JOANNA OPENED THE DOORS to this pipe-dream slack chamber two and a half years ago, after the death of her 27-year-old son, Andy. She bought this cafe for Andy, a posthumous gift, a place for poets, musicians, artists, designers, and other delusions of talent.
Tuesday afternoon, a cloudy day brought in all the college kids in between classes. By three, the place filled with black portfolio haversacks and cube heels. Baby kid barrettes and credit card clothes. The coffee perked and the notebooks opened. They sipped and talked about Europe and famous people their dads knew. They told stories with one eye on the front door. I’ve wiped tables around their conversations for a year and a half and know who the posers are. A poser copies the outfit, catches onto the lingo and affects the attitude, but they’re never real, they’re just content to live out someone else’s definition.
Case in point, table number three, a Nietzsche clone caught me in his sights and signaled for coffee. Gelled black hair, feminine red lips, one finger poking the air. He wore black, of course, the uniform of poets.
He tilted his head when I came over. “Marlboro Lights?” he said. Forget a “hello” or even an “excuse me.”
“Nope,” I told him. “Don’t sell them here.” I leaned in close to whisper. “We only sell coffee.”
Unfazed and onto the next question, he said, “Pencil sharpener?” Along with coffee, the Someday Cafe provided tools of the trade for budding artists. Pencils, old sketch books, watercolors and so on.
“Over there?” I said, pointing to a pencil sharpener mounted in the corner of the cafe with a big sign above it that said, PENCIL SHARPENER. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
He looked back at me and made a little satisfied grunt, turning back to his notebook as if I weren’t even there. Dismissed! I felt fairly corked with rot gut.
“Did you want me to sharpen your pencil for you?” I said, leaning over him.
His eyes moved back to his notebook as he handed me the pencil with his forefinger and thumb, careful not to touch my servant hands. (We’re the same age, he must have known that. When I went into a place and people my age waited on me, I gave them the utmost respect. After all we’re all scraping the same boots.)
“I’ll sharpen it for you,” I said, Paul Lynde-style. “Bend over, honey.”
I’m making less than minimum wage, I ought to just straight out say, even with a college degree. According to the Statistical Abstract of the United States, I earned less than a roustabout last year. Highway workers who shovel raccoon viscera from the road for a living made more than me. Taxes slash my paycheck; so this month, I forfeited heat. My refrigerator didn’t have enough food to last the week. I complain, then get sick of hearing myself complain. The Boomers never promised me a rose garden, so I continue to hawk coffee and baklava and bitch until my throat just aches.
I try to be careful and not appear too surly around Joanna. She believes too dearly in this place; it represents everything about Andy to her. For too long after the funeral, Joanna had been holding herself prisoner in a moss-covered cell with only the sound of dripping for company. White dust cloths on her mind’s furniture. When she finally dug herself out