The Power of Intuition — III
5 dollars, a Bagel and Irene
This was around 9 years ago...
I was walking down the street in a neighborhood I was not very familiar with. I was here because somebody had mentioned they have a library where I could a book a PlayStation.
I’m no avid gamer, but I remember fondly my Street fighter & Virtual tennis 2 battles from a long time ago!
The bug never really traveled with me into adulthood. Maybe the lack of entertainment infrastructure in my time on the streets had something to do with it.
Recently though, I had been craving to play a driving game. So I was super glad when the library happened to have a copy of ‘Need for Speed - Underground’.
I just had a blast for a couple of hours!
The library was close enough to the main street, so after I was done with gaming, I decided to explore the neighborhood for a bit.
Now it wasn’t the best idea walking down a street full of eateries, with no money in my pocket… My stomach was in an almighty battle with me.
I also needed to take a piss quite badly. There were no public toilets close by, as I had already walked about 15 mins away from the library.
I took a left turn into a quiet side street and decided to wet a tree. After relieving myself, I thought its best ‘not to’ go back to the main street, as I’d feel even worse if I had to continue smelling all that nice food.
There was a park at the end of this little street, so I thought I’d go and take a nap there instead. I went and sat down under a tree.
When I looked to my right, there was a $5 note that someone had dropped. It was a bit wet and stuck to the grass, but hey, what did I care..
I was thankful for this bit of good fortune, as I could eat something now!
I walked around for a few minutes trying to find the best deal I could get for 5 bucks — preferably a bite to eat and a drink.
After checking out a few places, I came across a sign outside a bakery offering a $5 coffee and bagel special.
Believe it or not, even though I lived for a year in a predominantly Jewish suburb before, I had never eaten a bagel.
I was happy to try my first one.
A friendly lady at the counter asked me if I was ready to order, and I said: ‘Yes, I want the bagel special please.’
I took a seat and she brought me a coffee with a cream cheese bagel. It was quite yummy.
As I was enjoying the bagel, a person entered the store and got into a conversation with the lady.
Turned out that the lady was the manager and the young man who turned up was an employee. He had come by to tell her he is quitting the job; he had found something else closer to home.
The lady seemed a bit saddened by this, as it was probably unexpected (quitting). She was courteous in her goodbye to the young man.
She went behind the counter and decided to make herself a snack. She then looked in my direction and asked me something I did not expect: “Hey, would you like another bagel? It’s on the house.”
I was pleasantly surprised. I said ‘Sure ma’am. I’d love one.’
“So what do you want on it?”, she inquired.
I said: ‘Your call’.
She made me this everything bagel (it had all kinds of seeds on it) with cream cheese on one side, smoked salmon, capers and some kind of novel dip on the other side.
I didn’t quite know what else to say apart from ‘Thank you’, so I just inquired about the obvious.
‘I presume the young boy just quit his job?’, I asked.
She said, “Yes… I used to enjoy working with him. And he was really good on the coffee machine too.”
We continued to chat for a little bit; I asked her a bit more about her life.
Turned out she had another business on the side which she ran with her sister. It was a jewelry store of imports from somewhere in Asia.
She asked me what I was currently up to?
I said: ‘Not much.. I’m just thinking about my next step forward.’
Then she said: “Hey.. you know what.. I don’t know if you are looking for any work.. but, would you like to work here?
By the way, I have no idea what you do, so I hope I’m not over-stepping my mark?”
I laughed and said: ‘Truth is, I hate the hospitality industry. I was never any good at it. I never enjoyed being polite to people, simply because they paid for a meal.
I also find it hard not to spill tea or coffee if I have to carry it more than a few meters to the customers table.
I have good hands when I play sport; just not while being a waiter’
She laughed, and responded: “Ok, you’re hired.”
But then, I added: ‘I don’t like taking orders from people!’
[Its like that scene from the movie Ted, where the bear deliberately tries to sabotage the interview, but the manager gives him the job anyway]
She then made me an offer.
“You’re very honest and I appreciate the candor. I think I’ll enjoy talking to you. So how about this: You don’t have to consider me a boss; just a friendly acquaintance.
I‘d like you to work on the coffee machine. I’ll train you and I’ll be the only one who’ll write down the slips, and put them next to the machine.
You won’t have to speak with customers”
This is where it was all very interesting.
I’ve always loved the art of coffee making. The bug had only gotten more embedded after I had spent time with some wonderful Italian travelers during that mysterious year.
Now I don’t have to say much about Italians and coffee, do I?
Ever since, I had wanted not only to experience more deeply the wondrous joys of this complex bean, but also learn how to make it well.
I have never wanted to work for anyone else, but I was more than happy to trade my time, in return for learning to make really good coffee.
I had been thinking about this a lot lately apart from working on the book, so when the offer presented itself, I just said yes.
Of course, the annoying customers were always going to be pain. But I was given a promise this wouldn’t eventuate.
As it turned out, there were a couple of occasions when I had to talk to customers. And of course these incidents did not go down well.
The first time was when the store got extremely busy. I felt my colleagues were short of hands on the counters, so I decided to jump in and help.
Just as I did, a rude lady decided to let lose at one of our colleagues! My colleague was a timid young woman, so she did not say anything.
What had happened was the customer had not responded when her docket number had been called out. She was busy stuffing her mouth with free bread samples from the counter.
I quickly intervened and asked if everything was fine. The rude lady accused my colleague of deliberately ignoring her and said that she was incompetent.
My colleague politely said she did not hear the lady respond to the ticket number when she called it out.
I knew what the problem was, so I took over and said to her: “Next time if you want to be heard, don’t talk with food in your mouth.”
That did not go down well...
She asked for the manager.
I knew the manager was in no mood to intervene, so I said ‘You’re looking at him and I can’t help you’.
She knocked down the sugars on one of the tables and walked out the store in a huff!
A customer who’d seen all of this happen, then chimed in: “I’ve seen her before around the area. She’s always rude. Personally, I think she got what she deserved.”
Now on another occasion, it was a hipster gal — she used to get real finicky about her coffee order.
On this fateful day there was no controlled interface between her and I, as the manager was signing a delivery order at the back.
She cut in front of another polite customer, knocked on the counter, and demanded: “I’d like a coffee to go” in one of those really annoying nasal tones (remember Fran Drescher?).
I maintained my composure, and asked: ‘Sure, what would you like?’
This is what she demanded: “I want a decaf-skinny-half-strength-not-hot-to-sip-cappucino-with-chocolate-powder-only-sprinkled-across-half-the-cup.
And I need this to go in a hurry!”
I really wasn’t in the mood for this b.s. so I said: ‘Sorry, your order is unreasonable for the morning rush hour. Besides, this is a pretend coffee order and you should just drink some warm water.’
Seems like I had finally tipped the bucket.
She proceeded to call me an unaccommodating imbecile, screamed in my direction, stomped her feet, and left the store!
I got a good chuckle out of it and we never saw her at the bakery again. She moved on to hassle another cafe across the road.
Now if you think I’m some kind of a dick, my mantra is to only be rude to obnoxious people.
Otherwise, I’m actually a courteous and caring person... I’m just a tad low in agreeableness.
Apart from these 2 incidents, I had a decent time at the bakery.
When I got my first weeks wages, I decided to check myself into a backpacker hostel. I cannot tell you how nice it was to have my own bed and a proper shower.
Standing under running water was like some transcendent experience... Sharing a small room with 8 other smelly backpackers was not.
That evening there were a lot of people in the hostel. I felt like spending some time on my own, so I ventured out.
I wasn’t sure where to go, so I thought I’d treat myself to some pizza.
But then I had this particular feeling…
The feeling was to go towards the library where I used to write & design my book. Now the library was closed by this hour, so it did seem a bit illogical.
Then again, I thought, ‘Let’s see what this is about.’
As I walked past the library I noticed someone I thought I knew curled up in a corner. Turns out it was Irene.
Irene was a an old Polish woman who had fallen on hard times. She was in her 60’s and she had swollen legs. In winter walking especially was an almighty struggle.
Under great duress she’d drag herself to the library and then sit on a chair with a book, pretty much all day long. In the evenings she’d slowly make her way out the library and then find somewhere to fall asleep.
Irene’s mind, however, was sharp as a tack! Her tongue even sharper! She spoke with a Polish accent, but her English was perfect!
I had her seen on multiple occasions ripping idiots to shreds (verbally) when they tried to cross her. It was actually glorious viewing!
I often wish I had that knack, to let rip at people with my thoughts and words flowing, as freely as my rage. Alas, that isn’t one of my gifts.
When I was using the library toilets to get fresh in the mornings, she always used to be the person, who’d be waiting to go in after me.
She was always thankful for the fact I’d leave the room clean and dry for her to use.
She used to get a bit of money every fortnight from some government scheme. But it was never enough to get a proper place to live in.
Besides she just did not want to deal with real estate douchebags— she couldn’t handle being put through bureaucratic hoops at her age.
In the mornings, just before the library opened, every now and again she’d hand me some money, and politely ask me to bring her a coffee. She’d always insist that I get myself something too.
I always felt bad buying anything for myself with her money.
On the initial few occasions, I returned the change back to her without buying anything. But she cottoned on pretty quickly.
On one of those occasions when I returned with her coffee, she refused to drink it. She said that I had to get myself something or she wouldn’t drink her’s.
She was serious.
From that point on (and in my life in general), I decided to make myself a more gracious receiver. I’ve always been open in giving, but I’ve had to learn to open myself to receiving too.
I figured why deny someone else the joy of giving to you.
Irene was probably only one of 2 people through my entire time on the streets, who I was able to make a genuine connection with.
Now back to this particular evening.
She was pretty down in the dumps emotionally. I cannot imagine how bad she was feeling physically too.
So I decided its time to do something for her.
I said to Irene: ‘You remember that nice pizza place in the city you used to point to often? We’re going there tonight!”
She was in tears, but now they were of a slightly happy kind.
I helped her up and we slowly made our way to the pizza place on the train. We ordered 2 large amazing pizzas with all the best toppings they had. We felt like little kids; it was a lot of fun!
We sat on the grass facing a bunch of tall buildings enjoying all the pizza. She then looked at me and said: “One day you are going to own one of these buildings… I just know this”
Then she took 5 dollars out of her pocket, handed it to me, and said: “You know I never won at the Casino before. But I remember your amazing story from a few years ago... You should go and just play a number for me.”
I asked: ‘Do you have a feeling for any number?’
She responded: “Well how about $5 on number 5?”
I took the 5 dollars, walked down to the casino, exchanged the cash for a chip and went and put it on number 5.
I kid you not. First spin! 175 dollars!
I cashed the winnings.
I was soooo excited!
I went back and handed her the money. She laughed and said: “I knew you would bring good news.”
But she refused to accept the cash, and said: “Its for you.”
I was not going to have any of this from her. I insisted that she come along with me.
I checked her into a motel for a few nights with those winnings, and asked her to get some good rest and enjoy her stay.
She was truly grateful for this gesture, I could see it in her eyes.
I haven’t seen her since…
She had always wanted to, some day, own a store that sells eclectic jewelry and trinkets.
I hope, one day, I will run into her in one of these shops. It would be just the best story.