By Matt Gordon
I went to Starbucks the other day. So did everyone else. The earth’s population is 7.75 billion people. I know because I counted them all at this Starbucks. They were ahead of me in line, and, for some reason, refusing to inch forward when a car exited said line. It was as if they were awaiting a voice from above granting them permission to behave up to the normative line protocols that have been in place since ancient times. Fossil clusters from the Mesopotamian Civilization are absolutely bumper-to-bumper. Since the voice from above was out to coffee, the one from behind had to do, as I gently chided my fellow human, “Pull forward, you bum! My wife just had a baby!”
Oh yes, I should say that was the occasion that led me to Starbucks—my wife had just had a baby. Under normal conditions, it would take us a few days to liquidate our retirement accounts to afford such a trip. But knowing this day was coming in advance, we sold some organs in order to scrounge up enough dough to stomach the cost of whatever it is my wife wanted from Starbucks.
And for that last part, I am thankful for the line. It allows me a few hours to practice reading the text order she sent me because at Starbucks they can’t just use English words we know. Nope, some goofball went to Italy once and decided to church—or, in this case, “cathedral”—up his menu. Grande or Venti or Trenta, it makes no difference—it is all stupida. And that is just the beginning of the ordering fun. “I need a venti, half-whole milk, quarter 1% milk, and a quarter goat’s nectar, non-fat, skinny, extra hot, with one-and-one-half shot of regular, no foam latte, with extra whip, three sprinkles of cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. Please put that in a polyethylene-lined cup made primarily of softwood conifer trees sourced in a little-known province of Saskatchewan. And please hold the sugar. Also hold the cup. Preferably in your hand, until you place it in my hand. Do so at a rate of speed that would convert to around 1.15 nautical miles per hour.”
“Okie dokey. Does that complete your order?”
“I also need some hashbrowns.”
No, I guarantee you ordering something like hashbrowns would appall the sensibilities of a Starbucks barista. You could cause a barista riot with an order like that. And a barista riot is a sight to behold, usually better seen through cat-eye lenses. Mostly it is just gentle jazz music and the broody reading of a Dave Eggers’s book, but still, with this horde of humanity leaning out of their cars and yelling at you to pull forward already, there is no need to stall proceedings. Order something with plentiful gouda and keep the line moving.
After ordering, I listened to “Cats in the Cradle” on repeat wondering if my daughter, born hours before I set off on this voyage, had selected a college yet. Eventually, I arrived at Ithaca, and Penelope had an apron and nose ring. She took my credit card and asked, “Would you rather play board games or video games?”
“Well, that depends,” I mused.
I began to recount the time I had to play “Settlers of Catan” with a group of avid gameplayers. These people were no longer “settlers.” They had taken up residence in Catan in long forgotten ages; they were every bit residents of Catan. It was my first time playing. I had used all the major excuses to evade the previous invites. But after diarrhea and fever, it is a lot harder to come by a malady with less permanence or expectation. I once got out of doing karaoke at a work event by invoking GERD. I didn’t know what GERD was, but was forced to learn about it and subsequently feign a burning chest pain every time I went to work for four years. It was a life-changing affliction.
With these Catanans (or is it Catanites?) I was in lands altogether uncharted. They chortled with glee about this move or that play, even having nicknames for certain game strategies and one another. None of them seemed too keen on the little brick cards, so I just started gathering as many as I could and referring to myself as “Brickslayer.” At first they thought I was an idiot savant. By the end of the first hour—which felt like years—they had omitted the savant part.
I tried to explain all this to the Starbucks lady. How sometimes it matters a whole lot what game you are playing and with whom you are playing the game, but she cut me off, “It is just for a poll.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I’ll just put you down for video games,” she said with an eye-roll and then made a little tally on the glass between us.
I drove off with a trenta sense that the world had moved on from me. It had settled Catan while I was off chasing bricks.
Everyone else stayed at Starbucks that day. But I drove back to my home, to my family. My children are young, and don’t know me well enough to know any better. I gave the coffee to my wife, held my new daughter, as my sons grabbed my legs and requested I play chase. My wife asked if I wanted something for breakfast. “Hashbrowns,” I said, without thinking.
I may no longer be made for the world, yet here before me was an altogether new world to settle. And for the briefest moment, all was right with it.
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