Conversation with Tom


"Coffee Time is the single unifying entity in Canada," Tom says to me.  "Do you realize that?"
      Tom is my dealer.  He smiles when he says this.  There's a new smell coming from him.  One I haven't smelled before.
      "Sorry," I tell him.  "You're going to have to elaborate a bit on that one."
      "Well look around, I mean."  He gestures at the dozen-or-so people sipping at coffees and nibbling on doughnuts.  It's fairly busy for 11 p.m. on a Tuesday.
      "What else could bring together so many fucking people with cheap coffee and uncomfortable plastic seats?
      "For a couple of dollars," he says, "everyone gets the same fucking thing.  Rich people, poor people, working class, welfare junkies.  They all come in here and everyone's accepted with open arms.  Because everyone needs coffee.
      "You don't get any hassling.  You sit down and stare out the window or read the newspaper or whatever.  You can talk it up with a friend or you can just take it easy.  It's the great fucking equalizer, I'm telling you."
      I warm my hands on my coffee cup and let him continue.
      "You don't need money to enjoy it.  You don't even have to speak the fucking language.  You just point to the coffee-maker and they hand you some.  This place is the new church, the new holy ground, Chris."
      "For what it's worth," I say, "I do enjoy our little meetings here.  And actually the Coffee Time on Brimley rd. is where I wrote most of my first book."
      "See what I mean?" Tom says, "open twenty-four hours every fucking day and always packed."
      The reflections of headlights hit the windows behind him.  All the cars heading to the highway can be seen from where I'm sitting.
      "The only thing is that the cops are always here," Tom says a little quieter.  "But they never really check out these places.  It's like their own little hideaway.  You could probably dangle the stuff I'm carrying right in front of their noses and they'd never notice it."
      I tear the lid off my cup and watch the steam rise.  Tom's so slick that I now see a baggy in my lap and I never even saw him do it.  I slide the bill under the table and he takes it in one quick motion.
      "You know my sister's professor comes to the Coffee Time on Waverly Boulevard every Sunday afternoon?  He sits there and marks the students' papers." Tom nods, then leans back into his seat.  It lets out a little groan.  "He's a client of mine," he says proudly.
      All I can do is smile.
      "I'm all eyes and ears right now," he says faux-mystically.  "I'm just sort of watching things.  But when I retire from and find a real—if that ever happens, the book we'll write together will be fucking stellar.  Believe me."
      "I'm counting on it," I say to him as I slowly sip my coffee.
      "Fuck man, what other place do you know that has both cops and pushers in the same room?  I mean, look around—you have Lankans with their fucking souped-up Honda Civics; Russians with their mistresses on their arms, goddamned high school drop-outs sharing tables with PhDs.  I love it!" he shouts.
      "Everyone has their vices," I say to him.  "Everyone."  
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