“Excuse me, are you using this chair?”
Muscles tense, breaths shallow, I lock eyes with the man asking this incomparably provocative question. Mid-upper thirties, lower-mid height Deloitte analyst type. He’ll never understand.
People like him look at a café chair and see one thing – a place to sit. So when they spot a solo-riding chick set up across from an empty one (especially an empty one in the prime corner of the patio), they view that practical piece of wood/or metal as free for the taking. Sure, they’ll go through the motions of asking if they can use it, but they’re not really asking. Just try telling them no. What they don’t get is that, to (neurotic) (OCD) people like me, that chair is so much more than a place to rest your derriere. It exists to provide ambiance. To create confines around a carefully crafted space. Remove that slim-line barrier and suddenly my cozy little writer’s haven is gawkishly exposed to the ENTIRE WORLD.
I usually stash my work tote on the seat – and then pointedly avoid eye-contact with any/all potential pillagers – to impede any/all pillaging…but sometimes I forget. And boy, are people quick to pounce/exploit said forgetfulness.
When the me forgetting, person pouncing thing happened a couple weeks ago, I bowed to social pressure and submissively acquiesced to the removal of my blessed chair’s multi-functional form. I feigned nonchalance while every fiber of my being quivered with anxiety. Unable to focus, I left ten minutes later.
I reallllly don’t want that to happen again today. I was on such a roll before MUTLMHDAT interrupted my flow with his presumptuous query. Staring fixedly at the ground, I stammer out something about how I’m not using the chair at the moment, but sometimes I like to put my feet up, etc. Basically, I make it real weird, real fast. MUTLMHDAT refuses to back down.
MUTLMHDAT: Well, do you mind if I just put some stuff on it while I sit here, then?
1. This is not a communal table situation. 2. Sit there?! He had motioned toward the bit of bench that separates my two-top from the two-top on my left. Here’s the thing – there’s a reason that part of the bench doesn’t have a table/chair. Because it’s NOT A SEAT. It’s merely a break in the chaos, allowing sunshine, oxygen, and that cool, calming fall breeze to reach each of us in turn. Plus, if he sits there, I’ll have to awkwardly maneuver around the (much more closely situated) table and chairs on my right any time I need to, you know, use the restroom or request one of my two complimentary tea re-steeps. Essentially, what he’s seeking is complete and total anarchy.
I decide it’s probably in everyone’s best interest if I just move.
Me: Here, actually, I’ll just move to one of the other tables*. Sorry, I’m just really weird and OCD about my space when I’m writing.
*Move to one of the at least thirteen other open tables, I should have said. Ahem.
MUTLMHDAT: (with plenty of attitude/condescension) I guess so.
OH. Ho-kay, sir. Hooo-kay.
The very sweet, adorable chick at the other table jumps in and offers her chair, looking at me, “You shouldn’t have to leave – it’s not your fault.”
MUTLMHDAT: I don’t think it’s mine either.
Well, you wouldn’t, would you. Also, kindly go back to the man cave you crawled out of.
The less sweet, less adorable chick at the table to my right offers her chair as well, scoffing at my perceived (slash, I get it, possibly actual) ridiculousness. F*ck you, (wo)man, you’re not the one getting crammed in like a sardine over her. Also, I forgot to mention that with him sitting there, I get none of the front-facing light. Front-facing light is very important to my creative process. Also also, WHY WON’T YOU PEOPLE JUST LET ME MOVE.
MUTLMHDAT takes VSAC’s chair and settles into his self-made (non)spot, shifting the shared cushion in the process. I rearrange everything, trying to restore some sense of order. When he gets up to get something (shifting the cushion again) (seriously, how do you manage to move the entire earth with what should be a simple up and down movement?), I turn to VSAC, “Sorry, I know I’m such a weirdo.”
VSAC: No, I totally get it.
I find myself wishing she were my friend so she could explain me to the general public more often.
MUTLMHDAT returns. More unfathomably raucous shifting. I realign all my things once again. And then again. And then again because I just can’t seem to get the vibe right anymore. Within the space of seven minutes, he decides to move to one of the other (aforementioned) (plentiful) empty spots on the patio. ALL THAT FOR SEVEN MINUTES (in what had once been our little piece of heaven)? Before VSAC and I are able to recreate our Edenic nook of yore, another patron avails herself of the awkward non-space. I decide to exit immediately, before anyone has a chance to stop me.
The next day, I painstakingly select a new spot to claim as my own – one with irrefutably unambiguous property lines. Because I’m super chill and flexible like that.