I’ve got a seat at Fuel, and a table I love for my morning double espresso over ice. After an early city life, and some country living of chopping and splitting wood and baking bread, I found GB. It is, oddly enough, the closest thing I’ve found to my Bronx neighborhood, manageable yet dynamic. And, because more than 20-something years ago I found myself living in what was then considered the wrong side of town, I was able to afford it.

Unfortunately, “community” is an over-used word, and we tend to devalue the language we misuse. But, for better and worse, GB is a community. And, today, coffee shops are the general stores of yesterday, the geographical centers of community. The potbelly stove may be gone but the need people have to find one another still exists.

I have one uniquely coffee shop relationship I particularly value, because I probably wouldn’t have come across Anthony if he hadn’t needed his morning coffee and poppy-seed bagel.

When we first met I was firmly grounded on the Left, and he on the Right. The son of an Italian Catholic mother and Jewish father, I managed to fall between the religious cracks. Anthony is a committed Catholic. I’m for choice and he is fervently devoted to the rights of the unborn. He’s a former Marine who honorably served his country; while I’ve spent a lifetime opposing wars I believe were unnecessary.

Each morning, Anthony exposes me to new ways of seeing the world, challenges my prejudices, and engages me in respectful debate and dialogue.

We’ve learned along the way that there is much that connects us: there is nothing like the shared experience of surviving and appreciating one’s Italian mother. Italian mothers, regardless of politics and place, can’t help but embody the very best of feminism. They might be uncomfortable with the feminist label, but they are the Power and the Glory. I am woman, hear me roar!

My Italian mother, and I assume Anthony’s Mom, wouldn’t make it past the Childhood Rights Brigade today. My Mom would probably be serving time for child abuse. I was telling Anthony the other day about the time when I was about twelve or thirteen and must have really crossed the line with my Mom, maybe I was stupid enough to curse her out. Anyway, she got this look in her eye, and I knew I was in deep trouble. I ran to the one and only safe spot in our 3 1/2-room apartment, the bathroom. I just made it, slammed the door shut, and quickly pressed the little button to lock it when a broom handle came smashing through. It was a hollow door and a hollow victory. Before you start judging her, know that I always knew somewhere inside me that I had driven her past the breaking point. She always made clear her love for me, and helped me become the man I am. She always wanted the best for me. What she couldn’t abide was my being a brat or disrespectful or lazy. When I told Anthony about the door I could see him remembering the times his Mom wouldn’t let him get away with crap.

Each morning there is something new to talk about: the continuing economic crisis, the torture memos, do we need windmills on our Berkshire hills, and what should we do about the auto industry. There’s obviously a limit to what we can accomplish over coffee, but we always joke we’re saving the world.

Thursday April 23, 2009 © Mickey Friedman – All Rights Reserved