They’re always bitching at me not to leave my till. Todd, Margaret, all of them. Always bitching. Though, they never explain just how it is that I’m supposed to know what the lady standing in front of me means when she says,
“A grande-caramel-latte, and one of those on the end”
and starts pointing her accusing finger toward the end of the pastry case.
I mean, that latte bit I‘ve got down. I could take that order in my sleep. Hell, I could take that order and ask if you’d “like to try it with our new coconut milk” without turning my head to the cool side of the pillow.
But I have no idea what she is pointing at. Not a clue, this being the second day of October and a whole new rotation of specials we’ve got on offer. It’s probably a pumpkin-something, a cinnamon-whatever, some damn spiced crumble etc. The lady, she is wedged into place by the crowd behind her that is raging for a cinnamon fix. I am standing, chained behind my register like a good boy, just like I promised last night, when they made me sign that employee responsibility paper. I was all, “It won’t happen again, sir” and so on.
So I stall, and ask the lady for a name to scrawl on the grande-caramel-latte. She says,
“Huh? My name? It’s A—–.“
Well, actually, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s Al-uh-suhn.”
But if we’re going to get all technical, which people like to do with their names, what she says is,
“Huh? My name? It’s [ˈæləsən].”
I mean, give me a break. Do you know how many damn ways there are to spell [ˈæləsən]? There are at least 7 if you only count the common versions. You’ve got the old stand-by, Allison but heaven forbid you use it if she spells it Alyson, or Alison, or god knows what else. I knew a girl in 4th grade who spelled it Alysen, like her parents had something to prove. So [ˈæləsən] is standing there, pointing and pointing, while I consider writing “Ellison” on her cup just to mess with her. Or, really, just to make use of my degree for the first time since I graduated. But I doubt Todd, who is working the espresso machine, would even get the joke. He doesn’t seem to have read much of anything outside of the employee handbook.
So, I hedge my bets and write out “Allison” but I kind of squish the two L’s together, like, maybe there is only one. I squiggle the “o” indecisively. Like, maybe it’s an “e” or maybe my pen is running out of ink. Like, maybe I’ve been using it to write the next great American novel on recycled napkins. Like, maybe I am the guy who gets her, who knows exactly who she is. Like, maybe I could tell she had a relatively normal upbringing but that her parents just wanted her to be a little bit unique. Like, maybe she knows that I am clearly overqualified for this position. Like, maybe she could tell I’ve got a master’s degree and a lifetime-membership card to the ivory tower. Like, maybe we should get coffee sometime, somewhere else. Like, maybe she will love all my jokes about Derrida. Like, maybe she’ll forgive me for messing up the rest of her order and I won’t get written up for it. Like, maybe this [ˈæləsən] is the Allison or the Alison that changes everything.
All the while, [ˈæləsən] is holding up her resilient elbow, pointing toward whatever it is that I am about to get wrong. The moment is more or less a metaphor for my entire romantic history.
And of course, where is Margaret now? Margaret, our fearless shift supervisor, who is supposed to be working the pastry case. Margaret who wore out her lungs from bitching at me about leaving my till. Margaret who is evidently taking a ten minute break, now of all times. While [ˈæləsən] is waving her finger toward some mystery cake. [ˈæləsən], who left her glasses at home and can’t read the damn sign. [ˈæləsən] who looks like every other damn [ˈæləsən] I’ve ever come across, like she doesn’t have the time to look at me.
The line of customers is stretching out past the door, all of them frowning, all of them decaffeinated-cranky. Here I am, alone, strapped to the register. To my left, Todd has barricaded himself behind a wall of paper cups and syrups. I can hear the espresso machine hissing and spitting, then suddenly it stops. Todd has run out of steam, I‘ve thrown a wrench into the machine. Ominous, that silence.
So I look up at [ˈæləsən], who is dangling my future off her left index finger, and ask,
“I’m sorry, could you at least describe it for me?”