Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Saint Joseph has Left the Building

More out of curiosity than anything else I thought I’d revisit my early morning haunt at Starbucks. This particular store is on the outskirts of downtown and always seems to attract a smattering of circus performers without the circus. In the early morning hours, before normal people are beginning to stir in their beds, these shadows of the night begin to emerge from the darkness and slip into their caffeine-induced second home.

For years when I was in town, I had a habit of rising early and sequestering myself there in some corner chair to get lost in my iPad and light roast. Over the last couple of years that’s been supplanted by my own coffee maker at home and a chair on the patio, watching the sunrise cast its eerie glow over the mountains nearby. Recently I haven’t seen St. Joseph in a long time.

Each morning back then I would find Saint Joseph in his corner chair, waiting to council and administer to the daily needs of his flock. So one day last week I retraced my route back to that coffee corner for lost souls. I waited that morning and the next. He never showed. It didn’t take long to realize that nothing had really changed except my change of venue and St. Joseph was gone. Finally I asked one of the wait staff and they just shrugged their shoulders and mumbled: “Sorry, I don’t know.”

St. Joseph was a fixture and a character there for many years. He always held court at the same corner table. Same table, same time, always the same place. Seven days a week since at least 2010 when I first started going to there.

The only variable would be his entourage for any particular day and the visiting dignitaries who shuffled by for their coffee fix and to stop at his office for a brief exchange of wisdom before melting into the night once again.

Joseph was an older gentleman, probably in his mid-seventies. He was always cheerful, ready with a smile and a laugh. He had a pleasant demeanor that never varied with the seasons or time of day. I don’t know if Joseph was married or gay or straight. And it hardly mattered especially in a place like Palm Springs.  He was a councilor, advisor, cheerleader, friend, listener and seeker of the good in everyone he met.

For many people, Joseph was their early morning elixir for what ailed them on that particular day. Unlike the old men who gather at coffee shops around the world to blather on about nothing and expose their ignorance with Monday morning quarterbacking, second-guessing politicians and berating the government, Joseph was articulate, thoughtful and intelligent.
His entourage varied from day to day as did his visitors. There was an older woman who was usually at his side. I couldn’t tell if they were married, living together or just friends in need of companionship. She seemed to be the ying for his yang.

There was usually some old curmudgeon who would be bitching about something and always countered by Joseph’s calm response. The man was like a bad cliché but he doesn’t know it or seem to care. He would just keep embarrassing himself with his statements. Joseph was the man’s patient sounding board. I sometimes think Joseph’s nickname should be chuckles for his quick wit and logical response to the man’s anal chattering on about nothing.

Others would come and go. A few lingered but most just sat for a little while in Joseph’s corner and then moved on with their lives.

The conversations vary by the day. One time it might be the local news sprinkled with criticism of national politics. The next might be the weather; summer is hot, the rest of the year is wonderful. The conversations would be open, honest and usually bent toward the left which was not surprising considering the community that hosted them.

One time Joseph and his merry band of mischief-makers moved all the furniture around to suit their taste that day. They called themselves “Interior Desiccators.” Management wasn’t pleased and moved the furniture back in place. The next day, the game began again. Joseph won and management capitulated.

Another day, they dissected a local play. They decided it was Dr. Cold Fingers who was the proctologist. They ran lines of their own: “If you twitter my…I’ll google your”…and “two pickles short of a hamburger. ” None of it was really funny except that it was five in the morning and the caffeine hadn’t worked its magic yet. So they thought themselves hilarious.

Crossword puzzles were always a hit and usually completed in short order with a host of quick minds attacking the empty blocks. Often times, arguments arose and the dictionary (part of Joseph’s arsenal of support material) settled the answer.

The cadre of visitors varied each day but some stand out in my mind. There was the younger woman who lived in her wheelchair. She moved around by using her crutches as walking sticks. She had the sad eyes of a fawn that has just lost her mother. But she had many friends at Starbucks and seemed to relish their company.

There was the muscle man, built solid as a rock, who walked a toy poodle. The dog was his trusted companion and he loved that animal. Mr. Bojangles anyone. Dogs were always a part of the daily entourage. There’s still a dish of water for them outside every morning.

There was always the man in one corner with his flashlight, scanning the pages of the LA Times and N.Y. Times because, as he explained it, ‘the damn lighting was so bad inside.’

By 7:00 or 7:30, Joseph would be gone. I had no idea where he went to every day. But it didn’t really matter. Joseph was sure to be back the next day, same place, same time. There would be the same flock of casual friends looking forward to his ready smile, quick and easy-to-swallow dose of friendship. For many folks, that’s all that was needed to face another day and their reality, if only for a moment in time.

That outpost of Schultz’s coffee kingdom reminds me of the Triangle Bar on the West Bank and the Amsterdam Coffee houses of my past. But that’s all changed now. Their prices have all gone up. The cast and crew have changed over the years and little remains of those memories other than the same old cracked leather chairs and newspapers piled up in one corner.

Back then, I was just a casual observer, taking a lot of mental notes and thinking what a wonderful play this disciple of the caffeine crowd would make. But St. Joseph will have to wait. Sage came first with her ‘Riot at Sage Corner’ and now I’ve got an ensemble of characters attending their 50th high school reunion. Perhaps after that I can revisit St. Joseph once again.

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