watching it fade away

thursday morning coffee shop violence

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It’s eleven forty in the morning. I’m sitting in the corner of a triangular shaped bar, which sits on the corner of a triangular square in the nice pedestrian neighbourhood of Gracia, in Barcelona. I’m here trying to write a letter to someone I left behind. I have an espresso coffee. I’m distracted by a guy with very thick frames speaking loudly and pompously two tables away. Then I’m distracted by all the teenagers outside -there’s a high school just next door. They’re standing around in little groups, having their mid-morning snack.

I try to imagine what each kid’s and each little group’s social standing and hobbies are, judging from their appearance. However, with most of them I find myself at a loss. I’m quite impressed by the amount of variety and individuality on display. It’s been a while since I was in high school, but as far as I can recall, there were only a few trends you could follow and crowds to fall into, all easily identifiable. Looking at this group, they just seem like a bunch of unique individuals with particular tastes. I also notice a lot of communication between groups and between boys and girls.

I’m especially impressed with a couple kids standing near the high school doors. One is wearing a sleeveless biker leather jacket, with something I can’t distinguish on the back. He has a really weird, very recent haircut, a sort of mohawk that ends in an arrow pointing down behind his neck. Under the leather jacket he’s wearing plain green cotton sportswear, and he’s sitting on a custom-made bike, green and white with very wide handlebars. He’s talking to a guy with really messy hair, huge gold rimmed sunglasses, and a big fire red jacket.

Somebody told me the other day that more pictures have been taken in the last two years than in all of history before that. I signed up for Facebook on a web browser with three other friends during a computer class when I was in high school. We didn’t use it very much. The inextricable presence of social media in these kid’s lives implies an acceptance that every waking moment can be public, widely shared and recorded for history. That means looking good goes from something you might or might not care about in your day to day to an absolute necessity, perhaps an obsession. There are no sleepy heads or long overdue haircuts in this crowd. Everything you can see, even the looks that seem shoddily put together, are completely intentional. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Looking back inside the bar, I’m also surprised by the taste shown by some of my fellow adult mid-morning breakfast-havers. Maybe this is a particularly nice part of the neighbourhood, or maybe my harsh critical capacities have been neutered by this slight hangover. I look outside again. Two girls are stepping backwards with a shocked expression, looking towards the bar. In walks a skinny, fit old lady -white short hair, black clothes- holding a huge metal bar.

She’s muttering obscenities to herself. She walks up to the counter and throws the metal bar at it’s feet, making a lot of noise. She slams her fist on the counter and loudly demands a beer. The barman is at the back preparing food, he probably can’t hear a thing. The lady shouts again, and says some vaguely derogatory nonsense. There’s a man sitting directly behind her looking up with a shocked expression. He’s also wearing thick glasses and a grapefruit colored polo shirt. He’s ordered a coffee, an orange juice, and some tomato bread, which is a popular choice around here. He’s holding the tomato bread in his hand, but hasn’t bitten it yet. He’s understandably distracted.

The lady slams her forearm on the right side of the counter and violently sweeps it across, throwing menus, napkin holders, papers and some glass on the floor. If not everyone was paying attention to her before, they surely are now. The man sitting immediately behind her touches her arm and begins to say something in an attempt to calm her down, like talking to a naughty kid, with a slight frown, he says “hey, come on, don’t do that”. He doesn’t have time to say any more, as the lady shouts “did you just fucking touch me?”, raises her hand back above her head and slaps him perfectly across the face, her arm almost making a three hundred and sixy degree angle. His glasses fly out into the street -the door is kept open because it’s a hot day. He doesn’t respond at all. Everyone else in the room, especially the men, gets up now, surrounding the lady and calling for the barman to intervene. He comes in, unaware of what happened, and asks her to leave. The lady says she won’t leave without a beer. He assures her there’s no beer in this bar, even though it’s all lined up there behind the counter. She curses some more, picks up the huge metal bar and walks out, shouting at the man that now he knows not to touch her again.

Everyone’s in shock, especially the man with the puffy face. His glasses are fine. They invite him to another table. They all seem to know each other. The people who saw what happened re-tell the story to those who didn’t. When he regains his capacity to talk, he says he didn’t touch her at all. It doesn’t seem like an important detail. Everyone agrees she’s a crazy lady fucked up on drugs, and asks the man if he’s okay over and over again. There’s a certain violent glint in his eye, as shock is replaced by an anger with no acceptable outlet. He has his breakfast mostly in silence, pays and walks outside. He stands around, having a cigarette, staring blankly into the middle distance. The teenagers are gone now. He finishes the cigarette quickly and enters the high school doors.

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