I sat at a coffee shop today. That sentence isn’t interesting or my most engaging introduction ever, but that’s what I did. I used to do this same thing in Colorado, so really life hasn’t changed all that much since my big move to Oregon a week ago. However, today, as I sat at this coffee shop with my laptop, a book, a friggin lot of coffee, and a cardboard house for my leftover breakfast burrito, I was suddenly no longer sitting alone. If you expected me to make this a spiritual experience and begin speaking metaphorically about Jesus or memories, you expected wrong. In this case I’m being quite literal. A man in a tan polyester suit invited himself to take a seat at my itty bitty table and was sitting close enough for me to palm his face if I wanted to. (I don’t know why I would, either, but he did have a rather thick, grey beard to stroke, so let’s not put it passed me). Now, of course this situation doesn’t bother me. I grew up in a home with brothers and am accustomed to finding naked, legless Barbies under my pillow, so I know better than most that personal space is nothing more than a mere luxury. It’s just that this particular gesture took me by surprise. Not only would I rather leave a place than do this personally, but it also never happens to me. (Except this one time in my romantic comedy-creating imagination. But this guy was wearing plaid and thought the guacamole stain on my dress was adorable.)
Anyway, since I’m still at tourist status I just ignored it. I live in a new town. A town that is a little more space-invading and has an entirely new set of social rules for me to abide by. “This is just what people do in Portland”, I thought, as he sat across from me. The thing is, he didn’t sit across from me in a way that would be normal, you know? He didn’t read his book while directing his person in a way to allow for privacy via body language. No, he turned to face me directly, knee-to-knee as if we were there together and I simply took a break from our conversation about coin collecting to watch a YouTube video about the topic. I pretended to be really focused on what I was working on at my computer and never once made eye contact so that I wouldn’t have to awkwardly approve of his decision to sit a face-slap across from me at this tiny table. Things continually got weirder as he poured packet after packet of sugar into a glass of water like that zombie alien thing from Men in Black. After every stir, he’d clank his spoon on anything he could find to put in his utensil’s path as an apparent attempt to get my attention. When that didn’t work, he’d take his handkerchief from his jacket pocket and blow his nose fiercely as if he were using his nostrils to sail a makeshift raft. This went on for several minutes until finally, I broke. I looked at him, expecting him to already be looking at me. Y’all. He wasn’t. The fact of the matter is he was consumed by the book he was reading and the dude couldn’t care less about me offering up some eye contact. He was just going about his day in his tan suit, trying to find a seat in a crowded coffee shop and I was the turd at the other side of the table making it something that it wasn’t. So we sat there together in silence, both of us minding our business and the task at hand. It was pleasant. He eventually left, leaving a disaster of trash and spilled sugar in his wake. He framed me as a slob. A notion I soon confirmed by trying to shove the morning’s soggy, torn breakfast burrito in my mouth like a lady. (PS – that’s impossible.)
As I walked to my car, I thought about this more and how stupid I was for making something harmless into something awkward for me. Suddenly, I had an itch I needed to scratch that was in the whereabouts of my ass. Not like my ass-ass, but like the upper right ass cheek region. Like, if my ass were a map of the United States it’d be near Maine. Really an innocent, unoffensive place to scratch in public, but one to feel a little insecure about all the same. Instead of hiding in someone’s shrubbery, or nonchalantly leaning against a telephone pole to satisfy the urge, you guys, I did the socially new thing I felt empowered to do after my encounter with Old Man Polyester. I walked down the street scratching my ass. Because it itched, darnit, and I don’t care who knows. What I’m trying to say is Portland is the kind of place that helps you put your ego aside and it has certainly been that for me in the last week. If all of this makes no sense to you and you feel emotionally unfulfilled at the end of all my rambling, the moral of the story is only this: In Portland no one cares about your comfort zone and you can scratch your ass if you want to. I love it. So who’s visiting?