Reading a copy of Small Farms Journal, left behind the counter either on purpose or not, but for no reason I could discern, was revealing. It was an exhibition of anachronistic and anarchic views, spelled out with just enough colloquialism, and maybe not quite enough grammar.
I read about grape planting, how real farmers don't wear shorts and flip flops, what type of cow does best in a given climate, and a heart-string-tugging ode to a 30-year-old mule whose time had come, and who, at article's end, was shot in the head with a .45 caliber pistol.
Most pages had something that would have been too obvious parody, were it not to be taken seriously. "Be the Black Sheep", proclaimed a headline of an article discussing the merits of, yes, black sheep.
Still, there was something striking about the whole thing, an impression of an intense devotion, of business and art commingling. It wasn't just that a man had written an article about shooting his mule, Ruth, in the head, or even that he imagined her pulling a plow straight in Heaven's gardens. No, it was that he had thought to write this article at all, and that there is, apparently, an audience for such pieces.
This was and is quite foreign to me. Gun to my head, I'm not sure I could put a gun to anything else's head. Maybe take it to the vet first, before deciding "it was time"? But no, my feeling wasn't wholly, or even primarily, one of judgement. Foreign. That's what it was, said plainly but best.
Some part of me wanted to imagine a bridge, to pretend some camaraderie between myself and the authors of the pieces I read. We shared, while not the trade itself, the feeling that we were doing something most people simply don't "get", that they see as a landing spot for people who, sadly, can't manage to pull themselves above working as mere providers.
But my imagination couldn't span the gap between the realities, couldn't suspend my disbelief. It was a comparison I knew - or thought I knew - these farmers would hate. They wrote of leather hands and muddy boots, of working, literally, with bullshit. And I had just finished pouring two sets of latte art, for customers that had specifically requested it, tipped, and responded with an almost embarrassing amount of enthusiasm. No, mine is a profession for men who are wispy, not hardy, who deal in luxury beverages and toil in air conditioned places of recreation.
I arrived home, and dug out a copy of Barista Magazine from under my bed. I looked through the pages, trying to adopt the eye of someone else, someone not neck deep in coffee. I saw articles about different extraction ratios yielded by different Toddy techniques, discussions that hinged on tenths of grams and single degrees. There were blurbs about espresso machines, the brushes and soaps that might best clean them, and a thousand accessories to decorate them with. People talked about coffee like it mattered, really mattered, about how their time spent behind the bar defined them, and how others just couldn't get it. I tried to use that imagined distance, to see this as frivolous bullshit, a hobby job for hipsters who aren't ready to trade in their black tees for black ties. But mostly, I though about how no one got shot.