Every once in a while someone asks me why I don’t post fiction here. I never have a good reason, but I never get around to doing it, either. At least, I haven’t until now. This morning I was poked about it again, and I figured now was as good a time as any.

So, let me introduce Mr. Pym. Mr. Pym is the director of TIDY (Temporal Integrity Department), a small government agency with the big job of keeping wandering time travelers from doing (too much) damage. He’s a minor character in a story I’m currently working on, but I’m not sure how long that’s going to last. He’s starting to steal the show. 

Those of you who’ve managed to follow my bouncing around the country know that I made a Boston to California move like Mr. Pym does. While I never had an experience quite like this–the coffee shops in Cali were a bright spot in my time there–his culture shock is inspired by my bumbling attempts to figure out how to live in a place where drivers wave each other through stop signs.    

The coffee shop was full, but no one was behind the register when Mr. Pym arrived. The only barista was in the kitchen making cookies. When Mr. Pym got to the counter, the barista smiled and waved and then went back to molding and placing tiny rounds of dough on a cookie sheet. They do things differently here, Pym muttered to himself when the phone rang just as the barista was finished with the cookies, and the barista slammed the oven shut and sprinted for the phone. They do things differently here, he muttered again and again and again as the barista and the person on the other end of the line talked about a large order of sandwiches (“The pickles are vegan, yes.”), the weather, their children, and whether or not they thought it was likely that a ballot measure to create a nature reserve that had something to do with ducks was likely to pass in the next election.

Finally, the barista hung up the phone and went to the counter to take Mr. Pym’s order. At least, Mr. Pym thought he was there to take his order. When Pym opened his mouth to order a small coffee with a price that made him wince, the barista started in again about the weather. Did Mr. Pym like the weather? The weather was fine. The weather was always fine in California, except when it was raining buckets, and even then he understood the rain came as a relief. He didn’t know first hand about the weather. He had moved to California from Boston less than a week ago, and a week wasn’t nearly long enough to make any definitive statements about something as subtly nuanced as the weather, but it was long enough to suspect that there was more to the question about the weather than the weather, that this smalltalk at the register had some purpose. Bonding, maybe? He had no desire to bond with this man. He wanted coffee. Black. He said so, and the barista looked hurt. Mr. Pym didn’t like hurting anyone, but he didn’t know what else to do. Efficiency was the sincerest form of etiquette, a sign that you believe the time of others to be as important as your own. It wasn’t as if the barista didn’t need it between the cookies and the catering orders and the line building up behind him and threatening to spill out the door, and Mr. Pym wanted to be courteous, but the barista didn’t seem to care a bit about Mr. Pym’s intentions or the line. He wanted to know about the weather and Mr. Pym’s preferred “blend.”

Mr. Pym sighed and looked at the list of choices: Nicaragua, Ethiopia, Mexico, Hawaii. He didn’t give a damn about where his coffee came from. He could list half a dozen social issues in several of those places, but why they had been chosen to provide this coffee shop with coffee, he had no idea. Well, if he couldn’t be polite to the barista, he could at least think of the person who grew the beans.

“Ethiopia needs it the most, I suppose, don’t they?” Mr. Pym asked. The barista looked confused. “The money, I mean.”

“I don’t know,” the barista said, “But it’s a good blend. Notes of vanilla and cherry. I roasted it this morning.”

The barista stood a little taller, clearly proud, and there was no choosing any of the others after that. Mr. Pym handed over his money, and the barista finally started to pick up speed. Maybe that was the secret, Mr. Pym thought. Maybe people move faster here if you wave money at them. He resolved to try it the next time he was in a hurry.

Advertisements