Monday, December 14, 2009

The Regulars

I was (in what seems like another life ago) once engaged to a very talented photographer whose most notable project, published in The New York Times Magazine, was a series of portraits of regular patrons at McGlinchey's Tavern, the bar where she worked in Philly. It was aptly titled The Regulars.

We get 'em at Starbucks, too. The Armenian father (doppio macchiato) and his son with Down's (Tall iced coffee); Nick (doppio espresso), who will talk and talk to you, no matter how busy you are. The atheist with the lazy eye (sugar-free vanilla coffee base double blended frappachino). The (Grande-in-a-Venti) chef at Chambers. There are quite a few; they are all creatures of habit.

What makes us attach so strongly to our quirky little expressions of self-identity? Does ordering a wet cappuccino every day give a sense of comfort, like Linus' blanket; does it make me "Wet Cappuccino Man?" Is it a "I-like-what-I-like-and-that's-what-I-like" thing? Sometimes I think they are all having a contest, who can be the most regular, the Best Regular, that guy who people can say "he's been coming in here and ordering the same drink for twenty odd years," the guy who walks up to the counter and the barista can ask, "the usual?"I'll call it Cheers Syndrome...sometimes people want a place to belong, their place, where "everybody knows your name."

I guess we are all that way with our own little things. For me it was Bob's Diner in Roxborough. I lived in the neighborhood, was on familiar terms with the waitresses, always ordered the same thing--two eggs scrambled with toast and hashbrowns with onions, and coffee. I wanted to be a Bob's regular, to be able to say "That's my diner" and "this is what I order." And I was, to an extent; as I kept buying breakfast there. When I ceased handing my money over, I was no longer a "customer," and as such, my existence outside the diner did not count for much.

Years ago I submitted a few poems to poetry.com (when it was run by the "International Society of Poets") and was thrilled when they wanted to publish my poems in an anthology that I could purchase for a small fee. Oh I felt so special. Publication meant recognition, and recognition meant my work was not insignificant. I, by association, was thus not insignificant as a person, since I and my Work are one. I exist, because the world recognizes that I exist. Or so the reasoning goes. I never did pay for that anthology, and later learned the meaning of the word "vanity publisher."

Are the attempts to curry familiarity with the employees behind the counter at a corporate owned coffee shop through loyal patronage a kind of prostitution? You give me $X, I love you for thirty minutes. Or maybe an escort-client analogy is more fitting...You give me $X, I am your special lady for the night. Your money is as green as the next guy's.

You give me $4.50, I'll make your drink just the way you like it and you can feel like a V.I.P. for the day, that you are acknowledged and accepted and that you are signature special. "I pay, therefore, I am." Your life is not insignificant. They know you here. You're not like everybody else...after all, you're a regular.


copyright Sarah Stolfa

2 comments:

Bro. Robert Peach, FSC said...

A great piece. It's a difficult trap we get ourselves into unconsciously--that seeming "need" to be externally validated. On that note, you're doing good work with this blog, by the way. I mean that. (Even though you don't really need me to tell you.)

Michael said...

You got to pay to play