It was Friday evening, the 5th of July. Frustrated by a house that was a little too humid and clothes that were a little too sticky, I decided to go for a walk down to Boswell Book Company and the adjoining Starbucks and see if I couldn’t get some writing done there. I had high hopes. Surely a change of venue would jump-start my pen.
I load up my purse with a pen and notepad, and the magazine I’m currently reading, Taproot. The great writing in it had inspired me already, and just in case I couldn’t get anything written, there was no reason I couldn’t just sit and read. I walked due east and ordered a Cool Lime Refresher. I get out my pen and just sit. Here’s what happens.
Sitting here at the Starbucks on the corner of Downer and Webster. This may not be the most pretentious place on a street full of pretentious little shops, but it’s close. The weather’s nice enough that hardly anyone is here, and with three baristas, there’s literally one for every two patrons. I wonder what type of manager made this scheduling decision? I also wonder what makes the staff here think there’s nothing to do, despite the lack of patrons? But I’m not here to do a review.
I’m here to write. Or so I thought. The music is just loud enough to be distracting and the lack of customers makes every whir and grind, every tap and clatter wincingly loud. I know I’m being unfair. It’s a coffee shop, not my home office. But the house seemed stifling this afternoon; too humid to be comfortable. There are outdoor tables, also mostly empty, that I could go sit at. But, somehow, noticing the regular passage of cars, I know it won’t be any better.
There’s a man at a long table in front of me. From my perch on a high stool by a wall, I can easily watch him studying. His pencils and highlighters threaten to roll off the edge, though he’s careful to keep them corralled by his cell phone and wallet. Several sets of loose papers make up the outbuildings of this intellectual ranch. Another man is at the counter overlooking the street. He, too, is elbow deep in the tools of academia.
For the life of me, I don’t know how they do it. I certainly can’t. I pick up my drink and head back to the bookstore.
There’s a thousand reasons why I can’t write in a bookstore. Maybe ten thousand, or even more. They call out to me from the shelves, from the tables, from the racks. Cover art or only spines, it doesn’t matter. Moleskine black books and pads of artsy-fartsy Post-It notes. Pens, stationery, bookmarks, tote bags. An old man chuckles over greeting cards while two women compare notes on short story writers. The in-store stereo plays jazz and the low moans from a subdued saxophone and the subtle buzz of brushes on a snare tickle my eardrums just enough.
There are no tables here, and I’m forced to balance my notebook on my lap. The scuffed leather sofas are empty, and except for the one I’m sitting in, all the cloth chairs are too. You’d think it would be easy to write in an atmosphere so congenial to the written word, but it’s not.
I pick up my things yet again, and go outdoors. I guess I’ll just head back to the house.
Heading West down Bellevue I passed Henry’s. Already noisy, though it was still light out, one table of elderly German-speaking men were laughing uproariously over some joke and nearly spilling their pilsners in the process of back-slapping each other. They were viewed disdainfully by a nearby table of young women who were clearly pondering whether to move to a different area.
I continued to the next block where a large, multi-apartment home sported three young man lounging on a balcony. Their music was loud enough that I’m sure the other residents had neither need nor ability to play their own stereos. It’s a good thing I was walking, because there was no way I could get any writing done in that environment.
Just before crossing Maryland, I noticed a young couple kissing on the stoop of the Marybelle apartments. I can’t remember the last time I was that oblivious to anything but…uh…the matter at hand. Or at lips, as the case may be.
Stopping at Maryland for a police cruiser, sirens screaming, I wondered what on earth could be the matter. Despite its being a Friday night, the streets were oddly empty. Everyone is probably at Summerfest, I remembered.
I continued back to the house, and while I unlocked the door, I laughed to myself. It was a beautiful night. I had the house to myself and I could put the air conditioning on if I wanted to. Maybe I’d play around on the internet.
I don’t know what made me think I’d get any writing done.