I’m sitting here at Starbucks with my iced mocha wondering what was I thinking when I said yes to Shirley’s invitation. I will claim temporary insanity or at least amnesia. Her phone call was from out of the blue and I let my guard down and agreed to this. It’s too late now. I can always hope for some big riot or car wreck that prevents her from getting here on time. I’ll give her the “10 minute professional courtesy” and escape out the back door. We’ll have missed each other and I will escape this un-wise calendar moment. Oh, damn, there she is at the counter. Maybe this won’t be so bad. Maybe she’ll have changed… Maybe she’ll actually be happy and maybe she’ll want to here what I have to say. Yep, and maybe gravity will change or we’ll all get hit by meteor….
I might as well start this ball rolling. The sooner we start, the sooner it will be over and I’ll be free. “Shirley, how are you? It’s been a long time! What’s new?” We do the “casual acquaintance hug thing” that seems to be required, even by people who don’t like each other that much. She pulls up her chair and bangs down her coffee. “Geez, it took forever to get here. That idiot cut me off when I tried to get off I5. Him and his big rig. Geez. What a gas hog. Did you see the price of parking? Where did you park? I ended up about two blocks from here. There was still time left on the meter so that was cool. Good thing. Every time I get coffee, the size is smaller and the price goes up. Geez this coffee’s hot. Did you know there’s hardly any difference between low fat and non-fat milk? Why bother? But I always order non-fat.” I wonder if the cringing feeling in my chest reflects in my eyes.
How am I doing? Amazing! Well, maybe I was wrong. Hope springs eternal. Maybe this will be a two-way conversation. I start off with my art classes and my latest creative endeavor. Part way through my third sentence, it finally filters through. She’s not listening. She’s not paying attention. She’s starting to spin up her thoughts on what she’s going to say as soon as I take a breath. I used to struggle so hard to make sure the “scales were balanced” and I got to talk and complain as much as Shirley. This is now actually funny. I can see her impatience start to spill over. I’ve played with her focus long enough. I stop mid-sentence. Go for it, Shirley. It’s like someone starts to play a recording mid-speech. I pause and she immediately launches….
“I was so upset when Gerald left. I took all the photos that he was in and threw them away. All of them. He broke my heart and I never wanted to see the bastard again. I took all his stuff and boxed it up and gave it to the Goodwill. Even his favorite shirt. That was the most God awful shirt. Ugly yellow, like it came from the 60s. Like the color of the stove. Harvest gold or some crap like that. Right up there with avocado. Geez. He loved that shirt. I hope it ended up as a oil rag in a garage. All the old photos. There isn’t a single one left. Remember Anthony? I loved that guy. He was such a great listener. I wished I hadn’t thrown that picture away. It was a picture of Anthony. I wonder where he is now. Gerald is such a prick. It’s his fault the picture of Anthony is gone.”
I realize, somewhere in the midst of Shirley’s dramatic colloquy that I don’t actually have to listen. I can shake my head, or give a comforting “humph” and that’s all that’s necessary. She’s happy and keeps on without needing any other feedback or response.
A dad and son, clearly headed for the Mariner game, catch my attention. The 5 year old proudly wears his Moyer shirt and complains he wanted the chocolate cookie, it is bigger. Dad says something reassuring, but it’s not bought by son. Dad asked if he was going to finish his cookie. Finally, after he asks four times, it must translate to “no” and he wraps up it up and sticks it in his backpack pocket. They both got up together and head towards the back of the store.
I watch another Dad and child outing. This time a six year old girl is wired for sound, bouncing and laughing and clearly glad to be. Dad sits back, relaxed, arm over the seat back, smiling at her antics. They clearly spend a lot of time together, very comfortable with each other. “Go up there, girl and get your drink”. He hands over some money and she bounces up to the counter. She gets her fruit smoothie and heads back to Dad. She leans over, gets a hug and bounces off to get a straw. I haven’t seen so much happy energy in a long time. It was contagious.
Oh, I’ve not been paying a lot of attention here. It’s probably way past time for a response, so I both shake my head and grunt, just to make sure. I have no idea where we are in the history, but Shirley’s clearly starting to wind down. There are pauses in her dialogue. It’s been relaxing to listen to “The Shirley Monologue” wash over me, like some radio talk show in the background.
I see Shirley check her watch and start to gather her coat and belongings. “We’ll have to get together again real soon. It was great to hear all about what’s happening and we would do this more often”. I nod my head and finally let a bit of a wise smirk hit the corner of my mouth. Yep, it was fun. I have no idea what she said, and she hasn’t even figured out I didn’t say much of anything. I’ll let the answering machine screen the calls and hope to remember that hanging out with Shirley is a bit like visiting the dentist – it happens every so often, not a lot of fun during, but feels good when it’s done. I hope that life treats you well, what ever that means to you. Bye Shirley. And we head our separate ways out of Starbucks and into the city.