Coffee Shop Stories


I like to dabble in the short story.  These are my submissions to NPRs “3 minute story” series inspired by the following photo.

Story 1
“Wanted: A gently used electric guitar for beginner student $40 or less, a small amp for $50 or less, and some earplugs for dad, call before 10 pm”

Of all the music ads under my careful scrutiny, this one stands out. I imagine some gangly, zit-ridden, teenage boy with scraggly brown hair, wearing Chucks and tight jeans, a concert T-shirt and a flannel. He lives with his dad. They’re lower middle class and the son is desperate to be a rockstar. The kid has worked doggedly to bring his grades up at school so his dad plans on rewarding him with a surprise that won’t clobber his finances.

I laugh to myself and take a sip of coffee. Twenty years of experience and I’m relegated to the coffee shop circuit. Performing light cover songs in a small corner cafe trumpets the professional musician’s swan song. No customers actively listen. They converse as I become live Muzak and decorative furniture, a background not a centerpiece. I used to be a gangly teenager with rockstar vision and the pursuit of those dreams has left me with hazy memories of some good times and an uncertain future. I’m pushing forty. I’m going gray. I have no education. I have a beer gut. I’m not married. And frankly, I’m not happy. I’m almost despondent.

Rude sketches of people pass the window on their sidewalk path, washed out in the blue hues of dusk. How can I lift my mood with such a pathetic view? I get up, disgusted, and leave the newspaper sitting at the table. I decide to begin my set early and get over with. I stride to my “stage” the empty floor spot between the two wobbly speaker stands, where tables and chairs were pushed away. I pick up my old Gibson. I plug it in to the amp. A wild mood strikes me. Usually the gain and the volume are turned down to 4 or 5. I crank both to 10. And I begin to rage.

I play a Misfits cover, screaming and howling maniacally into the mic, curse words and all. Everyone is watching me… now. Jaws drop agape, eyes open wide, hands cover ears. I see wincing and grimacing and I see the manager walking over to me, her mouth moving furiously, her eyes flashing with annoyance. I know she wants me to stop but I pretend like I’m absorbed and rapt with my performance. I close my eyes and enjoy the moment of rebellion. She pulls the plug to the power strip. I keep playing and singing unamplified. Then she grabs my arm.

I freeze the antics. I want to hit her but I’m a wash-up, not a violent criminal. I stand shamelessly as she loudly admonishes me. I grin at her. A pink veil of anger falls over her face and she froths threats of withholding my paltry 75 bucks, making herself look more of an ass than I just did. The patrons watch intently, waiting for an explosion, disaster, or blood. Screw the 75 bucks. I don’t feel like speaking so I shrug my shoulders, turn my back on her and pack up my gear. It’s only 7:00 and the show is over. On my way out, I glance at the newspaper sitting on the table next to the window. It’s still open to the classified ads.

“Good luck, kid.” I mumble as I open the door and step out into the dark with my guitar in one hand and my amp in the other.

Story 2

People inside a building get real nervous when they catch you looking at them from the outside. I figure, they sit staring at everybody walking by the window so what’s the harm in staring right back for a change. I can feel their eyes on me, judging me, and who are they to judge? I’m no animal on the street just because I can’t afford to sit in some fancy booth judging people. So I stare right back until they look away. The way I see it, I win. It puts some pep in my step.

Yesterday, about the time when the sun has gone completely down and all that’s left is shades of blue, I walked past that fancy new coffee shop they put on the corner of Fifth and Main. Boy ,did I catch someone staring at me real hard! It was this kid, sitting at a small red table next to the window, pretending to look at the newspaper. He must have been some sort of college student, because he didn’t look a day over twenty and had some smart-looking glasses on. So I slowed down and stared at him hard. Our eyes locked tight. He had some bright blue eyes, all sparkly, up-to-no-good and he would not look away. I stopped directly in front of him and he leaned closer to the glass. So there we were, nose-to-nose with a piece of glass separating us. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I would end up standing there for an hour trying to win this one. Damn kid. I just turned and started walking away. I didn’t bother to look back.

Next thing I knew, someone is tapping me on the shoulder. I turned and to my surprise, it’s college boy. He’s a small young man, only comes up to my chin. I looked down at him and honestly, I was a bit confused as to why he came after me.

He asked “Hey, aren’t you Mr. Dorsey?”
I said “Yeah “Who are you?”

He said “I’m David Perkins. I went to Jefferson elementary. I remember you worked in the cafeteria and used to pull out everyone’s loose teeth.”

I said “Yeah. I did. Did I pull out yours?”

He told me “Yes, you did. I was so hungry but I couldn’t eat my lunch because I had this dangling front tooth that wouldn’t let go. I raised my hand and you came over. You got a napkin and put it around my tooth. I remember being really scared but you distracted me and told me to try and find the gold spot in your eye. Then you yanked and it came right out.”

It was strange running into a kid whose tooth I yanked out 15 years ago and 500 miles away. I rarely met a tooth I couldn’t beat and I must have pulled out a thousand. I didn’t remember him like he remembered me. I was at a loss for words and not quite sure what to do. Then he asked me if I would like to join him for coffee and I figured since he ran out after me, it would be rude to not accept. Plus, I wasn’t rushing to get anywhere and it was cold outside.

We sat at the table next to the window, with our fancy coffees, making observations about the people walking by and I really liked being on the other side of the glass for a change.


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