My wife, our baby and I were patiently waiting fourth, fifth and fifth-and-a-quarter on the line to place an order at the Columbus location of Joe the Art of Coffee, a busy coffee shop near both the real and fictional Upper West Side apartments of Jerry Seinfeld. When a table opened up I told my wife, a polite Englishwoman, to grab the table and sit down with the baby. I’d get the coffees. But just as my wife was laying claim to the table the bored sophomore who was standing ahead of us on line stepped in her way, insisting she was already sitting at that empty table.
In all my years of living in New York and abroad never before had a seen a mortal who was able to stand in line and sit at table at the same time. The one and only way you could occupy both positions simultaneously would be by holding one of them with your coat. Usually it’s the coat that takes the chair. Were you to leave your coat on line most New Yorkers would just step over it.
The bored sophomore was still wearing her coat when she chased my wife from the open table. In taking possession of the table she identified herself as one of only two coffee drinkers within 50 miles who were unaware of the rule regarding such claims:
No coat, no table.
The other person unaware of the no-coat-no-table rule was my wife. Did I mention she’s English?
The bored sophomore and her bored sophomore friend took their coffees to the table and then got up to leave about a minute after they’d sat down. First they steal the table away from my English wife, openly violating the first sacred rule of coffee shop etiquette. Then they have the audacity to get up and go in the time it takes your watch’s second hand to complete a single lap.
I’m sorry, I don’t care how bored a sophomore you are: if you break the no-coat-no-table rule to claim a table that’s not yours you must stay seated at that table for a minimum of 15 minutes. It’s the only decent thing to do. If you must get up sooner than that, say for a donut, you leave your coat on the chair.
No coat, no donut.
As the bored sophomores exited Joe’s my New Yorker’s instinct told me to follow them out onto Columbus Ave and yell at them in broad daylight, as Seinfeld co-creator Larry David or his alter ego, George Costanza, would. But I’m a London husband and father now. The calm and comfort of my family were paramount. I turned back and tossed my coat over one of the chairs at the vacated table, only it landed over another man’s coat. A moment’s hesitation had cost us our second shot at the same table.
Trust me, I don’t seek out Seinfeldian moments when I return to New York. They find me.