The Latte of the Real

“Are you still stressed out?” I asked.

I was worried. I liked her. We’d had many amicable conversations in the mornings. But today, there was the telltale flush of frustration on her face. I had ensured her days ago, as she was studying for a test, that beating stress was a matter of staying as calm and focused as possible and getting to the other side. That she could survive this if she didn’t let anything get in her way and she gave it her best shot and stuck at it. But I was worried.

“Someone didn’t close very well last night,” whispered her co-worker. This was the hushed susurration of a man who knew how to play office politics. The morning manager, after all, was twenty feet away.

When the manager had disappeared into the back, she listed the offenses. The coffee maker hadn’t been cleaned. Milk hadn’t been put away, causing the morning shift to scramble for Friday morning’s latte demands. The customers, of course, hadn’t noticed any of this. Many of them, as shamefully reliant upon the coffee as I was, stared into space. Perhaps they did not want to see because they were going on to thankless jobs and they’d experience their own versions of this vocational hell upon settling into their cubicles. A little girl waiting for a sesame bagel kept shouting, “Ba-gwal! Ba-gwal!”

“I mean, if she can’t do the basics for this job, imagine if she had a job in the real world.”

I was stunned by this. Was this job so thankless that it was somehow categorized you beneath the real world? Did working in a cafe, remaining largely invisible to the many people who enjoyed these services (and who often did not even bother to tip), somehow prohibit you from having a life? From being real? Yes, I know that New York is a more class-conscious city than San Francisco, but this seemed a tremendous statement to make.

“You know,” I said, “before William Faulkner was a writer, he was one of the world’s worst postal workers. He misdelivered mail. He couldn’t do his job. Maybe some people are only meant for certain jobs.”

“But she worked as a waitress before this! She should have known how to close properly.”

That may be the case. But maybe these indiscretions had been committed by this woman because all of us, in our own conscious and subconscious ways, can’t seem to view the tasks others perform or the people who work for us as “real.”