Hermann Hates: Rude People
A Column Determined to have its Way
By ANDREW HERMANN
Blast Boston Bureau
So it's Friday and I got the afternoon off to make up for the 14-hour day I
put in earlier this week, but I can't go home because I work for a temp
agency that only provides any assistance to its temps during these narrow,
inflexible windows of time, one of which is 5:15 to 5:30
pick-up-your-paycheck period. The rest of the week at my temp agency they
have circle jerks or something, I don't know I mean, they're a TEMP AGENCY
for Chrissakes, and they can only spare 15 minutes a week to hand out
PAYCHECKS? I mean, I know no one ever claimed that the paragons of
managerial common sense could be found in the modern workplace equivalent
of the slave trade, but still 15 MINUTES A WEEK? They may as well tape
your paycheck to the back of a bus and make you run to catch it as it pulls
out into traffic.
Anyway, as I was saying, I had four hours to kill between getting off work
and picking up my paycheck, so I decided I would bring my handy-dandy,
ultra-convenient, shiny new laptop along with me so I could find a cozy
Cambridge cafe to sit in and be one of those annoying pretentious Yuppie
fucks you see sitting in cozy cafes sipping a latte, munching a biscotti,
and reviewing the company spreadsheets on their PowerBook. Except I would
actually be sipping a latte, munching a biscotti, and composing the next
"Hermann Hates" column on what is essentially, in this circumstance, a
$2,000 legal pad. Whoever came up with the term "notebook computer"
obviously had people like me in mind. My ability to grasp a pen and hold a
thought at the same time began to atrophy sometime shortly after that
fateful day back in '82 when Dad brought home a Commodore 64 and plugged it
into the TV set.
Now there are two very important things you must know before you can hear
the rest of my story.
First thing is, my handy-dandy, ultra-convenient laptop is nowhere near as
handy or convenient as I may have heretofore implied. For one thing, its
batteries are only good for about forty-five minutes before it starts doing
its dump truck-in-reverse impersonation, emitting a taunting beep that
seems to say, "Better hit that save key quick, Mr. Fifty-Words-Per-Minute,
before I dump
your work into the eternal landfill from which no data returns."
For another thing, my computer is, despite its deceptive slimline
contruction, about as heavy as Camus novel. After a day of lugging this
360-meg albatross back and forth on the subway, my shoulders are a
chiropractor's wet dream. So as you can imagine, by the time I made it to
Harvard Square, where in another three hours my check would be ready, I was
determined to find a comfortable place to sit down and get my forty-five
minutes in on that lead-brick laptop if it killed me.
The second thing you need to know is that, although Cambridge has more cozy
cafes than you can shake a cinnamon stick at, it is also inhabited largely
by people who seem to have nothing better to do, even on a sunny Friday
afternoon, than sit in them. It's got to have one of the best
income-to-no-visible-means-of-support ratios in the country.
So there I am, wearing too much clothing because it's the first warm day
we've had in New England since the Johnson administration, schlepping a
chunk of gravity-sucking, solid data processing power, staggering weakly
from cafe to cafe, looking for a goddamn place to sit down. My favorite
place, Au Bon Donut, is packed, so I head next door to Tres Bon Cafe, which
is clearly giving its coffee away, so then I head down the street to Ma
Tete Explose, which is closed, for Heaven's sake. So finally I give up and
head for La Petit Fromage, which is a characterless chain but does at least
have those cute little round cafe tables that laptops look so especially
At first, the situation at La Petit Fromage looks no more promising than my
previous forays. At every table, at least one person is firmly ensconced,
and they're all projecting that eternal, immovable quality cafe denizens so
often have, that aura of, "I paid my $2.75 for this latte and by God, I'm
gonna nurse this sucker till they start stacking the chairs."
Then, I spot it, the Holy Grail -- an empty table in the back corner, the
only one in the whole place. It shall, I grimly resolved at that moment,
But La Petit Fromage does counter service only, and there are three people
already in line. What to do? Well, with the strap on my bag gnawing into
my shoulder and goading me on, I did what any self-respecting urban
dickhead would do -- I went over to the table and threw my stuff down on
it. Normally I frown on such behavior in others -- there's something just
not cricket about bucking the prescribed routine of wait in line, get your
coffee, sit your ass down -- but I was brimful with the injustice of heavy
laptops, overcrowded cafes, and 15-minute windows in which to claim your
paycheck, and I was in no mood to be trifled with.
So I went back and stood in line, keeping a careful eye on my stuff to make
sure none of the hooligans who so often frequent La Petit Fromages was
making a grab for it, and I got my coffee, and I threw in a linzer cookie
to celebrate my table-claiming triumph, and after I counted my change and
went to sit down I discovered that my table was occupied!
A well-dressed blonde woman and a big lanky guy in a track suit had swept
my stuff onto the floor and parked themselves and their lattes at the table
that, by urban dickhead fiat, was rightfully mine.
Now on the one hand, in my moral universe I had been a bad boy already just
by attempting to claim a table out of turn. On the other hand, I really,
really wanted to sit at that table and break
out my laptop, and while sharing the table would not have been altogether
impossible under different circumstances, in this case it just wouldn't
work -- my laptop would take up the entire surface of that cute little
round cafe table, thereby preventing the usurpers from setting down their
frothy beverages, which was bound to create further conflict.
So, true to my own mixed feelings, and typical of my response to
confrontational situations, I went passive-aggressive. I strode
purposefully over to the table, made a grab for my stuff, and with a
cheerful air of menace uttered something like, "Well, I see my attempt to
claim this table has been thwarted."
The man glanced at me like I was ants at his picnic and then tried to
ignore me, but the woman stared confusedly and said, "Oh. Were you sitting
here?" She angled her head towards the man. "Was there someone sitting
"Well," I explained, "I had INTENDED to sit here. I put my stuff down--"
"Did you see his stuff here?" the woman asked her companion.
"It's all right," the man told her, glaring at me now like I was ants
making off with an entire bowl of potato salad.
The woman, however, persisted in her line of questioning. "But was he
about to sit down here?"
Now I'm not usually the most observant of people -- I was one of those
maroons who failed to realize until the key moment that the chick in "The
Crying Game" wasn't a chick -- but even I could tell by this point that
something weird was going on. The woman was acting as though her sole
source of information during this exchange was her companion, as though she
had somehow failed to notice a large black jacket and a shoulder-bag
bursting at the seams with its cargo completely covering the little cafe
table, indeed camoflaging it from all but the most perspicacious of
table-hunters like this steely-eyed dude in the track suit. Sure enough,
track suit boy finally fixed me with another withering glance and, for the
first time during this exchange, directly addressed me long enough to blurt
out the words, "She's blind, you know."
Now ordinarily, I might have assumed this statement was being made by way
of explanation; after all, the woman was acting strangely and she had none
of those typical blind person's distinguishing features like a walking
stick, big dog, dark glasses, or that disconcerting thing they sometimes do
where their eyes wander in different directions at once. All this woman
had was her chaperone, and part of his job could be, I supposed, to point
out to oafish strangers like myself that we were dealing with a blind
woman, before we said something inappropriate like, "Whattaya, blind or
In this case, however, I detected something else in the man's explanation.
He said it like an accusation, like he was using her disability to shame me
into rescinding my table. The sheer audacity of such a tactic, of turning
a confrontation over a cafe table into the less-fortunate-than-you game,
might have worked, had the woman not decided that wasn't going to play
"It's all right," she said, getting up. "We'll find another table."
"There are no other tables," her companion snarled.
"Then we'll go outside. I don't mind. We're very sorry to have troubled
you," she said to me, and then to her spluttering chaperone, whose face was
turning the color of his track suit, "Get my coffee, Jim."
So they left, the blind woman and her dumbstruck guide, and I sat down at
that little cafe table that had been the source of so much conflict, took a
sip of my coffee, and thanked my lucky stars that the blind woman had taken
control of the situation. I mean, just think how much uglier things could
have gotten otherwise. Just put yourself in my shoes on this one for a
moment -- you're on shaky moral ground to begin with, and you're fighting
over table space with a blind woman and an asshole. Now that's a tough one
After track suit boy and the blind woman had left, one of the happy smiling
employees of La Petit Fromage came over to ask me what had happened. I
gave her my version of the events, and the happy smiling employee, after
hearing my story, told me that track suit boy had tried to pull a similar
trick at the counter. Informed that a cup of steaming, fresh-ground La
Petit Fromage Guatemalan Irish Cream French Roast coffee cost $1.25, track suit boy loudly protested, insisting that he only had a
dollar to pay for both coffees and that that should be enough. And sure
enough, he somehow managed to work into his protest the words, "She's
blind, you know." And sure enough, the blind woman finally fished enough
money out of her purse to pay for both coffees.
"Some people," the La Petit Fromage employee said wearily, dropping her
smile for just a moment.
She didn't need to add anything further. We both knew what kind of people
"some people" were. People who try to take advantage. People who have no
shame. People who go through life with this insufferable sense of
entitlement, as if they were owed something just for being who they are.
And if who they are doesn't entitle them to anything, they'll acquire some
passport to it, like a blind
companion. Or maybe just a generally bad attitude. In short, these are
the rude people.
Here's the worst thing of all about "some people": they almost always win.
The easiest way to beat them is to be rude right back.
It's like the dark side of the Force; giving in to it helps you vanquish
your enemies, but you're left on the field of victory with the hollow
realization that the real enemy is you. You, after all, are the
pretentious urban dickhead who claimed a cafe table out of turn just so you
could park your laptop on it and write a smarmy humor column.
Man, that was some bitter coffee I drank at La Petit Fromage that day. But
you know what? My shoulders didn't ache so much. And come six o'clock
the temp people were half an hour late but did finally show up, bless their
pointy little fascistic heads I finally got my goddamn paycheck.
I'm sure there's a moral to this story, but my computer just started
beeping at me. You'll just have to figure it out for yourselves.