The Stranger at Border’s

 I usually like to bring a bag of pre-packaged meats and lard between two heavenly slices of bread as my lunch, but, on this fateful day, I neglected this duty and was destined to have a lunch of iced coffee and a day-old scone at my nearby nationally chained bookstore.  I entered Border’s, scanned what little they had to offer on a Saturday night, when an awkward little man with a shining pate and a tuft of thick, black hair around the base of his skull, waddled up to the counter and grunted some word I perceived as internal confusion.  I realized that, although I walked up to the coffee bar first, I was not standing in line.  An awkward pause connected us as if we where playing tug of war.  I insisted he go ahead as I had not quite decided between the blueberry scone and the vanilla bean scone and needed some more time to study the object of my consumption with greater consideration.  He bought a medium (not a grande, but a medium) coffee.  No sugar.  No milk.  He then sat down and starred into space.

Having decided on blueberry, I purchased my less-than-hearty lunch and sat down at a round table being used by a middle-aged man I pegged as a Republican.  We exchanged a few light-hearted pleasantries before I poisoned my coffee with too much cream and too much sugar.  As I returned to my seat, I saw the awkward man sitting alone, his coffee untouched, gnawing at his cuticle.

What puzzled me and prompted me to organize my thoughts, is the question of why this man did nothing else but pour his energies into the mastication of his finger in a public setting.  Unable to contain my own uncomfort with doing nothing but eating, I walked to the nearest section, Humor, and quickly glanced through the titles.  I was going to pick up Dennis Leary’s Why We Suck, but feared I would insult my Republican tablemate, so I ended up settling on something unoffensive like A.J. Jacob’s The Know-It-All.  I walked back to my table and saw the man was perfectly happy, or at least at ease, with pouring over his hangnail as if he was embroidering the national flag.  He shut out the world while I couldn’t tune it out.

I concluded as I walked back to the hotel that it is all a matter of perception.  I perceived the man to be an awkward shut in whose only chance to escape the prison that is his mind is to flee to a Border’s for his one indulgence of raw coffee beans, but it might not necessarily be so.  Perhaps he works for the City of Austin’s Forestry division and got a particularly nasty splinter battling an oak.  Or perhaps he played his electric guitar a little too hard that day and had to chew off the broken and blistered calluses.  Who am I to judge but a man who feels awkward simply eating his lunch in the presence of others?

But biting a hangnail in public?  That’s just fucking gross.

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