"The Real Deal"
He wanders around the rough, wood-planked floor, silent yet observant, pausing long enough in front of each table to get the attention of each group of patrons, begging for help with a quiet kind of grace, silently, unspoken. He's attired in dirty, over-sized denim and a worn tee-shirt, hair long and greasy, exuding the aroma of the unwashed. His sun-ravaged complexion is that of a mestizo who's spent plenty of time out of doors. To some people he's nothing more than a dirty, homeless Mexican. Though he might literally be just that, there's more to the story than mere superficial appearances.
Loser's Blend attracts these kinds of people, but not just them. It's location, situated smack in the midst of the university district, along the town's busiest mass-transit corridor, makes it an ideal melting pot for people from all walks of life, an intersection of converging paths that overlap for a spell and diverge once again.
If this were the world depicted in the Star Wars saga, this would be a coffee shop adjacent to the bar on Tatooine, where all the weird and wonderful converge. But this isn't. Instead, it's the place where a guy of indiscriminate age, in pink shorts and sleeveless tee, just walked in, loaded down with an enormous backpack, carrying two skate boards, one strapped to his pack and the other in hand, which he sets down in the corner adjacent to the old upright piano while he orders an iced coffee. A regular, of sorts, if any one, or thing, could be termed regular in this place that's perpetually new while simultaneously old and world-weary, a relentless cosmic churn. Outside, at a sunlit patio table, another hand-rolled smoke is lit up.
People come here because it's predictably the same, as comfortable as an old shoe, and just as worn and smelly. The aromas of body odor and kitchen spices intermix with the patina of coffee-stained wood floors and dingy walls, while some eclectic mix resonates in the background, behind the rattle of dishes, clicks of keyboards and murmur of chitchat. Two out-of-towners, middle-aged and borderline obese, wander around the room, eyeing the artwork and patrons alike, overtly friendly in that naive, small-town manner of those unjaded by big city living. You can pick them out a mile away.
Loser's Blend works on a cooperative business model, owners and workers sharing equally in both the responsibilities and rewards. Two years ago, they catered coffee and burritos to the local chapter of the Occupy Movement, something you would not expect of the corporate coffee chains up the street. The word "local" is tossed around a lot within these shabby confines.
Some people, from entirely different walks of life than what one might expect of a regular, are themselves also regulars, further expanding the eclectic nature of the place. A few of these will also be regular purchasers of the house roasted coffee blend, which they will take home to their affluent neighborhoods across town to impress their middle-class coffee klatches and social circles, threatening to transform Loser's Blend into a destination for hipsters and yuppies, which it mysteriously and resolutely refuses to accept, as if the place itself were somehow possessed of a consciousness, wholeheartedly embracing the fine cusp that divides the merely grungy from the actually destitute.
Genuine would be as good a description as any of Loser's Blend, being a bit rough around the edges, unrefined, unpretentious. The real deal.
He pauses in front of the table adjacent to mine, waiting for them - a young couple, she with purple hair and he with acne-scarred face - to notice him, who they ignore, then moves along to stand in front of me, seated at the long, wooden table that's lit from skylight above by a sporadic sky of clouds that alternate light, dark and light again. He's now standing directly in front of me, head down in a posture of humility - or is it an affectation, I'm not certain - while inwardly I'm torn between ignoring and engaging him.
Finally, I break the spell, just a brief moment before he is about to bolt to the next table beyond. "Yes?" I ask, brief and to the point.
His head imperceptibly rises, his eyes catch mine, a fleeting connection made across vast reaches of culture, a wormhole of sorts.
"Here," I quietly intone, loud enough for him to hear but not those seated around me, as I reach for my wallet and camera, reminded of the verse, "And when you give alms, do so in secret." I raise the Instax camera to my eye, compose and press the button. Out spits a little rectangular print with a motorized whine. I wrap a bill around the print and hand the bundle to the stranger, still standing in front of me. "Have a good day."
He walks away, staring at the surprising package in his hand as if it were completely foreign to him, walking out the door to pause on the sidewalk and stare down at the print as it develops itself before him, like magic, or something even better, the past in one hand and the future in the other, his life spanning the hands breadth distance between.
I watch him turn and amble out of view as I return to my coffee cup that's now cold. Undaunted, I reach for notebook and fountain pen, and begin writing.
Post-Script: This, being fiction, means that it never actually happened, didn't it? And it wasn't written via fountain pen, but AlphaSmart Neo. Photos via G5, not Instax camera, because this is fiction.