I have asked too many questions today, probing for answers that I know will not suffice, no matter how revelatory, or descriptive, or shocking. I expect the answers to be interesting on a day when hardly anything is interesting; I expect people to lead lives worth talking about, worth writing about, and I am impatient for a story, the arc forms too slowly, if it forms at all. I spend ten dollars on a grapefruit, english peas, and a head of broccoli, the broccoli feels a little soft and wilty, but it's locally grown, there is even a label with the name of a farm, the broccoli should be robust and verdant, but there is always an excuse for that kind of thing, an excuse that will make me feel like an ignorant consumer, so I do not ask, and I pretend that a soft, wilty broccoli is normal for an organic, locally-farmed vegetable.
Ten dollars is too much for this little produce. I ask for the receipt because this amount of money feels preposterous. Three dollars for a grapefruit, three dollars for broccoli. This receipt is a little artifact of despair, and it tips me into a circuitous round of self-critical inquiry: am I spending too much money, am I careless, am I worrying too much about how I spend money, should I work harder to save money, should I care less about money, should I stop thinking about how I spend and save money.
I am standing and eating my peas at the kitchen counter and tell myself to sit down. I sit down and I finish eating and then I go over to my couch and open my book and begin to read. Five paragraphs in and I'm already thinking about something else, the next thing I should do, the potatoes that are roasting in the oven. I check the potatoes, turn the oven off, and then go down to the coffee shop around the corner, which by now is empty, the way I like it, which is why I go in the evenings, when it's not so much a scene as a space. A girl in a feathered brown hat sits in the first booth with her head down. I can tell she has a pretty face, it's circumscribed by wispy blonde hair, and she's slight, like a pixie. She's alone and silent. There are some other people I have seen before, somewhere else in the neighborhood, or here, the guy with the glasses and the long blonde hair, always with headphones on. I order a decaf americano to-go as a precautionary measure, to save myself the hassle of asking for a to-go cup if or when I don't finish, even though I plan on enjoying the americano here, and I catch myself before I explain this to the barista, who could care less about my to-go rationale, but still, my strong conscience demands an explanation, because it doesn't feel right to sit in a coffee shop sipping coffee out of a to-go cup. It just doesn't.
An empty booth, a rarity. I plop down onto the brown leather and stretch my legs out across the entire booth because this never happens and the more surface area with which I can make body contact, the more I feel like I'm capitalizing on this moment in which a booth is empty and all mine. In the coffee shop chain of supply and demand, seat ownership is a victory, and tonight this victory is mine. I am looking out the window, watching people pass by, I catch a glimpse of every face before it disappears behind a shrub, it feels thrilling to await transient eye contact, and I am safe no matter what because I do not have to hold that eye contact for very long, the person will continue walking and will forget about me completely, but for a second they will be disarmed, maybe, and even if for a chance of disarmament, the eye contact is worth it, the power to disarm is the thrill. I cannot hold eye contact for very long anyway, I will always be the first to drop my gaze, an unexpected stranger gaze is too intense, a somatic charge my body cannot contain.
An Asian man walks into the coffee shop wearing one of those messenger bags with a seatbelt buckle on the chest. His hair is buzzed on the sides, and the top is long and flipped to one side, which is the haircut all the young men are getting these days, around here in the Mission at least, a conspiracy among the hair stylists to make everyone look European, it's called an undercut, I heard. He orders a coffee and asks if he can sit down next to me, which feels like an intrusion, considering there are two other empty tables, but I say okay, and he drops his bag down beside me. When he pulls out a book, I glance over to see what it is, this is how I indulge myself in public, sizing up people based on the books they are reading or the notebooks they are writing in. He pulls out Tenth of December by George Saunders, and immediately, I find his presence more acceptable, maybe even desirable, but I try not to stare. He is not reading the book at the moment, it sits there like a prop, like a declaratory adornment, and he is writing in his notebook, and then checking his phone, the former of which shows a desire for self-expression, I decide, and the latter of which shows a lack of self-control. I wonder what he is writing about, and if he will actually read the Saunders book, and where he heard about George Saunders, and what else he reads besides George Saunders, I have never met another Asian person who reads George Saunders, so now I am curious, but I have asked enough questions today, so I close my notebook, get up, and leave. I take one last glance backwards, and his head is still down, hair swept over his forehead, scrawling red and blue, letters and diagrams, on lined white pages.