He Laughed

The old man opened the door to the coffee shop and took a step in my general direction. I looked up from the blank WORD document on my laptop and met his eyes as a stream of gibberish jetted from his mouth.

“Sorry, sir. You know the rules. You’re going to have to go outside.” From the demeanor of the barista who had come out from behind the counter (and who was probably no more than a college freshman) I could tell this was a regular thing. Despite the familiarity of the situation, I could detect a hint of cautiousness peeking behind his bravado. I wondered if the man, although probably homeless. had done something in the past to cause the trepidation the young man sought to hide from his voice.

The old man stared at the barista behind the counter, failing to comprehend the situation.

“C’mon, man. Don’t make me call the cops again.” The whiskers on his face hoped to project enough authority to defuse the situation before it escalated any further, as the citizens inside the coffee shop stopped what they were doing to watch the impromptu play put on by the actors.

As if a light bulb clicked on, the old man nodded and shuffled back outside to the familiar bench in front of the coffee shop.

And started to laugh.

He sat inches away from me, on the other side of the glass, laughing. A steady, machine gun stream of giggles that went on for such a period of time I felt like it had to be on a loop. I thanked God he had his back to me, sitting straight against the bench in front of the front window of the coffee shop. To witness such an example of lunacy would have invited me into the madness.

I had been coming to the local coffee shop to write for a couple of months now and saw the table next to the front window as my own. Here were the only two cushioned seats in the establishment, the rest of the tables and chairs nothing more than uncomfortable brown wood framed by a faded green something else. I would come in the early afternoon, before school let out and after the retired folks shuffled in to claim my spot and look out into the world. Writer’s block could not hold up to the world passing me by and I could always count on an interesting character walking by, the police performing official police matters or the weather as inspiration to shake me from my doldrums.

Today was different though, with the presence of the old man laughing. I guessed he was homeless, based on the amount of filth accumulated on black hoodie and the condition of the gray sweat pants he was wearing. I was in full knowledge of the condition of the man, because of my prime seating. Due to a cold I could not shake, I was surprised I was even able to hear the man; such was the congestion that had become an occupying force inside my head.

The laughter eventually sputtered out and I watched him as his head darted about, his eyes never settling on one object. Random tufts of white hair danced in the breeze he was creating and as his neck turned I noticed his right ear, specifically the amount of hair protruding from his right ear. If someone said an elderly squirrel had crawled into his ear for the upcoming winter I would have believed it on the spot. Wild white hair billowed about like the tentacles of a Kraken searching for its next meal.

A couple of years ago as I lay in bed with a former girlfriend, she absentmindedly commented on the random hairs pouring forth from my ear. I shot up in indignation, proclaiming I was too young to display such a condition. With a shrug that suggested a lack of interest in my words or my being, she told me I could think what I wanted, and the truth was in the mirror. I blew her off and concentrated on her literal reciprocation. The moment she left I retreated to the bathroom to face my fears.

Ever since I was a little boy I equated ear hair with old age. I can remember sitting next to my grandpa and looking with odd fascination at the bird’s nest residing inside. How could he possibly hear anything I was saying? As I grew older, my focus changed from my grandpa to my own father, watching him as he transitioned from a man to a senior. To me, the hair was the clock on which your time could be measured. The moment it arrived is the moment your clock started. Eventually the hair would reach its zenith and every second after would count. My grandpa had run out, my dad would be expiring soon enough.

I was no longer a boy.

The laughter started up again, spittle flying from his mouth with not a care in the world. He knew something, a secret that I did not possess. His age gave him insights, knowledge that one day I would have. The cost of which would be found on the calendar. My laptop remained open, an empty WORD document staring back at me. Not a thought could come to mind, only the obsession of watching this innocent lunatic laugh in the face of God knows what. For the second time that day the laughter died out and the man stood up. As casually as one can, I stared out the side of my eye and gawked at the insanity presenting itself to me.

The eyes nestled deep into his skull were larvae gray and his face displayed all the signs of a hard life. Grooves, scars, spots providing the atlas into his past. His lips were cracked, having been exposed to the elements far too long and the random teeth still claiming residence were a dark yellow. The skin hung loose from his neck and I had the feeling if I came across this man thirty years earlier I would probably recognize him. I suppose it was due to my staring that I failed to notice his staring back, alternating between the sight of me sitting and my laptop. My concentration was broken by the tapping of his crusty yellow fingers against the glass. With a jolt I sat at attention and looked at him. He tapped again and gestured for me to join him outside, on the bench.

I was once again a boy.

With great apprehension I looked around and found that no one else registered, or even showed a registration of the moment. The surrounding members of the coffee shop, drinkers and drinkees, were lost in their own world of reading, talking or working. Coming to my senses, I reminded myself I was not a little boy, I was a man and there was no danger lurking on the other side of the glass. I was a writer; there were tremendous gains for me in joining him on the bench. I stood up, confident in leaving my laptop where it was and opened the front door. With obvious effort the elderly gentleman slid to the right, providing me with more space than I needed.

The stench!

For the first time in my life I thanked God for my stuffy nose. If I could smell him through my current condition I couldn’t imagine the reality of the situation. He sat, staring straight ahead as I my slender frame grew acclimated to the harsh angles of the bench. Finding a comfortable position, I looked over at my new found friend, who continued to look beyond what I could see.

And so we sat.

And I waited.

The temperature was dropping and I realized I came out here only wearing a hoodie. The chill making its way up my spine was too much to ignore and I decided that no amount of creative inspiration was worth pneumonia. Before I stood up I turned around and saw someone had occupied my chair. He was staring at me and his fingers rested along the bottom of my laptop.

What the hell did he think he was doing?

I tried to jump up and instead rose tentatively and become overwhelmed by a phlegm filled cough that took forever to fully arrive. After enough germs were spread, I spat out the remaining nonsense and opened the front door.

Immediately I felt the unease as all eyes were on me. I took a couple of steps towards my seat and went to ask the kid what he thought he was doing at my computer but instead only gibberish poured out of my mouth.

“Sorry, sir. You know the rules. You’re going to have to go outside.”

I stared at the barista, who had come out from behind the counter, failing to comprehend the situation.

“C’mon, man. I just told you. Don’t make me call the cops again.”

As if a light bulb clicked on, I nodded and shuffled back outside to my familiar bench.

And I laughed.

 

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Story Time with Tom Starita

Short and sweet…

Welcome to Goppygots 3.0, the reincarnation of the dream I once woke up from. Whether it’s standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers, the dinner table or the random dude standing in line at Bed Bath & Beyond listening in on a conversation with my girlfriend, I love to tell stories. Goppygots 3.0 is going to be just that, “Story Time with Tom Starita.” Some are going to be funny, others weird and maybe even verging into the slightly dramatic territory. I said this is going to be short and sweet so………………….

My friends and family are sometimes amazed at the amount and level of absurdity that pours out of my fingers. “How do I do it?” They wonder with one part amazement and two parts discomfort. At some point someone will ask the inevitable question that anyone who has ever written anything gets asked,

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

For years I put off their question, either mumbling a reply or saying I didn’t know. Today though, I think it’s time to reveal my secret. In doing so I will be ostracized from the writer’s community and forced to spend the rest of my remaining days sharpening pencils that will never sharpen and charging laptops that will never charge. Despite my impending doom I feel that this knowledge shouldn’t be hoarded like the Holy Grail. It should be accessible to everyone. My pain will be your pleasure and I am fine with that.

You ever wonder why coffee shops are full of seemingly unemployed people typing away on their laptops for hours while the small coffee they bought hours ago remains seemingly untouched on their table?

That’s because all writers obtain their ideas from coffee shops.

Like everything else in life, there is a certain protocol about receiving these glorious ideas. You just can’t go up to the counter and demand the equivalent of “War and Peace” be handed to you along with a blueberry muffin. No sir, that would be a serious faux pas. Allow me to bestow upon you, my faithful reader the rules of engagement.

First off, pick a good spot. Me personally, I like to sit at, Beans and Leaves. (unpaid plug) Upon arrival, you must let three people pass you on the line. The excuse you give is irrelevant — you’re not ready yet, you’re waiting for someone, you don’t speak English. Whatever it is just come up with something and let three people pass you. After the third person passes you step up to the barista and say in a low voice exactly what you want. For example, if you want to write a short story with a happy ending you would say,

“Short cup, light and sweet.”

Perhaps you’re writing a comedy.

“Medium cup, strawberry raisin.”

However, if you wish your novel to be full of meaning with vast amounts of hidden subtext you would say,

“Large cup, extra caramel.”

You get the idea?

Whatever you say, the barista will take the proper sized cup and ask you for your name. At that point you must say, “Edgar Allen Poe.” I don’t know why you have to give his name. Some people believe it was Poe who figured out the connection between creativity and caffeine. Others point to the fact that he died in a tragic coffee bean accident. Whatever the case, his is the name you give.

From there you wait.

Find an unoccupied table or chair and sit. Make yourself comfortable. After all, you just spent two dollars and eighteen cents for the privilege of sitting there as long as you fancy. Take out your laptop or archaic pen and notebook and open them to a fresh page. For the next three minutes, visualize the words you wish to appear. This is very important. You have to think of something very specific. It could be the opening paragraph, your actual ending or a random piece of dialogue. Once you have those words in your head, preferably at least twenty five to be safe, you must stand up and walk over to the barista. When they see you coming they won’t say, “Edgar Allen Poe,” because you already said that and the creative process is never redundant. Instead, they will make the sound a raven makes. Unfortunately, most baristas these days don’t know what sound a raven makes and will either make a generic bird noise or pretend they’re Ray Lewis. Regardless of the noise they make, pay the disinterested person behind the counter, extend your hand and take from them an empty cup.

Some writers like to carry the ruse a little further by going over to the station with sugar, cream, straws and napkins and will grab the necessary accruements. I prefer to get to the point and immediately return to where I was sitting.

Take the cup and pretend you are dumping the contents onto your laptop or notebook. Make sure you get everything out. You don’t want to leave something important inside like the ending or the name of your main character. Tap the bottom of the cup several times, give it a little shake and once you are absolutely confident the cup is empty only then can you turn it right side up and place it on the upper ride side of the table.

This is the point where the magic happens.

Close your eyes and concentrate on the one person you cannot live without. It could be your spouse, person you’re dating, a parent or sibling. Hell, it could even be the cute blonde currently sitting at the other table who asked you for a napkin. The point is concentrate on someone you have strong feelings about. Then, take three quick deep breaths and whisper as faintly as possible,

“This is so weird.”

When you open your eyes, your notebook or computer will be full of exotic characters that seem to appear in some semblance of order. The reason why it doesn’t appear in a real language is because the magic doesn’t know what language you speak and the more you think about it, the more reasonable a thought that becomes. If you are using a computer, the solution is easy — highlight the entire document and change the language to English. If you are using a notebook the conversion is slightly more difficult. You need to dip your pen in the empty coffee cup still sitting on your table and as gently as possible lightly shade over the paper, making sure to barely graze the surface. You don’t want to scribble over the exotic characters and lose their meaning forever.

After a minute or so of shading, you will slowly start being able to make out certain letters and words. A couple more minutes later the entire text will appear.

Eureka!

Maybe you’re wondering, why if this entire process only takes a couple of minutes, then why do some people spend hour upon hour inside these coffee shops, looking like they’re hard at work?

Two reasons:

The first is image and if Andre Agassi taught us anything, it’s that image is everything. Writers want you to think that writing is the hardest thing on Earth. If you knew it took a couple of minutes to write an entire book then every Tom, Dick and Harry would write their own books and the market would be saturated with tales of vampire zombie S&M young adult romance novels.

No one wants to live in that world.

The second and much more important reason why writers spend hours inside coffee shops is to check their emails.

That LinkedIn invite from your old high school boyfriend waits for no one.

Before you go rushing out to your local coffee shop, please heed one last piece of advice. It might even be the most important one of all. But Tom, I can hear you think because I’m a telepath. You gave me all the steps. What else is left?

Ahh, simple wannabe writer, only the most important one of all:

You must dispose of the coffee cup. If you leave the coffee cup on the table, you are inviting a stranger to sample the same idea you have and then it’s a legal hassle of who had the idea first? This is why there are so many similar stories out there today; people don’t throw out their trash. Only after your coffee cup is properly disposed of can you move on and feel safe and secure.

There you have it. The secret is out. I already feel the angry stares of writers wherever I go. I am now a target. Honor my memory and use these powers wisely. I wonder though, did not the writing gods give me these words? Will I be damned, expelled from our collective Narnia and forced to spend eternity writing articles for Buzzfeed? But how can I be punished for revealing Truth?

Perhaps the answer is simple; maybe I just drink too much coffee.