There are times when the past is more vivid than today. Sometimes, it’s behind the bar at my first job, the first job I took seriously and that I poured my heart into- a job that changed me. My pride had the best of me. I was a foolish girl, and I say that smiling. Devilish grin and ripped jeans. I didn’t give a shit and yet I cared for my friends so much. I didn’t understand the why, but wanted to know the how’s about everything, so I worked and learned about wine and coffee and wore my cares on my sleeve and slipped them through my glass pours so people stayed curious and searched to know the real me. The truth is I didn’t know who that was. But since everyone else wanted to know, I started to invent something.
I loved my friends. The guys I worked for, the people I worked with. The coffee was the heart and soul of it all: the smells, flavors, the grind and extraction, single origins and the people behind the beans. It translated into a certain way of caring for and handling a day at the shop and all of the small and big things. The personality of each coffee, even each barista, translated into the cup. I remember the flourless chocolate cake and the sheeps milk yogurt. The sparkling water explorations, which were ongoing, and the “feed hole” bin in the back.
We were a group of extremes. We were always sensitive but varying in extrovertedness and accessibility. There was always a certain amount of competition amongst us. I liked it. We had a way of trying to show each other we had learned something new, could batch iced coffee in under 10 mins with a line or make a soy latte that didn’t separate out in that gross grainy way that made me cringe almost as much as when that professor asked for his chai latte extra hot no foam. I learned to appreciate the guests and their needs. We would make up stories as they walked through the door to found a place to set their scarves and books. Where had he come from? Why was she limping?
Objective story telling like that didn’t work for the staff, especially since I was too young to parse through my habits versus theirs. The way we see ourselves can only be compared to how we see others, and it can change your heart. Looking back though, I’ve found some clarity.
She was strong yet quiet and had temper tantrums that you could feel but not see.
He was cagey and corny and swung his hips when he was excited, nervous or avoiding something. He cared immensely.
She knew more than she ever said and displayed a courage I mistook as ego. She laughed deeply.
His good humor and forwardness was conversely what I loved and resented about him.
She was thoughtful and elusive. I still don’t know what words we exchanged, rather what we shared.
He felt everything. His espresso was always on point. He never faltered.
She was always a party. I didn’t understand till later we had more in common.
He pretended to pretend but it was his own game and we were left to guess. His emotions were volatile – often reversed -and his charisma came out when he least expected it.
He was his own worst enemy. He was loyal to the cause and insisted his way to everyone’s heart. The coffee gave him purpose.
These humans, close and as far away from me as anyone, tolerated my aggression, my insolent passion, my cowardly grace. I was idealistically in love with being alive and didn’t know how to handle responsibilities, yet needed the order of everyday routine to give rhythm to my life. Also, I was always broke but would find wads of cash tips in my pockets I forgot to take out before doing the laundry.
One year on New Year’s Day, we woke in the shop after the party and opened up for the trickle of people who despite all odds were committed to their morning cappuccino. We tried to create an environment for everyone that distracted us from our physical dysphoria.
It was curious who stayed long hours and who became a regular, who would snoop around the shop and who would constantly complain yet return everyday. Sometimes guests wanted ice in their wine or vodka in their gin martini. There was a crazy woman with pumpkin earrings who spent hours in the bathroom. Professors, students, musicians, bums, dads, widows, writers. Everyone wanted to be an exception.