The shopfront was painted dark yellow, with a row of words like "Coffee * Tea * Bagels" written along the bottom of the windows. A sign in one of the windows announced, "NOW SERVING BUBBLE TEA." There were a couple tables outside and a few more inside. As we entered the two girls behind the counter were having some minor dispute.
"Well I'm sorry we have customers," one of them said.
The other looked up at us and said, "We'll be right with you."
"That's OK, we haven't decided what we want anyway," we assured them, looking at the blackboard above their heads. The whole lower right section of the board was devoted to "CREPES Served from 11 am to closing." Bubble tea was not mentioned anywhere on the menu.
"Sorry, we're just trying to make an egg sandwich," the first girl told us.
"OK," we said, not at all sure what this was meant to explain.
While we waited, D flipped through a book that they were selling published by a small local press, titled Sweeney on the Fringe, while I checked out their assortment of board games. When they took our order, D got a bagel sandwich and I asked for a chicken, spinach, and cheddar crepe. This elicited an odd look or a short laugh.
"Oh, nothing. It's just that we've been making crepes all day."
"I think we're out of chicken," said the other girl, who went into the back room to check.
"Ham would be OK," I told her partner.
Meanwhile (...), D ordered a chai tea latte, and that sounded good, so I got one too. He asked if they sold whole coffee beans, since we were almost out, and the answer was Yes.
"Maybe we should have gotten coffee if we were going to buy beans," I wondered out loud.
The other girl came out with a bag of chicken pieces. "They're, like, frozen."
"Ham is fine."
She put down the bag then and came over to finish taking the order. "OK, so no chicken and spinach," she said, punching buttons on the register. "Ham, egg, and cheese?"
"Just ham and cheese."
"On a bagel? Or on a ..."
"Oh." More buttons. "What cheese do you want? Cheddar or Swiss?"
D added a newspaper and a pound of coffee to the order.
"We have Sumatra and Midnight."
"It's a darker roast but it also has less caffeine because it's been roasted longer."
"OK, let's try that."
We paid, grabbed the paper -- a local rag, name of The Sun -- and got a table. D took one section and I started with the other.
"We didn't get the coffee, did we?" I asked.
"No," said D. "They seemed busy."
After a minute, they called out D's order, and I nudged him.
He went up to the counter, and I got some napkins and a knife and fork for the crepe. D got back with his sandwich, an open-faced deal called the "VegWay," and picked up the paper again.
"Who's Michael Phelps?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"I keep seeing his name everywhere." He indicated the paper.
"Michael Phelps is a really amazing swimmer," said a woman standing in line near our table.
"Thank you," I said.
D looked up. "Hmmm?"
"Sorry," said the woman, then she repeated, "Michael Phelps is a really amazing swimmer. He's unbelievably good."
Our drinks came: two large iced chais.
"You were thinking hot, weren't you?" I asked D when the girl had hurried back behind the counter.
A SHORT DIVERSION HERE, because at this point in the narrative I still haven't got my crepe. But for a long time there was a cheerful woman with bleached blond hair at the train station in the mornings handing out free copies of the Lowell Sun to commuters about to get on the train. I never took her up on the offer, but she was at her post each day, greeting people and making conversation with the people at the ticket counter, or anyone who wanted to stop and talk. Then she stopped showing up as often, and then wasn't there at all. Health troubles, I overheard the ticket agents saying, but they didn't get more specific than that.
Lately a new woman has been around, but she doesn't give the paper out for free; she sells copies for 25 cents apiece. She has a much less sunny disposition, too, droning her line, "'d you like to buy The Sun for a quarter?" as if she doesn't really expect anyone to take her up on the offer, but being conscientious about putting the question to each person who passes nearby. She does get a few takers.
One morning as I was waiting in the crowd on the platform in a gentle misting rain, I could hear her reciting her clipped pitch over and over, but this time I could swear she was saying, "Like to buy a Sun for a quarter?" Just at that moment, the idea of buying a sun for a quarter sounded quite tempting, though I still wasn't interested in the newspaper.
BACK IN THE CAFE, D and I finished reading our slim sections of the Saturday paper and traded with each other. I started reading a column on the front page and got totally trolled. I'm not sure what got me the most: the smug tone, the lazy argumentation, the incomprehensibility of phrases like "unleashing heavy armor," the tortuous sentence leading up to dropping the H-bomb, or just the general incoherence. "Look at this crap," I told D. "Especially the last paragraph: 'Yet what still is most bothersome about the Olympics is women's gymnastics. Granted, it looks tremendously difficult. But really, how difficult can it be if it can be mastered by age 14?'"
"Yeah, that's pretty bad. I stopped reading it before I got that far."
I found it oddly compelling in its awfulness, though. It missed the point so badly that I had to explain what is really wrong with Olympic women's gymnastics, a rant that D has heard before and agrees with, so I only gave the short version. D stood up, walked away, and came back.
"You just put my knife and fork on your plate and threw away the napkin I hadn't used yet," I said.
"Why did you do that?"
He shrugged. "You forced me to do it by continuing to talk about that article."
Anyway, so now I don't feel so bad about never picking up The Sun at the train station.
D heard the one of the girls saying, "Both of the coffees are decaf. What do we do?" "Serve it anyway," the other one whispered. Then they called out another question about which cheese, and D answered "Swiss" on my behalf. "How many times have they asked that?" he asked me.
To be honest I wasn't sure how many of those had been regarding my order, and how many of them had been for egg sandwiches that other people were getting. "I just hope it's a crepe."
Eventually we smelled butter melting on a crepe iron, and shortly after that the crepe was ready. It was a little crispier than crepes usually are, but otherwise tasty.
"What do you think are our chances of getting the coffee?" I asked after I'd taken the last bite.
"I don't know, I'll find out."
He went to the counter, things having quieted down a bit by now, and one of the girls got out the coffee and poured it in a pound bag. She closed the bag and wrote on it as D told her to have a nice day and she told us to have a nice day and we said thanks and she said thanks and the other girl apologized for the delay and we said that was OK, and left.
On the sidewalk outside, D looked at the bag in his hand, and saw what she had written. "Oh look, we got Sumatra."
"Well, it was pretty entertaining at least."
"Oh, if it was more convenient to us, I'd come here all the time. I just won't try to order anything specific."
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