victoria: 0, espresso machine: 1.
My snapshots of koffee? are fond and specific: Jon playing with Awry on the tiny "stage" for a dozen people, the first time I heard Anne Heaton, the windowsills, the painted brick, the song about the crackpipe that one of my friends made up, the muffin crumbs on the floor... the payphone, the leather couches, the empty hollow sound the stairs made when I went down them. The coffee wasn't good, but the coffeeshop was. Peanut butter bliss bars and Christmas lights in the windows. It's where I found the flyer for the first Open Studios I entered. The steps on the back and the alley on the side housed many pacing conversations and phone calls. Scarlet tea. Saturday mornings last winter. Attempts at morning pages, red formica topped tables, coveted window seats, hiding in the corner behind a book while the coffee went cold and the world melted away.
Today it was so strange, so foreign, to see that little world I'd created in my mind from the other side of the counter. The blissful beverages for all those pent up writers and students and artists and old guys wandering around quoting things no longer steamed hopefully on the table in front of me - they ruled three hours of my life. Espresso shots pulling too long or too short. Learning how hard it is to get enough foam for a cappucinno. Where did coffee come from? Do you have t-shirts? How come I can't connect to the wireless internet? Do you have a pen? Who did the paintings on the walls? What the fuck is a mokafrappe cooler, and why are these fucking espresso shots so inconsistent? Have I made a mistake, is this inconcsistency really about my insides, I can't do this, I'm going to cry, I'm never going to learn, I'm never going to know...
Sandra quickly stepped in to save my life. She's a musician. She's got great tattoos. Today she was working in a bikini top and camoflage shorts that were shredded to bits. She didn't wear makeup and was wise about everything. The men ogled her. She comforted me. She's the one that asked me why the hell I wanted to work in a coffee shop the day I met Troy to do my paperwork, and she saw me starting to disintegrate there about an hour and a half into training. I wasn't good at it. It was my first day. It was hot and I was getting overwhelmed. They just kept like, doing stuff, and not saying what they were doing. I was like, am I supposed to do this? What about this? What do I do about this? Who does this? How do I make that? What does that mean? What? I don't understand. And as I got more frustrated, she got very... maternal. Soft. She started saying everything she was doing as she did it. I'm going to the bagels, see, no seeds, I'm getting a wax paper, it's to go, I'm getting a bag, I'm toasting... I'm steaming chai... this is how you make foam... here, I'll make the grind a little finer for you... the cups are right there...
It's just that barista-ing, or, the art of being a barista, is something that's very feel-based. It's not a list, well, there are lists of tasks you have to do throughout the shift, but it's like, everyone says the same thing: you'll know. You have to get a feel for it. And you don't have that on the first day. And as tears welled up in the corners of my eyes, Sandra started to talk to me - reassure me - kind of holding my world together in that moment. She reminded me that I was in the middle of changing everything. And about how she has a college degree and works there most of the time and how frustrating it is to fill the shoes of a musician. And how her sister doesn't understand and how her parents don't understand and how everyone thinks it's going to be this big relief to just "be yourself", but it's actually the hardest thing that we can set out to do. And it all shifted, and I'm like, right, it's easier to put on a suit and pretend to be someone else, and she's like, exactly. And you don't want to do that anymore, do you? That's what this job is going to demand that you do, that you work hard and that you be yourself.
I've never been simultaneously more relieved and more totally in uncharted territory all at once in my entire life. She went on to say that people thought we're all hippie feelgood coffee shop heads, but that people wind up there for much different of a reason than that. And then her and Joe started to talk about how there was something nuts like 650 applications between in-person and internet. That floored me, for the second time in about ten minutes. They kept reassuring me, they told me that Troy wouldn't have hired me if he didn't think I was going to cut it. It was just so caring and encouraging and so not about sales stats and bigger better faster more, and I put more quarters in the meter and stayed an hour past my training time to make shots. Over and over and over. That one was perfect. That one wasn't packed enough. That one was tight, but there wasn't enough for three shots. By the time five o'clock came, it was so much more manageable. And they were like, don't worry, you'll have a list. You'll come in and it will say, over the course of your day, do this, this, this and that, and don't leave until you did this, this, and that. So you'll be fine. But I'm already projecting into three weeks from now when I'm the only barista on and I want to blow my head off because I can't remember how to make a viennesse or however you spell it - I think, and I may be wrong, that a breve is... fuck... I can't remember. But a viennesse has whipped cream, kind of like a cappucinno, and I don't remember what else.
It's my first fucking day. I shouldn't know that yet. But they gave me a big coffee-stained photocopied book to absorb in the meantime.