All Over Coffee By Paul Madonna
The Eviction Series
Someone nudged me and I woke up. I was standing in line at a cafe and had apparently been spacing out. I can’t tell you for how long I’d been there, and really, I don’t even remember coming in. There was a big gap between me and the counter though, so I just moved forward. “You alright?” Justin said to me. I was glad someone I knew was working. Instead of waiting for an answer he handed me a mug of coffee. I thanked him and moved off to the side.
Hot coffee is always too hot for me so I did my usual and poured in a little ice water. As I took a sip I looked around for a seat. One was just opening up at one of the long shared tables, a prime spot against the wall, so I walked over and hovered while the guy packed up. I swore that when he saw me he slowed down, like people do when they see you waiting to pull into their parking space. He suddenly remembered he needed to set his bag back down and rifle through and not pull anything out. When he was finally done he smiled at me in a way that told me I wasn’t just being cynical, and so I made no effort to get out of his way, making him squeeze past. Careful, I said to myself. It’s becoming one of those kind of days.
I sat down and turned so that my back was against the wall. The metaphor was too on the nose so I decided to leave it alone. Something was off. I rubbed my eyes and drank some more coffee. Suddenly I was on the floor and people were helping me up. “Are you alright?” That was the second time I’d been asked that. I wasn’t so sure. I thanked the people and said I was fine and settled back into my seat. I didn’t know what was happening. The world had slid to one side, like a camera on a faulty tripod.
“Hey, you’re the All About Coffee guy,” the guy next to me said. He hadn’t been one to help me up.
“Over,” I said. “All Over Coffee.”
He didn’t hear me. He turned to the woman beside him and said, “He does those coffee paintings in the paper.”
“I don’t use—” I gave that up. “And I also write stories.”
“Right,” the woman said. “You’re being evicted.” And then her face disappeared.
“Whoa!” The guy said. And next thing I knew his hand was on my shoulder and the world was sliding around again. “Careful there buddy, you almost went down again.”
Something was seriously wrong. And it wasn’t just that the camera kept falling over—well, okay, yeah, that was bad—but there was something else. About a third of the people in the café, they didn’t have faces. Or, I supposed they did, but to me they were blurred out.
“You’ve become very polarizing,” the woman said. “Housing is a complicated issue, and gurgle, blasafell dsakl qsalk;’-&./”
“I know,” I said. “But I’m using absurdity to show how—”
But she just shook her head and said more gibberish to the guy.
“I don’t know,” the guy said to her, “I can understand him fine.”
I was trying to say that I felt responsible for this happening. That being evicted made people feel a weird shame. That the city has become divided into two camps: those who can afford to buy a home, and those who cannot. Like unspoken classes. And if you fall into the latter, it doesn’t matter how successful you are at your profession, there’s a presumption that you’re not successful enough.
The guy smiled tight and nodded to me. “I hear you,” he said. “You’re an artist—”
“And a writer,” I said. But again he didn’t hear me.
“—And you make a living in San Francisco? That’s amazing.”
“But—” And he pointed with his thumb to his friend. “—Her family has owned real estate here for generations.”
And again I was on the floor, the café having tipped onto its side.
Paul Madonna writes and draws All Over Coffee, the weekly series published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on theRumpus.net. His stories and drawings have been published internationally and exhibited in galleries and museums. He is the author of two books, All Over Coffee (City Lights 2007), and Everything is its own reward (City Lights 2011), which won the 2011 NCBR Recognition Award for Best Book. Find more of his work at paulmadonna.com. We are stoked to have his work on our site as well.