The hazards of working in a cafe

Red Horse Cafe (in summer): not as benign as it might look

There are a number of cafes that I work in near my flat in Brooklyn. If you freelance, cafes are wonderful places to bring your laptop. You can strike up random conversations with strangers and listen in on people’s private chats. You escape the cabin-fever of working from home and your life doesn’t involve sitting alone all day in the room where you normally eat your dinner or, worse, your bedroom (I’ve done that before and I really don’t recommend it, it’s not good for you).

But being surrounded by people has its own inconveniences. You can’t choose the company you keep. Humans can be annoying, as anyone who has ever worked in an office knows — the cough, the laugh, the shuffle, any tiny movement can get on your nerves if repeated often enough.

Right now, for example, I’m in the Red Horse Cafe on 12th street & 5th in Brooklyn, which is so cool that it has both a ning network and a blog (actually the ning site is the new one). I’m sharing a black leather couch with a man who is very sweet I’m sure. And who knows, he might be a famous writer or a little known multimillionaire or just a lonely person looking for human interaction. Still, I can tell you that he is chomping and crunching his lunch noisily, and clearing his throat every 12 seconds. His lunch began with an orange-coloured soup (slurp, slurp), followed by a dish of crisps and a sandwich (munch, chew, chew). It’s winter but he wears a waistcoat that leaves his slightly plump arms bare and in close proximity to mine. He is accompanied by four ring-binder notebooks, a rucksack and a paper-bag filled with other paper-bags.

The man opposite me catches my eye and his eyebrows twitch. He throws a disapproving glance at my couch-mate.

As I write, the snuffly man is gathering his belongings. First I think he’s talking to himself but then I realize he’s addressing me. “This isn’t a good place for short people. You see, I’m unusual because I’m short but I have a terribly long torso. These couches just aren’t comfortable.” Innocently, I gesture to the chairs on the other side of the room. I’m sure they’re far more comfortable. Indeed, that’s where I’d be sitting if that side of the room had computer plugs.

Spanish music is playing in the background. The twitchy guy asks the girl opposite me, who’s wearing a lovely pink and orange shirt, where she got her green MacBook cover.  I don’t really listen in, but it all seems very pleasant.

A fellow with grey hair and a green coat looms over me and asks if I mind if he sits down. I don’t. But unnervingly, the eyebrow-twitcher looks over. I meet his glance, then look away, then meet his glance again. What?!

“Am I typing too loud? I’ve been told before I type too loudly,” I say. This is true. When taking the GRE exams for US college, I was reprimanded by the exam supervisor. The person beside me had complained about my typing.  “Don’t worry about it,” Mr. Twitchy says. “It’s ok.”

Cars beep outside, an alarm goes off. Over by the window the snuffly man is finishing his lunch. On the couches, we sit in a square, Mr. Twitchy, the pink-and-orange-shirted girl, and the green coated man, all typing away on our computers, engrossed in our work and tapping, tapping, tapping.

[The image above is from]

2 Responses to “The hazards of working in a cafe”
  1. louche says:

    “He wears a waistcoat that leaves his slightly plump arms bare and in close proximity to mine” — hilarious!

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  1. […] written before about working in a cafe. New York is choc-full of freelancers, who drift from place to place […]

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