I rolled down to the Starbucks at the mall after work, pretentious foreign language novel under my arm and jaunty beret neatly covering my bald spot. First, I ordered the public off-menu Sulawesi pango-pango, which I always order.
“Excuse me,” I said as the girl swiped my gift card. “The public off-menu has the tall listed as $3.00 and you just charged me $3.50.”
The barista looked at me funny. In Palos Verdes fifty cents isn’t an actual monetary sub-unit. “Oh, you’re right,” she said. Then she thumbed up at the publicly secret off-menu. “The manager hasn’t changed the prices yet.”
“Well he has on the register … ” I trailed off.
“Right,” she said, rolling her eyes and then taking out a complicated swipe card + key and getting the assistant manager’s authorized signature before refunding me my two quarters. I realized that even though people in PV don’t count quarters, the Starbucks assistant manager apparently does.
Next, I settled down at the table and took out my pretentious foreign language novel, and after that my even more pretentious issue of the Economist. It was conveniently opened to an article about quantitative easing in the EC and the way it has doused deflationary fears with mitochondrial expression of lysosomes and the mechanistic target of rapamycin.
No sooner had I comfortably propped up the pretentious foreign language novel so that everyone could see it than a crazy lady came up to me. I knew she was crazy at first glance. She was blonde and very pretty but her eyes were crazy. It took one glance at the eyes for me to know, that and the shopping cart. She was in the middle of a cramped Starbucks with an entire shopping cart from the Pavilions grocery store next door.
Beautiful women with giant shopping carts in the Starbucks are generally crazy. Inside the shopping cart was a mountain of food, mostly chips and frozen items. The frozen items were melting, I supposed, further evidence of her craziness. Atop Mt. Frozen Food she had perched her two screaming, squalling, snot-covered brats, the obvious source of her insanity.
The children had that dirty, fungal, contagious look of 2-year-olds who had been scrubbed clean at 7:00 AM but by 5:00 PM were covered in a layer of food bits, spit, dirt, dried blood, grunge from the floor of the shopping aisles, and spilled liquids whose chief qualities were brown. The children smelled sour and were full of terrible energy. I felt slightly crazy just looking at them.
The woman had that triple-post-partum depression that has morphed into edgy infanticidal tendencies, and she paid no attention to the brats as they teetered, screaming, atop the melting ice cream, with lots of empty space between their heads and the hard floor they were poised to launch onto at any moment. The crazy woman glanced at my book and snorted contemptuously. Then to no one except perhaps the kids, since there didn’t appear to be any other Slavs in the cafe, she let out a string of what I can only assume were monstrous curses in Russian.
Although I don’t speak Russian, I do speak angry mother, and the phrase “Stop doing that or I will smack the shit out of you” is the same in all languages.
Just as I tried to refocus from her breasts to my pango-pango, she said something to me. I knew it was me because the only other people nearby were two high school kids who were shrieking and laughing at some private joke. “Hey you,” said the crazy lady. “Is that your bicycle?” She pointed to my trick whip leaning against the window.
“Yes,” I said, “but I won’t trade it for the cart and the kids.”
She laughed. “They terrible little monsters.” On cue the tousle-headed boy smacked his sister in the face, who responded by smacking him back and biting his arm. We moved our lips at each other for a few seconds until we could hear dimly through the din of howling cries.
“They don’t look like little monsters,” I smiled. “More like dreadful little blood-sucking aliens.”
The crazy lady brightened, perhaps hoping I’d reconsider the kid-trade offer she had been about to make before I had read her mind and rejected it. “You bicyclist? That’s very fancy bike for coffee shop riding.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m a professional.”
“You ride for the pro team?”
“Sure. I’m with Katusha.”
She cocked an eyebrow and said something that had po-russki stuck in it somewhere. “No, I don’t speak Russian,” I said. “I’m based here in the states.”
“My friend he is bicycle racer,” she said as one of the brats hurled the tub of half-thawed ice cream out of the fort.
“What’s his name? I probably know him. Hell, if he’s Russian I’ve probably beaten him.”
“Dmitri Shostakovich. You know him?”
“Dmitri? Sure. Russian dude from Moscow, right? Raced with him a bunch in Belgium.”
“You so smart,” she laughed. “But very bad liar. You just old man with fancy bike maybe no job because you hanging out around high school girls in coffee shop chatting at housewife when other man still working hard at job for family.”
“Hey, you got me wrong. Doesn’t Dmitri ride for a Continental team? Or is he on Oleg Tinkov’s development squad? I can’t remember, but I know the dude. Really.”
“Dmitri Shostakovich great Russian composer, he is died in 1975.”
“Oh,” I said. “THAT Dmitri Shostakovich. So, you come here often?”
The two brats were in a death clench of screams, hits, bites, and sloppy quiescent treats. “Yes, sometimes,” she said. “Do you?” The crazy in her eyes had dialed up to eleven. They went up to eleven.
I looked again at the kids. “No,” I said. “I’m visiting here from Texas. Leaving town in a half hour.” I left my pango-pango on the table, the cup still hot and half-full.
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