Things are unwritten, until they are not

I remember a time when MTV played music videos. Video killed the radio star. Only it didn’t, it created a whole new genre of storytelling. Those music videos emulated the classic musicals of the early 20th century, up to and including little setup and ending narratives. And when I walked in the front door of the little coffee shop, it felt exactly like that.

There were holiday decorations: a Nativity scene, a silver and blue wreath, an evergreen tree with blinking lights and even a little stuffed badger/fox thing decked out (ironically) in a fur-trimmed robe.

The stocking-capped girls behind the counter were busy wiping and polishing. The boys out front in striped festive aprons were sweeping and mopping.

I placed my order and sat at the table, waiting, just like in a music video.

Sheesh, sheesh, sheesh went the espresso machine.

Bop, bop, bop went the mops.

Humans are conditioned to notice rhythms; the heartbeat of the world doesn’t go unnoticed; it often mimics the heartbeat within. A steady beat gets our attention. Funk? Rhythm and blues? Rock ‘n’ roll? Reggae? You name it.


Well, maybe not. But I’m trying to make a point here.

And then the music started, just like a video. Well, it was a video, on the little video screen hanging on the wall — “slow and soothing,” at least that’s what the scrolling lyrics on the screen said. And who is going to argue with that?

The modern-day chanteuse voiced several self-affirming mantras, about believing in yourself, going after your dreams, only you can do it, the stuff of memes. But she did it to a building polyrhythmic syncopation.

Sheesh, sheesh, bop, bop. The rhythm of the espresso machine and the mops had changed. They were now meshing up to the rhythms of the song. Or was that my imagination?

The first verse lay the basic parameters: a song about writing stories, about possibilities. And then a boy appeared, not in the coffee shop, but on the screen.

Had the volume just gone up? Or was I imagining it? I looked up and around, just like every older, clueless bystander in every musical/music video always does.

But by then, the two young women behind the counter had started humming along with the verses. It was the classic call and response. They called, and the young men responded.

It was definitely not my imagination, because by the third verse, they were not humming, they were definitely singing.

Picture any musical where the workers are working merrily along, and then everyone bursts into song. By the chorus, it was just like that. It was “Grease” in holiday clothes (“Grease,” not “Grease 2,” because that would be embarrassing). Thundering out of that little coffee shop came the self-affirming, self-empowering chorus.

“Only you. Only you.” Or something like that.

The young women behind the counter were twirling. The young men on the floor were dancing with their mops. All we needed was someone skidding by on their knees.

On cue, the diminutive manager skidded by, standing, her safety shoes sliding noiselessly on the freshly mopped floor. She grabbed a broom, and she and the men and their mops leaned back and sang into the cleaning implements as if they were Taylor Swift and her backup minions. It was awe-inspiring.

The second verses were darker, about breaking traditions, not following the crowd, yadda, yadda. But when rendered at full volume and including practically synchronized dancing, it was uplifting.

Think of a flash mob in holiday attire, or “West Side Story” without the knife fights, or “The Sound of Music” with coffee, or “Mamma Mia!” without Meryl Streep, or “High School Musical” with mops.

Pretty soon, I was tapping my toes, just like every older, clueless bystander in every musical/music video always does.

Ding! The order bell rang just as the song ended, signaling a return to normal, just like a Disney movie. There was even a napkin blowing by in the wind. It was beautiful.

I picked up my bagel and bopped out the door, joyfully uplifted by all I had seen in that little shop. My faith in humanity restored, my holiday spirit reinvigorated, my belief in basic goodness re-established — until I opened my bag.

My bagel was burnt beyond recognition.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Having a good time at work is great, unless it’s at the expense of the customer.

• All the memes in the world won’t do a thing if you don’t put them into practice.

• Ever notice how it’s always the workers who break out into song and never the management?

• I didn’t return my bagel, because sometimes the best gift there is is letting someone else have their memory.

• The holidays aren’t over yet. Kwanzaa and Christmastide are in full swing, and New Year’s Eve is out there lurking.