Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Starbucks, 8:32 p.m. – Halloween is when the old people come out to play

This old man with his cell phone holder swinging on a carabiner clip just walked into the Starbucks. Hmm. He’s got on blue jeans and a blue check shirt. Ordered a small coffee and now he’s gone. No. Wait. He’s making a stop at the condiment bar. NOW he’s gone.

Really. I’m addicted to the Starbucks because there is no other place to get a triple venti raspberry white chocolate mocha unless I make it. You can get a cup of coffee at any gas station. Point of fact, there’s one right across the corner.

Sadly, that old man may well be the highlight of tonight’s 21 minutes. There’s me, myself and three very bored baristas up in here.

Some slow jazz is wailing on the speakers, but I can’t hear it for the sounds of the two baristas flirting behind the coffee bar. Malebux is flirting with Femalebux. The clanging of the blender in the sink is apparently a metaphor for their love. I can hear the thumping noise of various things being cleaned and the noise of mats being drug around. Interesting.

Seventeen minutes later.

One of the off-duty baristas is in to argue about her hours. “But I need more money,” I can hear her say.

Now she wants to chat with me because she has nothing else to do and I guess I don’t look busy enough. Computer? Check. Looking DOWN at computer? Check. Typing about your stained orange shirt that makes you look like a decaying pumpkin? Check. Not busy? Not checked.

Twenty-two minutes later. Now the manager of the Starbucks joins in this friendly pow-wow, because he is interested in my MacBook. Buy a Mac people. Buy a Mac.

There have been two customers. I have been trying to write, but it seems rude to ignore the friendly baristas, especially when it might lead to free coffee later.

There was a grand and glorious WOACA incident during the conversational fun. This fleshy woman came inside wearing black pants and a ratty navy tee. She lumbers up to the register, is greeted and orders a drip coffee. The barista asks if she would like a pastry to go with that. Upsell is the name of the game in retail.

Her response? “Only if you’re going to throw it away.” O-kaaaaay. Because this is a marketplace and we all bargain for Starbucks pastries.

It’s 8 p.m. – and the Starbucks stays open until 10 p.m. But the barista gives her a free doughnut anyway. She gets the coffee and leaves.

When the WOACA xleaves, he comes over to me and says “I hate people like that.” You know I asked for the dirt.

So what did she do? “She paid for the coffee with two singles. I gave her a free doughnut and she didn’t even bother to throw the change into the tip jar.”

How much you want to bet she’ll never get anything for free at this Starbucks again? Hey lady - karma is a cruel mistress. Check your tires in the morning.

OK. There is history being made in the Starbucks tonight. Both baristas just went outside to smoke. I’m still sitting in the corner writing. They both know me, so they looked over, said “Don’t steal anything, we’re watching,” then lit up.

I don’t know whether to applaud that I’m trusted or cry in shame that they just sit outside the front door and smoke. Coffee and cigarettes. They go so well together.

There is some really funky jazz going right now. It’s peppy, with a trumpet, some good piano action and maybe a trombone. I wish I knew how to play the piano – especially jazz piano.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this particular Starbucks this still. This is usually one of the busiest spots in the city. If I close my eyes and extend my senses, I get the soft hum of the ice freezer and the lower hurrrrrr of the drip coffee urn.

HELLO ACTION. Old people sighting at 11 o’clock.

Ancient frail and withered old people. An old man so reedy he can barely open the door peeks in; the baristas are so happy to see him they yell “Happy Halloweens” from behind the bar. I think it scares the old man.

The head of his cane is carved like a seahorse. That’s unique. His wife has some old-lady pants in a seafoam check. She lives high off the hog. I can see some granny fat hanging off her arms and through the seams of her thin white short sleeve shirt.

Wow. She’s giving me a dirty, dirty, dirty look because I’m sitting in one of the plush chairs. Well, there are three more available. It’s not like I put down roots and a flag over here. Deal.

Now Malebux is flirting hot and heavy with these two skanky hooker types that aren’t even in costume. Ohh. Someone is showing someone else camera-phone pictures. Do I smell free pastry? You bet I do.

They both have on blue jeans – which is fine in and of itself. It’s the hair that bothers me. One is a bottle-blonde of a particularly “I did this at home” bent. I can tell because her hair looks completely fried. The texture looks like straw. She has split ends too.

The other one has some atrocious blonde highlights and enough product in her hair to style a fashion show. I am also not loving her super-clunky coral and seashell bangle earrings. They’re just too heavy on her petite frame. I just don’t get why she thinks this is a good look.


There’s a cute boy coming in now. Basic black tee and a pair of khaki pants. Too bad my time is up. Maybe I’ll go flirt. O hai, Mr. tall, dark and handsome.

Peace out.

My patio, 12:36 a.m. – This frog is driving me insane

I usually wait to write post titles until the end of the post, but this frog is just going on incessantly.

I tried to write before midnight, but one of my neighbors came out and wouldn’t leave. I guess I’ll just have to back-date this post.

The night air is wonderfully cool and refreshing. Tropical Storm Noel is stirring up the tropics and there is a cool front somewhere off to the west, so Florida is getting a wonderful blast of wind and cool air. It has been windy all day.

It has been so windy in fact that the patio furniture on the upstairs landing at my building is scattered all over the place. The sunbrella is upside down, bereft of its moorings and most of the chairs are blown back against the back railings. Some of the cheap plastic lawn chairs were actually blown over. It looks like a child simply swept a path through a play area.

I love the wind. It feels so good outside. This frog is driving me absolutely insane though. CROAK CROAK CROAK CROAK CROAK CROAK. SHIVA PLEASE SHUT UP AND GO AWAY.

Someone’s air conditioner just kicked on. I wonder if it was mine? I’m famous for running my air year-round. My electricity bill is fantastically high.

I can’t see the moon from where I’m sitting, but I remember from the newspaper this morning that it is supposed to be “gibbous waning,” or whatever that is. I can see it now if I crane my neck over the building. Looks like a little more than the bottom half of a moon. Very shiny and bright.

I’m lucky in that I live in a neighborhood without a lot of light pollution. There is a nightlight across the street, the nightlight for my apartment building and the nightlight for the row of houses behind me. That’s all I can see at the moment. Those and the light of my MacBook are enough for me to write by.

Every now and again I can see the flashes of a radio tower off in the distance. There’s something broadcasting out of a warehouse in the industrial area near hear. It flashes red at regular intervals, just like Rudolph’s nose.

I have a cold, so I really can’t get a sense of what’s happening in the olfactory department right now. There’s a lot of greenery around my place, but not much in the way of night-blooming flowers or plants.

I am really enjoying the still of the night. That’s so clichĂ©. I should try this on a Saturday night. The apartments across the street are sort of low-rent. The ones next door are FOR SURE low-rent. I came home around 2:30 a.m. last Saturday and there were five sheriff’s deputies parked outside frog-marching people out of the house, searching through cars, looking for something.

The light throws interesting shadows on the floor and on the walls of the building too. The upstairs patio can be reached by stairways on either side and is really just a flat concrete landing on top of the old garage and laundry room. There’s a mishmash of plastic patio furniture and some burned-out grills up here, so we call it the patio. It’s really just an empty spot too small to have built another apartment. Still, it’s nice to have.

The wind is blowing again, stronger now. Every time the breeze picks up it gives me an atavistic shiver, a little chill if you will. I work indoors all day and go from building to building to climate-controlled apartment to mall to Starbucks to bookstore to apartment. Maybe it is good that I’m taking the time to sit outside and be at one with nature.


There’s a car turning into the parking lot now. Someone other than me is having a late night. I wonder who it is?

Meh. I’m so nosy. They turned into my half of the parking lot. There are only a few possibilities in that direction, as two of the six units are empty and I’m up here. That leaves what? Three. One of the others is an elderly teacher. She might have a second life I don’t know about. Heh. That would be good.

No sign of the person yet. Maybe they snuck by me.

Strange noises coming from below now. Hmmm. Sounds like the door to the laundry room. If I don’t’ update tomorrow …..

OK. My time is up. Thank you, and good night!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Einstein Bros. Bagels, 3:39 p.m. - The green tunic of death will now control your life

"Under the Boardwalk" is playing on the overhead speakers. Too bad literally nothing is happening in the store.

There's me and one bored-looking Hispanic guy flipping a rag around in his hands. I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be wiping down things, but he's mostly just wandering back and forth behind the counter trying not to look too bored.

Whoops, here's another one. It's "too-pretty-for-food-service" moo who's just come out of the bathroom. Where's she been for the past 10 minutes? At least there weren't any customers. She's got a drinks mug that she's refilling full of SpontaneiTea Iced Tea. No soda for this size zero princess. She's waving papers around. Maybe it was the bathroom cleanliness check sheet. Hope she washed her hands.

Ohh. "Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" is playing now. I LURVE THAT SONG! I saw a horrific drag version of it once though. Nearly scarred me for life.

There is a scarily obnoxious man that just walked in. I can't figure out what is worse. His attitude or his shirt. Let's take them in turn, because I have all the time in the world to describe, describe, describe.

He cracked through the door yelling into a Sprint-Nextel walkie-talkie phone like he was barking orders to a commanding army, then disappeared into the bathroom. Presumably he finished barking orders into the phone before doing his business.

The shirt is some horrible palmetto print that places like Tommy Bahama and Ralph Lauren think the over-50 set want to wear on the golf course. It is green with a yellow palmetto pattern. What it really looks like that someone stepped into a puddle of cat puke with a flip-flop.

This old dude is taking FOREVER to make up his mind. The way he burst through the door you might have thought he owned the place. I guess he's never been here before. Is that how he enters every fast food joint? If it is ....

Now we're joined by a WOACA and her henpecked yuppie husband carrying a heavy-looking laptop. They're looking for a laptop plug. "Didn't you say there was one over there? No. What about over here? Well what about here?"

She's the nervous "I HAVE TO BE IN CHARGE OR IT WILL NOT GO RIGHT" type that is the bane of every PTA in existence. Too bad she never learned to dress. Green sleeveless tunic and blousy blue jean skorts. Her shoes are some awful brown not-quite-a-sandal thing with a series of straps that is .... just not quite right. The husband is OK in a blue and white pinstripe not-quite-matching olive pants. Curiously colorblind maybe. OK. Closer look. They're gray. He's safe.

WOW WOW WOW. This man just walked in in black running shorts and a black top. The running shorts a maybe, just maybe, a biiiiiit too short for polite company. When he walked past, I thought it was his shirt. No one needs to see that much leg on a 45-year-old man unless they're a bear chaser. And take it from me - this bear needs trapping.

Another strange couple in here now. Primary colors. She's in a bright sun-yellow knit shirt and white pants and he's in a gray shirt and, so-help-me-god, turquoise shorts. Gray and turquoise. On a man. Hmmm.

Well. Green tunic I MUST CONTROL is like a hummingbird in flight. She has her food but hasn't sat down once. Gotta get a fork. Gotta get a knife. Gotta get cream and sugar. Gotta get napkins. Gotta go wash her hands again. Doesn't like this chair. Needs a lid for her coffee. Needs cream and sugar. Whoops, forgot the milk. Fork and knife for the her. Fork and knife for the husband.

She is for sure running the conversation. "We need to do this. Is the laptop charging? Is it plugged in? What is it doing?" I bet there's a hole worn in her side of the floorboard of the car - if she lets him drive.

He's a passive aggressive. They're arguing over the coffee. She got up to get lids for the coffee and set them down side by side. "That's yours, he said." "I KNOW THAT," she snaps. "That's why I punched out the holes."

I wonder if he ever fantasizes about taking that laptop cord, wrapping it around that neck and ....

OH MY GOD. She just pulled a sewing box out of her mega-purse and whipped out a pen and notebook. She's one of those "super-organized" types. She's even got Wet Wipes.

My time is up. Thank you. Although I think I'm going to stay just to see what happens.

Right after I started to close my laptop she knocked over a cup of coffee right under his laptop. Comic goodness right there.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The mall, 4:49 p.m. - Bad fashion abounds when out in public

Who said the American economy was slowing down? Consumers are out in droves on this bright Sunday afternoon despite all predictions to the contrary. They are not at church, at second or third jobs or staying in. They are shopping.

And obviously not shopping for new clothes. Right now, I'm looking at a woman in line at the Dairy Queen/Orange Julius. Somewhat appropriately, she is wearing an orange T-shirt, an orange and gold print skirt and gold two-inch heels. There was plenty of junk up in her trunk too. You go sister, you go. You go right on down the mall with that double-fudge dipped chocolate waffle cone.

J.C. Penney must be having a sale. I've seen eight bags go by in the last three minutes. Not small bags either. LARGE bags.

The two girls running this Dairy Queen stall are comically unequipped to handle even the running of an outhouse. One looks to be about 12 - and she's got earbuds jammed in her ears even while waiting on her customers. The other one looks like a reject from the Helena Bonham Carter school of "dazed Englishwoman" acting and is probably "HIGH ON JESUS." She looks the type. Her hair seriously needs a wash though.

They both run back and forth from the Orange Julius to the Dairy Queen registers with no apparent purpose. Now it is taking two of them to ring up a banana split. This is why I don't eat at the mall more.

The noise level is so high that it is virtually impossible to pin down any one individual sound. I think there's a conversation going on right behind me, but all I get is various shrieks and giggles from what sounds like a gaggle of teenage girls. Nope. Just checked. Only two.

OH MY GOD. There is a woman wearing a black t-shirt dress, a belt that is styled like a piano and ORANGE NIKE HIGH-TOPS. Is there a Leopard Time Machine for the eyes?

The cute boy factor for the mall seems suspiciously low for a Sunday. Perhaps they are all at the beach.

Speak and you shalt have. One just walked by in blue jeans and a pink polo shirt - with a knit sweater-vest thrown over his shoulder. Secure and metrosexual or budding prom queen? Who knows in this day and age.

What there is a lot of is old people. One old couple just tottered by on chicken legs. The old man is so frail he looks like he would topple over if you looked at him wrong.

Build-A-Bear. Does not compute. Isn't it just a teddy bear? Yet I must have seen about nine go by in the last few minutes - including one zit-faced couple with matching Build-A-Bear boxes. How cute. When you break up in a few weeks after arguing over who gets the pimple cream - you each get a bear.

People. Please put a lojack, a locator beacon and a safety harness on your howler monkey. To wit. This woman is getting a sub down at Charley's Steakery. She looks up and the kid, wearing a pair of khaki shorts and this adorable little pastel plaid shirt, has wandered down three stalls to stare at the waffle cones in the Dairy Queen window. She's freaking and he's just drooling all over the place. Cue frantic *slap* *slap* *slap* of her flats across the mall's tile floor.

Fifty-seven minutes until the mall closes and the traffic is starting to slow down a little.

Thank you, Mr. Goth Preppie I-am-a-scenester. I will have the image of your plaid board shorts and green underwear across your rump burned into my brain. Dude. Green Scooby-Doo underwear? Seriously. I'll give you points for retro-style, but you're not old enough to have experienced the first go-round of Scooby-Do and you are SERIOUSLY not cute enough for me to care about.

The stupid girls have a huge line at the Dairy Queen now. There is an elderly Hispanic woman with four tiny little girls dressed in their preppy best - all pastel sweater vests and turned-up cuffs - ordering cones. It is so cute but if I were in that line I would be going crazy.

The woman standing behind her, a WOACA in plaid shorts and a white tee (both a size too small) is fiddling with the cash in her wallet, as if to say "I have money, they don't, you should serve ME NOW."

WOACA is twiddling the hair of her obscene poodle perm and whispering under her breath to her friend, who is wearing, I can't describe it exactly, but it looks like she's taken a pair of blue jeans and rolled them up past her knees. Hmmmm. That's an interesting fashion statement there. Might want to rethink that honey. The yellow tank top is OK, but again with an atrocious home perm.

Ladies. Salons are not your enemy.

The line at the DQ is six people deep now. It was eight but the last two just walked off in frustration.

My time is up. Thank you. Damn. I think I want some ice cream.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Books-a-Million, 9:32 p.m. - "Mine is so big and heavy."

The Joe Muggs Café at Books-A-Million has none of the frenetic energy of Barnes & Noble. I wonder which chain is doing better on Wall Street? Just look at the customer traffic and you can easily decide. Books-A-Million is the Wal-Mart of the book world, while Barnes & Noble has, for better or for worse, cultivated an image as the Target of the middle-class literati.

There's not much going on here. There are a couple of off-duty nurses unwinding after what looks to have been an exhausting shift. The male nurse (murse?) has his head dug down into his chin and looks completely knackered. His baby-blue scrubs are wrinkled and, while not grimy, definitely look lived in. I find it cute and a sign of his personality that he has on black Vans.

The female nurse is sipping coffee out of a brought-from-home tumbler. She's much older - at least in her early 60s, and has a no-nonsense haircut and the signs of too many long nights with too many patients are clearly etched across her caring face.

She has a look of competency and caring but at the same time, you know that she forgets her patients the moment they leave the ward. You have to adopt that attitude in order to survive. She's wearing green scrubs with some hideous (but surely comfortable) Barney-colored Crocs and has a black knitted sweater thrown over her hunched shoulders. She's got a gigantic handbag and a lot of stuff strewn out on the table in front of her - a crossword, keys, a case for some glasses. She looks like she's about to nod off now.

I have to say that I like the café at Books-A-Million more than Barnes & Noble. It is more open, spacious and airy. It feels like a place you could settle in for a nice coffee and a good read, as opposed to a clanging New York train station.

I didn't choose my seat well. I'm staring out onto the parking lot, which unfortunately affords a direct view of the main turn lane into the shopping center where this Books-A-Million is located. The lights at night are gorgeously pretty, but I get an eyeful of spectrum every time someone turns in.

Do they let old people out on their breaks on Saturday nights? This old liver spot just wandered by. He's wearing khaki pants and a loose-fitting shirt that advertises that he recently lost weight. He is eying my laptop like goods on a auction showroom floor.

I am concentrating and don't look up, but I do realize I left my cell phone lying on the table. I look up, right at him, and then look right at my phone.

He totters on by. Then he stares at my laptop bag, which is a GAP special edition. It doesn't have anything in it at the moment but would be impossible to replace. I stare. He stares. I smile and he smiles back and lurches on. OK. Thank you, creepy old man.

I can hear a raspy voice ordering a coffee or something from the cafe bar. There's another old man acting as a coffee-slinger tonight who can't make an iced mocha to save his life. I paid $5 for a coffee that I wouldn't feed to my worst enemy's dog.

Unbeknownst to me, the creepy old man is apparently coming around for a second pass. I hear the sound of shuffling feet and then a face appears on my right, followed by a light tap on my shoulder.

"Excuse me, what kind of computer is that?" Because the entire planet cannot tell that this is an Apple. You know, the glowing fruit on the top and the sheer beauty of the styling should be enough to convince the legions of Microsoft zombies to convert.

But old people will be old people. "Oh." (because I'm sort of upset at being interrupted and then a little shocked at being approached.) "It's a Mac. See, it has the little glowy apple on the lid." And I fold the screen down and show him the Apple.

His reply? "That's nice. MINE IS SO BIG AND HEAVY." Thank you, old man, for giving me nightmares about your laptop and whatever else you have that might be big and heavy.

At this point, his caretaker/wife/daughter comes up and is boring holes in him with her eyes. "What are you doing? Did you buy something?" She asks because he has a receipt from the café but no obvious coffee. Actually, that's a good question. I wonder what he did with whatever he bought?

It is very slow here. There's no delicious coffee grinder aroma, and the only noise is the constant hum of the machine used to keep those iced fruity drinks iced.

The murse is awake and gone to the bathroom. Power nap maybe? And his aged companion is now reading. Maybe they are waiting on a companion to get off a shift or on a ride.

My time is up. Thank you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Barnes & Noble, 9:13 p.m. - Hooker-lookers and the Hershey Grannies are out in force

So this is where the literati of town hang out. The place is slamming tonight. There are exactly two seats open at the in-store Starbucks cafe and then I had to cadge a chair from a hostile gentleman with seaman's whiskers to slide under one of those vacant mesas for myself.

The crowd is only growing. A group of teenagers or early college age kids just walked up. They've got a couple cans of Red Bull and both girls have humongous purses. They're holding a diplomatic conference worth of Condi Rice and a boatload of Israeli diplomats. If only it weren't accompanied by a similar raftload of hair flips, "Girl, I knows" and the like.

The background noise level is astounding. There's the noise of the coffee bar. *Whir* *Grind* *Blend* There's the noise of about 15 chairs and tables in constant motion, scraping, moving, sliding. There's glassware, coffee cups, spoons, forks and plates. Think tiny restaurant filled with twenty-seven of your closest friends talking at the top of their lungs. Then cut the space in half.

Don't forget we're backed onto a huge retail bookstore, right next to the magazine racks. There are people browsing, moving, shuffling papers.

There's an incredibly loud man yakking at the top of his lungs somewhere over to my right. I'm trying not to look up. He's haggling with the baristas for something. "HOW ARE YOU DOING? HOW'S THE COFFEE TONIGHT?" Damn. If you know them, just say so. No need to yell. Everybody up in here knows how you're doing tonight.

The visual clutter of a Barnes & Noble is amazing. I realize this is a retail space, but I've never actually stopped to think about how incredibly crammed with junk every single line of sight is with messages imploring me to BUY BUY BUY.

The retail creep extends even into the coffee cafe space. There are five six-foot-tall racks of merchandise extending through to the coffee condiment bar. One is selling Harry & David chocolates. The next sells B&N branded coffee mugs and tumblers. The next is selling some god-awful audio books that some unhappy parent is sure to receive as a gift come Christmas morning. Then, we've got the tea display and finally a rack of magazines - HELLO, People, Us Weekly, In Style, Star, Entertainment Weekly - rags that frankly don't need the exposure.

There is barely room for the customer in all this. I can almost feel the breath of Mr. Whiskers right behind me. He had a stack of books on his table and looked to be settling in for a nice read. I'm sure he's got his reasons for hanging out alone at the Barnes & Noble on a Friday night. Maybe his wife died. Maybe he's lonely. Maybe his lover died. Maybe he just can't afford $19.95 for a hardback version of "An Assault on Reason."

The girl at table next to me just clicked open her laptop. She is trying to purchase the crappy AT&T/B&N Wayport Internet Access. That is going to run her $3.99 for a two-hour session or $19.99 a month. Good luck with that. She's got on a nice black top and jeans and black flip flops. The gold chain around her neck is way too large, going right down to somewhere in the area of her navel. I don't like it.

What I do like on her in the way of her accessories is sitting across the table from her. Mr. Boyfriend. Latin, faded jeans. Black shirt worn over a white shirt. Tall, dark and handsome. He's got two of those "wear it for a cause" plastic bracelets on. Yellow and dark blue. No clue what those mean.

The girlfriend is still having issues trying to pay for Internet access. She huffing and slapping the credit card around and throwing her purse into her lap. Now she's got one finger held up to her temple and is staring at the screen with a mean look. If that computer were a person, it would seriously be running for its life.

The old people contingent here is amazing. There's one old bird that looks just like a Hershey kiss candy (thin at the top with a turkey neck and an expandable bottom), except she has a big fluff of screwy blonde hair on top.

Despite the fact that we're in the middle of a cool snap, half the planet seems to be ordering blended ice drinks. The noise from the blender is driving me seriously insane. *whir* *whir* *whir*

I get bits and pieces from about eight different conversations but can't really sort any of them out.

Hershey Granny ran out to get a magazine and trip-trapped back to her table. It's even worse than I thought. She's got on thigh-length brown shorts and turquoise earrings. Her hair is screwed up on top of her head with a huge black butterfly clip.

Let this be a lesson to you all. Never go out in public in anything you would not be comfortable with someone fugging you on!

The action at the coffee bar is slowing down. Two college-age hooker-lookers in matching red and blue sweater vests pulled over Banana Republic button-downs and some flip flops just walked out. I can actually hear the jazz on the speakers now. It is making a valiant effort to cut through the din.

My time is up. Thank you and good night.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Downtown at the park, 6:05 p.m. - Don't howl for me, howler monkey

"And the wind began to blow..." I love that line. I'm sitting in one of the city's main downtown parks. It's the oldest park in the city and jammed with "stuff," like a bandshell, picnic tables, tennis courts, a stage and a kiddie play place.

The grass is lush and green and practically begs for a picnic blanket and lazy summer afternoons spent lolling in the sunshine with families and Frisbees and frollicking dogs. Not now though.

At this time in the evening, the human population is virtually nil. The sun is mostly obscured by clouds and the light is starting to fade fast. There really isn't much going on.

The main attraction seems to be the kiddie castle. A couple families have their children out for an early evening playdate. One young and harried-looking father in a pair of sandals, some ugly black-and-red shorts and a gray wife-beater is trying to shepherd his three young howler monkeys into the play area. Two girls and one little boy refuse to be corraled. "Look, a stone dragon." "Look, a picnic table." "Look, a water fountain. I want a drink. I want a drink. I WANT A DRINK."

The light has a particular eerie quality; it is more or less gone, but still present. There is no sun, just the last half-hour of twilight.

The birds are starting now, their last calls of the evening. Verizon would do well to tape this for a commercial. A thousands tweets are suddenly coming alive. I can hear feathered fiends squawking in the trees all around me. Deep cheeps, tiny tinny cheeps and every sort of cheep, cheep in between.

The breeze is picking up. It is colder and smells faintly of the salt of the ocean, even though the water is a half-mile away. There is a taste of rain on the air, the oncoming storm. One of the city's busy arterial roads straight through to the business district is less than twenty feet away and cars are starting to come by with their lights. People are heading downtown to the old theater, the restaurants and shops and flitting by in their finery for an evening of parade and promenade.

Here come two more young mothers. Well, at least one mother and one mother to be. One is obviously heavily pregnant; she is walking with difficulty. The other, who has that "tired mommy of a toddler" look, tries in vain to call out to her child, a raven-haired tot wearing a ruffled pink tee and white shorts who has picked up a stick and is running far ahead, waving it like a magic wand. There are fewer than half a dozen people here and the mother is still rightly worried about her child.

The mother amble into the play area after the tot and amble back out. I don't know what they're looking for. Amusement?

Now the child is crying. Maybe she fell down. The howls are getting louder, although I don't see any obvious sign of hurt. I just see a brat throwing a tantrum.

I never understand why children will insist on screaming in public places. The mother is asking her "Are you done? Are you done now?"

The mommies are walking off; now they're getting in a ratty minivan. The litle girl is still staring at the stone sculpture dragon, wanting to play. They call to her "We're leaving. Sorry, Brianna stays at the park." That doesn't elicit a response. Now the tone turns angrier. "Come on."

No dice. So the mother goes over and picks up her child. Now Brianna really cuts loose with the lung power.

There's a guy juggling. He walked up to a picnic bench right across from me during the drama with the mommies and the screaming howler monkey.

Juggler Man has two cans of tennis balls and seems pretty intent on his craft. The wind is ruffling his hair and tossing the balls about and he doesn't miss a beat. Two balls in one hand. Over. Under. Over. Under. Over. Under. The eyes are the thing to watch while juggling. The concentration it must take is amazing. I could never juggle.

The wind is still blowing. The juggler continues. He's got all three tennis balls out now. Over. Under. Around. Over. Under. Around. He's crossing his arms and doing tricks with the balls. There's a lot of practice that has gone into this routine.

There's a kid and his dad walking up from the parking lot across the street. The kid is just staring at the guy juggling. I love the sheer wonderment of children - even if I hate the children themselves. The little boy can't be more than three. He has a piece of string he's toting around like it is his best buddy and a tennis ball of his own. I wonder if maybe one day he will grow up and think of that guy he saw juggling in the park.

Old people coming up now. Power walking with a serious need for speed. God forbid anyone get into their path. They would be cut down like a protester at a John Kerry speech.

She's wearing a pair of olive khakis and a blue and pink striped polo. He's got olive shorts and a ugly red and blue check short sleeve shirt. They've both got walking shoes on. Old people with a health fetish. I wonder if they eat olives? Olives are supposed to be good for your health.

The juggler is still at it. He's holding a tennis ball in one hand and moving it up and down while juggling the other two with one hand to give the illusion of juggling.

The sky is darker now. The wind is colder and the warmth of the day is almost gone. I love the evening. I wish this time didn't have to end. It feels so special, the day slipping into night.

My time is up. Thank you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Starbucks, 8:39 p.m. - Diamond Studs and Suburban Girl pull shots, blend drinks and play house

They've turned the music down. Or else my hearing is going. Might be the latter. This is the Starbucks right down the street from my office complex and I've been here every night this week and nearly every day the past year. The music is nearly always rollicking. Yet I can barely hear it tonight.

What I can hear is an abnormally loud timer on an urn of coffee. It sounds like a bomb is about to go off. *tweet* *tweet* *tweet.* Now the frappuccino blender is going. *whirrrrrrrrrr* *splash* *thunk* *slish* Small wonder they don't make the baristas wear those construction-worker headsets.

"Tall latte and a grande frappucino." Cursory "Thank you." At least they said thank you. It was a woman in a banging white leather coat and a lepoard print bag. She's got blonde hair in a severe up-do. Her male companion is clearly just along for the ride. Arm candy in the Brach's pay-by-the-pound sense of the word. He's not said one word and looks like a brother or a cousin. He's not a boyfriend. Nor is he in full control of his faculties. Khakis and a black T-shirt. They are taking forever at the coffee condiment bar.

There is another table here. Three men with guns. Sheriff's deputies if I read the logo right. I'm trying not to stare, because I don't want to get took down. Now they're leaving. Gonna come back with a warrant for my hard drive. All of them were extremely fit. Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of the public display of weaponry. I'm not a fan of weaponry in general. If you're gonna kill me, you really need to do it with your bare hands.

Oh, they're grinding coffee again. It must be that time of night. I love the smell of coffee. You get a clue that something is going on from the sound of the grinder - then the smell wafts over. Complex and deep and filling up the head with a lovely aroma that evokes notions of Sunday mornings in a huge white clapboard house beside the beach with pancakes and the newspaper all over the table and nothingness spreading before you in the hours to come like a comforting rug that waits to wrap you in loving embrace. Ohhh. I need a rich, rich, rich patron to support me in the style to which I could so become accustomed.

The sheriff's deputies must have requested the music be turned down, because now that they're gone, the jazz is kicking up. Some soul singer is giving a what-for about her life, her troubles, her man. "It's all right. It's all right." There's drums and a sax and maybe some jazz piano.

I'm not positive, but I'm fairly sure the baristas are flirting. One is most definitely in high school. Deliciously yummy and on my "good barista" list - he already knows my drink - with those ghetto diamond studs in each of his enormous white-boy ears. The other barista is a fairly typical suburban white girl - although I really don't know how "typical" she is - she's the one who wore the "slutty lesbian schoolgirl" costume to a Halloween party.

Diamond Studs has taken about five minutes to open a bag of coffee beans to pour into the espresso machine. Now they're arguing over how to best clean the credit card swiper on the register. Apparently, the preferred way to do that is to take a dollar out of the tip jar, fold it and run it back and forth through the credit card swiper a few times. Good to know. Good to know.

The whole night routine of cleaning, prepping and processing for the next day has such an order.

Diamond Studs is 19. Suburban Girl is 21. I can hear them arguing from the other side of the Starbucks. It's a good thing I'm the only person here. It is a match made in Starbucks heaven. Come for the coffee, stay for the floor show.

I just realized that my mouse doesn't work too well on the special Starbucks tables set up like chess or checkerboards. Lovely. I love this particular seat. I guess I'll have to move tomorrow night. That's what I get for buying the Wal-mart special el-cheapo mouse.

Whatever songs are on rotation in the Starbucks channel on XM Satellite Radio, the baristas know by heart. They're singing along now. "Cha-Cha-Cha."

I don't know what this song is, but is so happy and peppy. Makes me feel warm and happy all over.

That grinder is still running. The coffee smells so good.

Hmm. The night shift is responsible for dumping out the tip jar. If you're gonna grift while working at the Starbucks ....

My time is up. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beach park, 5:47 p.m. - Human fauna, turkeys and geriatric picnics

The ocean is always so calming. I wonder why I don't come here more often. The city has this great beach park with a shaded pavilion, tables and even a concession stand that's open for part of the day.

The fauna here is interesting. There's a Muscovy duck stuffed fatter than any Thanksgiving turkey waddling around looking for yet more nutrition to cram down its gullet. There's a black and white cat stalking the duck.

Then there's the human fauna. That's a whole 'nother story!

An old man the color of an orange wearing a pair of raggedy blue bathing trunks is reading a newspaper and watching two old women with a small Igloo cooler. The two old ladies are a treat. They are retirees most likely, probably inhabitants of either trailers or low-end condo units. They look to be habitués, what with the coming here with the cooler. It smacks of knowing to be well-prepared.

They've got a spread from KFC. That chicken actually smells kind of good. I get a whiff of chicken every now and again as the wind brings it my way. Man, I'd like some chicken and a KFC biscuit right about now.

The salt air and the brine are the main things on the air. We're pretty far back from the beach. There is a boardwalk down to the sand and signs warning NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY. There's a flat wide beach with sand the color of sugar. The sound of the waves and surf is so calming. It's like a distant, soothing wash, like water running in the background of a hot bath. I can feel the tension draining even as I type.

The sky is perfectly blue with puffy clouds the shape of cotton balls. The sun is so bright it hurts to look toward the ocean.

There is a random creepy old man that I can see out there on the beach. He's walked back and forth at least four times. now. He doesn't have a metal detector. He's scoping out that woman in the yellow bikini with her breasts thrust into the air

Oh. Here come some more people. A guy and a girl - tourists most likely - they're going off toward the beach showers on the other side of the pavilion. Oddly, they have on matching swimsuits. The guy has an armband tattoo and another huge tat on his left pectoral. The girl is bouncy without being all Anna-Nicole boobalicious.

There are three extremely old people here now. They've unpacked a huge spread - all in matching Halloween ware. There's a Halloween pumpkin-shaped dish, glasses, tableware. Damn. I just noticed they have a green tablecloth. Didn't notice that before because the wrought-iron tables here are green too. Now more old people are coming up. Some of them can barely walk. Don't these people need to be in a home?

It's like an old people convention up in here. All the old men are being gallant and giving the old ladies their hats. We're sitting underneath a pavilion at 6 p.m. in the afternoon and old men are still worried about t their old women. It is so cute.

There is apparently iced tea. One of the old girls is VERY proud of her iced tea. I bet that old girl was a school teacher. She might be seventy, but her voice can still cut through the background noise. Now all the old girls are complimenting the hostess on the "decorations." Shit. I want to see some black cats, ghosts and a jack-o-lantern with a live fire inside.

Somebody brought a thermos. I wonder what's in there? Their canes keep falling. I hope I'm this happy when I'm old. They look remarkably self-content.

One old woman is alone. I wonder where her husband is? She's dressed in blue slacks, a nice pullover and has cornflower-blue clip-on earrings. Her hair is fixed and she's clearly making the most effort of anyone at the table. I can tell from the conversation that she's the one who brought the decorations. And she arranged the geriatric playdate. Hmm. They're having Subway. The other old ladies had KFC.

Everything is quiet now. Man. They are packing it away. I'm trying not to be nosy and stare, but all seven of the old-people-party are miles away.

The KFC girls left their Igloo cooler on the table next to me. I really want to look in there and see what's in it.

The sun is setting far enough so that it is below the level of the pavilion, even though I'm on the back row of tables. I forgot how bright the late afternoon sun is in Florida.

Oho. That duck from earlier has shaken the Kitteh and is now bugging the mess out of the old people for food. He's moving around the table hoping for something to drop from clumsy arthritic fingers and into his voracious gullet. Tough luck ducky. These old birds are tougher than you are.

Another duck decides to join the party. They're mostly silent. Very ugly too. Wow. One just took an enormous dump right behind one of the old ladies with a cane. I hope she's careful getting up. I just have visions of that commercial from the eighties. "Help, I've slipped in duck crap and I can't get up!"

Every time I come to the beach I fall in love with it again. The peaceful sounds, the soft crash of the waves, the salty tang of the air. I breathe easier.

OK. My time is up. Thank you and goodbye.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Starbucks, 8:15 p.m. - Snappy jazz, WOACAs and slutty lesbian schoolgirls

There is a snappy jazz tune playing on the overhead speakers. The baristas are chatting, but yet move with a quiet efficiency. There is a man reading a newspaper from yesterday. We are the only four people in the entire coffee joint. The upbeat music is entirely out of touch with the quiet mood evoked by the rainy weather outside.

I can hear the grinder from behind the bar. The smell of the raw coffee beans is intoxicating.

Well. Things just got so very interesting. One female barista just came over and said "You have to think you're special if I'm showing you this." It turns out to be pictures from a Halloween costume contest she went to with a friend. They were, and I quote, "slutty lesbian schoolgirls."

I don't know her first name. We have a strictly business relationship. Cash is traded for coffee and sugar additives. And I've seen more of her breasts than most first dates.

Squelch. Squelch. Squelch. The dude barista is cleaning out the sink. He's really working the sponge action over there. You will never clean so much in your life as when you work food service or retail.

More coffee grinding. Ohhh. There's a fresh pot of coffee brewing. I guess this is for the last two hours of the night. Rich, deep, nutty. I can't read the board from here. There's a promo board in the way.

There's a lot of merchandise jammed into a small space here. Both registers have those iTunes displays. There's a CD stand by the pickup bar and another display with "The Kite Runner" over there. There's about eight baskets with water bottles, pounds of coffee and thermos bottles at floor level. I've never even noticed. I usually don't look down. I want coffee man. Then there's a wasted-space display for a board game Cranium.

Dude barista is lugging huge vats of ice out of the freezer into the back over to the freezer by the espresso machine and frappucino blenders. He sort of looks like he doesn't do physical work very often. He definitely looks like he isn't really enjoying lugging these. The ice makes a nice *slish* sound as it slides into the freezer. There are still only two patrons in the Starbucks.

Whoops. We have a winner. She's a WOACA. She's looking at the list of drinks. She's got black slacks, some atrocious funky fashion-forward top from Ann Taylor in an awful mud-brown color and one of those businesswomen-chop haircuts, where there is about an inch of hair on her head because she just can't be bothered. She's still perusing the menu. Lady. This is not a cafe. It is the Starbucks. "Marble Cake. That sounds pretty cool. I'll have that and a grande soy latte."

OK. After ordering, she stands at the counter, whips out the cell phone and starts dialing. Now she's eating her marble cake. They're fixing her drink. Who is she talking to? If I were in line behind her I'd like to give her a good shove. She's going to hang up? No. Wait. She's dialing again. And again. I bet she's got messages. Damn lady. Sit down or something.

I wish I could figure her shirt out. It has horizontal ridges all up and down it, like ancient Japanese armor. But the front is pleated left and right.

Her hair is more of a hot mess than I thought. She's standing in profile now, and it is standing up like the crest of a cockatoo. Very clearly chemically assisted.

Now her drink is unacceptable. Well, maybe if you paid attention while ordering, while it was being made, or if you came to a Starbucks, you would know how coffee is supposed to taste.

She do got a nice handbag though. Zebra print, with nice straps. Perfect for the Woacas of the world.

I'm being blinded by headlights. There's a Lincoln outside trying to park in the narrow spaces along the street. Backing out, pulling in. There are no other cars within six spaces on either side, but it has to fit in the space closest to the door because it might rain again any second. Never mind the fact that there is an over hang. Backing out, pulling in again. How hard is it to simply pull into a space. Backing out again. Is the third time the charm? No. They are leaving. I wonder if they just could not deal with the parking situation.

My time is up. Thank you.