Public and private

It’s 4-ish in the afternoon, and I’ve spent most of the day concentrating intensely on a work project that I’ve finally finished and sent off to my client.    I run a quick errand, taking my laptop along for the ride; and rather than returning immediately to my desk in my too-quiet home office, I decide to finish my last work task of the day in a coffee shop.

What I really want – what I always really want – is serious coffee; but since it’s late in the day I settle for an iced herbal tea.   I get something with rooibos and berries and hibiscus…and some lingering taste that takes me back to my childhood… what is it, exactly? 

Robitussin.   Just like Proust’s madeleines!   Only gross.   

But even accounting for the limited appeal of the Robitussin-on-ice-that-I wish-were-cappuccino, it is nice to be here among other humans for a while.   When I sit down and crack open my laptop, the place is more or less full.  But within five minutes or so most of the others trickle out, until it’s just me and the couple immediately to my left. 

It’s totally quiet; no customers at the counter, very little ambient noise.   And then the man – sitting maybe 2 feet from me – says to the woman – sitting maybe 18 inches from me – “I think we should stop having sex for a while.  We can keep seeing each other, but I’m thinking maybe we should just cool it on the sex.”

So.   What are my options here?

  • There are two tables to my right, and some additional tables at the rear of the café; I could certainly move farther away from the couple to offer them some privacy.    But to do so at this moment would be to acknowledge that I have overheard their conversation—that I was eavesdropping, even.
  • I can double down on my laptop, typing with more diligence and concentration, to help preserve the illusion of privacy that these people have decided to construct for themselves.  This is, in fact, my first instinct; but I’m a bit distracted, frankly, and the words are not exactly flying off my fingertips.
  • I can offer my opinion.   “Look,” I could say, “I’d like to weigh in here; but first I’m going to need a little more information.  You – female half of the couple – were you even enjoying sex with this guy?   Maybe this is just the escape hatch you’ve been looking for.  Or was sex the best thing about the relationship?   Do you enjoy the time you spend with him outside of the bedroom?    Beyond physical appeal, does he have other admirable qualities?   I believe we can rule out discretion.”


My phone rings.   Usually I avoid taking calls in coffee shops and restaurants, because I really do find it rude; but this, frankly, is deliverance.  I have a loud and boisterous conversation about refinancing an 82-unit affordable senior housing development in Hull, after which I pack up my laptop, toss the remaining Robitussin, and head out into the glorious privacy of Harvard Square.



  • Mark Ponte
    Mark Ponte
    This made me spit out my non medicinally flavored iced green tea.

    This made me spit out my non medicinally flavored iced green tea.

  • Sylvia Sherman
    Sylvia Sherman
    You are such a cool compassionate lady, Laurie.

    You are such a cool compassionate lady, Laurie.

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