff and maybe meet somebody was a big part of his strategy. It wasn't a bad strategy. And he was not without his appeal. Seriously, I wanted the guy to succeed. I would have been overjoyed if one of the cute girls in front of me had wound up taking a shine to him. And really, I thought they should. It wasn't a stretch. They'd make a completely convincing couple. This is the way we hope the world works, right? Everyone finding a happy match....


From behind the bar one of the staff greeted him in a familiar way. Our man was making his way to the little island for milk and sugar and coffee-prep, which was just beside the table in front of me with the vivacious girls. And as he turned to add whole milk to his latte, I could see that dangling from beneath the hem of his shirt, like the unnatural white tail of a circus pony, was the white paper tail of a sanitary toilet seat cover. And not just a little piece--stuck in his waist-band and falling nearly to the floor, unwinding its maximum possible length due to a lateral tear that allowed its innate donut shape to uncoil, he was about to become a spectacle.

At this point, no one else had seen it. But in an instant they would. The horrible implications of this moment flashed before me and I was torn--if anyone saw this, how could he ever return here? I realized I should walk quickly over to him and just snatch the thing away before anyone saw. Thank Je-heesus it looked "clean". It was clearly the only humane thing to do--perhaps the future of this poor sap was at stake. But could I just grab it?? "C'mon, you dope," I kept mouthing silently,"Notice it! Idiot! Can't you feel it slappin'your bare calf?! Save yourself, man, before it's too late!"

I began to rise out of my chair. He was not close to me, so I'd have to cover a stretch of ground before I could reach him--then what? Tell him? How would that be any better? I sat back down. Where was my humanity? The girls beside him were still laughing at their own jokes, still oblivious--but he was conscious of them, and--in a painful irony!--he was lingering, trying to invite their attention with that psychic appeal the lonely and/or attention-starved use. "You fool!" I wanted to scream--"Back to the bathroom and sort yourself out!"

But it was too late. Another Starbucks worker walked past him and they had a brief exchange and then the worker noticed his predicament even as the fool--THE FOOL--turned back to the coffee-prep island once more and continued to linger, his tissue-thin shame flapping in plain sight. I saw the worker begin to recognize the full dimension of the imminent FAIL, and he seemed to sway for an instant, stunned, trying to decide what the hell he could do. Was it even sanitary to intervene? Was it a health code violation NOT TO? He kept moving. I was wrong--the full dimension was just beginning to creep up on him as he staggered away to stand behind the counter--behind the counter with its protection and its moral certainties--to leave the open field of friendship and acquaintance and return to the security of the "employee" ("Sorry 'bout that, dude--I only work here.").

The following scene haunts me still: he turns, he slowly saunters past the girls--his fierce mental imprecations finally take hold and they grant him their graze--sick irony! cruel, cruel fate!--quickly their gaze goes down to the pale wavering wraith trailing him...? attached to him...?


Their apprehension of his FAIL--the stun on their faces, still innocent-ish for that last little second before collapsing into the inevitable and all-the-more-horrible-for-it cruelty that such a scene begets. Then the other girls, at the other tables, witnessing same and reacting similarly; and the collective wave of horror and hot ridicule rising in our cheeks and now sweeping the entire place--it was palpable!

And amazingly, he remained oblivious. This because it all happened in his wake. Oblivious as he walked out the front door, all of us riveted, watching as he turned to pull out a chair at an empty table--now the outside patrons noticing the two feet of ghostly shimmer dangling from his haunches; and the wave of shock and shame expanded. And he remained oblivious as he sat down, a movement I couldn't watch, a movement I was sure would provide tactile proof to his senses that something was terribly wrong. I half expected him to flare the tail behind him like some concert pianist sitting down to perform! I couldn't look. I didn't want to see the horrible moment of realization.

But no realization. He opened his laptop and logged onto his free two hours of Starbucks WiFi, the tail--amazingly--neatly folded beneath him. And we were all left to wonder, some in our trauma, others in their glee, when would the moment come? When would he realize he could never come back to this Starbucks again? All those carefully groomed friendships, all that gone....I was sick for the rest of the day. It seemed like enough to crush a soul.

That was the last time I got a flat.


Whitney Pollett said...

wow! Haha that was great.

Tsahkratis said...

"When would he realize he could never come back to this Starbucks again?"
That's funny 'cause I was just thinking about how I'm gonna go into the bathroom at Panera Bread in the morning and stuff about 12 feet of toilet paper in my wasteband and let it slowly unfurl as I make my way to the counter to order a bagel and iced tea...

Brian said...

oh man, this has me in tears.