Wednesdays are tough. I get up at five in the morning, drive from Amherst to Lowell, an hour and a half commute, and teach two morning classes, then a seminar on Kerouac at six until eight-thirty.
I drink two giant bottles of water on Wednesdays, one in the morning and one at night. I usually have a beer with my lunch, which means afternoon peeing, which further means my night water might not to be enough to offset the coffee I drink during class to keep me alert on the drive home. The first few weeks I had a nice, low-grade coffee headache to keep me alert behind the wheel. Peak hydration!
This one Wednesday I got my coffee that day at an indie coffee joint a little ways off the one Lowell street I had already explored. It was so strong and tasted so good that I vowed never again to go to the Dunkin’ Donuts on the corner of the main drag and the weird sidestreet.
I broke my vow the very next week: the indie coffee had been so strong that on the drive home I thought a little man in my skull was trying to punch my right eye clean out of its socket. The throbbing pain was so bad I went straight to bed when I got home.
Dunkin’ Donuts’ watery, sugary coffee would have to do.
I went in before class one afternoon. Five kids with skateboards stood at the counter.
They slapped their palms on the counter: “Service! Hey, service!”
No one appeared.
The king of the skateboarders was maybe fourteen. He wore an all-black Red Sox hat and rocked what had to be fake diamonds in his ears. The other four kids, despite the growing chill, were hatless. The littlest one had a shaved head. All their boards looked brand new, but not so different from when I used to skate twenty years ago.
The King gestured with his head towards an oversized ceramic coffee mug sitting on the counter. All change, no bills. He kept gesturing until the little guy got the message and stuck his hand in there.
The counter woman appeared as the little guy stuffed a second handful of her change into his pocket. She was short and squat and had a bad bleach job and talked to the kids in a high reedy voice. I had seen her working before.
Without thinking, I whacked the King with the back of my hand and stood up as straight as I could.
“DON’T DO THAT.”
“PUT THAT BACK!”
The little guy wilted immediately under my gaze. He put the handfuls of change back into the mug, shoulders slumped.
The King tilted his head back, pursed his lips and crossed his arms.
I gestured to the woman behind the counter with my head: “She’s working.”
“But you don’t give a shit, do you?”
“You don’t give a shit.”
Everybody in the place. The bums nursing smalls at their tables were watching me, watching us, me and him, and The King knew it.
“No,” he said, “and neither do I!”
I didn’t have time to smirk properly because he kept talking.
“And what are you hitting me for? You don’t know me!”
Through the window, I saw two more skaters out front.
I put my hands in my pockets.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t want any trouble. Just put the money back.”
I turned my eyes back to the little guy. He reluctantly surrendered more change.
The exit of the King and three of the four nine-year-olds was unremarkable. They just left. The little guy stayed and tried in vain to buy individual hash brown bites.
I watched the skaters through the front window. The King pantomimed me hitting him to the outside kids. The other three paced.
Would six Lowell kids with skateboards, seven if you count the little guy, the haggler, the would-be thief, try to fuck me up when I stepped outside?
The counter lady stopped negotiating hash browns with the little guy, still at the counter, and turned her attention to me: “Help you?”
She prepped my coffee.
I could probably walk through the throng. But maybe not.
If I got hit, I’d go down, and then it’d be open season, like that scene in Kids.
The woman pushed my coffee across the counter. I handed her a quarter, then two dollar bills. An automated change machine spit out thirteen cents.
“Thank you,” she said: “For saying something.”
Maybe I could use my coffee as a weapon. I loosened the lid. Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is always lukewarm.
“Keep your eye on me.” I said, gesturing towards the window, “When I leave, okay?”
“Sure,” she said, sounding noncommittal. The little guy wilted even further.
I walked to the exits, lid ajar.
They hadn’t put anyone on the weird sidestreet door.
Fuck this, I thought. I’m not walking through an angry clot of kids with skateboards.
I opened the sidestreet door and walked out with as much nonchalance as I could muster. If I heard footsteps, I’d turn and huck my coffee, then run. I could outrun them, right?
When I got about halfway down the street, I heard a voice. The King, yelling: “That’s right, bitch! You better walk away!”
Michael T. Fournier’s debut novel, “Hidden Wheel,” uses his punk rock background to reflect on the financial crisis, forced obsolescence, and nature of criticism. The nice folks at Three Rooms Press, based in New York City, have just released this debut. He will tour the United States extensively in support of “Hidden Wheel” in 2011 and beyond.
Fournier is also the author of a book-length discussion of the Minutemen’s 1984 album “Double Nickels On The Dime,” the 45th installment of Continuum Press’s “33 1/3″ series. He booked multiple do-it-yourself tours to promote the book upon its 2007 release and read in bookstores, clubs, and galleries in Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Concord NH, Easthampton MA, New York City, Olympia, WA, Philadelphia, Portland ME, Seattle, San Francisco, and Worcester, MA. He’s shared stages with Richard Hell, Duncan Wilder Johnson, Zeth Lundy, Amanda Petrusich, Mike Watt and countless bands.
His music criticism has appeared in Boston Magazine, Vice, the Oxford American, the Boston Phoenix, Pitchfork, and Chunklet. He is a weekly reviewer at 365 Albums A Year (www.365aay.com). His fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, Fluke, Pennsylvania English, Stolen Island
Review and Talking River.
His History of Punk Rock class at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts boasted visits from such scene luminaries as Steve Brodsky and Adam McGrath (Cave In), Clint Conley (Mission of Burma), Ian MacKaye (Dischord Records/Fugazi), and Shred (WBCN-FM).
He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife Rebecca and their cat.