E-mail the author or send us feedback.

Blast @ is an online magazine presented by Exploding Can Productions, a digital media and Internet company.

Copyright © 1995-1998 Exploding Can Productions. All Rights Reserved. No part of this Web site may be used without permission.

To report any problems or if you have any questions, please write to or For advertising, please contact

home | about blast | who we are | editors' note | feedback | sitemap | press | user feedback | links

Hermann Hates: Rude People
A Column Determined to have its Way

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 ostentatious on.

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, be mine.

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 here?"

"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 something?"

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 along.

"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 to call.

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.