Mr. Johnson had been coming to our restaurant for years. Every time he came in, he would order the same meal: grilled chicken with a side of broccoli, a baked potato (butter only) and a coffee. After he finished eating and the plates were cleared away, he would take out his domino set. Occasionally he would come in to eat with someone else and they would play with him. Sometimes one of us would sit down to play a round or two. Often, he simply played by himself. Whatever the case, he frequently stayed for at least an hour after he was done eating, and sometimes even longer. He would sip his coffee, politely asking for refills when necessary.
Newer employees were sometimes annoyed by him. “Why is that guy just sitting there playing dominoes?” they fumed. “He’s already eaten and paid for his meal, he’s just taking up a table that some other paying customer could use.”
“That’s Mr. Johnson,” we’d tell them. “Who the hell are you? He’s been a part of this restaraunt longer than you have.”
The restaraunt closed at 10 P.M. Mr Johnson knew that we were trying to go home. Although nobody had ever asked him to leave, he always packed up his dominoes and left as soon as the clock struck 10 if he happened to still be around at that time. Not to mention, he always tipped well.
Nobody knew anything about him. He knew several of us by name, and we would often sit and talk to him, but he never talked about himself or his life. Most people thought he was a lonely widower, his children (if any) grown and long gone. There were, of course, much more wild rumors as well. Some claimed that he was a former Nazi, or a former spy, or even a current spy. One wild-eyed fry cook floated the hypothesis that Mr. Johnson was a highly advanced domino-playing robot.
A busboy tailed Mr. Johnson home one day to see where he lived. The next day a crowd gathered around him to hear the details of Mr. Johnson’s home life.
“Where did he live? What was it like?” they asked him.
“It was just a regular house,” he said, shrugging.
Mr. Johnson didn’t come in every day, so it took a few weeks before we realized he hadn’t been in for quite some time. There was a sense of quiet panic as we all tried to figure out what had happened to our favorite customer.
“It had to happen eventually,” the conspiracy theorists said, “His cover got blown, the CIA’s taken him in for questioning.”
Henrietta Simmons discovered the answer as she was paging through the newspaper on her break. Henrietta was the type of person who always read the obituaries. She said it made her feel better about herself.
“Come quick!” she called, “Mr. Johnson is dead!”
Stuart Johnson died Tuesday. He was 89.
He died at the Angel of Mercy Hospital of respiratory failure.
Mr. Johnson served in the Army during World War II, and entered the paper industry after returning. Mr. Jonhson was an avid domino player (several of us chuckled as we read that) and dog breeder.
He is survived by three children and five grandchildren. Services will be held privately.
We passed around the newspaper in silence. After all these years, we finally had gotten a glimpse into the life of Mr. Johnson, and now it was too late. Many were secretly disappointed, as it turned out that his life was not nearly as exciting as they had imagined. Mr. Johnson was just a regular person.
We cut out the obituary, had it framed, and hung it up on the wall. It’s still there to this day.
At the Seventh Level of Hell Coffee Shope:
– The sign above the door is spelled with a stylized “e” at the end of Shop. This will irritate you to no end.
– The baristas are friendly, but they’ll talk about you behind your back, just loud enough for you to hear
– They’re out of small cups. All they have are large cups.
– And if you want decaf coffee, you’re out of luck. It will take 3 hours to make some more decaf, since “we have to get the taste just right”.
– The tip jar has a note on it that makes you feel especially guilty. You end up tipping more than the cost of your coffee.
– Speaking of your coffee, it’s too hot to drink when you first get it (and there are no cardboard holders), but it cools off to lukewarm really quickly.
– The bathroom is locked, you have to get a key from the counter, and only if you bought something first. When you eventually DO get to the bathroom, the door doesn’t close all the way. The bathroom will be deceptively clean. You will realize only too late that there is no toilet paper. Attempting to wash your hands with the provided soap leaves a filmy residue on your hands. The paper towels are thinner than cheap tissue.
– The music is just a little bit too loud. And it’s jazz. The bad kind.
– But not loud enough to drown out the guy with the bluetooth headset behind you. His connection’s choppy, so he has to shout into it.
– There aren’t enough chairs. The only place to sit is a worn out couch that’s too deep. Once you sit down, there are pointy bits, so you can’t get comfortable.
– All of the tables have a loose screw, so if you jostle it even a little bit, your coffee goes everywhere.
– If you don’t want coffee, you can buy a fancy soda in a glass bottle, but it’ll be flat when you open it.
– The lids for the cups look like they’ll fit, but they’re just a little bit too small.
– The baked goods case is well stocked, but it’s all stale.
– Instead of reading materials, the shelves are stocked with nothing but the dust jackets to old video cassettes.
– Good luck playing one of the board games, the monopoly set is missing all the 500 bills, the chess sets are all incomplete and the only complete board game is a “The Muppets” branded trivial pursuit.
– The flirtatious girl/guy at the table next to you will say “Hey there” as if they are talking to you. You will look at her/him quizzically until you realize that they were using a bluetooth headset. They will roll their eyes at you as they continue their conversation, mentioning something about “that creepy guy/girl”. You will feel very embarrassed.
– All the reading lights are either too dark or too bright. The seats with good lighting are occupied by people who have fallen asleep.
– There’s wifi, and it’s fast, but it slows down pretty quickly. And it’s only free for the first hour. But it’s incompatible with your computer, so you have to use an ethernet cable.
– The largest table, designed for a group of people is occupied by a tiny woman slowly drinking a tiny coffee. Your friends are going to have to sit elsewhere.
– But you can’t pull the tables together (they’re all bolted to the floor) and there are no empty tables right next to each other.
– In the winter, the only open seat is going to be right next to the door (and you will always sit down right before a large group of people enter). In the summer, it will be right in front of a window and the sun will be hotter than normal. A transparent piece of artwork hanging in the window will focus the sunlight like a magnifying glass right on your table, igniting any paper item that crosses it’s path.
– All of the other patrons are using macs, but they’re all running Windows XP.
– A local musician is playing live every Thursday, all day. He is always playing a genre of music that you don’t like, mostly blues.
– If you need change, all they have are dollar bills and pennies.
– There is no sugar, only splenda.
– The milk in the container is sour. You will only realize this after you start pouring it into your coffee.
– Straws are hard to come by. If your drink requires one, you will only be able to use those tiny red straws. It will quickly sink to the bottom of your cup if you leave it unattended.
– No matter where you sit, there will always be someone next to you listening to Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up” on their iPod with the volume turned all the way up.
– The only other patrons are pretentious political science college students. If you say anything at all, they will engage you in a conversation about the advantages of wearing clothes made of hemp. You will want to kill yourself after 10 minutes.
– If your favorite song comes on the sound system, the douchebag next to you with the bluetooth headset will start a long and incredibly loud conversation. The conversation will end just as your song ends. He will ignore any scathing looks you give him.
– If you bring your own reading material, whatever bookmarks you have will fall out, forcing you to spend 10 minutes finding your spot.
– Likewise, any work you do on your computer will magically not be saved, or become corrupt.
– Any attempts to have a conversation with someone via cellphone will be met with scowls from the hermit-like author at the table next to you. He will ignore the douchebag behind him who has already been chatting away for the last five minutes.
– Whatever newspapers that are lying around will consist of: The front page, the crossword page (already completed) and an insert from a local department store. The front page will invariably have an interesting story that you will start reading but be unable to finish.
– Any local papers will be nothing but cheap coupons wrapped in the cover page of the newspaper.
– And the only magazines are “Shrub Fanciers”, “Hardcore Metal Magazine” and “Seventeen”.
– The entire parking lot is on a steep incline. It is impossible to put your coffee on any surface without it spilling.
– If you are ordering for a group, there will be no trays that hold four cups. The last one will be given out to the person in front of you who only needs to carry two cups of coffee.
– The TV in the corner will be tuned to CNN, but the audio will have a 2 second delay.
– No matter what time or day you come, you will always be hassled out front by someone who wants you to register to vote. Once a month, a TV news crew will want to interview you about how you think the new Starbucks across the street is squelching business at Seventh Level coffee. You will politely decline and hear mutters of “jackass” behind you as you walk away.
– There will always be an oversized stroller blocking your way.
– When you’re waiting in line, there will always be one of these people in front of you:
– Cheapskate Carl who doesn’t want to pay extra for his fair trade coffee.
– One-man rock group Gerald, complete with air guitar and/or drums. He will flirt with the barista.
– The Chatty Cathy teen girls who talk to each other at roughly 50 words a second. They will also flirt with the barista.
– Old guy Jerry who probably shouldn’t be drinking coffee, but orders the most complex drink on the menu. He pays in exact change, but forgets the tax.
– Dime David, who just needs some change: A five dollar bill into dimes.
– Loaded Lauren, who pays for her small, $1.19 coffee with a 50.
– Executive Evan, who rattles off a long, pretentious coffee order and bitches about there not being any soy milk.
– Harried Harriet, who orders a large coffee whilst her three small children raise all living hell.
– If (when) you get tired of going to the Seventh Level of Hell Coffee Shope, the Starbucks up the street will be closed.
– Any “Free Coffee” days will see lines that go just to the door. When you get in line, you’ll be just outside the store. It will start raining. No exceptions.
– Any and all outdoor seating will be occupied by one person per table meant for four. The only free seat will be next to the busy road.
– If you are sent out for coffee, the order will always be for five large coffees, filled to the brim with sugar and cream. The only cardboard holder left is a torn up one from the bottom of the stack. The structural integrity will fail roughly one fourth of the way back to your office.
– The barista will always assume that you want to add cream and sugar, and will only fill the cup 3/4ths of the way. If you state that you DO want them to leave room for cream and sugar, they will fill it to the brim.
– Any drink that is even the slightest bit sticky will be dribbled all over the outside of your cup.
– When your coffee spills, the napkin dispenser will only have five or ten napkins. You will ask for a mop and wait for up to 20 minutes while the mop is located.
– Any conversation you attempt will be interrupted at key by the espresso machine or the blender. This will not happen when your conversation partner speaks.
– The floor beneath your chair will be very sticky. It will make loud noises every time you step on it.
– Any quiet days will be punctuated by a pair of geeks in the corner swapping their favorite one-liners from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”
– Despite the number of other people on their cellphones, you have no service inside. You will only get that important text message once you leave the store. You will also see an advertisement, from your phone company, saying they have the best service. The irony will be breathtaking.
– Every day is senior citizen day! You are consistently taken for an old person, which leads you to a raging internal debate: Do you accept the humiliation and get free coffee or defend your honor and pay for you coffee.
– The person in line in front of you will order the last of your favorite flavor of muffin. They will eat only half of it and throw the rest away.
– The only free parking space will be a parking meter with one minute left. The meter maid is just up the street but hooligans emptied your car’s change holder the night before.
Rick ran down the hallway, opening door after door and finding the same thing: E-Voting machines. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them behind every door. Getting closer, beeping! Taking his yellow voter card! Crushing him! “Accidently” casting his vote for the Libertarian Party! Nooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!
Rick woke with a start and sat straight up in his bed, sweating profusely. Once he realized it was only a nightmare, he started breathing again. “It was just a bad dream” he said, laughing to himself. “All I need is a glass of water to clear my head and I’ll be fine.” Rick swung his legs out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He gulped down a glass of water and stared at himself in the mirror, noting the disheveled look he had come to master over the last few days. He also noted that the magnet on the mirror wasn’t sticking. He pushed the mirror back into place and felt his heart stop. There was a sticker. On his jacket. The very same jacket he had worn that day. It said “detoV I”. He quickly spun around and ripped the sticker off his jacket. “I Voted…” he gasped. “No, I couldn’t have!” Rick dashed out of the bathroom and to the trash can in the kitchen. And there, sitting on top of a pile of junk mail was his empty Starbucks (large) Coffee Cup (Cream, no sugar). The one he had gotten for free. For voting. Rick thought for a moment. Voting wasn’t such a bad thing was it? It was his civic duty, right? Ok, fine, but then who did I vote for? Rick sprinted back to the bathroom and feverishly dug through the pockets in his jacket, looking for the receipt. Ah ha! There it is! He pulled it out and unfolded it, hoping against hope that it wasn’t what he thought-
Rick turned around and vomited into his toilet. Then he whimpered, fell down and passed out.