I’m dogsitting without the dog. He’s on a cowboy vacation in Montana with his parents. This morning some impertinent neighbor called to demand to speak to the owners about something. She can’t be a good neighbor, or she would have known they were gone. She insisted I give her their phone number and then asked if I cleaned houses because she needs someone. I don’t know why this last question irked me so much. It’s not that I’m above housecleaning (though certainly I do it rarely enough) and I think being a house cleaner or maid is a worthy enough job. But there was something about the superior tone in her voice that set the mood of my day. I’ve been wondering if I can isolate which neighbor it is and then leave a flaming bag of dryer lint on her front stoop.
Because the owners’ housecleaner was here this morning and because I have something like 400 papers to grade, I decided to go to my town’s only real coffee bar. I know as a writer and lover of literature and free thinking I’m supposed to embrace the idea of the coffee bar as if it were a country where everything is good and pure and where you do not need a passport. But here’s the thing: I kind of hate them. Other than the wireless access, I don’t really get them. The wares are overpriced and I hate being confronted by those insufferable tip jars, begging money for extra slow, snooty service. There are flies buzzing around the two-day old baked goods, no matter how upscale the coffee bar in question. The furniture, though cozy, is always stained and looks like it had a life somewhere else (in the Merchant Marines, perhaps) before becoming a coffee bar sofa or chair. It is, inevitably either jazz or Ani di Franco on the sound system, and both unnerve me.
And also, I have no use for coffee. It shames me, as a writer, not to be a smoker, a real drinker or a lover of the java--fatty and sugary foods are as good a vice as any, but they are not literary. To me, coffee is a poor substitute for a delicious carbonated, high fructose corn syrup soda. But if you order one of those in a coffee bar— heaven help you. Judging from the curl of the barrista’s lip it is clearly the equivalent of public urination. In fact, I suspect public urination would be more acceptable as it would seem somehow French, and thus sophisticated in its own way.
Today was no exception to my bad coffee house experience. First, the person behind the till was a former student. He’s a talented writer and has a wicked sense of humor, but he hasn’t been to school for two years and was lamenting the frustrations of the life he is stuck in because of bad blood between himself and Sallie Mae. I wasn’t in counseling mode, but I did my best job of suggesting possibilities for finding his way back to school, but he clearly only wanted to lament the state of his life and wasn’t interested in problem-solving.
I ordered a bagel and a Coke. He grimaced. Ugh. “Do you not like latte?” he asked. I confessed I’d never HAD a latte, but that I didn’t like coffee. “I’m making you a latte and you’ll like it,” he said. This seems to be standard operating procedure. I am Sam I Am and the barrista is determined to get me to like whatever potion he or she has created--in a box with a fox, and on a train in the rain. He charged me for the bagel and the Coke, and while he was going thru the complicated motions of making a complimentary drink I didn’t want, I filled up my plastic cup with the sweet nectar that is Coca-Cola. Only it was just carbonation with no cola syrup. I mentioned this to him and he said that oh, yeah, he needed to change the tanks. So I took my drink and pretended that latte was indeed the perfect drink, though for me, it is only something I could tolerate at dinner party where I didn’t want to be rude. It IS better than coffee, but what I wanted was my morning Coke. My former student made no move to change the Coke tank and started a conversation with another person. I took my empty Coke cup, my latte, and my bagel (flies already hovering) to a table and started working. I could just tell there was no way those tanks were ever going to get changed and they didn’t, though I was there an hour and half.
Then a mother arrived with two ill-behaved children with giant bows in their hair, and they were met by another mother with two only slightly less ill-behaved children, one with a giant bow in her hair, and the crying and whining began. It occurred to me that I might actually learn to LIKE coffee bars if they were like REAL bars and there was an age limit on who could enter. I’m not anti child. I love children. Somedays I even want a small quiet one of my own, but these bow-laden princesses pretty much put an end to the grading and the latte drinking. I never did figure out if their shrieks were of joy or pain, though when I took my last drink of latte and nodded my thanks to the barrista, I nearly joined them.