I do not have a choice but to be here. If I could be elsewhere, wouldn't I? All the events, nuances, turns and indiscretions and this is where I am? I control my fate about as well as I control by bowel movement — you can only clench for so long, eventually darker matter is making its move.

Here I am, standing behind the counter in a coffee shop. I am too old for this shit. I have nothing to my name except a name I will not yet claim. The faces of customers blur together, morphing into this soft shadowy, pasty figure with bark breath and a forced smile. I am polite; that's my job. I am a machine, a robot, an automaton. Free will? Right, this is where I'd be, behind the counter taking coffee orders — less accurately than the alternative system the younger customers prefer interacting with, but with a polite voice and smiling face to help extract revenues from customers. Clearly, this is where free will has taken me.

“What can I get for you today?” I don't need to look up. I've already take 200 orders in less than 90 minutes.

Damn! The SOB is going to make me look at him. Some customers are such control freaks, not giving you their order till you look them in the eyes and acknowledge them, as if they are somehow different than the last insignificant customers.

“What can I get for you today?” I try again, even less interested in the answer. Still no response. I have to look up, make the eye contact.

“What can I ge...” I begin, then see the customer. It's a doppelganger...or is it? Nothing else exists, my vision becoming myopic staring at the man across the counter. He is looking through me as if I did not exist in any way without his knowledge.

“Hi,” he said, knowing full well how I was.

Here I am in a filthy apron and across the counter is a man who could be mistaken for me, though by the looks of his attire and accessories, I would rather be mistaken for him. But the charade must continue. He is on his side of the counter and I am on mine. Free will? Then this is where I want to be, so I might as well get about my being.

“What can I get for you today?”

“Small coffee.”

“Would you like a pastry or something to eat?”

“No, thank you.”

“A small coffee. That will be $27.14,” I absurdly toss, taunting.

“Ouch. Must be really good.”

“If by 'really' you mean 'sorta' and by 'good' you mean 'average', it is.”

“Oh well, here's fifteen cents and twenty-seven dollars.”

“Okay. That will be one cent change.”

“They'll stop making those soon enough. That'll make your job easier.”

“Yeah, but let's hope I am out of here long before that.”

He smiles with a contemptuous smirk. No more smalltalk, no banter, just a “you're here forever, loser” smirk.

“Have we met? Do I know you?” I had to ask Mister Lifeisgood before he walks away.

Still smugly smirking, he answers, “I know you better than you know yourself.”

Normally, a statement such as that would be a call to action, but the way he said it, with such assurance, I must uncomfortably recognize my lack of doubt in the veracity of his statement.

“Then answer me this: You look like a comfortable man with few worries, how do I change places with you?”

“You don't change places with me, you become me, you become whomever you want to be, whomever you need to be. It's up to you.”

“Free will? Right. You were probably born with a silver spoon up it.”

“Don't be crude, my friend, it's not necessary.”

“Right. Crude. Thank you. Have a great day,” I dismiss.

“You can write your own ticket. You don't have to be here any longer than you want.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a slender, pointy object and tossed it toward me. Fearing this man in no way, I treated the object flying toward me as harmless and caught it in one hand. An old fashioned pen, a fountain pen.

“I didn't know they made these things anymore. And what do you suppose I do with this?”

“Write your own ticket.”

“Right. Free will.”

“I don't know about 'free will'. If I had to guess, it would appear destination is already set, but the journey, that is yours, write it.”

Maybe I do not have free will, but the ability to determine part of my journey, that suffices.

“Thank you,” I offered with humble sincerity.

“See you around,” he answered, smiling.

“Maybe, maybe not,” I replied, shrugging my shoulders, for who knows when I will decide to forgo this counter.

“Dude, can I order my coffee? And don't give me that $27 bull!”

Back to automaton.

I continue taking orders, holding the pen the man who knows me as I know myself provided. I have to touch it, feel it, caress it, to remind myself that I can write parts of my own journey, even if the destination has already been determined.


Enjoy the journey, my friend, and thank you.