After an initially timid and shaky start, it was all going so well this new relationship. I guess it was bound to hit a rocky patch. And like many a fledgling romance, it came down to a toothbrush.
When you’re still in the early stages, the getting-to-know-you part, the toothbrush is like a loaded gun. Okay to carry one around, just don’t go whipping it out in front of anyone unless you really have to. And for God’s sake don’t leave it on the bathroom sink after you’ve left.
Which is exactly what I did last week, at the local hipster coffee place.
Eric and I had started out wary of the sleek decor and the bearded young bohemian baristas who, when they weren’t behind the counter, stood smoking on the sidewalk out front. We heard they were all brilliant, inventive musicians and no doubt this was true – the music they played on the vintage turntable was always interesting. Intimidatingly so, even. But the coffee was excellent, and their skills were superb: perfect espresso, immaculate lattes and macchiatos. And after a while, they even started to nod and smile at us, joking about the sameness of our order, but politely so – only after we’d pointed it out.
Things hadn’t progressed much beyond the mild chuckle stage but there was a growing sense of camaraderie there. Clearly way older, we could still fit in as struggling artists and musicians, shaking every last penny out of my ratty wallet some mornings at the same time taking care that the AARP card didn’t tumble out too and come crashing down on the counter. Yes, there’s no hiding our seniority but don’t want to spoil their scene looking too safe, too careful, too boring.
We were adapting so well, I even took a part-time job at the bookstore/bar across the street. This magical place, in an 1800’s firehouse that retains its original ornate wooden ceiling and doorway, also houses an art supply section and doubles as a low-key music venue some nights. Strictly in a community outreach and research capacity I jumped at the chance to sell books and pour artisanal brews when my friend Karen, an esteemed music writer who works there, offered to put in a word for me.
It was only because of my first day on the job that I brushed my teeth in the coffee shop rest room – we’d eaten lunch and I was going directly across the street to work. I remember admiring my cute little Sonicare multi-colored stripe travel toothbrush against the red bathroom walls. I must’ve been nervous – I haven’t worked a day job in years, even though I’ve been needing to – and I left the thing there on the sink.
So when we went in for coffee on Sunday, I had to ask: “Did anyone find a toothbrush in the bathroom? A really nice, striped, battery-operated one?”
And one of our bearded near-buddies suddenly turned cold. “I’m sure it was thrown away,” he said, implying that it was the only sensible course of action. Like my special device, the one I’d treated myself to for Christmas and had looked lovingly at for the past few months as a reminder that I’m not always so completely broke that I can’t have nice things, was no better than a used tissue.
“But it’s not just any toothbrush. It’s got a motor!” I shrilled, my throat constricting. “Would you throw out someone’s glasses, or keys?”
I pictured them laughing, “Who brushes their teeth in the middle of the day?” in the way only the young can.
It could have all blown over, but I’d made the bigger mistake of leaving a message on the store’s voicemail: “Did anyone find a toothbrush in the bathroom? It’s striped, really nice…with a battery?” No one ever called back. They probably all had a good laugh about that, too. Some bearded genius is no doubt working it into his latest sound collage.
I know exactly where part of my first paycheck is going. So when he plays the sound collage at the bar across the street, and I’m pouring somebody a beer, I’ll reach into my purse, press the button and hold the whizzing striped toothbrush aloft: “You’re gonna get older someday too, buddy.”