Secret Pop

Mar 6, 2005

Coffee Shop Advances

Martín and I walked over to Nick's for breakfast, dodging marathoners as we crossed La Cienega. It wasn't as busy as usual on account of the marathon and the streets being closed. We still managed to take an hour to get seated and served and out of there, but Sunday mornings aren't meant for hustle. Even church is mostly just sitting still.

The guy who sat at the counter next to us was very chatty. One of those guys. The ones who make "friends" with all the wait staff and like to pretend they are in tight with everyone. One of the regulars. The owner, Alan (and I'm not saying his name because I'm a regular -- I just heard other people call him that and I don't want my pronouns to become confusing), was encouraging some customers to watch the marathon on the television, and the guy I'm talking about piped up in a plenty loud voice, "The guy who won this year is an African. Go figure." Then, after a beat, he added, "They should have a race just for Africans. Give everyone else a chance." He went on for a bit and was clearly looking for a response, eventually turning to me. And I said, "A segregated marathon? That will probably go over well." And the guy was like, "Well, they win a Honda car. It's not like it's some Los Angeles thing. It's a Japanese car." I didn't understand this premise, but I decided that the winners of the African part of the marathon should maybe get something different. "A slave ship?" Martín added, "And a bus pass." "Right. A Spanish galleon and a bus pass." But I think we'd already lost the guy's attention. He was still going on about how women get a fifteen minute handicap. I took out my little notebook to jot down the framework of this conversation, and he leaned in, "You're writing down my idea, aren't you?" And I admitted that I was. And I think he really began to wonder if it was an idea that had legs. And I was reluctant to type "that had legs" just there, because I didn't want to tempt anyone to think to themselves, "No pun intended." If you know me, you know how much I despise "no pun intended." If I intend a pun, you will know it, and I won't have to point it out to you. And for the record, this seldom happens, as I do not generally care for puns. In all other cases, I won't have intended it, so it will defy the boundaries of necessity to have you remind me that I didn't.

Martín and I walked home past big signs encouraging particular groups of runners. "Go Cleveland Marathoners!" "Go L.A.P.D. Explorers!" And I wondered how well it would go over if there were signs encouraging just the African runners to really buckle down. Mightn't the appearance of a big banner reading "Go Africans!" or "Run, Africans, Run!" have the risk of connoting an invitation to return to the Dark Continent or to dance while bullets are being fired at one's feet? They also apparently have premade signs that you can fill out or add a photo to so that you can hold them up to encourage the specific runner you are there to cheer for. These have a way of looking like milk carton photos to me. Martín noticed one where the person who filled out the sign, wanting to encourage a Vera, had used a marker to write Vera with big quotation marks around it, but they were placed so high that they looked to have been written around the word "Go." As in "'Go,' Vera." As in a sarcastic sign implying that Vera is not likely to be going anywhere. It's possible that I drank too much coffee.

Anyway, the point is, if you're going to sit at a coffee shop counter, bring a paper or pretend to be deaf. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a conversation with a racist.

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