Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Bucket of Smooth

I heard it from the bathroom.

J tried to talk above the morning show buzz, but the words rose above him, skirting through the air like fumes from the oven.

"Starbucks is giving away free coffee today through Saturday."

I couldn't make out the details, but I heard the initial announcement loud and clear. My runny nose paused, my headache sighed, my eyes opened the remaining centimeters necessary before I could safely operate a motor vehicle.

"Shhhh!" I told J, popping my head out, straining to see past a half-open door. Clearly not hearing the same words, he kept talking a little; I ignored him. "Starbucks..." I explained in general caveman talk, and then I dropped to the couch and tried to extract details from the pixels, instructions from the words.

Spending $2 on coffee is absurd--but I love Starbucks. I love the thick, dark roll of smoothness. Like gasoline to my brain, I cherish the caffeine like an empty tank cherishes petrolium.

"We have DVR; we can rewind it," he said, laughing a little at my alertness, my intense focus, my commitment to block out every other competing temptation.

I shook my head decidedly, then sent my eyes from the remote in his hand to the TV. He sent us back in time, cuing up the magic words, the precious directions, the details I needed in order to obtain the object of my morning affection.

"I'll go at lunch," I declared. "I'm usually finished with my coffee by then. I've been up late four nights in a row; I'm exhausted. This is perfect timing," I rationalized; then I got up and completed my routine.

When lunchtime arrived, I set out for my Shangrila. A line of cars bent around the parking lot. I patiently awaited my place, and then I pulled into a spot. Prancing across the asphalt, I made sure to thank God for this small, brilliant blessing.

Then, I walked inside.

Two girls stood behind a stand decorated with paper shot glasses and pumping coffee carafes.

"Would you like to participate in the taste test?" they asked, inflecting their voices at all of the wrong syllables.

"Sure," I conceded, still believing my participation would usher in the gold at the end of the rainbow. They poured the new stuff first and handed me a paper cup. I pulled the cup to my lips, but steam tickled my skin and warned me not to proceed.

"It's too hot," I informed them. The woman next to me asked if she could take it to go.

"Of course," they replied, but instead of handing her a cup of blonde coffee like the news suggested might happen, they gave her a small bag of coffee grinds.

Really? We have to brew it ourselves?

Then they turned to me. "Throw it over your tongue to the back of your throat and gulp," they instructed. "This is called slurping, and that's the best way to drink hot coffee. It won't burn your tongue at all."

I couldn't help myself. Most of the thoughts in my brain gripped the "censor" bars in my personal filter, but I simply could not stop the scrunching of my eyes or the tilting of my head or the "yeah, but then I'd burn my throat and I'm pretty sure that would still hurt a lot," that came out of my mouth. I didn't even mention that my taste buds were actually located on my tongue and not along the walls of my esophogus.

"Oh you'll be fine," they said assuredly. "We drink like that all of the time." A few puffs escaped through my nose in place of a full-on laugh.

Then, my mind went crazy.

Thoughts ranged from the news broadcasting a flurry of throat burns resulting from the "blonde" taste tests at Starbucks, to images of the ditzy girls "slurping" coffee at 4 am in the kitchen of their off-campus house. This 4 am coffee episode was of course followed by an emergency room visit, and a subsequent explanation that they "do it all of the time" so they don't understand what went wrong with this instance of throwing scalding fluid to the back of their throat. Then I pitied future, unsuspecting customers--at least the ones who don't think. The people who are perfectly happy listening to the expert advice of their neighborhood Starbucks girl.

Once all of those thoughts took their final curtain call, I tuned back to the display in front of me--the now cooled shot of blonde coffee and the girls waiting to see if I liked it. I took a sip. They handed me a slightly cooler Pike Place and an equally as cool Italian Roast.

"Which do you like better?" they asked, bouncing a little on their toes. The girl to my left pointed to the sheet of stickers resting beside a tray of shot cups and explained that once I told them which coffee I liked best, she would give me a sticker. I like the stickers they give you at the voting booth; walking away from Starbucks with a sticker is just disappointing.

"'I'm mellow' is for the blonde, 'I'm smooth' is for the Pike Place and 'I'm bold' is for the Italian roast," she told me as I read the stickers right along with her. Then, as if I couldn't have guessed, she pointed to her chest and declared that blonde was her favorite.

Truthfully, I found myself on the fence between Pike and Italian, between smooth and bold. Forced to make a clutch decision though, I decided it was less necessary to announce my boldness than it would be to announce my smoothness--that is if the sticker is supposed to serve as some sort of personal trait advertising.

"I'm going to have to go with Pike," I told the girls, and then they handed me my sticker, a packet of blonde grinds and a coupon for $1 off a bag of coffee.

Disappointed, but too embarrassed to leave without buying anything, I walked up to the counter and ordered a tall Pike Place, a tall bucket of smooth. I held the sticker on the tip of one finger, as I fished through my wallet for two $1 bills. As I surrendered the money I didn't plan to spend, I felt my cheeks flush with a rush of annoyance. I gazed down at my sticker, and then I decided that maybe I should've gone with the blonde.

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