Saturday, August 11, 2018

Stale Coffee

Note: Long story short, I’ve been extra busy over the past couple weeks, traveling and getting ready to move. So instead of writing a fresh post for you coffee beans, I’m pulling one from the wasteland of half-finished pieces I’ve had knocking around in my Out of Coffee, Out of Mind Scrivener file for ages (call it stale coffee). I wrote this one over a year ago, when I was working for my former church under my second boss there. (I guess you will have to wait a little longer to read posts from Liz, the new-and-improved edition.) If it’s got a couple typos here and there, I apologize. I’m trying to edit, but for whatever reason, after drinking less than a cup of coffee, I can barely see straight. Also, it’s summer, but my apartment has been so cold, even with a blanket and a hoodie, I’ve somehow managed to catch a chill. Call me bulletproof. But yeah, I wanted to get this post up for you today because I won’t have another full day off until Thursday.

Here I am, in line at Starbucks. I’ve just finished work at the church, where my hours have been rearranged so I have more time off on Sundays. This is a big deal. Until recently, Sundays were one of the hardest days for me; I was on my feet, go-go-going from six in the morning till nine or ten at night. Mondays tended to suffer as a result. Having chronic pain makes stuff like that difficult for me, so this is a load off my shoulders. Anyway, I’m waiting in line, patient and peaceful. If I were Todd in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, my noise would be quiet.

I want to buy a sandwich, order some coffee, sit down and write. I have ideas and almost-ideas swirling through my brain. If I can get them down, it will make my afternoon.


Yeah, the woman in front of me is one of those people who never quite got past that toddler stage—you know, the one where you’re the center of the world and people don’t exist when you’re not interacting with them. Technically she’s in line ahead of me. Like, she’s not ordering, but she’s close enough to the counter that I would feel rude jumping in front of her. She’s taking her sweet time reading the nutrition facts, the ingredients, the wrinkles in the bread, for crying out loud, on every single sandwich in the case. It’s getting old, but I’m still pretty chill. Waiting in line is one of my superpowers. *puffs chest*

Finally, FINALLY, she chooses a protein box and pounces on the poor barista. I start to breathe a sigh of relief. Now that she’s ordering, I won’t have to stand here much longer. Those chairs are looking so comfy.

Nope. Nopety nope nope nope. She starts her order off with, “This is going to be complicated.” Let me tell you, she was not lying. The barista is great, though. He interacts with her intelligently as she gives the most complicated coffee order I have ever heard (and I thought my orders were complicated). It involves multiple shots of espresso, a pump of mocha “approximately the size of a quarter”, coffee terms I will have to look up to understand, and a five minute discourse on how “people of color are now doing more for themselves.” Her words. She uses the barista as an example, since he’s putting himself through college with this job. Go him. But seriously, lady, wrap it up. Just. Stop. Talking.

She moves over, telegraphing like she’s starting to walk away, enough for me to feel justified in sliding over to the counter with the sandwich I chose while she was picking her protein box, eons ago. Those were the good old days, back when I had faith in humanity. I’m hoping setting my sandwich down will stake my claim, silence further conversation on her part, and rescue the poor barista from having to fake one more smile.

Sometimes losing your naiveté can be a lengthy process. Because she’s not done. No, she’s remembered ANOTHER thing she wanted to say, which is even more condescending. It’s pretty clear that no one else in the growing line, in the entire bustling shop, exists to her. She doesn’t stop talking until both her coffees are almost in hand. If I started stabbing myself in the eyes with a straw, I think she’d just keep talking. I’m tempted to test that theory.

In all fairness, I don’t think she’s intending to be rude or an inconvenience. She’s older, maybe set in her ways, maybe from that era where people were taught different ideals. She’s not the kind of person I would want to live with, definitely, but I shouldn’t judge. I don’t know what her life’s been like, don’t even know her name. Also maybe she has no peripheral vision. I know people so oblivious, mugging them would be the easiest thing in the world (if I were, you know, planning to do that *hides*).

When I finally have my food and my coffee in hand, I sit down at one of those little tables, sandwiched between two other occupied tables. They’re one-person tables, mind you, lined up in front of a bench with little room to spare between each one. For the sake of convenience here, let’s call that tiny little space between tables “privacy room”. I can’t see your computer screen—you can’t see mine. Nobody has to feel like their space is being invaded.

The lady to my right has been staring at me since before I sat down, but I’ll forgive her since she hasn’t tried to shank me yet and also because she has a cool accent. Only a couple minutes after I get comfortable, though, she invites a friend over, who decides to sit right in my privacy room. I angle myself away from them as discreetly as I can, considering that I’m, you know, writing about them. However, that has my computer screen facing the girl to my left. She’s minding her own business, but that doesn’t stop me from turning my screen brightness down almost all the way and making the font so tiny I can barely read it. I like to think of myself as a smooth operator.

I love coffee shops. Often I get my best writing and editing done in environments like this, with the smell of coffee in the air, the sound of ice being scooped, of beans being ground, the background chatter. I have to grin and bear with the handful of people who gossip loudly (you know they want you to hear them), the people who video chat right next to you, the noisy ones who follow you around the shop for no specific reason so you can’t get a moment’s peace. You never know what’s going to happen in a Starbucks, in any coffee shop, really. One time someone drugged my coffee, and I’m about 99% sure it was the barista, since I never leave my drinks unattended (he doesn’t work there anymore, so we’re all good). It’s a jungle out there.

There’s a certain magic to being in a place that exists primarily to serve coffee. Yes, it’s overpriced, and sometimes I forget to tie up and gag my common sense, and I end up horrified at how much I’m spending. I don’t know how I’m going to extricate myself from this little table without sticking my butt in someone’s face. My anxiety is never a fan of situations like this. As a consequence, I prefer to sit where I can have eyes on everyone coming in, in case someone decides to shoot up the place, not that it would really help me that much in this sardine can.

I spend my coffee shop time balanced precariously between intense concentration and the steady voice in my head saying, “Let’s leave, let’s leave, let’s go home where it’s safe and cozy. You can watch Good Mythical Morning and read Shakespeare’s Star Wars. Maybe sister will be there and we can watch Firefly together. Why stick around here? This isn’t as fun or as peaceful as you thought it would be.”

For a host of reasons, I keep coming back. Probably it’s the sense of community. I can pretend the girl to my left is writing a book, likewise the girl two tables to my right. Everyone here with a laptop is a novelist, I tell myself, and we are all a part of something, so I’m among friends. The baristas know me by face, if not by name. Sometimes I think I come here to counteract the loneliness of my solitary church job and my living situation, so I don’t go crazy, locked in my head all day every day.

I should wrap up this post. It’s getting long, and people are staring. I have other writing to get done; I hadn’t even planned this post before coming here, and now I have to switch tracks, even though I’m already feeling like I want to go home. Also I have artichoke stuck in my front teeth, which is very distracting. Remind me not to smile at anyone on the way out.

Hey, it's newer me again. *waves awkwardly* It was weird editing this post, trying to stay true to my older voice. It was even stranger to see how anxious I was, how lonely. I saw it then, but I didn’t see it the way I do now. I think surviving that situation meant not realizing how bad it was until I got out. I’m at a place where anxiety is almost nonexistent, where I can generally chill in a coffee shop for hours and be sad to leave.

I’m still one of those people who clears corners when entering a building, who sits facing the doors or better yet, where you can see people coming in but they can’t see you. Although I think that’s just good sense.

Change is good. Sometimes you’ll end up in a stage of life you think will never pass. The nearly two years I spent starving myself were miserable, and I felt trapped, but it's over. I won. And even though it damaged my health in ways I’m not sure I’ll fully recover from, and the temptation to relapse still tries to sneak up on me, I’ve learned some things. I’ve grown as a person. I don’t really know why I’m sharing this post with you today, because when I read it, I find it especially easy to judge myself. But, you know, sometimes I get discouraged, and the best fix I’ve found is a change of perspective. Maybe this will help someone. 

Now it’s your turn. What are some coffee shop experiences you would like to share?


  1. It's really good to have you back! I'm so happy to see you're a GMM fan. ^ ^ Once when I was in Starbucks, a man came in with this adorable light pink cockatoo on his shoulder. ^ ^

  2. I really enjoyed this post, and, even though this happened a while ago, I congratulate you for staying in the coffee shop, even though you were stuck in that anxiety. And then also for realizing how much you needed to get out of that anxiety, taking the steps and getting the help you needed to do it. That takes a special kind of strength and you did it when you thought you were weak.

    Glad to have you back. :)