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At 8:30 a.m. every morning, Gary goes to his neighborhood coffee shop, the one near Canal and 4th, for a cappuccino. He sits at the same table, the one near the window. This table is always vacant. Only regulars come to this location at this hour, and they know and respect that it is Gary’s table.
As Gary waits for his usual, he pulls the local newspaper out of his bag and places it on the table. Upon hearing his name, he walks over to the bar and picks up his cappuccino, muttering a quiet thanks to the barista. He then walks back to his table, sets the coffee down to the left of his newspaper, opens the lid of the coffee so it cool downs, and turns to section B, the sports section. After reading that section, he systematically moves onto section A, the national news; then he moves onto section C, the local news; and finally he finishes with section D, the entertainment and classifieds section.
At 9:15 a.m., he pulls out the crossword he completed the day before to check his answers in the current paper. After confirming his answers are correct, he starts the new crossword. At 10 a.m., the beautiful blonde girl with her guitar appears outside the window. From inside the comfort of the coffee shop, he watches her perform for one hour. He can’t hear what she’s singing, but he watches anyway. He watches her interact with passersby who stop to listen or sing along. She has a way with her audience whether it’s small children, the elderly or disabled, homeless or businessmen. Her smile draws everyone in. Some days, she makes $10 within the hour, and some days someone drops a $20 bill in her guitar case. At 11 a.m., an alarm goes off on his watch, which prompts him to leave the coffee shop to go home to work. As he walks down the street, he listens to about two minutes of the song she’s playing at that moment while her voice fades as he moves further away.
Every day Gary works from home until 6 p.m. editing translated foreign media, not to make it interesting or exciting for the readers but merely to make it readable. He can’t stray from the media outlet’s intent. He can only correct spelling and sentence structure.
At 6 p.m., he makes dinner, usually a sandwich or canned soup, which he eats while he watches the evening news. After the news, he walks over to the neighborhood sports bar for two whiskeys straight up, which he sips slowly and smokes seven cigarettes while watching whatever sports game is on the bar’s television. At 10 p.m., when the bar becomes more crowded, he walks home, turns on the late-night news, and gets ready for bed.
This has been Gary’s routine each day for 423 days. It’s been 423 days since his girlfriend left him. She wanted to marry him, but he wanted to remain a bachelor. He feared complacency: the routine of waking up at the same time each day by an alarm clock, making the kids breakfast, taking the dog out, going to work, working in a cubicle, going home after work to make dinner and do the dishes, and then falling into bed each night only to do it all over again the next day.
The next day while finishing his crossword puzzle, he looked up to see the guitar girl at the coffee counter. He heard her order a regular coffee with vanilla soy. They briefly made eye contact, and then she walked out of the coffee shop to her spot on the sidewalk outside his window. As usual, he watched her play for one hour, and then he left the coffee shop, walking by her as he walked toward home.
On the 425th day, a clue appeared on his crossword: Riding for a Fall. The last letter was y, and the fourth letter was p. He was stumped. After figuring out a couple of other connected answers, he learned that the sixth letter was a, and the first letter was c. His heart sank. He realized the answer was complacency. Just seeing that word made him sick to his stomach, and the past 424 days flashed before his eyes. He realized in that moment that he had become what he feared: complacent. The very thing he tried so hard to avoid by not marrying his girlfriend was now his reality only he was alone. He thought back on all of the sadness that had consumed him over the last year and how he had learned to cope by creating this routine. He put his head in his hands and sat there for a while and missed the arrival of the girl with the guitar.
Then someone opened the door to the coffee shop, and he heard her voice.
"Show me how you do that trick
The one that makes me scream she said
"The one that makes me laugh she said
And threw her arms around my neck...”
He looked up, and instead of watching her from the window, he gathered his things and walked up to the coffee counter. The barista was surprised to see him there again. He ordered a coffee with vanilla soy. He waited by the bar for it to be made, and then he walked outside and set it down by her guitar case. “I think this is what you like,” he said. She finished the song, “I’ll run away with you.” He smiled. And at that moment, she motioned for him to sit next to her.
He sat down.
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Jules, this was a challenging prompt! Honestly I spent all week pondering the meaning of complacency and talking to people about it. I discovered that the meaning of complacency is different for everyone. At work, we (HR) geeked out a bit and considered complacency and Myers' Briggs indicators and the types of jobs people who might be complacent work in. It led to some great dialog.