January 5, 2011


It was 7 PM, or thereabouts, and I had just begun my moderately productive pacing about the cafe. There were things to do. But my brain was addled, full of everything but what needed to be there, as is so often the case. And so I checked the grind setting on the espresso machine, the quality of the milk I had steamed, and forgot to dispose of the excess. It was sweet and rich, velvety and with just a hint of tang. It was as it ought to have been. Not surprising, but reassuring nonetheless.

But the thing about cafe work is this: There are customers. And there was one then. She had been something approximating a regular before, had ordered some kind of latte several times a week. She smiled, and informed me that she had given up coffee for new years. It was her resolution. She, in her words, wanted to detox.

She kept talking, speculating out loud about what she might order instead. "I wouldn't do that," I said. A flat, emphatic statement, as if she had declared considering a self-lobotomy. But context matters, and I was talking several sentences behind her.

"What? Why not?" Was there something particularly offensive about the green tea latte she had settled on instead?

I assured her that it was fine -- tasty, even -- a spiritual, citrusy cousin to the always delicious chai. But enough about that. I went about completing the transaction, taking her money, giving some back, graciously accepting the 97 cents that fell in my tip jar.

Why? I didn't know -- couldn't, even. Weight loss? Sure. I understand -- perhaps too well -- neurosis about one's physique. And the first wealth is health, said some philosopher, I think. I suppose I appeared every bit the cliche then, espousing the impossibility of her effort, while lauding it as charmingly ascetic.

"I couldn't do it," I said, not caring a whit whether I appeared the consummate addict, or perhaps just a jilted dealer. This is where she was supposed to deliver a pithy statement, as wise as succinct, opening my eyes to the tragedy of my ways. To need something, to be unable to contemplate going without, is a weakness, she might have argued.

"It will be hard," was all she said, before declaring that, after one day of mild lethargy, she felt clear headed and energetic -- as opposed, one might guess, to running on low octane stimulant fuel.

"Good luck," I said, trying to sound something other than patronizing.

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