Caffeinated and agitated, to go, please.

I’m turning into Rain Man. He got bent out of shape if his “People’s Court” routine was disrupted. For me, it’s coffee, and there was obviously a conspiracy to contort me today. It began first thing in the morning, at the corner deli, where Manny and the crew know exactly how I like my post-run cup of coffee: medium, splash of milk, no sugar, lawsuit-hot.

I stepped out with my medium cup into the sunshine and bus exhaust on Summit Avenue.  The lid opening was on the cup seam, but I was determined to keep my mood as bright as the day. There was no steam when I removed the lid. My lips pulled back into a snarl when they touched the coffee.

It was tepid.

Not hot, not even lukewarm, but somebody-left-the-carafe-off-the-burner-then-poured-and-sold-it-to-me tepid. And perhaps the sugar was added in hope that the sweetness would distract me from the temperature. What the hell was Manny thinking? I’ll remind him tomorrow that my order never changes, except for tomorrow when I’ll instruct he owes me a large in recompense. I didn’t want to risk the avenue-of-squashed-pedestrians again, and the possibility of that nasty coffee being the final taste sensation I’d carry into eternity.

* * *

I had hoped my afternoon cup of coffee would erase the morning experience, and elevate me to an unprecedented appreciation of life – including Manny’s. Even though he f***ed up my order. And my morning. But it was not to be this way.

You see, environment and ambience is essential to enjoyment of my afternoon cup. It is the time of day when I leave the house after writing in solitude all morning. I complete necessary errands, appointments, and meetings, then treat myself to a cup somewhere chosen for convenient geography, reliable Wifi, non-butt-numbing seating, unobstructed street views and sunlight, music and conversation kept at a hum, oh, and of course, a medium coffee that meets the afternoon specifications: substantial in flavor, but not overpowering; just a splash of soy milk (not available at Manny’s, the man who insists milk can only come from a cow, and suggests I try powdered non-dairy creamer); no sugar or sweetener; and hot enough to sue if I spill it.

Today I had been in Queens, conducting research in my hometown for a future story collection. I was standing under the el, and the rumble of the train mixed with the sound of my stomach reminding it was time for my coffee and snack. The local McDonald’s had been remodeled with a wall of windows that featured a sign announcing Wifi, and the premium roast coffee available on the dollar menu. Tempting, except the Mickey D’s had also added a Playland, which was likely to be the source of screeching and yelling at that afterschool hour. I decided to try the new Starbucks one block away, unaware that I’d discover even more unarticulated coffee specifications essential for my inner balance and peace.

Snazzy, I thought when I entered and saw the wide plank wood floors. Starbucks illustrated how much had changed in my corner of Queens. There was ample available seating, including an armchair by the large windows. “She’s a Bad Mamma Jamma” was distinguishable above the few murmured conversations. I approached the counter, ready to be elevated.

Instead, I was overwhelmed. I ordered a medium, was reminded by the young woman behind the counter I wanted a venti, then asked what brew I’d like. She pointed to a blackboard before I could remind her the word brew makes me want beer. So many choices! Pike’s Place. Guatemalan. Reserve blends. Dark roasts. Bold. Drip. Pressed.

“What does it all mean?” I asked, not realizing how middle-aged it sounded until after it was out of my mouth. Twenty years ago, I could have been the young woman behind the counter with the choppy haircut, smudgy eye make-up, chunky glasses, and indulgent smile.

“Well, what would you like?’ she asked.

There was no one on line behind me, but I didn’t think either of us had the time for me to explain that whatever she poured needed to make up for Manny’s shortcomings. I gave her an abbreviated version of my coffee desires.

“So maybe a Reserve Blend?” she asked, saw the confusion on my face, then provided the most fascinating description. The Reserve Blends are each crafted from carefully selected beans. She suggested I might like the Blonde Willow, milder than the robust Veranda, but still substantial. It would take a few moments to prepare a venti cup because the drip coffee maker does not brew Blonde Willow after five o’clock.

Yeah, there’s things I don’t want to do in life, either, I thought, and wondered if brewing Blonde was in violation of caffeine appliance labor laws. She would use the Clove press, similar to a French press, but different: it brews the beans upside-down, and the paperless filter allows more of the oils through for an enhanced flavor experience.

Really? Seriously? It was my turn to smile indulgently. I hummed along with “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and eyed the empty armchair as she ground and brewed my Blonde. The steam rose through the sip hole in the lid, and I felt the heat through the sleeve when she handed me the cup.

“I think you’ll like it,” she said as she rang up my order.

Indeed, I thought and was tempted to purr as I inhaled the aroma.

“That’s $3.47.”

My eyebrow arched to my hairline. “What is?”

“The venti. It’s $3.47,” the young woman repeated. She smiled as she waited, and I realized she was serious. Three dollars and forty-seven cents for a cup of coffee I couldn’t sip for at least fifteen minutes without risking the delicate skin on my thinning lips? Did she forget to mention the blend was reserved for idiots like me who don’t think to ask the price because my daily coffee from Manny’s is only one dollar? Was the soy milk imported? Would the venti have been cheaper before five o’clock when it could have been prepared by the drip maker instead of the uppity, fancy Clove press? Who the hell wants oily coffee anyway? Damn.

A line formed behind me as I thought all that, and envisioned myself through the chunky glasses of all the younger people around me.

“Well, this must be one hell of a cup of coffee,” I said and kept my tirade internal.

“Let me know how you like it,” she said as she handed me my change.

Cheap, girlie. I like my coffee cheap.

“Mm-hmm,” I offered as I raised my chin and cup toward her. I sat at a small table instead of the armchair, and pulled out my notebook to record my observations and conversations of the day.

Wait till Manny and the crew at the deli hear about this tomorrow morning.

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