Oct/Nov 2005  •   Fiction

hawk nights at the counter

by Eljay Persky

I might not want to start a coffee with bad news, negativity, depresso stuff. The discomfort is familial familiar, the DNA pan-liner soon to be caffeine enhanced. I'm nose to nose with it, sitting alone at a counter at Canter's all night deli-all night lone, not another person around these, the cheap seats but the occasional waitperson or bus person. I'm it. Ollie Oxenfreak. The bad news person.

Across the gulf between me at the customer's countertop and the service personnel's station is The Farmer Brothers coffee maker/warmer with its five pots, all in various states of some version of beverage with the expected hissing, knocking, and spitting sounds.

I lift up my left leg and tuck it under my ass on top of the stool because I need a phone book really. Not because I'm short but because the stools are low. Yeah, that's it. The stools. Are low. As I am. Low. And that's the bad news I'm talking about. I get to missing names I cannot say without the choking sob ball forcing its way up, feeling nearer to them than I do to the livewires doing somersaults to impress. I miss 'em. They're dead. I know. I'm down. I'm going all shipwreck and brown-out.

It reminds me of Joey Ramone singing "Perhaps I'll die-Oh yea-Perhaps I'll die..." from Sheena is a Punk Rocker. That is the nothing can beat it-lonely bad news right there. I don't like the awareness of any foot, door out of this world unless it's some futuristic sci-fi movie like Things To Come where I get to view the silly populace hissing, knocking and hammering itself from a post-modern glassed-in platform in outer space.

My particular goners are pulling my leg now and that's no joke-just plain yogurt, a fermentation in the firmament, the terrorsphere, Lonely. How I got here; this day a lead cover like you wear in the x-ray room, set down hard upon my chest, no kidding, from the minute I tried to push off from the bed. That weight, plus I never got a second to myself except to rush through the spit-hiss-knocking exhibition shower and dress myself in the oh-not-so-private closet some inch away from a construction gang.

I need to try on an outfit and change one part or another of it several times in privacy before I feel the matter's really settled. I need to add the right accessory to put the period on the sentence but not while workers swagger around with levels and drills all over the rest of the pad.

I had a long conversation with everyone the night before so they'd all know what to do, where to draw the line, what to paint, where to find the dustpan, latex gloves, not need me—but there was resentment. I felt it sticking to me as I jumped from shower to closet to front door and out to car to shower again, (the wedding kind... of shower), the fifth in a series. All wet, those, too. Talk about lonely.

But I'm drawn back to The Farmer Brothers Coffee Console for a few reasons that disturb me as I sit, sip. Who are the Farmer Brothers? Are they fact or fraud? Of all the pots stuck on their individual burner warmer rings, none have the bright orange rim and handle that would indicate Decaf served here but there is one pot high above the others containing water, or a kind of water, not a simple water-water but with tiny swimmy rod-shaped things roiling around in the heat. What are those things? I can't stop looking.

After a while I feel a shape go by my shoulder and I look and it's a guy who's trying to get an eyeful, not of me, I'm certain, but of this very pot of swimmy floaty stuff. He looks at it and then at me and I shrug.

And then I say "Whaddaya think it is?"

and he shrugs and says, "I dunno."

squinting and then, "Me and my friend was thinkin' it was guppies".

Timing being what it is, a waitstaffperson appeared and whisked the pot off the heat just then and the swimmy things settled down into a nestly quartz crystal stack on the bottom. Whatever it is, though: bad news, negativity, depresso stuff, guppies, it's in the water—and the water's in the coffee. The shape-shadow guy and I shrug to one another again before he goes back to his own personal floaty detritus, and I go back to here, low, observing that console. Not so consoling. Eyes lowering to my coffee. LOW. DOWN HERE! All "Lou Cabrazzi swims with the fishes" kind of thing. Hiss Spit Knock Hammer.

Whatever happened to BUNN coffeemakers? Didn't Canter's used to have Bunn? Bunn sounds so gingham and homey. Where are the happy orange rims? Who are these Farmer Brothers? When did they infiltrate the Deli territories, or, did they muscle their way in? My mother would say that, with her mafia conspiracy theories. Yeah, they're really the Farmerini Brothers, she'd say, with the tone of N.Y. Port Authority. Farmerini. Drop the eeny. Brothers.

Farmer Brothers loved their mothers.

Feared by others. Farmer Brothers.

Bad news is relative. And that relative is my mother.

Watch your backs. Hot Coffee comin' through.

Amelia Earhart calls. She says, "Where is everybody?"