Like many of Capitol Hill’s denizens, I occasionally spend my time working in one of our many fine cafes, though I always feel a little left out because I don’t drink coffee. So I often sit there with my juice or hot chocolate like an idiot and pretend to work, eventually giving in to actual work.
To be honest, I’m not actually convinced that anyone in cafes really works. The first person at the café pretends to work and the next customer feels pressure to look like they’re working, which leads to a chain reaction where an entire café of people goes out of its way to look busy. It’s a bluff no one’s willing to call. I keep waiting for someone to stand up and break the charade, someone to throw his work to the floor and yell, “No one’s actually working, right? Can we just take it easy for a while?” Then everyone would release a big breath and talk and chat and dance. Or perhaps this is what I need to imagine because I’m actually the only one at the café not working. That’s more likely the case.
There have been times on occasion when I’ve had my fake working disturbed by an adjacent customer. One time I suffered horribly while a pretentious musician spent a half hour describing the various levels to his own music, repeatedly using the words “fractals” and “consciousness” in the process. There’s no way I can prove it, but I’m pretty sure his music is terrible.
Another customer merely committed the crime of reading “War and Peace” right next to me. “War and Peace!” In a café! It may seem petty to get irritated by this, but I generally feel that if you can’t finish your book during the time the café is open, then you shouldn’t bring that book to the café, taunting me with all its pages. This is not to mention that when you read “War and Peace” at a café you make all the work everyone else is doing seem worthless by comparison. It’s entirely selfish. Reading “War and Peace” should only be done in a secluded room at home with the shades drawn, and no one should ever be informed that you finished it. I don’t make the rules.
These were all minor crimes compared to my most recent encounter. On a recent visit to Joe Bar, I ordered a fresh apple juice and took a seat on the upper level. All was well as I checked my favorite blogs while my Word document languished with inattention. I only noticed the perpetrator when he grabbed three or four newspapers, including The Capitol Hill Times, and sat down across from me. It was not his mumbling or loud crinkling of the paper that got to me, but something far simpler.
In addition to a coffee, he had purchased two chocolate chip cookies, and ate them in a manner I have never seen before. He lifted up the cookie in one hand and broke off precise tiny pieces with the other, placing them into his mouth like a person putting jewels in a safety deposit box. His calculation and efficiency repulsed me, and in a way was utterly disrespectful to the platonic ideal of the cookie.
You see, a cookie is one of life’s treats, a silly and pleasurable experience that allows us to shelf our problems and be a kid again. But when you eat that cookie like a Nazi accountant (too much?), you take all the joy and wonder out of it. You make the cookie feel like it’s a burden, like it’s wasting your time.
I’m not saying everyone should eat a cookie the way I do (by placing the entire thing in my mouth at once, choking, and passing out), but some sort of standard must be established. He ate that cookie like someone eating pistachios, like a person clipping nose hairs, like the cookie needed to be saved for several weeks until a plane noticed the smoke rings on the island. I had to turn away; I couldn’t watch as a cookie was treated with such clinical detachment. He might as well buy cookies and throw them against the wall in front of poor, starving children.
Please sir, you need to reconsider your cookie-eating technique, because you look like you’re torturing the cookie for information, not eating it. The world cannot move on, and I cannot get any work done if you’re going to treat something so beautiful with such disdain. Try holding the cookie with one hand, raising it to your mouth and taking a bite. You will taste it as if for the first time. Give it a try, or find another café, because I was totally here first.