Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why I go to the coffee shop

If a crazy person, in his ranting, were to give me a great idea for a short story, is it ethical for me to write it? Should I give him attribution? This is not a hypothetical situation--I like listening to a troubled friend I met at the coffee shop.

My lab is on a balcony, overlooking the engineering building atrium. When I leave the lab late in the evening, I often see a couple practicing ballroom dance. The man is tall, of medium build. The woman is short and trim, and well-dressed; the man wears a faded T-shirt and khakis. I wonder if one is teaching the other but I can't tell. I never see them dance to music. I wonder if they love each other, or are simply dance partners. I'm up on the balcony, which is good, because I don't want them to know I'm spying on them.

At meeting on Sunday morning, I often sit in the same row as a man who is serious about journaling; he is always writing in his fine leather-bound journal during the service. That is, that was my first impression. Then, peeking down the row at his journal, I saw that it wasn't a journal, but a day planner. I thought, "Who works out their schedule during the sermon?" This Sunday, I sat closer to him than usual, and was able to read the words he wrote. He wrote legibly enough, but the words didn't make any sense together. He's confided in me about how he made a mistake and became embarrassed one time, a couple of weeks ago. Still, I feel awkward asking him why he writes in a calendar during meeting.

At my sister's guitar recital, I saw a man reading the program with the aid of a magnifying glass. I wondered why one girl played a prelude, instead of the whole piece. I always thought that a prelude is an introduction to a longer piece. It turns out that that used to be the case. Now, preludes don't necessarily precede anything, they're just written in the style of the old preludes.

At the coffee shop, one time, I got excited about Sarah Palin and jostled my mug, spilling a little; I got up to get napkins. On my way back, I was stopped by a fellow patron of the coffee shop who told me that I could have gotten my napkins from him, instead of going back to the counter. This gent has a bushy mustache; maybe he's in his fifties. He introduced himself to me as "Cowboy."

"Cowboy?" I asked, wanting to be sure.


I don't think he is, or ever was, an actual cowboy. I wonder if he did something amazing to deserve being called cowboy. I'll ask him how he got his nickname the next time I see him.


  1. The Engineering building is a popular destination for practicing ballroom dancing due to its accessibility at very late hours and the wide amount of space in that hallway on the first floor.

    I've always wanted to dance down academic row.

  2. I'm glad I am not the only one who wonders about these things.
    Sally Ann

  3. I just learned that the E-building is open 24/7 !!! This is truly a magnanimous (sp?) fact for me! and, I am excited that people find it good for dancing. Great things to learn all in the same hour!