It’s been about a month since they took my coffee away.
“Decaf. Drink decaf.” I’ve been in denial. I’m not old enough for decaf. I look in the mirror regularly to confirm this fact, noting that I do have four grey hairs hiding in my head. I can find them if I tousle my hair around a bit. I would have five, but when I showed off the first one–a marker of my age, wisdom, and experience, it got viciously plucked from my head as if the assailant was doing me a favor. Four more sprung up in its place. I should be glad. Four times the wisdom, I guess.
All in all, I’ve aged very well, I think to myself. People are generally surprised to discover I’m entering the realm of middle-aged or ancient, depending on whether they hold the perspective of a normal person or one of my students for whom anything after 30 is as dead as it would have been in the Middle Ages. I’m still in denial. I’m certainly not old enough for decaf.
At any rate, I went to Starbucks for the first time since they stripped me of my caffeine. I always get beverages that are dark roasted, full of caffeine, and inspiring. I was paralyzed. But that, I thought, is why the world gives us baristas–to help guide us on our way.
“Can you make me something that doesn’t suck in decaf?” Not a classy order by any stretch. She looked at me. She blinked. Here it comes, I thought. This is where I get kicked out of line. But she had a look of kindness. She was simply waiting for me to finish my order. “…Oh, grande.” She nodded. She unfroze, looking for a solution to my #firstworldproblem.
“Sure,” she said. “I can do that.” She began to throw lots of words at me I barely understood because I generally get the same thing over and over again. It has pretty small words, like “big-ass” and “coffee.” Not too complex. I don’t want to subcontract a Ph.D to order for me. I know there’s a system. My friend Stephanie worked her way through college as a barista and can shoot off a forty-two word coffee order in order. It has to be in order. I just want to say “a lot of caffeine,” and “Sure, I’ll mortgage my house for this.”
Ordering decaf in public is embarrassing–like when I had to go into the liquor store and buy cheap beer in a can for a friend. I feel like I have to offer up a reason. “It’s not for me.” Sure, it’s not for you. That’s what they all say.
I tell her it’s my doctor, he ordered the decaf. He just makes me drink it, that’s all. She looks at me compassionately. She makes me a drink. It’s a decaf cafe mocha with more sugar than I’ve had in the past month, but I appreciate it. She smiles with a unique combination of customer service and pity, as if I might collapse at any minute–like I am on my way from bingo or knitting to the great beyond, and if I don’t have much time left on this planet, she wants this to be the best coffee I’ve ever had.
I thank her, hand her my phone. It contains an app which automatically taps into the equity in my house to pay for the drink, and walk away, trusting her expertise.
Truthfully, it tastes like what I imagine a cafe mocha would taste like after I just brushed my teeth. But I’m grateful. She put a lot of thought and effort into this, and was just the type of smiling person I love to see when I go out. She made my day brighter. I sip through the extra whipped cream and send her good wishes, because Black Friday is coming, and her little Starbucks is located in the corner of a major store.
Don’t worry, I think in her direction, I won’t bother you on Black Friday. I won’t be the cause of you missing sleep, or your turkey or family. I will be grateful at home. For people like you who smile in the face of customers with odd requests, and who take extra time to make someone’s day as good as you can. For my friends and family, for the wood stove in the corner of the room casting a beautiful glow on my writing, and for all the blessings in my life. Including the little cup of coffee on the table to my right. Which is, again, decaf.
[images: jacipeterson.com and “Japanese Barista Makes 3D Latte Art”]