Table for One

I write this while sitting at a table for one, with a $5.00 David Weber book from the damaged table in my hands. An $8.00 paperback copy of The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style and a $30 new release called Transplant sit at my left elbow. I’m in the University of Pennsylvania Bookstore’s coffee corner, with chilled cafe mocha in my stomach and a cup of ice and mocha residue to one side.

I am at a table for one, but I am not alone. The books of previous patrons lie scattered on my table and on adjacent tables. Along with my own books, my table hosts a copy of Value at Risk, which is apparently one of a series of economic books. Next door to my table The Social Responsibility of Good and Evil and a large coffee table book entitled Rome are abandoned with a dozen other books whose spines are turned away from me. I spend a few moments regarding the books as I would a litter of puppies. I want to reassure them that their turn will come, and somebody will take them home and read them and love them. I anthropomorphize, but the books look sad and abandoned. A book without someone holding it is a lonely, lifeless thing.

I am at a table for one, but I am not alone. A man of middle-eastern descent and his son sit at a table cattycorner from me. The man has a newspaper written in symbols I do not recognize. The boy is perhaps eight, and has an adult science text. He reads it aloud to his father, occasionally stopping so they can discuss some point briefly.

Ahead of me, at another table for one, is an oriental boy in his late teens. His table is littered with photocopies of what appear to be chapters from a medical text. He has a yellow highlighter, a pink one, and an orange one. He has a mechanical pencil and a Walkman with a very bright blue headset. His backpack sits on a chair next to him, and is as long and wide as his table. He’s brought his own beverage (apple juice? Iced tea?) with him, but has only broken his studies once to pour from his thermos.

Several tables over a group of young people are beginning to gather up their things. An impossibly tiny girl (she’s got to be a size 1) gathers trash and carries it to a not-very-close trash receptacle. A tall, jock-type boy assists her after she’s made the second trash trip. There are eight people at this table in all – a study group? – and they leave together laughing. The books they leave behind are left in the center of the large round table they had gathered at. The books are stacked neatly and have been carefully arranged by size, with the largest book on the bottom.

I am at a table for one, but I am not alone. I am part of all this, scribbling down my thoughts, trying to capture the reason behind my feeling of companionship with all these people I do not know. I look up as a boy at the counter looks up, and our eyes meet for a moment before the rules of society take over and we both look away. He’s thin, in the manner of an under funded and therefore undernourished student. His jeans are clean but baggy, and too long. His t-shirt looks to be an X-large on his medium or less frame. Is it the fashion, or simple expediency? He wears a hat like Gilligan’s, only black (I think Gilligan’s was white, wasn’t it?). How does he see me, this middle-aged woman, sitting in the coffee corner of a bookstore, scribbling in her notebook while nursing the dregs of a long-gone drink? The Socialist appears, and I gather my wares and head towards checkout, tossing the empty plastic cup into the same trashcan the study group used.

I am not alone.

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  1. No ma’am, you are definately not alone. The company of a good book and the nearness of others who love the written word guarantee that one is never really alone.

    I have sat upon a perch in a particular little cafe where the written word rules and felt the joys of myself and those around me as we take up our own space in a place where we can be together yet seperate.

    Have a mocha ice for me and savor the books so lovingly bound.

  2. P.S. Please feel free to send your Grey Menace over as mine only finds small rodents with "victim" tattooed on their little foreheads. Thank God she doesn’t leave them under the couch…….

  3. You just described my favourite activity! I really enjoyed your entry, and I also love to people watch while sitting at a bookstore coffee shop!

    Take Care,


  4. *~Salamander~*

    Its always interesting to take in the surroundings around you. Just watching and listening to all the conversations around you is interesting. Thats very deep and inspirational of you to write this. Maybe we should all start being more aware of our surroundings.


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