I have been frequenting Starbucks coffee shop in my town for several months now. They do a lovely caramel macchiato, which is my current guilty pleasure, and it's quite possible that the coffee is the real reason I go there. I didn't even know that I liked coffee until Starbucks sucked me in and gave my drink different flavours and put syrup in it and chocolate sprinkles on top and did it skinny and sugar free and blended it with ice and covered it in whipped cream and allowed me to order it by speaking a little Italian, 'tall, grande, venti...' (is 'tall' an Italian word? And I just looked up 'venti' and the translator told me that it means 'twenty' in Italian - maybe I am not ordering my coffee in a foreign language at all; I feel duped.)
Anyhow, I go to Starbucks on the pretense of it being my favourite place to write, as many, many of us do. I think that some of us are lying to ourselves with that one. We see other people being studious and think that we would like to be the same, but we're only successful in looking studious. For me, it is actually the place where I am the least productive. For one thing, Starbucks is next to WHSmith, so I've often bought a new notebook or pen or very intellectual magazine to make myself appear more intelligent than I really am. I am distracted by these purchases for a good half an hour. But there are other distractions in there in the form of interesting people. As I only have a couple of hours of writing time before I'm off to collect the smallest child from nursery, it only takes a couple of instances of eavesdropping for me to feel frustrated with myself at how little I have written.
I do realise, of course, that these conversations that I secretly listen to are invaluable as sources of inspiration for future characters and plots. But really, a writer must get on and write sometimes; we cannot continue to rename our periods of wasted time as research forever.
I have been a Starbucks customer for the past few months on any or all of Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and I believe I am now what might be termed a regular. There are a few other regulars, and none of us acknowledge each other: perhaps because to do so would be to admit to sloth and gluttony. Perhaps also greed, because Starbucks do a stunning almond croissant and not only do I want to eat them gluttonously, I also want to have them all for myself (oh, I do covet them all) and prevent anyone else from having them. I suppose you could also say that I do lust after the almond croissant, and I am envious to the point of anger when I see another person eating one. Were it not for my inflated sense of pride, I would probably march on over to those almond croissants and stuff them in my face.
Well, I do apologise. I am digressing quite alarmingly and shamelessly there. What it actually is, the point of my ramblings today, is that there are these two blokes, and they always set me wondering about human nature and what an amusing and quirky thing it is. It would seem that these two blokes have been Starbucks regulars for much longer than I have. I cannot tell whether they knew each other before coffee or not, or indeed if they even know each other away from coffee now; but they seem to be mates, though they do not sit together.
They both have shaved heads and facial hair, but I will differentiate by dubbing one of them Bearded Bloke and the other Stubble Bloke.
Bearded Bloke is usually there when I arrive. Sometimes he has his adorable daughter with him. I am guessing that she is about two years old: her speech is exceptional if she is two, and I love it when she is there because she is a delight to listen to. Sometimes Bearded Bloke is alone. When he is alone he works away furiously, obviously extremely busy and important. I have not been able to glean any information about his career from my sly eavesdroppings (eww!), so I cannot tell what manner of work he does. Sometimes when he goes past me to get a refill from downstairs I catch his eye and smile at him, but he never acknowledges my presence and his eye passes over me as though I am invisible. Now don't be sad, because I am not so insecure that I would be offended by that. I just find it a curious thing.
Stubble Bloke arrives a little after me. He finds his seat before his coffee is made. He takes off his wrappings of scarf, hat and coat (all very nice, very trendy, he looks like someone who likes nice things), runs back downstairs to fetch his coffee, runs back up without spilling a drop, and then gets down to business. Laptop on, iPhone out, papers neatly spread wide on the table. He chats to Bearded Bloke while he is setting out his stall. Then he usually phones someone, or he receives a call. He is charismatic, friendly, interesting and interested. He has a lot more to say about his own life than the people he chats to have, but that is not his fault, his life is just very full. But he strikes me as being very grounded and not too full of himself. If he mentions an achievement he will usually play it down with a self-deprecating quip. I believe he writes, freelance, for children's television, but I cannot be sure about that.
But here's the thing: I seem to be invisible to Stubble Bloke too. One morning he stood right beside my seat when he was plugging in his laptop charger. I looked up at him and smiled: nothing, blankness. I am invisible.
Now then, it is my fault? Has the moment passed when it would have been appropriate for me to say the first hello? Or perhaps I have been subconsciously submitting to their age (they're a bit older than me I think) and experience, and have treated them too reverentially by waiting for them to deign to speak to me. Rather like one behaves when one meets the Queen, one does not speak to Her Majesty until she has spoken to... erm, one.
Breaking news: I just went to the loo (no-one can spend two hours drinking coffee without going to the loo at least once, surely?) and as I passed Bearded Bloke and little daughter I smiled, as usual, and he smiled back! It could well be a one-off, but this is a first, and I found that it made me a bit nervous that he might say hello. Why? Because once a shy person, always a shy person in some situations. I have rendered myself shy with the two blokes by placing them on pedestals and imagining them to be kinds of high-flyers and therefore superior to me. Nonsense, of course, they're just blokes. But there we are, that is the effect that their maintaining of the distance between us has had: it has made them mini celebrities in my world. And no doubt I have now made them slightly bigger celebrities by turning them into a hub.
Now I must add myself to the scene so that you can wonder about it all with me. I am made conspicuous these days by my hair. It is not very often normal, you see, and it changes colour frequently because I get bored by its staying the same for too long. My hair gets spiked, it gets messed, it gets flicked up, it gets straightened. I am not saying that I am stunning and dazzling, because I am not, but I do not exactly blend into the wallpaper. And I would have thought that, especially as I drink my caramel macchiato in this particular Starbucks at least twice a week, I would stand out that little bit more. But perhaps I underestimate my powers of pretense. It could be that they are intimidated by me. Perhaps they think that I am a slightly famous novelist and they dare not speak to me for fear of being written about. Perhaps the balance of power is not weighed in the way that I think it is.
But what I was working towards saying, before Bearded Bloke acknowledged my existence, is how interesting it is that two blokes whom I have never met can have an impact on my life just by occupying a little of the same space as me. If my life was made into a musical, they would be in the chorus, and would have a song and dance number with the rest of the extras about laptops and deadlines. I would sing a solo in the middle of their piece, and mine would be about writing waffle whilst all around me others are doing serious work. Though for all I know, Stubble Bloke could well be a rich socialite who organises his busy evenings over a double espresso and a toasted fruit bread. Bearded Bloke could be unemployed and spending his days trawling the internet for work, poor guy.
Another interesting thing that I've noticed about the two blokes is that I miss them when they're not there, because I cannot help but like them. Now that I've made mention of their existence and presence in my life, I always notice their absence. It's ridiculous really. The other day Stubble Bloke told someone on the phone that he was going to London for a few days, and I felt quite sad that he wouldn't be in Starbucks to not keep me company. How very bizarre.
I wonder whether I will ever speak to the blokes. Of course I will hub about it if I do.