in Green Aprons
Faces cannot lie. Mouth corners, eyebrows, noses, and jaws can only speak the truth. We tell ourselves that we can say anything, that we can do anything. We tell ourselves lies with the hope that those lies somehow become truths. Any interaction at any time of day is prone to be a lie. We listen to misgivings, observations, hopes, dreams, achievements. Some of them are true, some of them less so, some of them hold no truth whatsoever. Does it matter? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless of the factuality of a statement, the honesty behind an interaction, at the root of it is a desire for what is said to be true, to become fact. We tell ourselves lies because we hope that they will, one day, become truths. Until that time, we wait for the time to pass and fill it with stories. We know the people around us are in the same state. Waiting amidst an ambition guised by falsehoods: order and patience and happiness.
Enter a room filled with people and you’ll come to understand these things. Those people in that room may or may not look up to regard you—to acknowledge your presence. But your presence is known nonetheless. The atmosphere has shifted as a result of your taking up space that was previously left unoccupied. It is unavoidable—the mounting claustrophobia, the hindrance it poses. You serve as an agent of change in a place where everyone’s waiting.
I work in a place of waiting. I work where a wall of windows faces an interminable intersection. That wall of windows reflects the sun’s light while keeping us caged. I often times stare out in wonder. It’s a vision to behold—the sun refracted off the windows—the glare it casts sears my eyes. A glare not altogether different from the glares that sometimes make their way onto customers’ faces. Customers who’ve come to a place of waiting, to wait; though I suppose they may not [always] realize it.
When someone enters the shop the atmosphere shifts. It must—as customers are no different from you or me—they take up space, they hinder an occupied space. Though in the context of the store, a place of waiting, the atmosphere evolves to one of expectation. They enter with the assumption that they will exit with their craving satisfied. Presumably in a matter of minutes or even seconds if they ordered in advance. For those who’ve already entered, who are already waiting, there is little change as to their demeanor, but in the instances where multiple individuals are entering at once, I like to imagine them racing from their car in a hurry to make it to the counter first.
When someone enters the shop, I am also faced with an expectant shift in atmosphere. I expect deliberation as they peruse the menu. I expect a response when I say hello and ask what I can get for them. Sometimes, if they do not say these things, there is a silence. A silence in which I feel a tug of power over that person. I feel that I have a sacred knowledge foreign to them. A knowledge which they wish for me to share with them. Sometimes, I let that pause stretch on for a while–perhaps it’s ego, sometimes it’s oversight. Other times I can sense a vulnerability behind their eyes—an uneasiness. Sometimes, only once I’ve sensed that shift will I greet them. “Hello”
Ordering is a process and as a process it is an exercise in patience. I must be patient enough to listen to an entire order, the customer must be patient as I enter the order into the computer, they must also be patient as I interrogate the intricacies of their drink. I must be patient as they retrieve a form of payment, and again, they must be patient as I gather change from the register. Sometimes, we wait together, face-to-face, avoiding each other’s gaze, as the computer processes a credit card—the new chips take a while longer than before. Ordering is a process that takes patience—it’s all waiting.
When the customers move aside, they enter an anticipated period of waiting. So too, must I. I must wait for the sticker to print, wait for the machine to grind the beans and extrude the espresso. I must wait as the milk steams. All this waiting while the him or her who ordered whichever drink waits. Sometimes, we wait together.
When it’s slow, my co-workers and me wait for the time to pass. We wait for people to come; sometime, we wish for them to do so, so that the time spent waiting for the day’s end seems just that much shorter. Of course, we have things to do. We could clean the restrooms or sweep the lobby, brew a fresh batch of coffee or make whipped cream, but then the next person to walk in the room where windows let in the sun’s glare would be forced to wait a bit longer.
When it’s busy, my co-workers and me wait for the time to pass. We wait for people to stop; we wish that they would so that we’d have time to do the things that need to be done. There may be bathrooms to clean, coffee to brew.
Most of the time, we’re waiting. It is neither good nor bad, it is just the way things are.
There are people of all sorts who come to wait. Their experiences may be some other variation on the madness that is waiting. Regardless of the form that madness may take, there is a method to it. A coffee shop is, after all, a place of coming together. It can be a hub for the community. It can be a meeting place, a hangout, it is serendipitous. In any context, for any person, waiting, listening, comprehending, asking, telling, doing, these are the characteristics fundamental to time spent at a coffee shop. Sometimes the things said may be falsehoods, the uniform I wear may be a mis-representation, the spread-legged logo may be misogynist, the atmosphere a construct; but does it matter if everything’s fabricated? We’re all here waiting for everything to become true, to caffeinate, to go on and wait at the next place and the next place and the next place. Perhaps some faces do lie. . . I’d like to ask the siren what its eyes see.