Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Coffee for Tony

Part of my morning routine is grabbing a cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts.

Without any warning, a good angel appeared on my shoulder and helped me make a decision. I paid for the cup of coffee of the man in line after me.

Clearly retired, and clearly a regular, he shuffled in with a silent wave to a section of tables where other local, retired men huddled over coffee. Each was, at one time, hale and hard-handed. They wore the clothes of farmers and men who moved earth for decades with their hands and back.

Evidently, these guys receive table side service.

Actually, I can remember being ten years old in 1978 and Dunkin' Donuts having counters and diner-esque waitresses more so than the coffee slingers of our area today. I remember sitting on a shiny, art deco, backless stool while eating a powdered donut over a little plate. 

Fluffy sugar snowing across my shirt and jeans. That still happens to me 35 years later.

When I paid for his coffee, I leaned forward to whisper to the server what I wanted to do, paid, and then hustled out of the store.

The young server walked it over to him and told him, I suppose. Because before I could make my clean Good Samaritan getaway, the old man had pressed himself against the plate glass window and pounded on it with his fists.

He looked like Benjamin Braddock pounding on the glass in the church.

But he was only trying to thank me. I waved to him as I backed out of the space, and I could see him squinting, trying to figure out if he knew me. I drove away, feeling pretty good about myself.

The story gets better, I promise.

The next morning an already paid for coffee is waiting for me. He returned the favor? Yes and no. In only the charming way that age can color our experiences, the Dunkin' Donuts servers shared that he paced back and forth to their counter all morning, confused and irritated, saying, "What the hell is going on? Why the hell did he buy me coffee?" All morning they said he was completely off. Couldn't sit still with his friends. Kept thinking of questions to ask about me: who is he? what's his name? where'd he go?

When they repeatedly explained that all I had intended was performing the idea of a stranger doing a nice thing for another, he said, "Next time he's here, make sure I meet him."

They've forgotten, or have been distracted, or busy, and so, it has taken a few weeks for one of the servers to remember in time to ask me to wait--"Tony comes in the same time every day."

Actually the male server said, "Could you please wait, no matter how long it takes, he's been breaking our balls for weeks now and we keep forgetting."

Sure enough, in walks Tony. Introductions are made. I thank him for the coffee while he is gnawing on his breath, eyeballing me. His eyes, squished closed as if he doesn't trust me or like me, wobble as his imagination combs through his memories--hunting for my face.

And then he says, "Goddamnit, for seventy-six years, strangers are strangers. When they hell did strangers become nice guys? That's why you're all, you're all goddamn strangers for a reason. You're confusing everything. Now, I gotta shake your hand, and you gotta say hello to me when you see me from now on, got it? We're not strangers anymore. We goddamn can't be. I'm too old to be goddamn confused like that in the morning. Now get the hell to, what's your name?"


  1. Wonderful! It sounds like something my Grandfather would have said and done!

  2. This is my Grandmother reincarnated. I Love this story.

  3. Cool story that made me smile. We can't easily change, it is painful sometimes.

  4. Great story. I hate it when we can't be strangers any more.

  5. Thanks for sharing! Terrific! A commitment is a commitment!

  6. What an unintended outcome and a fascinating story. One never knows where a good deed will take you that is for sure.

  7. I love that dialogue at the end - and the way you changed this fellow's thinking about strangers.

  8. Reminds me of my parents who go to the same diner for breakfast a couple of days a week. When I visit, I will go with them once in awhile. Watching how all the older customers interact is funny. Thanks for sharing your story.

  9. Reminds me of our gas station down town with the same crew getting together every morning to catch up on what is new. If you walk in and have a conversation with one of the old geezers they all are looking at you like your not retired so you can't be part of our official coffee crew. They are awesome! Hopefully some day I can be part of that coffee crew.

  10. Oh my gosh, I'm so glad I just linked up and read this. You are hilarious. I love what you did, but I REALLY love how you wrote about it! The line: "Fluffy sugar snowing across my shirt and jeans. That still happens to me 35 years later." especially made me smile, but so did that old guy pounding his fists! Great, great slice!

  11. Crusty old guy reminds me of a friend's grandfather. I like the powered sugar and the plate glass and the harangued worker. The turn especially worked--the story did get better!

  12. You captured so much in those few lines. You are a great observer of human behavior. Your words convey the scene so clearly. Thank you for sharing.