Tuesday, May 27, 2008


He seemed to appear from nowhere. One minute I was sitting at the long, low table, drinking wine with some old high-school friends, and the next minute he was there.

I didn't see him arrive in his too-big checked suit. I didn't see him lay his cane down, resting on the bench seat beside him. But I glanced up from conversation and there he was - a wizened old gentleman, hunched at our table. It was 11 o'clock at night.

I stared, astonished. I was at a city bar, with music pumping, and lipsticked women chatting to business-shirted men. There were a few silver-haired men in their forties or fifties, but there were no Zimmer frames. This man who had joined our group was well into his eighties. I nudged my friend Kylie, who is divorced, and murmured that there was a new member at the table. She grinned and quipped, "I know you guys try to set me up with any man who is actually breathing, but I'm not sure that this guy is!" I followed her gaze. She was right! The octogenarian was leaning off at an angle, eyes drooping. Was he having a stroke? Had his heart stopped? Was he..... dead? I moved to get up, but just as I did, Mr Checked Suit sat upright. He blinked, and resumed examining his hands.

"I wonder if anyone has taken his order?", I worried out loud to Liz. I had only just met Liz, but I had already discovered she was smart and kind and brave. Liz didn't waste time worrying. The intrepid young Liz marched over, and sat down next to the elderly fellow. I watched as they conversed. Liz eventually disappeared into the bar, returning a few minutes later with a cup of coffee.

Liz had discovered that the suited man lived eight blocks away. He took his coffee with 5 sugars. When he gave Liz the money to buy the coffee, he had pulled out a wad of fifty dollar notes, and begun peeling off bills, telling Liz to buy drinks for herself and her friends. Liz had, of course, declined.

When Liz had asked the barman for a coffee with 5 sugars, the barman had cried, "Oh no! I forgot Allen's coffee!" The barman told Liz that Allen owned a huge chunk of nearby inner city land, and that he came to the bar every night for a cup of coffee.

I like to know that there are always these lovely quirky souls in the world who refuse to fit the stereotypes. I like to know that Allen can wander down at almost midnight and drink coffee at a city bar, where the barman knows his name, and knows how many sugars to put in his coffee.

I like that people are endlessly surprising, and that there truly is magic in everyday life.


Elaine said...

That is such a heart-warming story. I am so glad, too, that your group did not just ignore him, which would have been so easy to do. Bet it is the loud noise and the bustle and the sight of all you young people which keeps him going.

Freefalling said...

A post called "Allen".
I dunno - that title just makes me laugh - kinda like people who call their dogs Merv or Bob.

The older I get, the more I appreciate these obscure happenstances.

Stomper Girl said...

When i worked in hospitality we looked after many regulars like that. Some of them I still see around as I drag my kids down the street!

I love how you were ready to attend to the stroke. I mean, I know you're a doctor and everything but it is very very cool.

Heidi said...

This is an amazing story! It is like you could almost write a movie off of this one experience... I bet Allen could tell some stories, too!

I just see a study in human nature with this description... you are good, Jelly!

meggie said...

Oh Jelly, I love that too! I love that people can be eccentric, & still repsected, & still enjoy their lives, by the grace of kind folk being so nice to them.

We used to have many, as customers, in our Hotel days. It is really nice to think it still happens.

Alice said...

A lovely, heartwarming story. The cities prove they have a soul in the most surprising ways. I'm so glad you were there to witness and share it with us.

Beams said...

Just a new reader of your blog and can't recall how I got here, but am glad for the meandering path that led to your door! Love this story of Allen. And your parties care for another. reminds me of a friend of mine who also takes 5 sugars in her coffee! Hope they both never get diabetes!

thisisme said...


Thanks so much for sharing such a gorgeous story. You tell it so well - I can see the people.

I love that there are characters like that around still - they warm the cockles of my heart.

shellyC said...

Now you see I am not as kind and honest as your new friend Liz - I would have bought a bottle of Moet!!!!

Remiman said...

Like ships passing in the night; bringing a happy moment to each other.
Some would have ignored the old duffer. How much richer all your lives are for attending to the needs of another!

manababies said...

Magical, indeed. What an endearing story! Made me smile.

fifi said...

ha ha, my Dads name is Allen!

Now, what were we doing in a bar late at night? You endlessly surprise me!

It's great he was having a coffee, anything stronger and he may well have been fleeced of those wads of cash when he got out the door.

Mimi said...

Amazing story, it almost seems like a book. You really need to write one you know and sorry if I keep saying that.