The Couch

This morning, a rainy Monday in mid-March, I was in a downtown Starbucks, and finally decided to splurge on something decadent – a $4 yogourt in addition to my $3 Red Eye. Things were going so well, I even got a spot at the big marble table. Sat down, popped open my laptop, started mixing my yogourt, when I looked up. Shouldn’t have done that because there was a guy splayed over the corner of the couch. This couch has been home to a wide assortment of down and out men in need of a rest after a night spent either in the shelter or on the street. I’ve been there, so I get it. Only slightly disturbed by the fat man with the scraggly beard and torn t-shirt that barely covered half of his belly laying on that same couch, feet up and in full snore mode.

But this guy crossed the line. I was looking forward to getting something healthy in my stomach before the work day started. Then this guy started hiking up his pants legs and openly picking at the multitude of sores that covered his legs and face and (g)od knows what else. I wonder what the delicate flowers of the Starbucks set that litter this and so many other Starbucks would think if they knew that his man’s scabs and the juices that lay within were dropping onto this couch? How many would be repulsed to know that their precious garbs were coming into contact with this man’s pus? I’m stunned.

Another man seated across from sore man, had just gone past being stunned, into anger mode, then packed up and left. While he was packing up, I walked up to the counter, got the barista’s attention, and asked her to deal with it. She got the current store manager – not the effeminate bearded guy, because he’s wasn’t there, but the nice Asian woman. I returned to my seat. Surely they’ll do something. She hesitated as she started her approach. Clearly, she’s not fit for this task. She stood over him, said something, pointed at the McDonalds bag he’d brought with him, then walked away. His bare sore-covered legs still exposed, he seems to stop picking, but resumed his original splayed position. She returned behind the counter, and I’m left to stare at sores on his bare legs. The $4 yogourt was positioned between his legs and my eyes. I quickly lost my appetite as I thought about eating it and having to stare at his pegs.

That’s it? That’s how this was being dealt with what was clearly a health issue? Are bleeding-heart liberals so paralyzed by political correctness that they would rather not do the right thing for fear of reprisals by other bleeding-heart liberals. This is a bridge too far. I couldn’t relax. My anger grew as I tried to reconcile that I was expected to pay exorbitant prices for mediocre products all the while joining in the collective illusion of classism that powers Starbucks and numerous high-end cafes just like it. Prices are intentionally high in order to make patrons feel special, the prices intended to convey an elitist cache to these joints – apart from the stupid fancy stuff, they’re really just serving coffee that was at one time in my life no more than $.25, then it climbed to $.50, then $1.

I‘m packed up, and with my $4 yogourt and $3 coffee in hand, I stand at the counter. I’m not a vociferous man, but I will complain if pushed beyond reason, but only in a calm, quiet manner befitting my upbringing and education. She knows I’m standing there. So, I wait for her to complete her barista task at the espresso machine, wait while she artistically spits out the whipped topping, wait for her to address me. She’s done. She asks if I’m waiting for something. She knows I’m not. My hands are shaking, my voice low, but forceful. “So, I’m expected to pay $7 for this shit and I have to look at that guy picking his scabs? He hasn’t even bought anything here. I am so angry right now that I have to leave and calm down and try to stay away from Twitter (I think to myself, right now I could do some damage to this store’s reputation by posting a picture of this guy on Twitter, or taping it to the outside of the store, or contacting the health board which would at least do something.) She apologizes and defends her inaction by claiming she can’t do anything about it.

Why? is it Starbucks policy that dictates how these things are handled? Is it just the reality of a downtown location?

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