This Way to the World's Greatest Merchants



There’s a shopping center in this town

And in that shopping center

(Clean and refurbished

With a design best described as Spanish/Dutch

Or beach chic

Some design scheme assembled by an architect

Hoping to capture the spirit of the town

Who eventually threw up his hands

And gave up)

Is a corner coffeeshop

Once a franchise

Now independently-owned

And on that coffeeshop’s shaded patio

Two friends

Both poets

Both writers

An unusual profession

In this town of school teachers and realtors

Sit and discuss their plans for the future.


One writer

So unsure

Or

Better yet to say

Sure of a grade of everything from stasis to calamity

The other

Sure of only toasts in towns seen and unseen

Of only haters that block the path

He gets out a book

Not to compose new prose or poetry

But to map out charts

Draw networks to climb

Projections of potential earnings

What an alluring web he weaves…


The moment broken

By barista offering free food as ruse to buy more

Samples of pastries set to expire soon

But for sale

With no discount

“You wouldn’t want us to throw this food away

Would you?”


Enter late teenager

Baseball cap flipped to the back

Kicked up skateboard

Offers another opportunity

To help someone in need

He asks for a light

Then offers to trade cigarettes

One of the writers agrees

The teenager tells him

He should give him some money

In the exchange

After all

The teenager’s cigarette

Comes from a more expensive pack

The writer concedes the point

Those are indeed

Quality cigarettes he has

The writer gives him a quarter

The teenager asks for another.


And who could forget

The businessman who parks his car in the spot

Right in front of where the two writers are sitting

When almost all the other spots are open?

The businessman is all smile and slick hair

Wristwatch and thin belt

But no tie or coat

Golf casual

To let potential customers know

Really

He’s just like them

He once was lost

But now has found

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

As well as personal and portable magnet massage devices

They’re really just like one another

Always there for you

And capable of performing miracles with powers unknown to science

Combine that

With some herbs from the old country

And you have medicine for whatever ails you

“You two

You seem like two smart guys

Two capable young men

I bet if you were to sell these devices

You could make a fortune

Believe me

When I came to this country

I had nothing

Been pulled into a scheme

What would I tell my wife and children?

I didn’t have an answer

So, I went to church

And at church I met a representative for MMM:

Magnet Massage Messengers

And now

I’ve dedicated my life to only the Good News and positive ions!

You never know how going to church can change your life

Here

Why don’t you try?”

He shoves the vibrating magnets in the writers’ faces

They wrinkle with displeasure

But before they can formally answer

The businessman spots a woman walking with a cane in the distance

“Ma’am!

Stop!

Let me heal you!”

He yells and gives chase

The two writers wonder if this isn’t their cue to leave.


Enter scene

The king of the coffeeshop

The suburban dad

Who cosplays as beggar

And troubadour

For he is often accompanied by his guitar

He strums along mornings

Afternoons

And evenings

But never plays in professional settings

He is a white man with a full tan and hearty laugh

Every few generations

A cult of kids will surround him

Teenagers and college-aged young adults

To talk of all the goings-on in and around this town

Before they inevitably

Move on

Sometimes the king of the coffeeshop offers gossip

Historical tidbits

Or full-blown conspiracy theories

Involving some of the usual suspects

UFOs and JFK

And then there was that strong anti-Islamic phase

But now

Everything is about the Chinese and the Japanese

About how they’re “taking over”

“I’m not racist”

He says,

“I’m married to one of them!”

His live-in mother-in-law

Like rumors of Jack Ma and Alibaba

Always watching

Disputes over the branches of a neighbor’s tree

Like Taiwan or Hong Kong

His wife and mother-in-law making financial decisions without him

Like Chinese bankers buying up lots in The Country

Upon which they will build their mega mansions.


“There is only one solution”

He says,

“And that is war

It may be too late

But we can still move in

From Russia and the Philippines

Send in the troops

Rocket over the nukes!”

One of the writers has heard enough.


“There is only one country on Earth

That has used nuclear weapons

And that is the United States of America

And if there’s a country that needs

A pre-emptive strike launched upon it

It’s the recidivist!”


Shouting follows

Personal insults

Fists pounding on the metal wire tables

Each man trying

Their damnedest

To sell the other.


Today is a unique day

Typically the king of the coffeeshop will have free reign

To play his jingle for any and all who will listen

And from those who drive down from The Country

To those who walk over from the apartments across the street

Many will agree with him

When it comes to the prospect of nuclear war

Parts of the town are sold.


The other writer sits stupefied

Embarrassed by both men

But more by himself

He has always been something of a coward

Especially when at work

Or in his hometown.


Enter young college student

Says she recognizes him

From a feature in the local paper

She asks the writer if he’s working on another book

He says he is

She asks him what it’s about

He says,

“Well

It’s about a lot of things

Privilege

Hardship

Nostalgia

The ghosts of the past

The beauty of our town

The pettiness of its people

The terror behind the veneer

The unyielding power of nature

A life on the road

The end of all existence

And what little it might amount to”

He laughs and follows that up with,

“I don’t know”

The college student doesn’t appreciate his litany

Nor his false humility

She takes him to task,

“It doesn’t sound

Like you have a good idea of what it’s about

You should really focus in on that

If you want it to be successful.”


Here

Away from the hustle and bustle

The panic of freeways

The cutthroat of crosswalks and intersections

Here

Where life moves at a slower pace

Where people move for a taste of the pastoral

The American Dream with scattered palm trees

Track homes managed by sidewalks pristine

There’s a shopping center with this coffee shop in the corner.


But before you enter that shopping center

One can find a sign

A decades old wooden sign

Renovated and painted anew

Damaged from weathering

And multiple car accidents

The sign reads,

“This Way to the World’s Greatest Merchants.”

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