After a frantic week, I'd set aside yesterday for a relaxing day at my favorite coffee shop to read my homework for horticulture class. I took the train to Lincoln Square armed with book, highlighter, and anticipation of a tasty bagel and good decaf.
I settled in to my table (a bench against the wall), got out my book, and began to read. My coffee and bagel were brought to me, and I settled into my task, undistracted by the projects at home that would have tempted me.
While I munched, slurped, and highlighted, a woman came in and asked whether she could share my table. Of course, I told her. She put down her laptop and went to the counter. After placing her order, she returned. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her bobbing and weaving. I looked up to see her looking under the table at the area around my feet. Suddenly she was gone, and I felt her hands bumping against my feet. Then again. Then my calves.
"Hi, can I help you find the plug?" I asked.
"Oh, I have it," she said. I looked under the table, and the outlet she was shooting for was on the other side of my feet from her approach. It was getting awkward. Just as I was about to take the plug and put in into the wall for her, she socked it in. Great; fine. I returned to my homework, and began again to read about the properties of water.
"What do you think about Obama getting the Nobel Prize?"
Good Lord, no. No, no, no. Not now, and not in a coffee shop. Hey, let's start a politically-charged conversation that will be sure to intrude upon the people sitting right next to us. (Did I mention she did not seem to have an Indoor Voice?)
I replied as neutrally as possible, but I tend to get reeled into conversations easily, and before I knew it, we were having a discussion about it, which I really did not want to do. I did keep reading while I spoke, highlighting pertinent paragraphs, but she clearly did not read social cues and persisted in talking to me, asking me questions. I finally got a few minutes of silence while she looked at her laptop. Then:
"What's your favorite perfume?"
I answered as neutrally as possible, trying not to lead in to further conversation, still clearly reading my book. I could tell she was lonely, so I did not want to be unkind -- but I really wanted to read. I desperately wanted to read. I wanted so badly to be inside my own head and not talking to anyone that I could taste it. She then pulled out a bottle of perfume she'd just bought and had me smell it. I told her it was really nice (it was). She then told me about the bargains she'd just gotten at Victoria's Secret (and thank goodness, did not pull out a sample).
"Hi, I'm not trying to be rude, really, but I'm way behind on this homework assignment, and I really need to get this read."
She understood; we settled back into silence.
"What do you think about this job market?"
Still obviously reading, I answered neutrally, not invitingly, and then she got up, grabbed a paper, and handed me an article to read.
"Look, no, I really need to read this book right now," I said, trying to say it kindly.
I got about five minutes after that, then she started up again. Clearly, she could not help herself, so while I engaged with her in this next leg of the conversation, I began putting on my jacket. It had been about 45 minutes, and I had not gotten nearly enough read.
I told her it had been nice sitting with her, wished her luck on her job hunt, and then walked a mile south past Irving Park to Stubbs Cafe where, to my delight, I discovered it had been taken over by new management and turned into a vegan cafe. I sat in the corner, ate a delicious Tofurky/veganaise/tomato sandwich on whole wheat, and sipped a decaf soy pumpkin-spice latte. An older lesbian at the next table kept giving me the eye, but kept her distance. I finished my lunch AND my chapter in blissful, uninterrupted peace.