“You like those beans?”
I was in the coffee shop, tucking my newly purchased bag of coffee beans into my backpack, and putting my laptop onto the counter so I could do some writing. I didn’t know this middle-aged man splayed across the middle of the counter in the busy shop, but he kept talking to me.
“You ever try the coffee made by Maria at the Farmer’s Market? It’s way better than here. You can buy her beans. Much better,” he continued.
I smiled because that’s a reflexive action for many women in American society when a strange man talks to us in a public place.
“Good to know,” I said, and I went back to dealing with my stuff.
He didn’t stop. He kept talking and talking about the coffee beans. When he would pause like he was expecting an answer from me, I would say, “Okay” or “Good to know” and keep going about my business, not looking over at him.
We try not to make eye contact and we go about our business, hoping they will shut up and go away, because we know harm often comes to women who speak up. We can’t forget it. Our movies and books and lives are filled with reminders of what could happen.
His voice got louder and more insistent. “You know, I brought those coffee beans to India last month and I told 50 people that those were the best beans I ever tasted and THEY BELIEVED ME. Every one of them.”
I finally looked up. Stared him straight in the eye. No smile. Just the Clint Eastwood lip and the unhappy eyebrows.
“Good to know.”
That finally shut him up. He moved two seats away and seemed offended because I wouldn’t listen to his story and act grateful that he was telling me what was better for me than the bag of coffee beans from the shop we were sitting in – where the roasting machines sat ten feet away from us, and where I’ve been buying my coffee beans for three years now and I’m very happy with them thankyouverymuch.
I started writing on my laptop. He eventually went away. But I wondered for the rest of the day if I should have been more direct right from the start, after the first time I said, “Good to know.” Maybe said, “Thanks. I really don’t want your more of your opinion. Why do you keep trying to foist it upon me, a total stranger in this coffee shop? Why is it so important that you tell me about these beans? Why is it important to you that I respond and acknowledge your knowledge more than once? Why can’t I just be left alone like I really want to be?”
Or maybe I could have just walked away and picked another place to sit.
I was thinking about this later that afternoon in Santa Cruz when I walked by a rough-looking man downtown. There were people all over the sidewalks. The guy leveled his gaze on me as I walked by.
“Smile with your beautiful face.”
And to the person behind me, he said, “Hey sir, can I talk to you?”
That seemed to be so much of our society in a nutshell. The woman gets told what to do. The man gets a term of respect and a question.
I almost turned back to say, “I will NOT smile just because you tell me to smile. How about you shut the fuck up because I tell you to shut the fuck up?”
But I didn’t. His leathery skin already told me that he’d seen more rough patches in life than I had. I might be outspoken at times, but I’m not stupid.
I walked on, and thought of all the women who put up with far more every day.