Starbuck’s

Much of Gregory O’Hearn’s life is quite predictable. He has many favorites: a favorite tie, a favorite shirt, a favorite suit jacket, a favorite computer software development company, a favorite beverage, a favorite chair in the house, a favorite latte, and a favorite spot in the corner of the Starbucks near his home. The latter location is where I can see him from where I sit in that same Starbucks-in an upholstered loveseat against the wall near the window. He comes here everyday with nobody to meet and just expects to have a latte with no sugar or whipped cream and type numbers into his financial spreadsheets. I’ve seen him faithfully here every single day since he got that job at the investment firm off the highway in Saugus. He never misses an opportunity of any sort, but especially never misses an opportunity for a latte in his favorite chair in Starbucks. There was one day a woman in her early twenties was sitting in “his” chair in the corner studying. He kindly asked her with a smile if she was planning on staying much longer. Apparently she wasn’t so he was able to sit down quickly and not waste much time at all. Besides that, his experience here has been seamlessly predictable and fully controllable in his mind. Of course, he wouldn’t use those words.
Today he is wearing his favorite tie, shirt, suit jacket, he is drinking his favorite latte and he is sitting in his favorite Starbucks chair. I am particularly excited about today because I want to see what Gregory O’Hearn will do. Yes, I have my antagonists who tell me I hope for nothing and he is too stuck to entertain anything that would affect his schedule. I will say, however, that I still have that hope today. Tomorrow I may not, but today I do. There are only so many possible seating arrangements in Starbucks and there are others who are faithful daily attendees who do not have the kind of seating preferences of our Gregory O’Hearn. Statistics have informed me it is inevitable that sometime soon the saving combination will be attained and Gregory O’Hearn will be given what we call a “second chance”.

It’s a bright day, the sun is out and the breeze let’s you know you’re still loved. There is the occasional cloud but this only ends up making the periods of sun so much more enjoyable. It’s the kind of day that no matter how formal your appearance has to be, you sneak some shorts and sandals in your briefcase for the ride home to feel the wind on your legs as you drive with the windows down and as you walk from your car to your front door. Predictably, Gregory O’Hearn did not pack shorts or sandals in his briefcase and not because he has no room in there. He just didn’t think of it. A hint of the outside breeze is felt inside Starbucks when two college age men walk in followed by three of their cohorts all dressed casually. Our man does not bother to look up, but this is the moment I have been waiting for at least a couple of years now.

They all get coffee. Well, all of them except one who, not able to hide a smirk, walks directly over to the table next to our man’s table with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee already in his grip. He confirms the table by placing his mutinous coffee cup on it and setting his backpack against the wall. I pray this is the time I’ve been waiting for. The guys walk over laughing about something that happened to one of them earlier that day, but we won’t get into that. They pull out a book and some of them a notebook as well with a few notes outlined on the first page. As they begin to discuss, Gregory O’Hearn makes notice of what they are saying-a particular few of the guys are quite smart and have great insights. I knew that’s what he would notice first. Okay, my narration is making the story boring, let’s switch over to someone else.

“Yeah, so we sit down and this buggy sheep-ass journalist or something hot shot with his shiny new laptop looks over and asks us to quiet down a little bit. I look over at my buddy and try not to laugh at this guy-he really thinks he’s the shit and can do…”

Well, it was worth a shot. Okay even better, let’s hear it from the perspective of the fly on the wall in past tense.

Greg had spent his whole career trying to get everything down cold hard and fast so he could finally get some recognition for being the brilliant man he was. He was an unbelievable salesman, could market an automatic car alarm to a honeybee, and make the bee hang up laughing when it called him complaining he didn’t need it after all. He was a man of relations and always found himself in leadership on every business trip taking care of all the public details so everyone could thank him for choosing the nice hotel or the beautiful location. He was flawless in his execution and silent in accepting admiration. When his wife left him, he didn’t tell anyone at the office and nobody there ever found out.

The problem hit him when these college hot shots sat down at the table next to him though the whole store was mostly empty and they could have sat anywhere. They sat next to him in the corner and it distracted his senses immediately. Number crunching was put on hold when he noticed what book they were discussing, most likely, for an English class at the state school down the road. The author is Henry James, and the title will remain anonymous because it is not important. He listened though he wished he didn’t have to at their comments one after the other. He winced at what he thought was their misdirected passion and conviction at the author’s original intent in resolving the plot the way he did. It was unbearable. He went for his latte but tipped it back to realize its emptiness. And, out of character for Greg, he opened a game of Solitaire to play until he won but still he could not concentrate. His distraction became obvious and at that point he decided to leave.

I cannot let this happen. I have waited far too long and spent way too much money on Starbucks coffee to sit and watch our man walk out the front door and go back to work just like every other day. So, I cue the mistake.

“Sir, your latte’s ready,” the teenage cashier looks at Greg from across the store. He has zits on his chin and he holds Greg’s favorite latte in his hand.

He frowns, “I didn’t order another one. It must be for someone else.”

“I have an order here for a latte and I’ve never had anyone else get this kind of latte, sir.”

“It must be a mistake.”

“Well it’s yours if you want it,” the cashier puts it on the counter and goes back to cleaning mugs.

Greg looks around, shrugs his shoulders, and walks up slowly to get his prize: something free. He brings it back to his table and sits down. This latte is for sipping, he decides, but he usually gulps.

It doesn’t take much when you have as much experience as I.

Greg tried to immerse himself in his numbers once again but his efforts were useless against the pounding torrent of collegiate na�¯vet�© blockading his eardrums. Still he decided to stay and finish his free latte.

It could have been the music, the latte, the appearance of the outside world through glass windows, anything (even I don’t know sometimes) but BOOM-he was back at his college dorm room kicking a soccer ball down the hall toward his roommate and best man Chuck. An affectionate memory.

I cued the shift in discussion. Sometimes folks need proof for the deep things they see in themselves.

“But the main character was nothing without his few subtle friendships, ravaging antagonists to him at times but absolutely faithful in pulling him through.”

I really am an artist. To top it off…

Looking out the window Greg saw his ex-wife drive by with his two children in the car: four and six years old, a little boy and a little girl. He leaned back in his chair and exited Microsoft Excel. Greg was not one to share his desires with anyone but even he could not shut off their enduring voice. His little girl walked in the front door first, pushing it open as hard as she could and following was his son held by the woman to whom he pledged his life. Of course, he took it back. His children did not immediately see him, hidden in the corner by a flock of well-meaning suburban students, but his ex-wife never took her eyes off him as she walked across the room.

“Happy birthday, dear.” She knew him too well.

“Huh,” he laughed, “I thought it was just a mistake.”

“He was supposed to say ‘Happy 35th‘ before he gave it to you. I’ll get him for it later.”

He got up to hug her and his children then he put away the laptop in its leather carrying case and walked out with them.

I know, the redemption is so small, but he’s on his way. Some things take time.

“But how do we know James even meant to intentionally do that if there wasn’t even a hint of sarcasm in any of his other works. I don’t think we can assume…” conversation trails off as the car drives down the road.

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