Charley Gets Married

Sit at Panera with Charley, disabled veteran of Vietnam era antiwar movement, prolific writer of freewrites and haikus. Describes himself as recognized expert on PTSD based on his experience battling it. Says he has traveled widely to address conferences; others have urged him to submit his lectures and opinions to Newsweek for publication. Right corner of his mouth rises slightly, see beginning of smile.

Tells me about his dream. He’s in Saigon trying to drive down a long road. Traffic is stopped, even on the dirt roads that run parallel to the main road. Armed guards are at every intersection. “I started talking with one guard. I remember him being child-like. The scene went hazy after that and I was uncomfortable that I had had that dream.”

On 100% disability. Knows any money he makes will reduce benefits. Wants my advice on how he might become a professional writer so he can raise the $10,000 he needs to bring recently married second wife, love at first sight, victim of sex abuse and PTSD, up from Louisiana.

Pretty certain likelihood is impossible for his immediate need. Suggest he call Newsweek and tell them what he’s got. They could take it as is or suggest a rewrite. Have to believe it can happen.

I ask, “Can’t you just drive her up in a car?”

He says, “She has a better mattress than I have. And her sculptures won’t fit in a car.” Drifts off momentarily. Returns discussing different subject.


Vibes at Panera

The back room is packed when I arrive at Panera. Pass young couple discussing immigration policies of national politicians, father feeding infant girl, mother restraining young boy. Woman with mole on her cheek sits by wall, recounting shopping adventure with hollow-eyed woman in shawl. Young couple holding hands, eating bagels, solemnly planning tasks of the day.

Spot lone empty seat. It’s mine!

When you sit long enough at one table, the table becomes marked as yours. Your spirit remains when your body leaves. Even first-timers leave it free. Vibe becomes your maître d’.

A Silent Moment at Panera

Young father cradling infant in left arm, holding bottle of milk in infant’s mouth with his right. Infant sucking vigorously on nipple while sleeping.

Infant looks up at father, eyes wide open. Father whispers gently to infant. Infant falls back asleep.

Father smiles as infant twists neck resolutely, mouth still shut tight, pulling at nipple, coaxing final drops. Father pulls nipple from infant’s mouth, rests bottle on table, strategically positions son over left shoulder, where dry diaper awaits its fate. Father gently pats infant’s back. Infant burps; diaper meets its fate.

Father wraps infant again in cradled arm until infant falls asleep. Father places infant in carrier, sends text.

A silent moment at Panera.

The Electrical Storm

Tables all taken when I arrive at Panera mid-morning, too early to be that full. Straighten up in restroom, visualize seat opening up when I’m done.

Favorite seat opening up as I enter dining area. Dump books, knapsack, and coat.

Long line to cash register, stretches to door. Note to woman in front, “Long line.”

Blames last night’s electrical storm. Says power company won’t even give estimate of when they might be able to give an estimate, so severe is the damage. Compares to historic event in 1998.

I ask how long it took to get those houses up, predict this time will be faster because technology is improved.

She agrees, asks how power affected my house. Admit I lost power for just long enough for clocks to all go out. Pretty lucky.

Fill iced tea cup, set up office, plug into Internet.

Oh no, power is out at Panera.

Good Banter at Panera

Standing behind young woman in beverage line, pouring ice chips, then iced tea into my cup as she squeezes four lemons into hers. When she sees me standing behind her, I anticipate, she’ll apologize for making me wait even though she was there first. I’ll tell her she beat me to it. That’s how strangers in line together banter at Panera.

Instead, she reaches for her lid. Then, as she slaps it securely over the mouth of her cup with her left hand, she hands me a second lid with her right. “Might as well get two as get one,” she says. Also good banter.

She hands me a second straw and moves on to find her seat.

“You Don’t Want to Know”

Long-time Panera regular comes by to shake my hand and wish me good morning. Says Shalom because she knows we’re both Jewish. Cups my right hand warmly with both of hers and smiles, then moves on to next table.

Makes the rounds greeting regulars and first-timers: old couple sitting side by side eating oatmeal and drinking coffee, four concerned citizens parsing the week’s events.

“Where have you been?” the old man asks. “We missed you,” his wife adds.

“You don’t want to know,” she answers, then adds, “You missed me like a cold.”

The First to Know

She studied so hard under the watchful guidance of her tutor. Math was a stickler subject but so was science. She prepped for her grad school exams, took her grad school exams, and failed her grad school exams. She prepped again, took them again, failed them again. Then she prepped for them once more.

In time we became Panera friends and I learned that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother and become a scientist. I became a source of encouragement.

Today she approached me quietly but excitedly. I felt her approaching presence and looked up from my screen. She whispered, “I just wanted you to be the first to know: I passed.”

She hurried off to the restroom as I called, “I’m proud of you.”