Thanks a Latte!

January 6, 2009
By Mikaela Weintraub GOLD, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey
Mikaela Weintraub GOLD, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey
12 articles 1 photo 0 comments

“I want my money back!” the customer said dropping his naked, cracked sprinkle cookie flat on the counter.

I hesitate, confused by the look of him. He was probably around the age of a mid-life crisis, with the center of his head as shiny as the newly Windexed milk counter behind him. He had on an obviously used-quite-a-few-times tee-shirt and a tan, shabby overcoat. His eyes were puny and black, almost as if he wanted the world to know that nothing he could look at would be worthwhile.

“What are you deaf? This cookie is crumby…and take it both ways.”

I almost wanted to laugh. This guy was being obnoxious, and with his receding hairline, I wouldn’t be the one making jokes. I reached over to give him a new cookie, one that might lead to his satisfaction.

“I don’t want another cookie. Thank you. I said I would like my money back. Now open the register, hand me one eighty-seven plus tax, then open your mouth and say sorry.”

Oh, he’s a clever one. I had never learned how to give someone their money back. I work at a coffee shop for hell’s sake. You get a cracked cookie, you take smaller bites. You don’t get your change back.

I reached into my tip jar, and counted out the priced item.

“How witty,” I told him as I handed him the money, giving him a toothy smile. And he walked away.

I sat back down on the stool behind the counter, and pick up my cold cup of tea. It’s still good. I’ve been here since one in the afternoon, and I’m not leaving until one in the morning; I’m working a double shift in this place. I reached over and picked up my current book, One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest. In my mind, this book is genius, and I’m slowly going crazy (quite a feat in writing a book that makes one’s readers want to do so).

One page later, I’m distracted. The door opens bringing in leaves, two sets of muddy paws and an old woman. She tells me she wants a small black.

She takes the coffee, smiles, and leaves, the paw prints stained dark in my direction.

I’m at the part in the book where he’s talking about World War One, and how bad the fog was. He goes on and on about this constant fog, and about how he can’t see anything. He’s traumatized, but it’s more than that.

Two girls come up to the counter. They giggle and tell me they’re very indecisive, to please wait a minute. They have long hair and pale skin. One has dimples. They finally come up with one hot cider, and one hot chocolate.

Two men, another woman, and a young couple file in. Why is it that this place will be dead for hours, and then all of a sudden I’ll get ambushed with cappuccino order after order? And why is it that when you walk into a coffee shop, there’s always a line? But I swear, if you weren’t you, and you walked into the shop at a different time or at a different location, you’d probably be line free. Just a little theory on the theory of the tricks of life.

My voice is going, so I decide to humor myself. How much honey can I eat without wanting to throw up? Honey is good for a sore throat. So I grab a spoon, as I pull back my long red hair, and squeeze the honey onto it for about forty-five seconds. Just when I take a big dose of the sweet medication, a good-looking guy arrives in front of the counter. He wants a coffee. I’m trying to swallow the sticky substance fast, but my throat is crowded and raw, and this honey’s a little below room temperature. I should have put this in my tea.
As I’m handing him the change, a quarter slips from his fingers. As he reaches to get it, all of the other nickels and dimes fall onto the floor. I laugh because he is embarrassed, and I’m definitely laughing with him. He laughs too, but he is not laughing inside. I can tell this happens to him a lot.
Anyway, the guy from the book, he’s terrified of fog. The fact that they fogged the fields during World War One is a possibility as to why. He has the fog, all the other traumas of the war, the sirens and the sick all coinciding at once.
Fog is eerie and thick. But that’s not why he shakes over it.
For him, the fog comes over and over again. The air will be perfectly clear and then out of no where, clouds of deep moisture will surround him. It’s not even the concentration of the fog, or the claustrophobic-like experience when he can’t see or breathe. I think he’s used to what it feels like, but he can’t figure out why on earth it keeps happening. Over and over.
A rather attractive pair of young men walks up to the counter. They smile and tell me, “two black coffees, but wait, make one of them a lot of room for milk please.”

I ring them up. I’ve seen them before. I have a lot of regulars. The two make their way over to their usual table in the corner by the window. I always feel like that spot is ideal for a legitimate coffee date between a man and the woman he asks out. But I never see anyone (that fits the description) sit there.

It’s later. Probably around six o’clock by now. Six o’clock on a Saturday night is useless here. Not because of the fact that we sell a wide variety of caffeinated drinks, but because the Baby Boom Generation, and Generation X prefer bars tonight.

Two kids from my school walk in. One of them, straight OTB; he’s a sweetie. The other one…well let’s just say he’s not the brightest candle in the church.

“’Ey, Jessica. Can I -- uh…can I, um, have a, um…what’s the lotto ticket for a dolla?”

I tell him either “Father’s Day” or the “Scratch ‘Em Bones” scratch off tickets.

“’Aight, give me duh scratch ‘em one,” as he lays down a dollar.
The two of them then leave, but I have a feeling they’ll be back. This is what I mean. The two Generations before mine have it good. However, this is how a typical Generation Y species spends their Saturday night.
It’s dark outside. The sky is navy, and you can see each and every flood light shining out from the surrounding buildings outside of the coffee shop. The town is beautiful and serene. The street lights are like still waterfalls, illuminating the yellow paint on the ground, and the navy backdrop. The road is calm, and I concentrate on the black cemented river through the coffee shop’s wide window. The window is huge, and a couch and two chairs sit adjacent to it. That’s when I notice the family still sitting there, all of them on the couch and the chairs. They’ve been there for at least two hours.
This family comes in almost every Saturday, and they always order lemonades or hot chocolates for their three kids (depending on the weather outside). The family doesn’t speak English. I don’t know what they speak because I don’t speak what they do. It sounds like German sometimes, but mostly French. I should probably know what their tongue is, but maybe not. I’m just the barista.
The parents are nice. The woman has short blonde hair and a sharp nose and defined cheek bones. She is really pretty, especially when she speaks. But I think she thinks I judge her when she talks. She expects me to not understand her, and this bothers her in a different way. So she makes me feel inferior when she opens her mouth to order her drinks.
The man seems simply happy. He looks at his wife a lot. And she smiles at him all the time. And when they’re happy like this, the kids get sprinkle cookies (the ones that sit on the counter where you order the drinks).
Three cookies for a FrenchGerman family each Saturday.

The lottery-driven moron returns along with his friend. He’s won five bucks, and he wants five more tickets. I shell out five more, and I’m starting to think this tough guy has a problem.
They go and sit down at a table and soon enough, Macho Man is back from the long walk, telling me he’s won fifteen dollars but he’d prefer fifteen dollar’s worth of Mega Millions (he says this in a greaser-like tone).
“No,” I tell him, “you’ll get fifteen dollars, but I’m not giving you anymore lottery tickets. You may not have noticed this, but you have a PROBLEM.”
He denies this; he thinks he’s getting fifteen more Golden Tickets.
“Okay, think about this: you can probably take this money to buy two packs of cigarettes. You smoke, right?”
He starts to see my point and tells me I’m right.
I know I’m right. When it comes down to me having to tell people to go and buy cigarettes, I must have reached a valid argument.
He sits back down at the table with the foreign kid.
The sky is now completely black. The street lights have taken on a new current, flooding the dust particles wavering in the night without incandescent meaning.
I’m about to make myself a latte when Charlie and the Lottery Machine has decided to ask me for “just one more!”
I’m trying desperately to put my foot down. I’ve lost count of how many tickets he’s bought tonight.
“You say one more, but that’s going to lead to another, and another-“
“No, I swear! Just one mourh, c’mon. I promise.”
“I’m sorry, I cannot give you another…and what is that? Are you drinking STARBUCKS?!”
If this kid hadn’t fully stepped onto American ground yet, I was definitely staring the foreigner all the way off the boat now.
Rival. Enemy. Beverage.
The foreigner just started laughing. But this was it. They weren’t getting anymore lottery tickets. Go home, Charlie, nothing lasts forever.

A man wearing a windbreaker, glasses, and an uneasy smile walks up to the counter. He asks me if there’s music tonight. I tell him that I don’t think so, no, not tonight. He orders a small coffee.
As I’m ringing him up, he talks about the speakers that we have.
“They didn’t have those a few years ago.”
“Oh? They didn’t?” I go along with his small talk. “That’s $1.40. Oh and if you’re interested, there’s a band playing Monday night.”
He hands me the two and puts the change in my tip jar. Then he asks me for my name with his uneasy smile, and his uneasy lips and his too-big-for-his-eyes glasses.
I mumble it to him, and then I run to the back room. I bleach everything. Everything until he finishes his small coffee. How long could that take, right?
After I’ve bleached all three sinks, the back counter, and the floor, he’s still there, sitting at the table closest to the counter. I don’t have a well-deserved reason to be afraid of him, but he’s just one of those people who give off a shady vibe, the kind that makes you nervous and sick. And he’s still sipping his SMALL coffee, staring off into space in the direction of the two young girls sitting on another couch. Twenty minutes of scrubbing later, he throws out his cup and leaves.

Another man comes in, asks for a large coffee. I’m about to ring him up when he drops a nickel on the ground. As he goes to pick it up, he whispers s***.
“I left my wallet at home. I’ll be right back, I’m sorry.”
He’s about to turn out the door when he asks if he can just take the coffee with him. I tell him it’s fine, since it’s freezing outside, and he might as well take it to keep him warm as he’s walking back home. He puts milk and sugar in it, and as he’s leaving he reminds me that he’ll be back in ten minutes.
He doesn’t come back.

I’m here for another four hours. It’s dead in here. The family is long gone; the shady man felt he was unwelcomed; I kicked out the gamblers and enemies; the giggly girls must have had plans; and the man with the large coffee wouldn’t dare come back.
I’m here for a while, and I have this book, and it makes me go crazy. And I’ve been drinking espresso shots since two. This is my job. Thanks a latte, come again! Wait, what did I just say?

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