I’d like to show you my superpower. I trust you to keep my secret identity. Here it is: When I’m stoned, I can read people’s minds in Starbucks. I know, I know—that sounds just like something a stoned person would say. My sober brain, the one I take to the grocery store, told me this was a dumb idea, but what has he done for me lately?
Before you judge me, it’s legal here. Two, I’m not a pothead. I only get high on Saturdays, specifically to limber up my brain to write, unencumber it. Right now, I’m finishing my first memoir. I just do hard-copy edits, with a red pen. You can’t really write write when you’re stoned. Your stoned brain doesn’t do a good job of putting things in certain order. Also, you start writing something and then forget what you’re writing about by the time you get to the end of the sentence. I know it’s funny—stoned people!—but it’s a real problem.
Three . . . I can’t remember what the third thing was.
Let me show you how it works.
See that guy sitting all alone at that table, the one in the faded T-shirt and jeans and a pointy beard? He’s waiting for an old friend and his girlfriend, whom he’s never met. They haven’t seen each other for years. A young man and a woman come into the store, fully pressed. He’s wearing a white shirt and a tie. She’s wearing a shirt that echoes the colors in his tie. They’re both missionaries. Duh. Any sober person with eyes in their head can see that.
Religious people are so easy when you’re high. They all look like they came out of Central Casting. They’re so obvious, it hurts. Really. I mean really.
The fully pressed couple see the pointy-bearded guy and wave overly enthusiastically.
The man with the pointy beard stands up and awkwardly hugs the man with the white shirt and tie and shakes hands with the woman.
They sit down and exchange uncomfortable pleasantries, but none of the pieces fit. None of them has a coffee. The white-shirted guy had suggested they meet at his church, but the pointy-bearded guy had countered with Starbucks. Eventually, the pointy-bearded guy starts talking about the Episcopal church he’s attending now.
The man and his girlfriend smile and listen and think, simultaneously, He’s fallen away.
“My church just started a program . . .” the pointy-bearded guy starts to say, and . . . this is getting boring.
So I’ll switch to . . . that family that just sat down: four adults and three children. That’s a wife, a husband, their three children—two boys and one girl—and her parents. To a person, even the kids, they hate these fucking visits to Starbucks.
The oldest boy, about 8, says everything thing like a childhood jingle: Na-na-na-na-NA-na. I know what you’re DO-ing! His sister is about 6. Her superpower is her cuteness, and she’s not afraid to use it. Their younger brother is 3, but he still makes baby noises, which annoys his grandparents and his father and embarrasses his mother.
She hates these fucking visits to Starbucks.
The grandmother sees that her daughter has fallen into the role she assumed when she was a mother: The kids are her responsibility—that and cleaning the crumbs off the table when they stand to leave. Did I do that willingly, or was I forced into it? the grandmother wonders, even still. You’d think you’d figure these things out.
The youngest boy, Justin, starts bellowing like an infant, so his father takes him off the stool and places him on the floor.
Grampa spilled his WA-ter! The oldest boy announces.
Justin begins moving about, making annoying yapping noises. The sound is like a bad smell. Everyone in the store pretends not to smell it. The Starbucks people have placed a bright yellow caution sign over the puddle on the polished concrete floor. Justin starts pushing the sign around.
His mother thinks, I suppose he expects me to take care of that. It’s unclear, even with my superpowers, if the he is her dad or her husband. I probably need to be more stoned.
Eventually, Justin’s father stands up and picks up Justin, and Justin immediately starts protesting, loudly.
He can’t even handle his own children, Justin’s mother thinks to herself. This time, I know she’s talking about her husband.
Her father thinks, Why isn’t she doing something about this? It’s embarrassing me. It’s unclear to me whether the she is his wife or his daughter. Next time, bring more pot.
Justin’s father says to Justin, “You need to go outside.” He takes Justin to the patio. It’s not so sunny today, so there aren’t any people out there. Justin realizes he’s being dealt with and screams louder.
Justin’s grandfather thinks, I hate that little shit.
God, I hate these fucking visits, Justin’s mother thinks.
Everyone at the table tries to talk about something other than Justin.
Justin’s father brings him inside and stands next to his wife, bobbing up and down. “Do you want to be with Daddy or Mommy?” he asks Justin in an overly concerned voice. It’s code for “This is your job”—and his wife hears it loud and clear.
Justin leans toward his mother. “Mama! Mama!” he cries. His mother sighs deeply and opens her arms to receive Justin.
She spoils that little shit, Justin’s grandfather thinks.
Justin quiets down. He grabs hold of his mother’s venti tea and begins banging the cup on the counter. As long as he’s quiet, she thinks.
Everyone talks about things other than Justin.
“I need to use the restroom,” Justin’s mother says—and everyone within earshot understands that code. They didn’t need superpowers.
But Justin’s father stays on his stool, sending everyone, especially his wife, the coded message, Hey, I’m the one with the paycheck!
Eventually, Justin’s mother places Justin on the floor, and he quietly busies himself with the stool next to her.
God! she thinks and stands up to go to the restroom at the other end of the room. When she does, Justin starts walking after her and crying, “Ya! Ya!”
I hate that little shit, the grandfather thinks to himself.
Justin follows her to the restroom door. She looks over at her husband and sends him this telepathic message: He’s your son TOO!
Justin’s father sighs martyringly and stands up to go get his son. He takes the screaming boy outside.
What a little shit, Justin’s grandfather thinks.
In the bathroom, Justin’s mother doesn’t really have to pee. But she pulls up her skirt with one hand and pulls down her panties with the other hand. She sits on the toilet and puts her head in her hands.
She thinks I’m not being a good parent to these kids, Justin’s mother thinks to herself, which is a joke, because she did it the same way.
As Justin’s mother decompresses, Justin’s father has calmed Justin down—and quieted him down. He brings Justin in and places him at the foot of his mother’s empty stool. Justin begins banging on the seat of the stool in front of him and saying, “Na! Na!”
Justin’s grandfather stands up. “You and I have to have a talk!” he says to Justin, pointing toward him. He takes Justin down to the other end of the store next to the bathrooms and in front of a circular mural that shows all the different industries of Tacoma, and Justin protests the fact. Justin’s grandfather realizes, I didn’t really plan this out.
“Now listen to this, you little shit,” he whispers to his grandson. Justin sees the mural for the first time and goes silent and toddles over to touch it. Oh well, Justin’s grandfather thinks.
Justin’s grandfather’s daughter comes out of the restroom and sees her father struggling with her son, and she goes the other way around back to her seat, thinking, Not that easy of a job, IS it, Dad? She correctly interprets the coded distress signal her father is broadcasting by the way he stands: This is women’s work. What If somebody I know sees me?
Justin’s sister’s not so happy with Justin glomming all of everyone’s attention “Do you like chocolate marshmallows?” she says in a cutesy voice to her older brother, who doesn’t give a shit.
As Justin’s mother sits back down on her stool, her mother whispers to her, “Why isn’t your husband doing something about Justin? And the grandmother thinks to herself, Why aren’t you doing something about Justin?
It’s unclear to me whether the you is her daughter or herself.
Justin’s grandfather had given Justin a handful of stirring sticks to keep him busy. The grandfather thinks, Why isn’t she taking care of it? Take your pick of shes.
Justin’s mother’s mother thinks, I can’t believe I used to put up with that bullshit.
Receiving the earlier coded message from her husband, Justin’s grandmother thinks, Not so easy, it is?
He interprets the message encoded in her body language and thinks, This ends now!
He grabs some extra stirring sticks for the older boy, Thomas, the one he actually likes, and ushers Justin back toward his mother and grandmother.
The table is strewn with crumbs. Both women think simultaneously, Can’t I have some time to myself?
Justin begins to poke the stirring sticks into the holes in the top of the stool next to his mother. What will he grow up to be? I think to myself. I close my eyes and scrunch up my face. Nope, can’t get it.
The grandfather shows the older boy how to build a God’s Eye from stirring sticks. Justin wouldn’t give a shit about this, the grandfather thinks. God, I don’t like that kid.
Justin goes around the end of the table and starts pushing the caution sign around some more. His grandmother stands up. “Can we put it back?” she says to Justin—and to everyone else.
More strained conversation not about Justin. When they finish talking, everybody stands up and both women look at the mess on the table. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pick that up, they think simultaneously, and they don’t—but they’ll feel guilty about it the rest of the day. What did people think of me?
In the car, Justin’s father says to Justin’s mother, “Thanks for all your help in there!”
She says, “Shh . . . the other kids”—as if they hadn’t already decoded all the messages themselves.