I don't do a lot of shit-talking. I'm the kind of guy who, in the middle of launching a personal attack, hears a voice in his head start to stand up for his target: I'll be like, “Fudge that fudging motherfudger!” and then immediately flip it around on myself and think: Yeah, but, I don't know—Dick Cheney seems like he likes his family, right?
But as the name of the column, Presently Tense, implies, sometimes when you're agitated, you feel like you just have to state your case. And right now I'm about as agitated as an agitator that's been removed from a Laundromat washing machine or an activist organizing committee, placed in a shopping cart and pushed really hard into the door of a car.
I'm going to state this as level-headedly as I can, and I'm not bad at it.
I earned a fudging expensive degree in a field of study devoted to the dispassionate, reasoned and civil examination of argument. I'm not saying I'm objective, but it's a fun thing to attempt once in a while; I recommend it as an alternative to Sudoku.
So, anyway, last week, I told the owner of Café Bassam to go to hell. It was probably the second longest conversation we've had in the almost 20 years I've been his customer. I admit I might have been out of line in telling him to go to hell. I probably should've said “heck.”
According to me, here's what went down:
I enter the café around 10 p.m. Thursday night with my friend Sean. The place is approximately two-thirds full of customers. In front is a row of four attached, small, old, wooden folding chairs that look like they came from an estate sale at a 1920s industrial school for mischievous children. These chairs are a pain in the ass, but we choose to sit there anyway 'cause it's by the window.
A young woman is sitting in the chair on the right side of the row, with a tiny table in front of her about the size of the laptop she has on it. The two empty chairs in the middle of the row don't have tables in front of them; the one on the far left, also vacant, does.
Sean sets his computer case on that table and goes to pick out his tea. While he's deciding, I get my usual from the awesome barista, go back to the table and move Sean's bag to the chair so I can put my tea down. I have a chair but no tiny table of my own. I notice three more tiny tables nearby that are not being used.
In fact, there are plenty of empty tables throughout the café. And just as I'm setting my tea down, a group on the other side of the café gets up and leaves: another vacant table.
So, I grab one of the unused tiny tables and move it over a few feet to the chair next to my friend's chair, where a table normally goes anyway, so we can sit side by side with our backs to the window, drink our tea and do some writing on our computers. People are always moving tables around in this place.
As I'm about to sit down, the owner comes over and says angrily, “One table only!” Not even “Hello.” I've been here several nights a week for the last year. I usually come in late on weeknights when it's pretty empty and always say goodbye to him personally when I leave, unless he's already snoring on his couch.
I say, “Man, I come here all the time. You know me.”
He says, “One table.”
I tell him I want my own tiny table because our two laptops won't fit on one. He says, “This is not a living room.” I glance at the living-room-style décor, the other people on computers and the living-room couch he sleeps on while the underpaid young women do all the work.
I say, “Look, there's a lot of empty tables.”
He says, “It might get busy later!”
I tell him, “Dude, I come here almost every night. I spend money. You know me. Do you think I am not a gentleman enough to give up a table if it's needed?”
He says, “No. One table.”
And that's when I get right in his face and raise my voice and tell him where he can go and that I'll never come there again and that he doesn't know how to treat people. I say goodbye to the hardworking barista, who deserves better than this place. On my way out, I loudly say to Sean, “Fudge this place!” No, that's not accurate. What I said was “Fuck this place!”
I wish my experience was an anomaly, but it isn't. Sean had already had a similar dispute with the owner, as had my friend Mark, who gave up on Cafe Bassam months ago. Now I really get it.
I know there are people who love this place and the way the owner operates it. God knows I tried to give him multiple chances to deserve my money, but the table fight was the last straw.
There are other cafés in town that would be happy to have my business. I'm looking for one.
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