A Sympathetic Ear

A good cup of coffee was always worth the wait; it’s a policy that has found me standing in line for many a cold morning.   This morning at the Athenian was no different as I stood huddled in my coat just inside the front door.  The lineup was moving quickly; before I knew it, I was inside, undoing my zipper against the warmth. 

I looked around; the place was packed; all the easy chairs, couches, and tables taken, and the place abuzz with conversation.  Only one seat remained at a table in a darkened corner, and even that had an occupant; Odysseus, the mysterious hero newly back from his years of travel.  I stepped up ordering my coffee;  the barrista followed my gaze;
“He comes here everyday, and sits staring sightlessly out the window for hours.”
“What does he take in his coffee? I ask.  If I was going to have to sit with him, I may as well bring him something  The server poured his to order, and I balanced them both making my way to the table.

“Is this seat taken?” I ask to be nice.  He motioned to the chair;
“By all means, take it” I set his coffee in front of him, and busied myself settling in.  I shrugged out of my coat, draping it over the back of the chair.  My gloves I shoved in  the coat sleeves with my hat.  I nervously ran a hand through my hair.  At last I was ready to begin drinking my coffee.  I gingerly sipped at first, savouring the fragrant aroma, and the smooth taste.  As I did so I contemplated my table mate;  He just sat there; staring sightlessly his facial expression blank.  On a closer look his face was lightly scarred under one eye- I wondered briefly how he got that.  After a few minutes he let out a sigh so full of  frustration, and sadness that it invited conversation.

“I know exactly how you feel,” my one sentence brought him out of his daze.  His gaze switched to me expectantly.  He picked up the coffee I brought him, and sipped it.  I continued:

“Life can be frustrating sometimes- like hitting your head repeatedly against a brick wall without a helmet.  Take me for instance.  It feels like I’ve been searching for a job for most of my adult life- certainly as long you’ve been away.

“I started off working in retail; a clerk at a video store.  That job was the most fun; I got paid to watch movies, talk about movies.  Who wouldn’t want to do that?” That got a response from him:

“I’d love a job like that.”

“I know.  That lasted two years, and helped me pay for a year at Sheridan doing their New Media Journalism program.  I loved every minute of it; it was exactly what I wanted to do with my life.  I remember we had to do an internship, and I did mine at a radio station, overnight in Toronto.”

“That must have been exciting,” he commented.

“It wasn’t really.  Toronto can be surprisingly dull during the overnight hours, which, is odd considering the amount of murders, etc. you hear about in the media.  The best part of that was watching the morning show come in, and set up; it was like watching a well-oiled machine.  I learned a lot form that, and it gave me a taste for radio.  I’d love to work at a radio station someday.”

“Oh.”  He sipped the coffee again, and made me think he was lapsing into silence.  He swallowed;


“After Sheridan, I volunteered at my local cable station.  That lasted a few months; and got me doing some on-camera and voice over work.  It led me to my first paying gig as print reporter.  I couldn’t believe my luck! I was paid to do what I love for a living.  I made the front pages frequently- one time even occupying it fully.”  I sipped my coffee, letting him take those achievements in.

“Your family must have been thrilled to see your name in print.”

“They were.  My grandmother even kept all of my clippings.”   I thought of the pile on a shelf in my home office; I should really do something with those; put them in a binder or portfolio or something.

“And then…” He prompted me.

“I worked at that for a year, and decided to begin looking elsewhere.  And I found it, funny enough through that job.  There was this crew wearing black T-shirts around with cameras taping everything, so I grabbed a business card and before I knew it I was working for them writing their magazine.  The company opened a television station and I was in charge of scheduling the studio time, news crew shoots, and producing as well as writing the news.”

“That must have been a lot of work,”

“It was.  But it was fun and I worked with some amazing  people; we made a great time.  We did some really cool stuff.”

“I’m sure you did.  A career in television… wow.  I couldn’t do it.”

“Yes you could.  You’re handsome enough, trust me.”  He smiled;

“Thank you for the compliment.  You speak of it in the past tense what happened…”

“It closed up a while back.  It was a start-up company, there were money issues.  It sucked; because that job was the closest I’d gotten to a full-time job.”

“I see.  That’s tough luck.  What have you done since?”  He showed genuine interest for the first time in our conversation.  I sipped coffee for a moment.

“I’m back to freelancing again; this time for an online news organization.  And now it looks like that’s closing too.”  I drained the cup, and sat back.

“Actually now I’ve come to think of it; every place I’ve worked  now closed.”

“You sound as cursed by bad luck as I was in my travels,” he commented.

“I prefer to think of it as simply there was only really one of me. And they couldn’t survive after I left, so they closed.  It helps my ego.” We laughed at my joke. 

“I see. He drained his cup;

“Where have you been applying to so far?”

“Here and there.  Do you know I’ve sent at least a dozen resumes into the CBC since June and I haven’t heard a thing back? You’d think somebody would get the hint already.”

 He shrugged his shoulders;”You may hear back.  Government runs on its own time lines.”

“True.  CTV on the other hand has called me back.  Two months after I applied for a job in Regina they called asking me for links to reports I’d done, and photos. of me  So I am getting somewhere.”

“It seems like it.  It also seems like you’ve got the right attitude.  Apply for anything, anywhere and you never know where life will take you.”

“Well that’s the general plan anyway.  After all I’ve got nothing to lose right?”

“Exactly.  That was my attitude- and I ended up seeing the world.”  He drained his coffee and rose;

“Well, I should get going.  I have to be at work.”

“It was good talking to you- I had fun.  Maybe next time you can talk about your troubles.  There’s gotta be a few stories there.”

He shrugged: “It was good talking to you too.  We all need a sympathetic ear every so often.”  I watched him leave.  The server came over to her table;

“That was the most animated I’ve seen him weeks.  What did you do?” 

I smiled: “I told him a story.  He listened; it worked for both of us.”  The server poured me another coffee;

“It’s on the house.  You’ve done a good deed.  I can’t get him to say two words to me.”

“Thanks.”  I stayed for a few more minutes sipping it gently before leaving myself. 


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