Once there was a woman who possessed –or was possessed by– an ancient, crappy laptop that a) couldn’t be used on her lap because it literally burned her, and b) had a blank keyboard, as in all the letters had worn off the keys (twice), and c) frequently offered up the blue screen of near-death, which made the woman afraid ever to turn it off, even on an airplane, in case it had covertly signed a DNR somewhere along the way.
The crappy non-lap laptop had one great redeeming feature, however, which is that it was free. And since the woman was soon to be given another (also free, also no-doubt-crappy) non-lap laptop, she soldiered on, Dropboxing daily, emailing herself books-in-progress, and laughing when her youthful companions tried to write essays using the blank keys of the keyboard.
There was one real drawback to the non-lap laptop, however; its ancient, cumbersome battery would hold a charge only for 45 minutes, and the woman preferred to work not at home but in coffeeshops, for the sole reason that a coffeeshop was not her house, and therefore did not contain a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, a vacuum, a flower garden, a vegetable garden, a refrigerator, a microwave, a dog, the cat’s litterbox, cat vomit, or any of the things that the woman would rather spend time on than her books.
This meant that the woman was constantly in search of outlets. She was an outlet expert. In the blackouts to which her neighborhood was frequently subjected, she often directed friends and neighbors to obscure outlets in nearby neighborhoods, there to charge up their electronica.
Within six blocks of the woman’s house there were nine coffeeshops. How easy and convenient to work at any one of them! Except that the woman didn’t work at any of them, due to outlet stinginess.
The woman knew her neighborhood outlets intimately. She knew exactly where the three outlets at Gigi’s were located, including the one where only the top half worked, and she knew that she would be lucky to get within two tables of any of them. She knew where the six outlets at Dunn Bros. were located, and that they too would almost always be taken.
She knew the whereabouts of the three outlets in the secret upstairs enclave at Lund’s, and while they were not as frequently taken, she also knew that she couldn’t count on getting one. She still loved the secret upstairs enclave at Lund’s, though, because she liked looking down through its wrought-iron balcony at both the shoppers and the beautiful produce in the produce section below.
She knew that the Caribou attached to that Lund’s was an outlet desert, so she never made any outlet attempts there. She knew that at Bruegger’s, she stood a good chance of the hidden outlet in Booth #1 or the out in-the-open outlet in Booth #4 or the outlets between the two armchairs, as well as a couple of the tables with the hard wooden chairs.
But the woman preferred not to write at Bruegger’s, mainly because she had once written a super-difficult book there over the course of months, and she now had painful associations with that particular Bruegger’s. She had equally painful associations with another nearby Bruegger’s, at which she had written another super-difficult book over the course of months. (In fact, Bruegger’s in general were tainted for the woman; mostly she just zipped into one every now and then on a Wednesday morning, to take advantage of the Wednesday bagel sale, and then zipped out again.)
And lo, this is how the woman came to do so much writing in a Starbucks located in a tony suburb of Minneapolis approximately three miles south of her house. An elitist Starbucks, where every single tiny table had an outlet all to itself, as did all the extremely large and soft couches and armchairs. The woman had yet to run into anyone at that Starbucks wandering around holding a laptop with that particular helpless, weary, why-are-there-no-outlets look on his face. The most she ever got, at that particular Starbucks, was someone asking politely if he could use the other half of her double outlet.
Would the woman rather have claimed her writing life at Spy House? Or Uncommon Grounds? Or even at Dogwood Coffee, despite its unfortunate location? Yes.
Was it embarrassing to admit that she did so much of her writing at a Starbucks located in a small strip mall in a tony suburb of Minneapolis where most of the customers were conservative businesspeople with senatorial haircuts having business meetings or nannies shepherding small well-dressed children? Yes.
But there you have it. Some people measure out their lives in coffee spoons, and others in outlets.
*If anyone knows where the photos included in this post are from, please let me know.