October 9, 2002

old writing: untitled [la colombe]

Untitled [la Colombe]

La Colombe is the French coffee shop
found in the center of Philadelphia,
in the center of all that is hip,
where I get an almost daily fix.
She holds her aromas of French coffee and pastries
well-contained within her wooden walls,
safekeeping them from passers-by,
hoarding them for those deemed worthy to be called customers.

Ciao! Bonjour! Zdrastvoute!
Walking in to the small shop,
My ears are assailed with the
chatter and the low hum of accents,
some real and some fake,
orders for croissants with the correct intonation
and the whooshing of steaming milk.

The female patrons are always too thin
Clad in head-to-toe black and glasses they don’t need,
and smoking too many cigarettes.
The male patrons play chess and speak in tongues,
while staring at the women,
and smoking too many cigarettes.

I must always get my coffee to go,
all the tables occupied by patrons making a point
of sitting to be seen,
with their books on Eastern European philosophy
placed just so,
next to their laptops,
for all to see.

I give my order for my double latte,
to the emaciated French cashier who never fails to give me attitude,
who makes me feel small and misplaced here
in my plain t-shirt and jeans,
even though my t-shirt is black,
and I just quit smoking.

I consider giving her my order in my amateur Italian
or saying thank you with one of the four Russian words I know,
but I don’t,
because I’m not in Europe yet and I shouldn’t have to impress
this girl who probably only makes a quarter of what I do in salary.
But I want to.

Instead, I submissively give her my order in English
and move to the side for the next customer,
to fill my latte with condiments of sugar and cream.
I take my little hot cup of pseudo-culture,
with my copy of Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness”
that no one has seen, tucked quietly in my bag,
and head home.

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