Shirley Curtis


There are not too many places one can go and fit right in. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, crippled or an athlete. You can weigh three hundred pounds or eighty-nine. Nobody cares . . .  yet everybody cares about each other while they’re sitting at the counter with hot cup of coffee or chocolate and a fat-laded donut. No one’s judging. Pretty amazing in this day of bullying, murders, and rudeness.

It was raining so hard I could hardly see as I drove the short distance from campus to the shop. The damp chill that penetrated my bones made me wish I had stayed in bed. I climbed out of my dated, oversized Buick and hurried inside to the warm bakery. Instantly I felt at home.

The waitress behind the counter yelled (yes yelled), “Howdy! Can I help you?”  I found a stool next to a young couple who were discussing the Newark Advocate’s front page story: a Zanesville man had been found dead on his property, with wild animals roaming free. Everyone in the place was talking about it.

One man asked if the Zanesville man had been murdered and another said the news reported he might have committed suicide before he let all of his wild animals loose. A new customer came through the door and the waitress looked at him, smiled slyly and said, “Hey Bill! The police are looking for you!” He spat right back, “Yeah, well they know where to find me!” She poured his cup of steaming hot coffee while he starting talking to the guy next to him. I don’t think they knew each other, but this latest tragedy was tying us all together that cold October morning.

I ordered a French crueler, thinking as I bit into the soft, slightly crunchy, outrageously sweet delicacy, “This really is better than sex!”

The man next to me slid the newspaper over and asked, “Do you want to read about it”?  The waitress told everybody to quiet down as she turned up the volume on the flat screen TV. Like a classroom everyone obeyed. Jack Hanna was defending the sheriff’s decision to shoot all of the animals to protect the community. Threats had been made on his life, he said, because he sided with the department, but he was standing by his statements. The waitress kept everyone’s cup filled. More people came through the door and she turned the volume back down and took their orders. By now the place was filled with donut seekers and I couldn’t concentrate on the article, so I gave the paper back to the nice guy next to me. He nodded and left.

I looked up into the huge mirror behind the counter. I could see myself and everyone else plus the scenery outside behind our backs. Maybe that’s why we felt close, like comrades. Everyone was on equal ground, everyone could not only hear you but see you.

The waitress was eyeing a stout fellow in an orange jacket. “Hey Jack! I’m calling the patrol and tell them to come right away ‘cause I have a big baboon in my shop!” Everybody laughed, including the man, and she kept on pouring and handing out bills and donuts.

The sign on the box behind me asked for donations for the local troops. It was half full and I just knew it would be filled by the end of the day. These people (me too) have a basic need to belong. We want to help out if we can–that’s what community is all about. We come in looking to satisfy a craving and leave feeling we were a part of something bigger. Can any bar anywhere beat that?

 Shirley Curtis is an alumnus who graduated from both OSU Newark and OSU Columbus campuses with a master’s degree in social work.  She is licensed by the state of Ohio to practice social work.