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  • I finish my morning chores at the office and start thinking about preparing my second cup of tea for the morning and then remember that, when I made my first cup of tea this morning, I used the last two yellow packets of the artificial sweetener I prefer and I can't drink my tea without two little yellow packets melted in it.

    So, I think about running to the supermarket to buy a box of the little yellow packets and keep them my desk for emergencies such as this one but then I remember that the supermarket makes me do "self-checkout" if I have fewer than five items (or to quote the supermarket, "less than" five items) and I refuse to self-checkout because the supermarket won't give me a discount for performing this chore and I’ve told the supermarket, repeatedly, I would be happy to check myself out if they give me a discount based on the difference between what they pay the checker / bagger and what the store saves when I do all the work myself but they always look at me as if I might work for the post office so I never go there to buy fewer than five items of anything. Including little yellow packets of artificial sweetener.

    I think about swinging by my house as I only live five minutes from the office but I realized I will probably get distracted because Microsoft pushed a Vista patch to my main production computer and the patch wrecked the driver for the nVidia 10/100 Ethernet card in the computer and I would spend hours trying to figure out how to get the repaired driver off the internet when I don’t have an internet connection and then I’ll work myself into a foul mood because I'm not sure I even want an nVidia 10/100 card in the first place and am tempted to slam in a 3Com 3C905b 10/100 card that Always Work All The Time and go with that. –Sometimes I don’t like computers and that I have to know so much about them to keep them working.

    So, I decide to go to Peet's and score a dozen little yellow packets because, after all, if you buy even one coffee at Peet's I think this gives you the privilege of extra yellow packets between right now and perhaps the end of my life. I mean, afterall, those prices! For coffee and milk?!? Yes. I’ve paid for several pockets full of little yellow packets so I go to Peet's and the morning rush is over and all of a sudden I realize that, without a throng around the cashier and the barista station, I will be strolling into the store under the attentive eyes of probably three baristas, walk up to the condiment station and then embarrass myself when the baristas see me pocketing a dozen little yellow packets and leaving and I’m soooooo Middle Class I won’t be able to stand the shame even though I’d be In The Right and have Principle on My Side. –G-d, I hate being sooooo Middle Class but that’s what I’m stuck with.

    Okay, I’ll buy a cup of coffee.

    I queue up in the abbreviated line to place my order and take my place behind a lady waiting for the lady in front who’s wearing yoga gear and has a shine of sweat on her, she’s paying for five complicated custom coffees with pocket change, mostly nickels and pennies. Then the yoga lady finds three wheat pennies in the pile of change she’s spilled onto the counter and wants to keep her wheat pennies because her father collects them. I can understand that because my dad collected wheat pennies too.

    Eventually, her transaction is completed and the nineteen-year-old, hotsy-totsy cashier wearing lots of ink and metal and those things in her earlobes that remind me of pictures I've seen in the annual African Tribe issue of National Geographic looks at the lady in front of me, an elderly yet vigorous lady, and then hotsy-totsy looks at me and says, "Sorry for the wait, who's next?" and the hotsy-totsy cashier maintains eye contact with me and two things come to my mind: First Ms. hotsy-totsy shouldn't apologize for the wait because sometimes I pay with change too, and Second: "Why is hotsy-totsy staring at me?"

    The elderly, vigorous lady in front of me steps forward and the cashier throws down a challenge to her: "Are you sure you're next?" The lady turns around and makes eye contact with me with an incredulous expression probably rising from an interior monologue something like this: "I have practiced waiting in lines longer than hotsy-totsy has been alive and I'm damn certain I'm next and, you, Mr. Guy behind me, whose side are you going to take? You need to choose sides right now."

    I shift my eye contact from the incredulous lady to the hotsy-totsy cashier and say in a firm, even voice, "The lady's next."

    The cashier asks, "Are you sure?" and I replied, "I'm quite certain." And I catch the eye of the lady in front of me and she's relieved that the fabric of civilization hasn’t become too frayed … yet even though the hotsy-totsy cashier has ear lobes the size of salad plates … with holes in the middle.

    And I’m relieved that the lady orders one small, simple coffee, pays for it, receives it and takes a seat outside to be with her terrier leashed to the table.

    My turn.

    Strategy: Buy a small coffee (not tea) to purchase permission to load my trouser pockets with little yellow packets because I don't like to order tea at Peet's even though Peet's has better tea than Starbucks. See, Peet’s thinks there’s such a thing as Lavender-flavored Earl Grey tea and that’s just wrong, wrong, wrong because Earl Grey tea is Black Tea flavored with oil of Bergamot, a type of citrus commonly found in Spain. (In my mind, the Bergamot is the Spanish equivalent of an Etrog.) Peet’s is Simply Wrong, Wrong, Wrong about this and can’t be trusted. Furthermore, ordering tea at Peet’s makes me feel as if I’ve stepped into a Bar-B-Que joint in my home town, Fort Smith, Arkansas, and ordered a vegetable platter (which the Bar-B-Que joint probably doesn’t offer but I’m trying to make a point). So, I order a simple, black coffee, small, which I don't really want but I'll enjoy the caffeine buzz anyway and I’ll pocket two dozen little yellow packets on the way out.

    "Room for milk?" the cashier asks. "No thanks," I reply.

    "Here you go. That'll be $2.95. (Hoooo!) And here’s a coupon for a free cup of Peet’s because you let that lady cut in front of you," hotsy-totsy cashier says. Thankfully, the lady in question was outside fondling her terrier.

    "That lady didn't cut in front of me," I said. “Please keep the coupon.”

    "I saw her cut in front of you and you were too nice to say anything about it," hotsy-totsy says a big smile on her face and every time she manages to pronounce something with that nail in her tongue, her earlobes waggling back and forth as if she's Dumbo’s mother.

    I become agitated. "No, I'm not too nice not to have not said anything about it," and I freeze when I hear myself pronounces such a horribly awkward sentence and begin to feel ashamed, embarrassed and addlepated. I continue, "I'm from Brooklyn and if she had cut in front of me, I would have let her -- and everyone else here -- know about it."

    "Of course you would," hotsy-totsy says as she slides the coupon towards me and I notice she has words tattooed on the fingers of her right hand that make a sentence. “Choose” is on her index finger, “Death” is on her middle finger, “Before” is on her ring finger and “Dishonor” is on her pinky. I’m rather impressed that the longest word is on her smallest finger and I try to divine how a nineteen-year-old might define "Dishonor." Her patronizing tone feels like honey filling up my sinuses and suffocating me.

    So, I'm flailing about in complex emotional currents. First, my manhood is being assailed. Hotsy-totsy cashier, with a picture of the Transamerica building on her right forearm and Coit Tower on the left, thinks I’m a Wimp and can’t defend myself against old, impolite women but the truth is precisely the opposite. I can defend myself rather well, thank you very much, and have proved this point of character by defending myself in some very complex, over-heated lines such as one at the Fort Lauderdale Airport where I finally, inch-by-inch, hour-by-hour arrive at the security check point with $5 half-pint bottle of water in my bag and was told that the water isn't allowed through and I say, “OK” and I walk over to the trash can, deposit my $5 bottle of water therein and return to the head of the line. The TSA StormTrooper tells me I must queue up at the end of the Epic Line populated by overtired, sunstroked families in Act Five of their Trip To Disney World. So, I got all Brooklyn on the TSA StormTrooper and made a vehement case that he will let me back in at the head of the line or I will be delighted to escalate our dialog into a “F**king Attica-scale Riot Moment” if he doesn't treat me as a human being instead of a cow in a feedlot. I tell TSAStomTrooper his professional demeanor is going to change right now and I return to the head of the line. –Yeah, I was over-caffeinated that morning and somewhat unhinged by spending a week at a Very Boring Conference in the Very Humid and Completely Surrealistic Environs of The Happiest Place on Earth.

    But, back at Peets…

    Making matters worse is the smell of the cashier's tone, a smell telling me I’m being patronized which is a familiar smell to me because I patronize people all the time except I’m so good at it most people don’t even know I’m being patronizing and I can scale it up to condescending at will. That's how good I am. And hotsy-totsy cashier is annoying the bejeesus out of me because she isn’t good at being patronizing. Adrenaline flows through my lymph nodes (arteries??) and I’m ready to prove my point to hotsy-totsy cashier who has a tattoo of two lengths of barb wire circling her neck which I notice is very short and it makes her look as if her head is sitting right on top of her shoulders on a swivel. I think it must have been very difficult to get that tattoo and whether or not she has any problems with fungus growing in the folds of her skin during the summer time when she sweats.

    Then, the miracle…

    An Angel intervened. For those who know me, you know I believe The Girl from Brooklyn is the best person I’ve ever met … so far … and her spirit poses a question to me in her Betty Boop voice: “What’s the right thing to do? What’s the mitzvah?” Were The Girl from Brooklyn standing beside me, she would change this game to her advantage and take home ten more coupons, learn the name of the cashier’s mother, the elementary school hotsy-totsy attended, and know the cashier’s little brother, and then stroll out of Peets with one of those cardboard boxes filled with a gallon-and-a-half of hot coffee, a sleeve of hot cups, stack of java jackets and a sponsorship for the Annual Art Auction she manages. Rapture would descend on the teacher's lounge when they smell that coffee Abby brings in.

    All this flashes through my mind, accelerated by the adrenaline pumping through my lymph nodes (??). I take my eyes off the tiny upside-down five-pointed star tattooed between hotsy-totsy’s eyebrows. I know I can't be as good as The Girl from Brooklyn but I realize I don’t have to be as bad as I usually am.

    I say, “Thank you,” collect my change, pocket the coupon, carefully grasp my small coffee, briskly walk out of the store, carefully get into my car without spilling the coffee, turn on Michael Krasney's show on KQED-FM to distract myself, drive back to work, card in, sit down at my desk with that cup of coffee that’s still too hot to drink and remember I forgot those little yellow packets and hate myself until 2.30p. So, I might be the better person but I don't have my little yellow packets and I hate that. A lot.
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