My office-away-from-home is the Paradise Bakery and Cafe at Hamilton Town Center on the Noblesville/Fishers border. I can be found there several days a week, hopefully at that one four-top table with the handy plug in for my laptop, surrounded by various sorts of Shakespeare stuff -- currently Othello, Much Ado About Nothing and King Lear, but also a with a copy of Beowulf and another of The Canterbury Tales and sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been easier, when all was said and done, to have become a fortune-teller or a traveling hobo, both of which are occupations that strike me as being less likely to drown one in a sudden avalanche of books -- and lapping up a cup of coffee. So I'm sort of a regular and I see the same people there all the time, which isn't that surprising when it comes to the counter staff, but maybe a bit more so when it comes to the clientele, who are obviously people using the restaurant with its cozy and cheerful atmosphere as their own offices.
The two people who man the bakery counter where I order my sesame bagel are a couple of guys in their twenties who are always very polite and friendly and say, "Hi, nice to see you! How are you today?" Only the other day, one of them, the one with the glasses, made a misstep that embarrassed all three of us and reminded me of the many times when I have had to get the tire iron out of the trunk of my van to pry my foot out of my mouth.
Through the doors the other day, laden down with my giant purse, the laptop bag and a satchel full of books, happy to see that I was the only person in line, since I felt very certain that my shoulder was about to be dislocated. I staggered to the glass counter and set down the satchel at my feet with an "Ooof!" and looked up to find both men smiling at me in their how-can-I-help-you sort of way.
"Well, hello, young lady," the one with the glasses said jovially. "Sesame bagel? Cup of coffee?"
For some reason, his greeting took me aback and made me goggle at him slightly. Which I'm sure led to an attractive facial expression. It's just that I decided right then that there are times when someone my age can be addressed as "young lady," and those times, specifically, are times when I'm being spoken to by an elderly person. Because to them, I am a young lady.
But being addressed as "young lady" by a guy who obviously just graduated from high school - or more to the point, graduated from a bottle to a sippy cup -- within the past couple of years, well. It seemed cheeky and condescending, as if he was actually saying, "I am acknowledging the fact that you are two weeks older than dirt, but trying to assure you, through the medium of humor, that you look every day of your advanced years, plus a decade." And for me to reply, "I'd like a sesame bagel and a medium coffee, old gaffer," didn't have quite the same zing to it. Since, you know, Cary Grant.
It was awkward. I didn't really want it to be awkward because I don't think the young man was intentionally trying to be boorish in his behavior. But, you know, awkward nonetheless. The other guy sprang into action at the register, rang in my order and gave me my total; I handed over my debit card. The bold one with the glasses cleared his throat nervously and grabbed my bagel from the display case, turning his back to slice it and send it through the toaster. His very back seemed to be saying WhydidIsaythatWhydidIsaythatWHYDIDISAYTHAT?
"Would it help," the other young man whispered, returning my debit card to me, "if I told you that he's on a work release program from an institution for the socially inept?"
I laughed good-naturedly. "I'm sorry, I can't hear you. Because I am very, very old."
But Young Glasses wasn't done yet. "Can I carry your bags to a table for you?" he gabbled, turning around with a tray holding my toasted bagel and a mug.
I fixed him with a look, only slightly truculent. "Are you asking because you make a habit of helping ladies to their tables, or is this more a matter of you assisting the feeble octogenarians who come through the door?"
Then we all had a good chuckle and he manfully shouldered my laptop bag and satchel - I carried my purse and the tray with my bagel and coffee cup - and when he set everything down at the table I indicated, I resisted the urge to pinch his cheek and say, "Aren't you just the sweetest boy? I bet your mommy is very proud of you!"
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