The Barista's Mistake by paul roemer


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SUMMARY: You never know when it will pay to be polite.

The nurse left work at five A.M. A twelve-hour shift—only lost one, better than some nights, worse than others.

Two hours before sunup, icy winds gnawing at her ankles. Her caffeine gauge on empty she ducked into Starbucks, and glanced waywardly at the long list of coffee drinks posted on the menu board.

"Do you guys pay someone to think up all this stuff?" She asked rhetorically. The still groggy, twenty-something guy behind the counter ignored her, not a bright move on his part, but then, he had no way of knowing. His unkempt hair looked like it could have been cut with a dull ax; an errant flap of it skittered over his right eye with each movement of his head. His right ear lobe was pierced in three places, although he only wore one earring. The nurse noticed a barbed-wire tattoo around his left bicep.

Intent on continuing the conversation, even if it was to remain one-sided, the nurse inquired, "I suppose Starbucks hired a marketing think-tank to invent the names of the drinks. That word "Grande," that's Italian, right?"

Twenty-Something occupied himself by steaming a pot of skim milk.

"So, help me think this through," she implored. "Since Grande is the one in the middle, it must be Italian for medium. And, ‘Venti,' that must mean large. Right? So, here's where I'm confused. The one labeled, ‘Tall.' Something tells me that doesn't translate to small in any language. If you take a small cup of coffee and make people order it as a tall cup of coffee, maybe they will actually think it's larger than it really is. QED. Quod erat demonstrandum. That's Latin for cut the crap."

The nurse knew she was jousting in soliloquies with an idiot. Nonplussed, Twenty-Something merely rolled his eyes and asked her what she wanted.

The nurse was not a half-caf, double mocha, skimmed latte kind of person. In fact, it troubled her that some people were—troubled her a lot. The young woman hogtied and gagged in the trunk of her car was one of them; the woman hadn't known when to shut up, so she had done it for her. By the time she had checked on her during her break, the woman had frozen solid.

"Any ideas?" Twenty-Something pressed foolishly the nurse.

"What do you recommend for somebody who just wants a cup of coffee?"

"Do you want regular or decaf?"

"What's the strongest you have?"

"Ethiopian."

"Give me your largest."

"Shall I leave room for cream?" asked Twenty-Something.

She looked at the prices. Two dollars for a cup of coffee. Why would anyone pay that much and then bland the taste of the coffee with cream, she wondered? "No cream. Instead, give me a latte grande with skim milk."

"One grande latte," Twenty-Something replied, correcting her syntax. "Is that all?"

"Better give me a large orange juice. That's what's it's called, isn't it, or is that also a grande?" Her wit was lost on Twenty-Something. "Large," she murmured through her teeth. "And a bagel, plain."

"Toasted? Cream cheese?" She knew he was toying with her. The nurse grabbed the coffee, and headed for the door.

He hollered for her to pay, but the look she gave him told him to let it go.

Too bad her trunk couldn't hold two. She'd come back tomorrow to visit the boy.