Foot Fetish Cafe
Welcome to a place you don't want to be.
“You wanna go where everybody knows your name,” sings the theme song from an 80’s TV show called Cheers.
We all like feeling seen. Recognized. Noticed.
“Nice feet,” says a voice on my left as I sit down to work.
Oh no, not again, I think to myself. But then I look up.
“Thank god,” I say to the French woman I met here two weeks ago. I don’t know her name.
“I was scared you wouldn’t remember me,” she says, smiling and putting down her large cold brew.
“No, of course, I remember you,” I say. “You’re my witness. You’ll be the Real Local Patron they interview when I go missing.”
We both laugh.
I don’t have a lot of coffee shops near me. I mean, I do, but they’re mostly terrible: Starbucks and Dunkin’ have a lion’s share of the market. But Starbucks is too loud, and Dunkin’ might as well hand out Narcan.
I could go to WeWork, but I don’t like it there. A co-working space for loser clones, all looking to be part of a sterile community of themselves.
I don’t want that, for I am a man of the people.
I’ve been a loyal patron of the Capital One Cafe roughly four times a week for the past six months. I’m now close with the baristas. Especially Tina. Tina Thomas – she wears dark eyeliner and can’t be bothered. I like that.
The cafe itself is walking distance of my house, but even if it weren’t, I’d drive.
You see, after I lost most of my money in crypto, I’ve done my best to be frugal, and at the Capital One Cafe, I receive 50% Off Any Hand-Crafted Beverages when I use the Capital One card that I forgot about right after I signed up for it 10 years ago.
On the surface, the Capital One Cafe looks as if it doesn’t know who it is. Like someone took a cute coffee shop and bred it with NerdWallet. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s more. So much more.
I pull out my laptop and take a sip of my far-too-large passion fruit iced tea. Because of the 50% off, you always know who’s a veteran by the size of their drink.
As I wait for the Wi-Fi to connect, I study the blonde French woman next to me who has returned to reading. She’s in her 40s and sits on a high stool, her forearms resting on the countertop that snakes along the perimeter of the cafe wall. There’s a plastic Target shopping bag on her right, but it’s not a new plastic bag. It’s wrinkled, just like her, as if it, too, has had a hard life.
“You would go to the Capital One cafe,” my friend Chrissy Lim said to me on the phone last week.
“Um. Why do you say that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just like how you wear toe-shoes or those headphones with the customer service boom on them. The place just…you know…attracts a certain kind of person.”
Maybe she’s right. It does feel fitting. Almost Cinderella-esque.
For one, there are power outlets everywhere. I once saw a man set up an external monitor to create his own little mobile office, and my first thought was, hey, that’s a great idea.
As I’ve gotten more comfortable with the cafe vibe, I’ve started to pace around on calls, yelling about this marketing proposal or that digital sales idea, but at times, I’ve had to keep my voice down, like, a few weeks ago, when I didn’t want to wake up the man sleeping in the red booth clutching his laptop to his chest.
“Vilda haya” is the Yiddish term my dad uses to refer to my Capital One kin and me. It means wild animals.
We’re not all the same, though. The French woman with the Target bag isn’t wild. She just reads. Today she’s reading a French romance paperback novel.
She picks up her oversized drink and brings the straw to her lips. There’s no way she’ll end up finishing the entire large cold brew. She’ll probably throw half of it out, just because she can.
I look around the cafe and see a husband and wife ordering from Tina. As he taps his credit card to the reader, Tina sighs, almost as if she’s bothered that he’s paying for what he ordered. He and his wife walk to the side of the counter to wait for their drinks. They both have dark brown hair and aren’t in shape but also aren’t fat — perhaps they’re Italian. They hold beach towels and look like tourists who don’t fit in with us locals.
I watch the two of them watching everyone else, as if he and his wife, just like this not-truly-a-coffee-shop coffee shop, are trying to find their place in a world where they don’t belong. The husband spots a lady in her 50s with brown, frizzy hair, sitting at a four-top, alone, clacking away at her keyboard. She’s always here. We haven’t yet met, but she’s one of my favorites. Kathy? Kate? I think that’s what Tina always yells.
Kate is my favorite person in our ensemble. Each day, she sits by herself at a table covered in manilla envelopes. She looks at a ledger on her screen, searches for a corresponding envelope, slaps a label on it, and then stacks the envelope into her rolling-storage-case, you know, one of those roller backpacks, but instead of a backpack, it’s a lidless plastic box with wheels and a handle.
The waiting-for-his-drinks tourist watches Kate as she examines, and then labels, and then stacks. She’s a machine. She feels his stare, and so she looks up for one of those micro-standoffs that happens between strangers three to four times/day that none of us ever remember having had. Her eyes, now locked onto his soul, seem to say, “I fucking dare you to judge me.” And then he looks away, reaching for his small drink, like the Italian he is.
It must be a weird experience for Capital One Cafe virgins. To walk into a place to get an oat milk latte and to have to see advertisements everywhere about the importance of setting aside cash for a rainy day fund.
But it’s not that weird, and the cafe prides itself on not being a pressure-y sales place. Taking a step back, it’s all just a very specific marketing play – some combination of a brand equity building exercise paired with a nice-enough physical space that allows the bank to bait consumers with discounted beverages in an attempt to reduce its banking products’ customer acquisition costs.
There are financial advisors here, too — all wearing blue polos with gold nametags.
But they’re just around if you need them, for the one-off use case that must very commonly occur when you’re holding a chocolate chip muffin while reading a French novel, and at the end of the chapter, Marie leaves him and moves to a charming cottage in Versailles, which causes you to think that the only thing between you and the closure that Marie has come to know is buying a chateau in the hills, for which you’ll need a mortgage with a low 30-year APR.
There’s also a security guard.
I think his name is Jeff. Or Max. He always stands inside, towards the back of the cafe, keeping order like he’s supposed to, but I wish he’d help secure the outdoor space as well.
For example, last week, I was very excited to work at the tables and chairs out front, but I chose not to because a man in a green plaid shirt who didn’t look homeless at all was screaming very loudly to no one about how “she deserved it, and all women do because they talk too much,” which was my cue to go work indoors – not that I’m a woman and not that I was planning on talking too much, but my calls do run over.
Anyway, I figured I’d be better off indoors, but it turns out that on this specific day, I was wrong.
Because that’s the day I first sat down next to the reading French woman whose name I still don’t know.
And that’s the day that someone else chose to sit down next to me.
“Hi, I’m Frank,” said the man on my right, interrupting me while I was clearly working. “How’s your afternoon?”
Something felt off. I think it was how he was sitting. He had chosen to swivel his whole body to face me instead of just turning his head. When people are too thoughtful about their body language, it usually means something is wrong. Inorganic. Planned.
Don’t be so judgemental, said a voice inside my head. He’s just different. Don’t be a dick.
“My afternoon is good,” I said. “How about yours?”
“Where did you get your sandals?” Frank asked.
Strange. “Oh. Um. Marshalls. It’s right down the street,” I said, pointing west.
“I have wide feet and high arches, and I can’t ever really find sandals that fit,” he said.
The French woman looked up. Apparently, his comment was strange enough to pull her from her prose.
I wasn’t sure where the conversation was going. He asked for my Insta and where I lived, and I gave it because I was trying to be nice, which, I’ve learned, is not a good thing to be. I wasn’t attracted to him, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t hitting on me — he didn’t seem gay, but, then again, green gingham outside with the progressive thoughts on women didn’t, at first, appear crazy.
“Hey, sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, placing my hands on my keyboard, “but I need to get back to work.”
“Oh, of course,” he responded. “But do you mind if I take a picture of your sandals so I can look them up?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Just go do your work,” Frank said, looking a bit too excited as he stood from the stool. “Don’t mind me. I’ll just take a few pictures and be out of your way.”
Hoping to allow him to capture the $22 beige flip-flop in its purest form, I slipped my foot out of the sandal.
But that’s not what Frank wanted.
“No,” he commanded, his voice dropping three octaves while his shoulders tensed. “Keep your foot in.”
Oh, God. Here we go. I looked up with a look that said, “You know you’re in public, right?”
He caught my glare. “I mean,” he said, “you have nice feet. You take care of them well. Not like most people here.”
For the record, I don’t have nice feet. On numerous occasions, I’ve been told I have strangely boney toes that are far too long. The same is true for my fingers. As a freshman in college, at every pledge line-up, my fraternity brothers would have me step to the center of the room and have me creepily tap my fingers together like the villain Mr. Burns from the Simpsons. “Excccecelllllent,” they’d force me to say.
“Sorry, Frank. I’m really not comfortable with all this. Could you please just leave? I’d really appreciate it.” That’s what I wish I had said.
“Um…” I began, “fine? Just…do this quickly so I can get back to work.”
And that was all he needed.
Frank dropped to the floor, lying, on his belly, with his stomach on the ground and his phone inches away from my foot. Everyone was looking now, especially the Frenchie next to me, whose name I still didn’t know.
I took a deep breath and pretended to go back to work, and as I stood there at the counter, typing on my keyboard, Frank stayed on the floor, capturing foot fetish images for days to come. C’est un calembour.
I looked down at him full of disdain, just like Barista Tina would’ve done. But he didn’t notice.
“Hey,” I commanded, in as strong of a voice I could manage without attracting too much attention. “Can you go?”
“Oh yes. Sorry,” he responded. And then without making eye contact, he hopped up and scurried away.
I didn’t feel good afterward. And I’m not just saying that to say that. I don’t like being the victim and I’ll do whatever I can to not be perceived as soliciting for pity.
But…because he now had my Insta and knew where I lived, I figured that I one day might see him again.
My friend Chrissy told me to get a police report in case he ended up murdering me and chopping off my feet, but when I called the cops to have something on record, they told me that,
“Maybe you should consider closed-toed shoes.”
I thought about staying away from the cafe for a while, letting the dust settle while Frank distracted himself with some other sandal-wearing sitting duck, but I just couldn’t. The force of 50% Off Any Hand-Crafted Beverages was too strong.
And so here I sit, back in my favorite cafe, next to the only person in the world who might even slightly remember the face of the man who will cause me and my boney toes to go missing.
“It’d be a compliment to think he’d murder you for your feet,” the French woman says to me.
“You’re just saying that because you want that Local Patron interview,” I reply.
“I’m Alex, by the way,” I say, gulping my large iced tea.
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