Once upon a time, there was an old man named Rick who liked to read the paper at a certain Starbucks, which was in a Barnes & Noble. He liked to sit there and read the paper, and then read some sports magazines, and then just drink his coffee and stare at the tabletop, and he liked it to be quiet, damn it!
But the cafe was full of noisy couples, people with babies and young children, businessmen who’d get on their phones and shout for everyone to hear how important they were, hippies who ate with their mouths wide open and smacked and slurped, crazy people who muttered to themselves with many a sibilant ‘s’, and all kinds of nonsense from all kinds of people who didn’t understand what a cafe in a bookstore was clearly for, which was to sit quietly and read and relax.
Rick had lived a long time. In his younger days, he’d served his country abroad, and when he got home, he’d worked hard all the rest of his life for very little pay, and now that he was retired, he wasn’t shy about telling others what he thought about what they were doing, and what he thought they ought to be doing instead.
“If your child can’t control himself, miss,” he’d say to a young woman whose toddler was screaming and mashing brownie into his hair. “Perhaps you’d best keep home with him until he’s older.”
“Well, I suppose we all know you’re quite the fellow!” he’d announce to a man in a suit who was braying into his Bluetooth. “In my day, someone with such important business to conduct was wanted in the office.”
“Would you turn off that infernal racket?” he’d say to a teenager, who was playing a game with beeps and sound effects on her phone. “Or I’ll take that device and throw it into the street, and you after it! Does your papa know you’re out displaying yourself in such an indecent sweater?”
“It’s all in your head, you loon!” he’d bellow at a homeless man who was muttering to himself. “Take yourself in hand.”
Everyone in the café was used to Rick. They thought he was quite a character. When Rick’s birthday came around, the barista had an idea for a surprise. She knew it was his birthday, because he’d had to fill it out on a form for his ‘buy 9 get 1 free’ coffee card. She spoke to each person who came into the café about her idea, and they all agreed to it.
At about 1 in the afternoon, Rick came in and set his newspaper and magazines down on a table. He went up to the counter and bought his usual macchiato – the real kind, espresso with a dot of foam, like they do in Italy, none of this caramel cream womanly nonsense that was on the menu. He took his drink to his seat, spread out his paper and began to read.
All of a sudden, a baby started crying. Rick looked up angrily, but before he could say anything at all, the baby’s mother had rushed it out of the cafe.
It was then that Rick noticed something. The café was silent.
No one was talking.
No one was rustling their papers or slurping their coffee.
No one was texting or gaming or talking on the phone.
No one was fighting with each other, or telling loud stories.
No one was snoring, or blowing their nose, or hacking up a lung.
No one was doing anything annoying at all.
Rick suddenly felt extremely uneasy. What was going on?
“Hey now,” he said. “What’s this, then? What’s the trick?”
Everyone ignored him, but he could see some people smile to themselves.
“Oh, I see,” he said. “I see what’s going on here. You’re all having a laugh at the old man, is that it?”
“Shhhh,” said a young woman sitting next to Rick, and a couple of people tittered.
“What’s the meaning of this?” yelled Rick, starting to sweat. “What, you’re all in it together, putting one over on me, is that it?”
“Calm down, Rick,” said the barista. “We just all thought that for your birthday, we’d—”
“What do you mean, my birthday?” said Rick. “How do you know my birthday? How do you know anything about me?”
“Well—” she said, but Rick couldn’t hear what she was saying. They were all laughing openly at him, now – all of these fools laughing at him! And what was there to laugh about? What had he ever done except exactly what he should have? Meanwhile, they were disasters, every one of them, poorly dressed and poorly behaved, loafing around all day with their silly computers and their phones and their sugary coffee abominations and their fat little children.
“What’s so damned funny?” Rick screamed. “I’ll show you what to laugh at! I’ll show the lot of you!”
And with that, Rick ran out of the café as fast as he could go.
And he never went back again.