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.”


  1. I’ve done a lot of jobs, and without question *food service* is the most difficult. There are just too many small important things to remember very, very quickly. It’s physically and mentally demanding, and you *have* to keep a lid on your emotions at all times. And the minute you think you’re getting good, going zen and automatic, you start forgetting shit.

    All jobs are real. An excellent wait person plays an infinitely more valuable role in this world than, well, any number of corrupt corporate fucks.

  2. Based on my experience (only a little), the jobs for which you get paid the $6-8/hour are MUCH harder than the “real world” jobs.

  3. Ed,
    i worked in a hotel for 9 months. Anything that shitty has to be real. Otherwise we would have to worry about the person that concocted that terrible a life scenario. Fortunately, the job had an expiration date. For some people, it doesn’t. For some people it’s their whole life, and it doesn’t have an expiration date.


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