Coffee At Borders:

This afternoon I took the wife to the Borders bookstore in Warrenton, so she could look at art magazines. She loves to look at art and flower and horse magazines. Actually, she's the biggest magazine-reader I ever met. In addition to looking at these things at the store, and then buying the ones she likes best, she has numerous subscriptions. She reads every one of them cover to cover. Last Tuesday the mail brought two of them at once. When I handed them to her, I said, "Well, there goes a week's productivity." She hit me.

(Yes, Cassidy, I know.)

Anyway, we went to Borders. After the first hour or so, I had looked at everything in the store twice and decided to just go get some coffee.

The coffee shop is upstairs on a ledge overlooking the rest of the store. That's just the way they designed it.

I went upstairs and there was this young guy running the coffee stand, flirting with his female customer. He was laughing and passing her coffee and change and receipts, and making what were intended as witty comments and trying to make her laugh. Finally, he turned and suddenly tossed her the container of cream cheese for her bagel --

-- which missed her by quite a bit --

-- and landed at my feet.

He looked abashed, looked at me, looked more abashed, and managed to get the girl out of there quickly and without any further witty banter. She left, and he watched her go as he spoke to me. He was twirling a roll of tape around his finger as he talked -- 'welcome to Seattle's coffee, what can I get you' --

-- when suddenly the tape came off his finger --

-- flew past my head --

-- and landed just behind me.

He cleared his throat. I handed him his tape back, and ordered a cup of regular coffee.

He nods, turns around and sets up the cup, and opens the tap so that coffee starts to pour into my cup. He steps away to get the cream, asks if I want cream, I don't want cream, all right no cream then -- he puts the cream back.

By this point, the coffee is pouring over the top of the cup and off onto the floor.

He turns around, sees it, and with a shout -- 'Ah!' -- he shuts it off. "Well," he said, "seeing as that cup is now scalding hot and soaked I'll, er, get you another one."

He looks at the coffee machine, and notices he has poured all the coffee out on the floor.

"Would you prefer a lighter or a darker roast?" he asks.

"Dark," I said.

"Oh, good, that's all that's left." He fetches a new cup and fills it from the "DARK ROAST" pot at the end. I paid him, and sat down to read the newspaper.

A little while later, I saw two soldiers walking through the bookstore below. They were in uniform, and I noticed they were wearing the flag patch on their shoulders. They walked up into the cafe and off to the restrooms.

While they were in the restrooms, I went over to the guy and told him that -- whatever they ordered -- he was to refuse to take their money, and just let me pay for it. I told him not to tell them who'd done it. I have a good reason for that. If someone does something nice for you, you think, "What a nice guy." But if something nice is done for you by someone unknown, you think of all sorts of different people who might have done it. You think about why these people might have done it. And that gives a better sense to the soldier of just how much they really are owed.

They got their drinks and left. I studiously ignored them, in case they were searching for a sign of who might have bought them drinks. I didn't want them to know, so I just continued to read the paper.

A little while later, the wife finally came upstairs. I asked if she wanted some coffee. She said she did, so I gave her some cash and told her to go over and get whatever she wanted, and pay the man what I owed as well. She didn't understand why I would owe anything, but I told her -- don't worry about it, he'll know. She gave me a funny look, and went to pay.

A few minutes later, I hear this exchange:

"I'd like a frozen vanilla coffee. Oh, and my husband wanted me to pay what he owed."

(It turns out another clerk had come on duty, so I hear a female voice). "Who's your husband?"

"The gentleman over there."

"Hm. I don't know. Let me ask [the name of the male clerk]."

So the lady clerk called over the other clerk, and my wife repeated, "My husband said to pay what he owes."

"Who's your husband?" the male clerk asks.

"The gentleman over there," my wife ever-so-patiently repeats.

"Oh," said the clerk. "The gentleman with the hat and the big knife?"

"Yes, that one," the wife agreed.

"He doesn't owe anything," the clerk replied. "Neither do you."

And then he opened up the register, and gave her back the money I'd paid him for my coffee.

"Your drinks are on the house."

I tried to talk him into taking the money, but he flatly refused. It's a good world, you see -- sometimes.

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