Less than two weeks after the new Starbucks opened, the café around the corner shut it doors for good. Taped to the front window was a faint, handwritten note thanking the neighborhood for the memories and the “myriad kindnesses, Albany Park had bestowed upon us.” The first day they closed I noticed a handful of North Park University students standing outside looking nonplussed. One of them was either dancing erratically or casing the joint. Since North Park is largely a seminary school, I’m guessing the former. I haven’t seen anyone venture near the place since.
The real rub was that they just slipped out, dissolving into the night like some kind of an inverse vampire. The owners, a warmhearted pair of NPR liberals were not shy about expressing their views regarding the caffeinated behemoth descending upon them and though they never exactly vowed to fight it off, one still got the impression that at least they intended to die vocally. Maybe they’d write a litter to the Sun-Times or something. But they did nothing. The lack of Prospero’s speech and almost craven descent into the void, at first had me nervous. Did the boys from Seattle engage in something nefarious? Was murder afoot? For days I heard nothing. I’d walk past the empty storefront, stealing glances, trying not to be noticed. Then, as is humanity’s wont, I started to forget. The longer the store remained barren and the more it was masked by graffiti, the less I seemed to care.
Yesterday morning I saw my lesbian barrista friend sipping ice tea outside the new Starbucks. Reclining in a rattan patio chair beneath a green umbrella she was oblivious to the outside world. Deeply engaged in a book, she didn’t see me enter. Originally my plan was to finish the most recent issue of Commentary and then start the day’s paper in an area I liked to pretend was “my corner” was more often than not occupied whenever I arrived. But when I saw her ingesting the enemy’s bounty, I was suddenly overcome with intense feelings of shame. Not for me but for her. Was this former paragon of anti-establishment, anti-globalization unity actually drinking Starbucks? Out in the open no less? Surely she’d be embarrassed to see me. One could only imagine the dreadfully awkward scene would have ensued. Would she make an excuse? Pretend she didn’t care that she was just caught betraying her principles. Perhaps she’d act like she hadn’t seen me at all. I must admit the last option was the one I was most hoping for. She had the same uncomfortable look on her face everyone has when they’re engaged in something challenging. Only on her it looked much worse.
She noticed me in about three seconds and our conversation was predictably stilted. Although she didn’t seem embarrassed, neither of us mentioned where we were. After a few brief, “how’s it goings”, she left and I finished my magazine. Behind me an old man with a thick, gray goatee asked me if I’d gotten in a fight with my girlfriend. Clumsily, I replied that she wasn’t my girlfriend. He looked confused but smiled anyway and apologized for the interruption. She wasn’t my girlfriend. She wasn’t even my friend. She was an acquaintance and an infrequent one at that. Who the hell did I think I was deciding that she had breached some sort of personal moral code? I didn’t even know the woman. If anyone should have been embarrassed it was me.
But I wasn’t. Judging others may sound teenage and cliquey, but it is as natural as any other impulse. I won’t sermonize here, but I won’t obfuscate either. We’re judged every day by everyone we meet. We all know this. Just don’t let it elbow out room for reversals. Don’t let it close your mind.
There. There’s your $0.25 wisdom for the day.
But I was fine being human. Fine being imperfect. The air was salubrious and I took the long way home. I had to be at work in just over an hour, but still, I took the long way home.
August 15, 2007 12:42 PM PDT
i am an NPR listener and subscriber, too. politically speaking, i believe in fiscal temperance, social liberalism. i am often made to feel embarrassed or ashamed by the fact that i am a proponent of capitalism. i don't speak about my political and philosophical beliefs often in public for this reason and others.
as a person who has built a satisfying and richly rewarding career within the company, i have to say, this post makes me feel sad.
July 27, 2007 12:22 AM PDT
Marvelous picture - as always. A moving canvas of literary art.
Just one thing - when the old gentleman asked, you should have shined the nosy old guy on with something like...,
"Eh.., yep. She's my lesbian lover. We just got into an argument as to whether I could be lesbian too, because after all.., I like women too. Buy me some coffee and I'll tell you all you wanted to know about men lesbians and then some."
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