July 26, 2012

Death at the Bar

"My doctor says I shouldn't have these. But I don't care. It's my life, and if I want them, I can have them."

I remember her vividly, leaning heavily against a cane. She was big, nearly immobile. Walking to our cafe seemed a great inconvenience for her, but she did, and there was no doubting why: She liked the drinks. Not all of them, mind you, but the seasonal ones. The fancy drinks with syrup, powdered something or other, and cream. She got one every week, no matter what it was, asking for extra syrup and extra whipped cream. Every time, she told us about her looming health crises, her diabetes, her blood pressure, her peripheral neuropathy. Her body was quitting, and not even slowly. She looked twice her 40 years, and talked openly about not seeing 50. She sorted her pills and took several of them, before getting the drink I had made, and then ambling to a nearby chair.

I always hated serving her. Not because I disliked her - although the above description isn't flattering, no could argue it isn't true - but because it was hard, in those moments, not feel some part the executioner. She knew better, and I knew that she knew it. Every time, she told me about her declining health, the numbers that were too high, or too low. And she was not ignorant as to why. She knew the constant and massive sugar infusions had put her body through metabolic hell, and that the damage was severe. She knew she needed to stop, if there was any hope at all, but she didn't. Maybe she couldn't. Addiction is a powerful thing, and sugar a potent narcotic. Or perhaps she had just given up. She never did elucidate the reason behind her continued unhealthy indulgences, beyond asserting that she wanted them, and that that was enough.

I don't pretend that mine is the tragedy here. She was dying, and she knew it. No matter the external front, that can't be an easy conclusion to make peace with. All I had to do was make the drink, and move on. I simply had to make peace with capitalism, with providing what was being paid for. Ultimately, I just had to do my job.

And is that really so hard? I got to sell an expensive drink to willing customer, an exchange of money for a good. It wasn't my fault, nor that of the company. We simply make the drinks; we don't make anyone drink them. And then there's moderation to consider. No one becomes diabetic on one splurge ever week. In fact, there was a bodybuilder who came in as often, and ordered the same sort of drink. He had veins in his biceps the size of my wrists, and looked as if he'd never so much as heard of body fat. Clearly, we weren't killing him.

I told myself those things. The guy working on the line at Chevy needn't feel guilty if someone wrecks his car, right? Even a gun manufacturer doesn't make anyone pull the trigger. She wants the drink, she can have the drink. Like she says, it's her life, she can live it how she wants. I told myself those things, and even believed them, mostly. But it's hard, still, whether it should be or not, to hand someone their death, even as they thank you and smile.


  1. A customer called me a drug dealer as they half way laughed while guzzling their love handles in a 20oz cup.

    1. And they're not altogether wrong, of course. You can indulge your addiction via black coffee, however, and remain sickly thin. I have some customers who are on that end of the spectrum, and look like my coffee is the only thing they ingest all day.