I’ve been lying on a thin, ratty towel over concrete for the past 45 minutes, waiting like a coiled snake for that old dude to finish his laps and pack up. And now that he’s drying off, you think you can just waltz on in, hover a few feet away for 30 seconds, and take away my little slice of adjustable plastic and rubber heaven? This will not stand. You will not take away my relaxing afternoon, my hopes and dreams of sweating uncomfortably in a half-broken chair beside a tub of cloudy water shared with a few hundred strangers.
You naively begin to ruffle through your pool bag to pull out your towel as you swoop in towards the chair. But this isn’t over; this is just beginning. This is war.
I don’t care if so-called “science” shows that late mergers increase overall efficiency; we live in a society and there are norms that should not cannot be contravened. Your buddy in the passenger seat waving his hand out the window will do nothing for you.
Are you seeing how studiously I avoid your sad attempts at eye contact, keeping my own eyes straight ahead, like a Green Beret being taunted by his drill sergeant? Do you notice how recklessly I cram the accelerator to stay glued to the bumper ahead of me, risking my own automobile for the greater good of those behind me? Some heroes don’t wear capes.
You do not see me as I sit behind you. You may not even be consciously aware of my existence. But as I watch the masses pile onto the bus, the young woman holding a shopping bag, the dad with his baby — know that I have put away my book, I have paused my podcast, and I am directing my wrath squarely in your direction. I’m not a spiritual man, but your day of reckoning has come, and I have tried to summon all of the qi and karma and energy pulsing through the universe onto this bus and towards you.
I stare intently at the woman standing beside you struggling with her bags, my eyes crying out for her attention, then moving my unwavering gaze down towards the seat where your cold, inanimate backpack sits. Back and forth my eyes go, wordlessly telling my newfound comrade in this struggle, “That is your seat. There are many like it, but that one is yours.” I will not waver, I will not tire, and good will prevail.
I have brought my blanket. I have brought my book. I have brought a knapsack with a water bottle, a peach, and a sandwich. I have brought a bluetooth speaker to softly play chamber music versions of pop hits. I stretch, sandals off. A cloud darts in front of the sun, casting a cool respite from its heat. I smile. It is Sunday, and the world is good. And then I see you. You are setting up 20 feet away. At first, we are aligned, settled into a detente of equals. Your half wine bottle and some Vampire Weekend, sure, that’s fine.
Then you begin your aggression. An actual wine glass taken out of its own, bespoke, zippered travel case. A small wooden stand unfolded for said wine glass. A nylon contraption, unfurled and angled to protect against the August sun. A set of two small pillows with Hindu imagery on which to prop your soft, underworked elbows. Figs. Some device, undoubtedly from Brookstone, that vibrates across your feet. And I sit, sullen now, suddenly aware of all that my leisurely afternoon lacks. I log onto Amazon Prime and plot my revenge. See you next Sunday, motherfucker.
I have stalked you patiently like a jaguar in the dense mountain forest, my eyes darting back and forth across the crowded bar, waiting for my chance. A check comes, a card is swiped, a gap opens, and I pounce. Now I have assumed the position, leaning over the bar at just the right angle, credit card visible in hand, eyes locked on you. Yet my steadfast gaze remains unmet, my noble intention unrequited. You begin to swivel in my direction. I lift my credit card a little higher and open my mouth to call out, my eyebrows raised in anticipation. But you complete your turn all the way back around to the register and I recoil, beaten. For I am in your domain, and no matter what victories and glories I’ve had today, no matter what respect I command outside of the doors of this bar, in this moment you are the sole keeper of the keys to the kingdom.
You glance over at me while pouring a beer, raising your index finger for a few seconds. I know my time is near. I am ready.