For the last few days I’ve noticed that when I sit in my favourite coffee shop at roughly the same time (in training for redundancy by sitting with my laptop and looking like I am working on something important) I find myself often sitting with the same people.
Like me these fellow patrons appear to be creatures of habit and more often than not sit in the same places close by to me. If I am close enough then sometimes without really trying to I pick up echoes of their life and whats happening to them.
Some of it is comical, some of it is just interesting, and some of it is sad – but absolutely all of it fascinates me and I think sometimes that my new ideal job would involve sitting in a bush with a flask of coffee just watching the world go by.
Behind me the other day a regularly present Indian guy was confidently coaching his girlfriend on the phone about how best to tackle a job interview.
‘You’ll get asked a lot of personality questions yar.’ he said. ‘It’s the same with ALL interviews. They ALWAYS ask the same questions yar.’ He paused.
‘Take for instance the one about what your weaknesses are. They ALWAYS ask that.’
He listened for a while to the voice on the other end of the phone.
‘Acha – is easy to answer.’ He said, clearly replying to a question. ‘I give you some of my examples, you can use them if you want yar?’
He pondered his mental database of examples for a moment.
‘You could say you are late all the time for the appointments?’
He listened to the reply.
‘You have to turn that into a plus – you could be saying something like ‘I am buying a watch and will be trying to get better yar?…’
I started out into space and squinted.
‘Or you could say that you lack motivation and get bored easily…’ he continued. ‘I’ve said this myself yar.’
I shook my head.
He paused to listen to her reply again.
‘No – I didn’t have a plus side for that one…’ He tailed off – clearly all of a sudden thinking about where he may have gone wrong in his own interview and the conversation became less distinct.
Either he’d used these examples as an excuse to highlight his partner’s worst traits or he was quite possibly the worse interview coach (and maybe interviewee) I’d ever come across.
It didn’t matter much though as his relationship didn’t strike me as something that would suffer from longevity once her job interview was completed…
Others can be just plain odd. Lately I’ve become aware of ‘headset man’. I probably wouldn’t have given him a second glance if one afternoon I hadn’t heard him speak to himself nearby.
‘Dirty bastartds’ he said loudly as he surveyed the table at which he wanted to sit.
The coffee shop was pretty much empty and almost all tables were clean. He had decided however to sit at a table vacated recently by a family with a small child.
They had left plentiful crumbs behind, and a high chair.
He swept the crumbs onto the floor with a number of flamboyant brushing movements and began to move the chairs around, pushing the high chair as far away as he humanly could – to the other side of the coffee shop.
Once this was done he placed on the table a large packet of economy shortbread and a big bar of economy chocolate.
‘Dirty bastards’ he muttered loudly again to no-one in particular, and at the same time moved the chair out from the wall and placed it at an angle so that its back faced me then sat down.
He looked under the table at the crumbs that he’d pushed there moments before, clearly unable to ignore their proximity. ‘Diiiiirty Bastards….’ He said as he kicked the crumbs away with his sandled feet.
Reaching over to the stand with milk and sugar he then grabbed a paper towel and leaned under the desk, dusting all around the base of the table and the floor around his chair – finally clearing the immediate area of offensive bread.
Then, reaching into his bag he grabbed a small pair of walkman ear bud headphones.
This wasn’t odd in itself – apart from the fact that he was already wearing a large pair of black over the ear hi-fi headphones around his neck.
He took these off, and placed them over the back of the chair to the side of him where his rucksack sat.
He then put both of the earbuds in and once more reached into his bag and retrieved a third pair of silver headphones.
These were also large hi-fi style ones, and bigger than the ones hanging over the chair, but had no cable attached them. He placed these over his head, on top of the earbuds already in his ears, and finally leant back with a sigh.
He grabbed the chocolate, broke off a chunk and sipped his coffee – finally at peace.
I’ve seen him do this several times now.
As I left yesterday I noticed him walking past me wearing a fourth sky blue pair of chunky hi-fi headphones.
Clearly no audio device seems to quite hit the spot in his case, and there was a headset to compliment every mood in his bag. I quite like him just for the interesting randomness of it all.
Why so many? Who knows…
Yesterday was my third day in a row nearby unhappy man.
He looks very crestfallen all the time. I have heard him have several phone conversations as he’s sat next to me and he seems to be at pains to be nice and polite on all of them.
The first day he was calling his daughter to make sure she hadn’t fallen out with her friend at school. She had gone to drama class instead of to a sleepover. He’d been speaking to the friend’s mother and it seemed like there may be an issue.
After a while it transpired his daughter’s mother was sorting the problem on another phone and the row between the two children was a storm in a teacup.
He lingered for a moment when he told his daughter he loved her and it sounded like maybe she would be in bed by the time he got home, or he wouldn’t be home that night.
The following day I found him having a job interview when I arrived. He was energetically selling himself and his capabilities on the phone. It appeared he was looking for office work – maybe technical. The phone call concluded shortly after I sat down and he sighed, looked at his laptop and then unravelled his charger to plug it into the wall.
It was a MacBook and it’s got good battery life, so he’d probably been there a while on the hunt for employment. Maybe things weren’t going well.
The day before last he came and sat down when I was already there. I was reading a manual regarding my own job hunting prospects and didn’t notice him at first. When I did he was already talking and I noted that he was wearing the same shirt.
Three days in a row now.
His call started almost immediately. He was speaking to someone about a property.
‘Yes it’s just for two people.’ He said. ‘Myself and my daughter 3 days a week.’
He was putting a lot of energy into the call – just like the job interview, but his body language was different. His shoulders were rounded and hunched. He was looking down at the floor.
‘Yes – I’m having a problem finding something in the right price range in my area – it needs to be near her school in ****** do you have anything else?’
His fingers moved to the bridge of his nose, lifting his glasses slightly and he rubbed his eyes.
‘OK – no problem. Well you have my number, so please make sure to give me a call if anything comes up.’
He finished the call, put the mobile down and sat back in his chair, sighing.
I realised then that he was probably loosing his home, his job and trying to hold onto his daughter as his relationship failed. He looked adrift.
He was still wearing his wedding ring.
Sometimes I want to turn to people and say something nice – but it will betray the fact I’m listening and paying attention to them, and will destroy their sense of privacy.
I didn’t say anything to him, and shortly afterwards he left – choosing not to call anyone else.
All three of these people left me with vivid thoughts about who they were outside of the coffee shop, and whether they were there to hide from the world or just to relax with all of their headphones.
They also made me think about why I was sitting there.
Why was I in the coffee shop every day? Was I hiding or relaxing?
This week I could have been doing either as I’ve been trying to avoid thoughts of work or food, depending on which has been bothering me the most.
Maybe I should be paying more attention to my own life. Maybe that’s the moral of the story. Or maybe I just like listening to people and wondering what makes them tick.
(sips coffee and listens)