The Absinthe Drinker

The Absinthe Drinker
Victor Oliva, "The Absinthe Drinker"

He Owns That Ottoman

Husky-voiced tall woman sighs: her favorite chair is taken. Lumpy black skirt like a trash bag, thrift store shoes, adam's apple. Starbucks as second home, possibly first.

Little Mister MacBook has his feet all the way up. With his blue earbuds and his hipster beard, he owns that ottoman. That ottoman's his bitch. Hold my boots, bitch. I'm here to program.

The cafe's out of bananas. No smoothie for you! I'll search out my potassium somewhere new.

Tea-Pop Cafe, Camanava, Philippines
Tea-Pop Cafe, Camanava, Philippines


Lonely in Public

Big girls order whip on everything. It begins as coffee in a cup but morphs into a sundae. They're loud, aggressive, and in the way; shooting violent dirty looks at yours truly as I pick up my smoothie.

Old guys use iPads. White beard, tinted glasses, fishing vest, track pants, slouch. He's given up girls but he loves his computer. Perhaps he's flirting with girls online.

The girls have multicolored hair. They're gym-toned, energetic, talking over each other, texting, laughing about boys, laughing about professors, carrying laptop bags, drinking so much caffeine their eyeballs smoke. They're in baseball caps, track pants, running shoes. They're beautiful and they know it. They have no attention for fishing vest guys with iPads. He'll have to meet them in cyberspace, that vast magic continent where no-one knows you're an old dog, with or without new tricks.

Javier Losada, "Café-Restaurante Pop Art"
Javier Losada, Café-Restaurante Pop Art



Undercover cops. Shaved heads and hoodies, but they're talking about search and seizure procedures. "It's legal if..." Prunedale's finest, keeping us safe.

Leon Trotsky in exile, parsing sandwiches. White hair, white goatee, thin black wireframes, khaki workshirt, hiking boots. In the end he chooses sushi.

Silent couple, barricaded in their separate seats. Looking into space, wringing fingers. They've brought nothing to do, no books or phones or iPads, nothing to occupy themselves. They sit without talking, without eye contact, separate in their individual chairs, staring into distance.

Ron Magnes, "Cafe"
Ron Magnes, Café


Johnny Breakfast Wrap

Seventy empty chairs and Johnny Breakfast Wrap sits next to me, chewing. I have a theory. He wants to throw stolen glances at the same pretty thirty-year-old who's been throwing them at me since I arrived.

Older lady, great-grandma, died auburn curls and wet smoker's cough, hangs her shades from the platinum necklace around her neck. It's a fashion and a class statement: she's well-to-do, but casual about it.

Johnny Breakfast Wrap finishes breakfast, whips out his phone, makes business calls in which he unsurprisingly gives orders. He's The Boss. Lonely Boss, checking out chicks at Starbucks, lingering from some hopeless false hope of contact.

Pop Art Cafe
Pop Art Cafe


Mid Thirties Miss

Mid-Thirties Miss, hair still wet, tight pullover, knocking back the latte with a nondescript girlfriend. Casting secret glances over girlfriend's shoulder: apparently I'm interesting.

Middle-Aged Sir, receding hair, belly, ragged t-shirt creeping north of navel. To my surprise he turns out to be charming, walking right up to Mid-Thirties Miss, shaking hands, making her smile light up like megawatts, like klieg lights. "Enjoy your day, ladies!" Once he's out the door they exchange glances, not sure whether to laugh in derision or be honestly impressed.

Jowly Korean ladies in inappropriately tight black track suits, hair died to hide the gray, choose seats which block the view. I can no longer watch Mid-Thirties Miss and, more importantly, she can no longer cast surreptitious glances over her girlfriend's shoulder. Maybe next time.

William H. Johnson, "Cafe" (1939-40)
William H. Johnson, Café (1939-40)