It’s a harsh reality when you have to adjust your Starbucks order to accommodate your sparse resources. Instead of getting a latte—apparently the Westchester County of drinks—I had to dial it down to just a coffee—the drink of the common people. But maybe it isn’t so bad; I could use a reality check. Lord knows I’m delusional enough as is.
I feel a sense of earthy pride when I tell the barista my order. He doesn’t even have to go to the fancy milk steamer. My order comes straight from the tap (tap?) into a simple, regular cup. I’m an Everyman; a Jim Halpert. I take my coffee simple and my laughs loud. I picture this as my new life: grande hot coffee (soon I’ll skip to just say “medium” because where I’ll be from, we don’t use Italian), red flannel with raggedly-worn cuffs, and a job at the local paper. I’ll have a boxer—no, no, a border collie; something large and fluffy that’ll look good in front of my fireplace. I’ll make friends with the locals, say things like, “Life runs a little slower here,” and put buckets under my leaks because I don’t bother fixing the roof because hey, what does it matter in the end?
As the barista swings around and puts my new life—conveniently $2.45—onto the counter, the girl in front of me, who ordered a pumpkin scone (city folk) and a latte (patrician) grabs the scone from the other barista’s hand and—thinking that my free love java is hers—grabs it and makes like the Olsen twins in New York Minute (fast). I witness the life I could have crumble like a vision board that got caught in the rain.
“Um, that’s mine,” I say a little sharply, a holdover from my present/past life, where I’m a quick-talking city Grinch. Once I get that coffee, I’ll be a molasses-drawling, straight-leg-jean-wearing regular, but that bitch is trying to make a move on my new life, and I won’t stand for that.
“Oh, sorry,” she says with the air of someone who doesn’t care about my hazy Seattle dreams.
Once I got it, I realized I made the mistake of not asking for some room for milk. What can I say? I’m a latte guy. I begin to pour half-and-half—I randomly choose amongst the various dairy products, usually whichever one seems the coolest—before realizes that the amount of room left in the cup will only allow for a “Barely tolerable gray-ish” amount of milk, when I need a “Swaddled in a rich tan hue” amount of milk. With the precision of an Olympic gymnast, I slowly lift the cup to my lips. Mind you, I’m in a public Starbucks, very obviously taking up time at the accoutrements counter.
As the cup nears my lips, my eyes lock onto a friend/general human acquaintance who is 10% cooler than I am and the jolt of fear trilling down my spine causes the cup to lurch against my mouth, reminding me that the milk has done nothing for the scalding lava that lurks under the docile facsimile of coffee. I burn my tongue, flinch wildly, and cause the liquid to splash over the edge, boiling down my fingers and onto the counter.
Defeated, maimed and embarrassed, I try to—quickly as possible—pour small amounts of my coffee into the trash can until I can pour enough half-and-half into it to salvage it. After that, and a heart-achingly large dose of sugar, I replace the cardboard sleeve to disguise my dance with devil.
Trying to appear casual—I’m wearing Adidas for fuck’s sake—I casually pretend to ignore my friend/genial homo sapiens, while obviously knowing that he has moved up precisely 3.2 spots in line. He reaches out and taps me and I do the whole, “Oh didn’t see you there!” routine. I saw him; you saw him. We’re all liars here.
He tells me about his work, his class, his upcoming nap. I’m assuming, actually, because I wasn’t listening and am instead wondering, Did I spill any coffee on my shoe? I can’t look now, that would be too obvious. Ugh, it’s leather. White leather. Brown coffee on white leather. White leather sounds a little porny, like the BDSM sister of Whitesnake. White Snake? I bet it did. I can’t believe it, while going, “Uh-huhh, mhmmm” like Frankenstein’s monster.
He asks me about my day, I give him the truncated version of the truncated version and decide to disclose my little dip into Hades’ hellfire. He laughs, the sound slipping through the neat gap in his teeth. I’m making it sound cute, like “Oh I spilt some coffee. How relatable,” rather than the practically Medea-inflicted pain it actually was (great myth, Medea, if you’re looking for a fun quippy read).
Later, in the class for which I originally procured the coffee (three hours long + a me whose main job this last week has been convincing myself that I have ADD), I notice that the spillage left a mocha-hued tie-dye print all over the cover. So it didn’t matter that I changed the sleeve. The proof was in the pudding.
By the way, I had a fucking burnt tongue for two hours afterward.