I sit in a lot of bars and coffeehouses. When I’m on the road, my days are filled with either a day job or a ton of writing to do and emails I need to return (all in hopes of getting rid of that day job). All those hours I’m spending in places like Omaha, when I’m not on stage, are usually spent sitting at a counter, bar or table, keyboard in front of me, while I’m surrounded by the conversations of people who each think they’re the only person in the room.

Sometimes it’s fun. I’ve definitely heard some witty banter that I’ve stolen and dropped into a story or a scene in a play. I’ve heard beautiful moments of love and sadness that I could appreciate as entertainment since I wasn’t the one affected by them. I’ve heard first dates and last dates. I’ve heard reconciliations and interventions. A life as a nomadic wanderer has allowed me to silently sit and write as I witness the entirety of the human drama play out around me.

Times have changed (he says in the voice of an ancient mariner who’s been lost at sea for decades). Thanks to the cocktail of social media, dating apps, three years of Covid induced social devolvement, and the general rise in normal levels of narcissism, the bulk of these conversations have become less of a window into the souls of people who’ve let down their guard, and more of pageant of self involved monologues delivered while the other person waits for a chance to give their own monologue in a contest to vomit the most words and prove who is the most…well…simply the most.

Case in point, the couple sitting next to me right now. They’re not great. The barista and I are in disagreement about whether these two are on a first date, or if they’ve been dating for awhile, and I think the fact we can’t tell which is a good indicator for how terrible these two are.

The scene, a super trendy coffee shop that’s new(ish) in my neighborhood. The place has this minimalist aesthetic that makes it a wonderful place from which to post to Instagram. In fact, I just did it after typing that sentence.

This couple walks in and orders. Then for some odd reason, they sit in the two seats at the bar nearest me, even though there are six other seats. They each take selfies, before ever saying a word, and after hearing them speak, they should have just kept taking selfies.

What followed was each of them giving a two minute speech about the work they’re doing to be socially aware. Then they compare books they’re reading. He’s currently reading Circe by Madeline Miller. She responds that she wishes she had time to read fiction, but she’s trying to educate herself on some pretty heavy issues and can’t dedicate the bandwidth to stories that aren’t real. She had sushi for dinner last night, and he lets her know that he hasn’t eaten sushi since watching a documentary on how bad the fishing industry is for the environment. She was sorry she shot down his plan to meet at Starbucks, but she just couldn’t spend money at a place that was working so hard to fight efforts to unionize. She’s had a great morning at the farmer’s market, just walking around listening to this awesome Saturday morning playlist she made on Spotify. He canceled his Spotify out of solidarity with the artists they exploit. And so on.

The first twenty minutes or so of their conversation is just constantly taking turns shitting on each other in a way that would make anyone with a humiliation kink need a towel. And that lends itself to the assumption this is their first date. However, halfway into their coffee date she hits him with “Oh my god! Did you order your latte iced? With the sinus issues you’ve been having, I’m surprised you’d do that again,” and he just shrugged.

So now I’m thinking they’ve been together for a bit. I mean, she knows that he has sinus issues. She knows that he’s ordered iced lattes in the past. And he knows enough about her to not even think to ask what in the fuck she thinks an iced latte has to do with sinus irritation. All of this implies a deeper relationship than first hinted at.

I’ve written about how much louder everyone is in public places now, and this couple is no exception. I did not purposefully eavesdrop on them after those first terrible minutes. I put on a pair of AirPods and turned on the noise cancellation feature. But they spoke at a volume level that you’d expect from a broadway actor making sure she can be heard all the way to the cheap seats.

I wish this couple was the exception, but in the past few months I’ve heard patrons in various locations loudly proclaim that there’s no way a mom and pop restaurant down the street could be as good as Applebee’s. I’ve heard religious discussions that are infuriatingly reductive. I’ve heard someone suggest their partner stop taking their bipolar medication. I’ve heard Amway pitches. I’ve heard a crypto bro shit on anyone not investing with him as he roleplayed sucking Elon Musk off. The list, and there is a list, goes on.

It fascinates me. None of the people in any of these conversations speak nicely towards the other. In fact, apart from agreeing to take photos of each other for their influencer pages, you’d be hard pressed to prove they even liked each other. But here they are, together. And that leaves me wondering how bad sex between them has to be.

It’s not that you have to like the person you’re having sex with. But, if you’re going to have hostile sex, then it has to be the kind of hostility that evokes passion, that removes your instinct to be gentle, or channels your aggression into every movement. These passive aggressive interactions don’t lead to that kind of sex. Instead, at least as far as I can imagine, they would both go through all of the motions of what they think sex should be, and then lie there afterwards wondering why the other person was so bad at this. Then they’d each bring up some article they’d just read in the New York Times.

And as I’m typing this, I’m reminded that the birthrate in this country is dropping, and I’m making some connections.

As an aside, I’m guessing this is why conservatives need a religion that encourages breeding as one of its major tenets. They don’t have to be interesting, or nice to each other, because God told them to fuck no matter how bad they are at it. They have a tithing base to build and can’t risk their women deciding to never fuck a man because he refuses to wipe his ass out of a fear that would make him gay. God bless the simplicity of just fucking for the lord, rather than having to work through a set of Venn diagrams on various topics to find out how you align with the person whose genitals you want to see.

No final thought to tie this all up nicely. Just one more observation as we all slouch toward Bethlehem.