Sunday, August 26, 2012

Daydream Barista: Coffee Detective

The baklava's too good. Freshly baked, layered perfectly, and a surprisingly large portion for two bucks and change. And if its honey-tinged yumminess merely taunts me, the subsequent sip of amazing espresso is a flat-out slap in the face.

Their pastries are amazing. Their coffee is superlative. The situation is dire.

I note all of this. But I don't write it down. No need to make it obvious I'm a spy.


No one's sure just when The New Place appeared. The vacant storefront it took over was a Winnenco Township mainstay, notable not for any particular retail outlet but rather a succession of them. One year it hosted Baskin Robbins, the next Subway, the next a weird pita shop. None of them succeeded; what business possibly could, in foodservice's graveyard of empires? So it sat there, festooned with (far too optimistic) FOR LEASE signs and absent of life, a warning to any franchisees with funny ideas.

Somebody ignored the warning, dusted off the tombstones, put up marble countertops and dragged in charming tables. Truck after truck brought in things and stuff. Like meerkats we peeked above our towering espresso bar, leaning towards the windows to get a better view of our new enemy.

A new cafe. Across the street. From an eighteen year old Starbucks. The cockiness, the bravado, the balls of the idea: open a coffeeshop across from the only coffeeshop in town? Who did these people think they were? We watched The New Place rise with a mix of hostility and awe.

"I heard they've got special beans," said Tucco. He was our newest, a student by day, barista by night, pizza guy by weekend. He all but pressed himself against the promo-overlay-covered windows. "Local beans." I said nothing in response, busying myself sweeping off the coffee grinder. As the Shift, I couldn't involve in the petty distractions of everyday barista life.

"Dead in a week." The cigarette-tinted apathy in Jenna's voice was at odds with her dollish blonde looks. She said it over her shoulder, pretending to be occupied stocking the bean wall.

"They have a TV!" said Tucco. He pointed out the flatscreen a woman, probably the owner, was fiddling with inside The New Place.

Apathy vanished from Jenna's eyes, replaced at once by avarice. "What? They get a TV?"

A TV? I clutched the grinder to keep from trembling. The unfairness of it all: we couldn't even check our phones when the store was empty; we couldn't read a newspaper before open because of the cameras; if we thought about leaning, we'd get back to cleaning. And these people, these...usurpers, had their own TV?

"I'd better check it out," I said. I'd like to think I sounded steely, determined. But you can only seem so Clint Eastwood when you're wearing a cheery red Christmas apron. I ditched it, threw on a coat over my Starbucks colors, and headed out into enemy territory.


The 42 inch plasma beside my table rotates a series of images: harvesting beans. Transporting beans. Roasting beans. There's a mustachioed man, hands full of green coffee cherries, smiling out at me from the wall, and then there is a black cup of coffee, wreathed in inviting steam. It's a slide show. No channels. Thank God: the TV is just wall art.

But this food, this coffee, they're problems. Problems only I, the Shift, can solve.

And I'd better solve them soon; my lunch ends in five minutes.


Ah, Shanghai. If it were a cup of coffee, it'd be one of Tucco's attempted lattes: recipe's all mixed up, but it's damn good anyway. Either that or this is the city from Blade Runner. Can't be too sure...haven't seen the movie in a while.
Last time I was flat on my back in a courtyard, a dame put me there. A dame named Vodka, with help from her little friend Tonic. No eclipse that night...just the slow traverse of my heart over a moment's respite, the patter of starlight like raindrops on my...uh...

man. writing noir is hard.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Beyond the Sea

So you've decided to make a profile on Plenty of Fish!

Very good! You join millions, nay, billions of subscribers in your quest for easy never-call-again-sex true love on the Internet. But before we start discussing favorite movies and picking favorite extremely public meeting spaces, let's take a moment to talk about what you can expect from here on in.

You Are Not Interesting
Wait! We're not calling you disinteresting! After all, very few people are actively disinteresting human beings--and if you were among that elite, boring 1%, you'd certainly be at least sort of interesting by virtue of being so disinteresting!

But no, as you type in your information, you realize that while you're by no means boring, you're by no means interesting. You're That Guy. That guy with a wacky name for the latte he buys at Starbucks three times a week. You're not James Bond Interesting. Not even Trevelyan interesting. Which is what every person you look at is looking for.

So you do the only thing you can do.

You're Going to Lie
Rationalization here is key. "I spent some time at Cornell!" Sure, you never studied there. But you looked at the place, right? You ate in the cafeteria before you fled New York. Should I have stayed there? you wonder on your sleepless nights. Don't worry! Your mystery date wonders the same thing about her "Vasser attendance!"

Coyly suggest (based on a $1 online donation) that you are deeply concerned with the plight of Lake Michigan. Use your boycott of the (dozens of miles away) Chick-Fil-A as a self-righteous bludgeon. Discuss your sexploits with the dismissive air of someone who's seen it all before. And on that subject...

Even restricted to its linguistic context, the word "intercourse" relates so thoroughly to Plenty of Fish interactions that an Evangelical Debate student would fan herself and ask for a towel.  But you will blink at this concept like a mirage in a desert. 

Of course you pretend your experience gap means nothing. You fill the sex questions with confident proclamations, say yes to kinks you didn't even know were kinks (wait, people tickle each other?), place yourself as the Lothar to all Lotharios, and it all holds up until the moment you message someone more experienced than you, and then...

Meeting People is Super Awkward, Like You Have no Idea
This section was originally titled Oh, Wow! because that's what you'll think!!! as you look over a chat log three pages deep and realize you've got nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with the person you're meeting. No worries! He or she or zhe will think the same thing while hyperventilating through a ride toward you on the El!

Really, even getting to the desperate hookup first date is a miracle you should be proud of. Think about it: if you met a stranger at a party, how would you get to know each other? Discussion of interests in popular culture, books, foodstuffs, or local family history. Thanks to the magic of your Plenty of Fish profile, you already know all of that! Look at the first date's detail void as an opportunity to curate new common ground. Doesn't s/h/zhe hate valet parking? You sure do!

But For Reals
Holy shit, Online Dating is the greatest and worst invention in the modern day. Most of this post is just hyperbole, but the profile-to-messaging thing kills me: hey, we have already read and listed everything we could say about ourselves to each other, but uh...what are you into? You present the best possible version of yourself through multiple revisions of your profile, then realize you have to back up that fake-you in conversation and either nail it or panic. And what do you do?

You nail it. Like me. I'm a hammer. I'm the hammer. And this blog not the hammer.

There's a cost-benefit ratio I calculate every time the neighborhood stray cat shoots past our front door. The moment the rats in the alley camp in our back yard, the ratio will finally be in my favor.

Come, rats, come. Come to your doom. It's for a higher purpose.
Jess, like me, is the youngest in her family. Unlike me, she has no older brothers (staggered by year and thus like a series of video game bosses). So this competition for deliciousness is new to her.

The poor lucky fool.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Judge Not

I had this whole lengthy, slightly dismissive takedown of a customer written up. Late thirty-maybe-fortysomething guy wanted to be a rapper, hadn't the slightest bit of rhythm, no poetry in his soul. Spent all of his time on a MacBook in our cafe, sharing his demo CD with any student or barista who came close enough to take it.

I framed it wistfully: oh, to be that idealistic! Cram all the idealism of a fresh-faced college grad in a face closer to forty than twenty-one. Hairdo like the top of a carrot. No connections, no prospects, nothing but spare time, and he thought he'd be the next Jay-Z. Told us, at length, about his plans once he had studio space, his release schedule once he found a distributor, his preferred venues once he went on tour. For him the world waited, and boy howdy, once he opened the right door and shook the right hands things would take off! 

Ha ha ha, oh wow, right? Man, I wonder why no one ever--


I'd screwed up his drink three times. Three. And still I had the gall to say, as he picked up his cup: "Sir, I'm sorry, I have to ask you..."

And I was That Guy. I had no demo CD, just a gushing, nervous description of my improv and comedy and some half-formed sketches sloshing in my brain. I gave it all to him, unsolicited, along with his latte and asked: should I move to LA now or later?

This man was Comedy Incarnate. He'd seen a thousand different versions of me, and he could have brushed me off like dandruff, but instead he smiled and told me to keep at it; my career would tell me when it was time to make the move.


--oh, right. Because he should never stop being that idealistic.

Man. I hope he's the next Jay-Z.

On a related note, the tree on top of that peak wishes it could be as happy with itself as the tree below it.
Pfft, you think the stairs are impressive? You should've seen the Escalator of Huangshan, back before it broke.