Working at a café in Manhattan has its share of perks. I have unlimited access to coffee and Nutella; I can wear, quite literally, anything I like (read: “slumber-party chic”). I’m also not required to suffer 8 hours in front of a computer screen every day. Instead, I have the opportunity to interact with a myriad of personality types, eccentrics notwithstanding. Every coffee shop has its share of regular customers; my coffee shop has Rose.
Conversing with Rose is like brushing up against myself at another age. We lead disparate lives – Rose is in her late 30’s and resides in the Bronx with her husband and two children; I’m in my early 20’s and live in Brooklyn with two roommates I found on the internet – but the two of us share an uncanny emotional connection. We also share the same source of daily inspiration: Rose’s eleven year old son, Sonny.
Sonny is at the perfect age and of the perfect temperament; so perfect, in fact, that you’re tempted to grab him by the shoulders and draw him firmly to your breast, holding him tight in a vain attempt to conspire against the aging process.
“He’s so,” I once remarked to his mother, “even.”
And he is. He’s thoughtful, observant, smart and astute. He’s wide-eyed, conversant, polite and, sometimes, stubborn. His idol is Bobby Flay. He loves to cook, but professes a distaste for chocolate; it is, in his words, “unoriginal.”
“Perhaps,” I countered, challenging Sonny’s fundamental aversion to chocolate, “it’s your duty as an aspiring chef to manipulate the ingredient in a way that suits a different palate. Your palate.” I mentioned the fact that there are, after all, many different kinds of chocolate, as well as different brands, all with varying percentages of cacao content.
“Well,” he slowly conceded, “I COULD mix it with something spicy. Like, maybe to marinate chicken in…”
“Like a molé?” I offered.
“Yeah!” he responded eagerly, warming to the idea.
Often, Rose and I glean more from Sonny that he does from us, the ostensibly wiser adults. (Did you know, for example, that the crocodile is widely considered to be the most superior member of the animal kingdom?) Rose and I, in Sonny’s presence, allow ourselves to inhabit a childlike mentality; that is, we take care to listen, consider, inquire, and hypothesize. We aren’t stiff, staunch or stentorian in our opinions.
The interactions I share with Sonny and Rose often mark the conversational highpoint of my day - at 8:30 a.m., no less. These conversations unravel over the course of just a few minutes and cover simple topics: film, field trips, weekend plans. When we talk, it’s less an exchange of statements and opinions than it is a communal stirring pot of words and ideas, each of us tending to the topic at hand.
Though we stand at opposite sides of the counter, the three of us coexist on the basest, most simple level. We connect as people. We wash our faces and hands in each others’ presence and leave the bar refreshed, properly fitted to greet the new day. Sonny departs for his first-period class; Rose makes her way to a cubicle in Herald Square; I return to the dirty dishes behind the counter. All of us walk away noticeably brightened, spiffy with some sort of evolved understanding.
I know Rose and Sonny would agree.