A very large though not especially tall man is blocking the open doorway of Mendocino’s recently enlarged GoodLife Café and Bakery. This very large man is in his late thirties, I would guess, with short brown hair and wearing a white T-shirt, blue shorts, white socks and red tennis shoes. He is standing with his back to the outside as he shouts at his wife and two daughters inside the café. His wife is at the counter yammering at the patient woman behind the cash register, while his two young daughters rush around shouting that they are starving and don’t want to wait to start eating.
“Don’t eat those cookies yet,” shouts the very large man, as if he and his wife and daughters are alone in the wilderness and separated one from the other by great distances. “Wait until after lunch. Not a medium, Connie! I said I wanted a large. And I want my salad dressing on the side. Did you tell her I want it on the side? I said don’t eat those cookies yet.”
A line of hungry people wishing to enter the café has formed behind me, and a man in the line, also very large though not particularly tall, wearing a red, white and blue baseball hat, says to me, “Hey numb nuts. Yeah, you. Get a move on.”
“I would if I could,” I reply, refraining from calling him poo poo head or tiny balls or some other mean name, “but there’s someone blocking the doorway.”
I had already made two appeals to the very large man in the doorway that he please move out of the way, but he had studiously ignored me and begun to diddle his cell phone while continuing to yell at his wife and daughters.
“Pardon me,” I say loudly to him for the third time, “but I and several people behind me would like to enter the café. Would you mind stepping out of the doorway so we can get in?”
With great reluctance, the very large man turns to me. “We’re getting our food,” he sneers. “Do you mind?”
“What we mind,” says the not very large woman in line directly behind me, “is that you’re blocking the fucking doorway so we can’t get inside to get in the actual line to order our food and meet our friends.”
“What a bunch of assholes,” says the very large man in the doorway, moving a few inches to one side so we can just barely squeeze by him into the largely unoccupied café.
And as we squeeze by him, he continues to shout at his wife and daughters, and his wife continues yammering at the patient woman behind the cash register, and his daughters continue to screech, “We’re starving!” though their largeness belies their claims.
Finally having gained entrance to the spacious eatery, I find myself in line behind a woman studying the screen of her cell phone and speaking to the man beside her. “There’s a showing in Fort Bragg at one,” she says, “but it’s not in 3-D. The next 3-D showing isn’t until two-thirty.”
“Two-thirty?” says the man, grimacing as if someone has just slugged him in the stomach. “That’s like three hours from now. God, I hate small towns.”
Now someone shoves me in the back. “Sorry,” says a very large though not particularly tall woman. “I’m trying to read the salad list and you’re kind of blocking my view.”
“That’s because I’m kind of in line,” I explain, losing my cool, “and since I don’t want to trample the people in front of me, I thought I’d wait here.”
“Hey,” says the woman’s enormous though not very tall husband. “She apologized. You don’t have to be rude.”
Two gluten-free chocolate chip cookies purchased, I head for the exit and find the doorway blocked by a huge man and a large woman trying to decide if they want to come in or not.
“Excuse me, may I get by?” I ask, expecting one or the other of them to move aside, but neither of them moves because apparently neither of them heard me.
“Smells good,” says the woman, diddling her cell phone and staring at the little screen. “Let’s see if Yelp says this place is any good.”
“This is a very good place,” I say to them. “May I get by you, please?”
The man glares at me, but reluctantly moves aside. “Pushy pushy,” he mutters as I squeeze by him.
Welcome to Mendocino on July third, the start of the Fourth of July weekend, the town bursting at the seams with visitors who have come here to escape the inland heat and the hustle and bustle of their urbanized digitized lives, except they’ve brought their digital devices with them and their astonishing (to me) lack of civility and respect for anyone or anything other than their own individual persons.
Fortunately, right before I came into the village to get my mail and purchase the aforementioned chocolate chip cookies, I spent a wonderful hour on Big River Beach and had two remarkable (to me) encounters there that rendered my annoying experiences with those out-of-town visitors wholly unremarkable.
The first encounter was with a hummingbird that came to me as I was standing in the little waves on the edge of the ocean. Imagine my surprise to see a tiny iridescent rosy golden hummingbird hovering just a few feet from me, and my further amazement when she waited for our eyes to meet before she zoomed away. Wow I thought that was amazing, a hummingbird hovering right next to me on the edge of the ocean. And then the dazzling little bird returned, our eyes met again, and she zoomed away; and it dawned on me that maybe she wanted me to follow her.
So the next time she appeared beside me, I did follow her, crossing the wide expanse of sand to the cliffs that rise up to the headlands. There, in a grotto with walls adorned with wildflowers and flowering succulents, the hummingbird moved from flower to flower imbibing the precious nectar. Every few minutes, she would take a break from her feeding and come hover near me, looking at me for a moment before returning to the flowers. And after I had watched her for a good long time, she flew away out of sight.
The second encounter occurred twenty minutes later as I was making my way across the beach to climb the stairs to the village. I was heading for a log where I intended to sit and put my shoes on, when I heard a man and a woman calling, “Tina, no! Tina! Come here!”
I turned in the direction of their voices just as a beautiful brown dog came running up to me, a happy smiling dog who was the spitting image of my dog Cozy, my boon companion from my sixth birthday when I got her as a pup until the week before I left for college when she was hit by a car and died at the age of twelve.
Tina shoved her head up under my hand to let me know she wanted me to pet her, and I happily obliged. “Well aren’t you lovely?” I said as I petted her head and scratched behind her ears. “How nice of you to come see me. You are so sweet.” She held very still as I petted her, leaning against my legs just as Cozy used to lean against me, and then I cried for the first time in a long time, crying in memory of my childhood friend, in memory of my childhood, in memory of loved ones now gone, and for joy and sorrow at the beauty and poignancy of being alive in the world. ¥¥
(Todd Walton’s website is UnderTheTableBooks.com.)