Go to the food/bev/hosp section of Craigslist. Find an ad for a local coffee shop, one that prides itself on providing high quality coffee and food for the community at an affordable cost. See that it pays minimum wage, plus tips. Send them your resume and continue looking for other jobs, ones better suited to your personality, your skills. Think about a career, a future, the places you will live. Think about the faces you will see, the jobs you will work. Feel a wash of optimism.
During the job interview, the owner asks why you want to work at his coffee shop. Stare at his doughy hands, his ebbing hairline. Take too long to respond. He offers his own set of answers. “People who are successful here either have a passion for food and coffee, love interacting and serving customers, or have a masochistic personality and enjoys grueling labor, which admittedly I do not understand,” he says with a chuckle. In an act of desperation say, “I went to Europe with my family when I was just 10 years old and ever since then I have had a strong connection to food and trying new things.” Watch as he nods and jots down notes, seemingly satisfied. Then add, “Food has been a part of my daily routine my entire life.” Laugh uncomfortably. Appearing confused, he moves on to the next question. Before leaving, notice the pretty barista behind the counter. Though it is slightly obscured by her blond hair, you think her name tag says Amanda. You are not sure. You think she smiles at you before you leave.
The first day you are given a tour of the cafe. The owner goes over the inventory, explaining where each item lives, as if the mustard container and salad dressing were alive. Be amused by this, but stop making stupid jokes after the manager, Tim, glares at you, clearly annoyed. Tim hands you a magazine titled Barista, and says “Here, study this.” The magazine features an article about a coffee making competition, which, this year was apparently won by a Japanese man with a bad haircut. A blond girl sees you flipping through the pages and says, “I know it's stupid. Some people take coffee really seriously, I guess.” She shrugs her shoulders and laughs. “Hi, I'm Amanda,” she says extending her hand. Introduce yourself. Smile. Her name is Amanda.
Like most normal children, you hated the taste of coffee and could not understand why adults drank it. You didn't understand a lot of things adults did. Like why they went to work everyday, even on weekends, and ate dinner at the office. Or why they were always arguing. Then when you were 14, you tasted beer and you hated it, too. You quickly learned that beer tastes better after the third one. Now you drink both on a daily basis – black coffee in the morning and half a six pack at night.
List of things to steal:
-four small containers of gelato
-three packs of all natural soda
-various coffee mugs – the espresso ones make good gifts
-old bread (technically not stealing since they offer you this for free – grab as much as you can, unapologetically cradling the loaves using both arms as you leave each shift)
-two pint glasses
-lunch meat (especially pastrami)
-your favorite apron
Kill time by taking unnecessarily long bathroom breaks. Walk slowly to and from the bathroom. Once locked inside, look in the mirror and pretend you are taking a customer's order to see what you look like from their perspective. Practice your smile, your greeting. Feel stupid.
Never get a grasp of the complicated cash register machine. The blinking lights and uncooperative touchscreen make each transaction a uniquely terrifying experience. Constantly hit the wrong button so you have no choice but to redo the entire order. Forget drink sizes and fumble clumsily while handling the drip apparatus. When you sense a customer is displeased by your incompetence, inform them that it is your first day, no matter how many shifts you have had. Do not use measuring cups – eyeball everything. Forget to charge for extras and do not charge tax on orders for here. When chastised for these blunders, look at the owner with a transparent look of regret. Promise that it will never happen again.
When the owner passive aggressively criticizes Starbucks, as a franchise is opening down the block, shrug indifferently and suggest that maybe they're not so bad – after all they provide benefits to their workers. Watch the owner launch into a tirade about his efforts to prevent the chain from moving into his neighborhood, and the city's incompetence, their lack of action. Tell him that it is a free country.
Wash dishes vigorously. This is your time to channel your frustration by scrubbing and slamming dishes into the sink. As you are finishing up, she approaches you holding two small cups of chocolate gelato with rock salt sprinkled on top of it. It is Amanda. Even though you are sweaty and your shirt is wet, accept the dessert graciously. She is your savior, you decide. Even though the manager is fed up with your painfully slow learning curve, Amanda is patient and accommodating. She comments that you look tired. “You should take a break. We get a 15 minute paid break every two hours. It's the law,” she says.
Say: “Thanks, I should do that.” Then add, “This gelato is really good. And rich.”
“Definitely rich. And so yummy, oh my God!” she says, her eyes nearly popping out of their sockets.
Be awkward, self-conscious of your appearance. In a futile attempt to match her energy say, “Yeah, totally yummy!”
Feel ridiculous, fake. Question your basic conversational skills; doubt your ability to interact with other humans in a meaningful way. When you ask the owner for a 15 minute break he says “Didn't you just take one?” You throw a dirty dish into the sink, but not hard enough to break it.
Focus too much time on watching Amanda make cappuccinos. Convince yourself that you are learning by osmosis. Dancing around the kitchen, Amanda effortlessly pours coffee, steeps tea, makes small talk with customers, all while nodding her head to the music. She has grace. Distract yourself from helping customers by asking about her interests, her hobbies. Learn that she wants to make documentaries and that she is taking classes at the local community college. Ask about her favorite items on the menu, where she grew up, what kind of music she likes. Tilt your head and nod as you listen to her answers. When she collects her tips at the end of the day, she exclaims, “Yay, beer money!” Later, discover she has a boyfriend.
Wake up at 6:30 am on a Saturday. Arrive at 7:30 am to open the store. Pretend not to be crippled by fatigue. Sleepwalk through the breakfast rush despite the steady stream of pissed off customers and shrieking demands from the manager. Drink coffee, even though it has proved ineffective in making you a better, more alert employee. At 10:30 am, eat lunch – a ham and cheese panini that you prepare yourself. Feign concern as Tim scolds you for taking too much salad. “Next time take about half of that,” he says.
You basked in the idea of working at a coffee shop straight out of college. Remind yourself that this is a transitional period, a time to grow, a chance to finally escape the oppressive classroom setting in which you had been confined the past 18 years of your life. These days are future nostalgia.
After your shift is over, ask Amanda if she needs a ride. Repeat yourself in a louder voice since she is busy texting. She declines, but even in rejection somehow remains sweet and nurturing. As you drive away, see her waiting at a bus stop alone, reading a book. Notice that she appears lonely when no one is around her. She looks anti-social, and, in a way, a completely different person. Wonder what book she is reading.
Consider quitting. Think about the sound of your alarm clock at 6:25 am. Early morning Saturday shifts mean no weekend social life. Decide that things will get better with time, that you will eventually adjust.
When your boss reads your order ticket, he squints, and, lowering his glasses, presses the yellow post-it note to his nose. He criticizes your handwriting. “You have to write more clearly,” He says, “I can't tell if these are letters or numbers.”
Smirk and ask, “If he needs glasses or something?”
“I'm farsighted, that's why I have these,” he says jabbing at his oval shaped spectacles.
“I'll write more legibly next time.”
“It looks like graffiti, or something. Do you do graffiti? Do you tag?” he demands.
“Is this an R or a P?”
Say that, “It's an I, for Italian sub.”
“Goddammit. Ok. Italian sub. Just... Write more slowly next time. Please.”
Do not change the way you write orders.
The owner pulls you aside after work. He asks how you think you are doing. Reply that you are doing your best, that you are slowly but surely getting the hang of things. He sighs deeply and rubs his chin, then informs you that you are not learning quickly enough, that he is not seeing enough improvement. He provides examples. You are sitting on a step ladder in the back office of the cafe. You are facing the owner, who is leaning back in his computer chair, his arms folded. Your heart beats fast. You do not understand this anxiety. You hate this job – getting fired would be a reason to celebrate. Lie to him. Say that you enjoy working at the cafe, that you want to learn more about cooking and making coffee, that you enjoy the busy, stimulating atmosphere, the customers and the people who work there. He insists that you must seriously contemplate your future at the cafe, if it is something you really would like to continue doing. “Are you even happy here?” he asks at one point. He dismisses you and the talk is over. It is as if you are in trouble with a teacher, like you are back in middle school. As you drive home, repeat the phrase, “Fuck this shit,” over and over. It has been only 12 days since your first shift.
Two days later, 15 minutes before your shift is over, you are called again into the back office. The manager wants to follow up on the last meeting. As soon as the door shuts he tells you that today will be your last day. You saw this coming; it is far from a surprise. He asks if there is anything you would like to say. Shake your head no. Walk out of the office and return to the dish washing area. You don't feel angry or depressed even though, maybe, you should. There are still 15 minutes left before you can clock out. None of the other employees know that you have been fired. Carry on as if nothing has happened. Everything is the same. Examine the cafe and try to take a mental picture of how it looks. Store the image in the long term memory file of your brain, so you can access it years later. Amanda is on her break, sitting alone at a small round table when you make your final exit. See the book she is reading – The Facts by Philip Roth. Consider pulling up a seat at her table, telling her this is your last day at the cafe, maybe writing your phone number on a napkin. Instead keep walking, wave goodbye to her. She smiles, waves enthusiastically, and says “See you tomorrow!” When you arrive home, sit on the couch with a beer. You earned this beer. Think about how it tastes and how nothing has changed