Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Confessions of a Dangerous Barista


When I first started teaching, I continued to work a part-time job.

I had to wake up at 6 a.m. every morning. Saturday was not my day off. I think I woke up even earlier on Saturdays to go into my one-day-a-week part-time job: the coffee shop.

Coffee shops are obviously well-known for waking up so early that they actually wipe the butt crack of dawn, and my Saturday would continue on with a length of toilet paper attached to its shoe the remainder of the day.

Isn't it funny how I mention toilet paper? Coffee is known to stimulate one's need to use the bathroom, and don't tell me you haven't drank a cup of java then scrambled madly to the porcelain throne.

So, yes, I dealt out this beverage like a black market worker, hidden in early morning shadows, pumping insulated paper cups with Colombian, Cozy Café, House, and decaf coffees. I leaned out the drive-through window, I whizzed and swished cold milk with steam and lathered it into giant cups mixed with sugary syrups and fresh, brewed espresso. I threw pulpy, fruit compote into the blender and watched as ice and magic created fabulous smoothies. I could even make tea.

I was a barista.

I was a proud barista of a small coffee shop aptly named Java Jar because large glass containers filled with brown, legal, addictive beans lined the walls. Beans that produce the world’s most sophisticated beverage: coffee.

This small coffee shop had bright orange and red walls with a menu written in chalk and lattes that were named after candy bars. We had many familiar customers, and some days, if we were lucky, a man by the name Mitch came in.

He was once the governor of Indiana. He currently resides as Purdue University's president.

He always ordered a small coffee. It was easy to procure. Then, there were the other customers that wanted coffee. They tried to speak Italian.

“Good morning,” I said. “What can we get you?”

“Could I get a Venti Caramel Latte?”

“And what size would you like, sir?”

“Venti.”

“Yes, I know, but what size?”

“A Venti,” he said, disgruntled.

I’m not sure why. I mean, I just wanted to know what size he wanted.

That's not being rude. That's being a gracious server. Then, I tried to woo him with his milk of choice. I felt like I was reading the daily special at sophisticated restaurant:

“What kind of milk would you like? We have two percent or skim milk, unless you’re in the mood for something exotic, then we can make it with half and half, which is called a breve. Or we could go ahead and steam up some soy milk if you would like. You wouldn’t believe it, but the soy milk is actually very good. I used soy with my toffee steamer once, and it was a very rich drink.”

Without a blink of an eye, the man would always say:

“Two percent is fine.”

I began tamping the espresso into the portafilter and then slid it into the espresso machine. After I pushed a button, a dark brown pee stream drizzled into the tiny glass. While this happened, I placed the steamer stick into my metal pitcher of milk, and hissed the milk until it was hot and foamy.

It’s an incredible noise. I had to shout to my next questions.

“WHAT SIZE WOULD YOU LIKE?”

“WHAT?” he shouted back.

“WHAT SIZE IS YOUR LATTE?”

“I WANTED A VENTI!"

I stop the frothing milk.

“And what size is a Venti?”

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Don’t you serve it?”

“No, that’s Starbucks.”

We came to a mutual agreement that a Venti must be a large because I held up every cup and he eyed each of one them like they were in a police line-up.

He pointed to the largest cup.

“That’s the one.”

“One large latte coming up,” I said, and rolled my eyes as he rolled out of the coffee shop.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Monopoly changes up its pieces


Hasbro, we need to have a talk.

You sit down right here. 

There.

Now look at me. I'll try to keep my Real Housewives attitude down to a minimum, but if I throw a table, you can't say I didn't warn you.

How could you?

Those three just showed up, and you. Didn't. Even. Tell me!

I didn't even know they were invited!

Am I not following the right outlets? Should I blame the Trump circus? I've been so inundated with his "Tweets as news" that I've ignored the news a little bit. Is that how I missed your announcement?

I know it's been awhile since I've played the game, but I didn't even have a say in the matter.

To my consternation, I learned through the mouth of my brother-in-law that Monopoly has gone and changed up their tokens. Apparently, back in January, there was a chance for the human population of the world to vote on 64 different token options.

Sixty. Four. Token. Options.

Now, Hasbro, here's why I'm a little peeved that I was unaware of this: I own nine Monopoly games.

Nine.

Now, that's not as many as some crazy-obsessed collector out there, I'm sure, but owning nine different Monopoly games has to mean something.

Something, right?

I've got an older original version pulled from my grandparent's house after they passed away. I've got my Y2K collector's edition where the money is see-through, the houses are a stackable clear green plastic and the board is a hologram. I've got my goofy Muppet edition. I have a truly vintage edition, from 1961 -- over 50 years old -- that smells like old books. One of my Monopoly games is in a extravagant wood box, with wood houses and hotels, and money-colored money.

I wear my pearls and drink dirty martinis when I play that version.

Apparently my calm obsessiveness wasn't enough to inform me that I had a say in the matter, that I could vote.

It seems the wheelbarrow, thimble and boot have been replaced with a T-Rex, rubber ducky and penguin. Those were the three that won, alongside some of the originals like the top hat and Scottie dog.

I mean, I get why the wheelbarrow lost -- that piece was not aerodynamic. It was difficult to grasp, its sharp edges were loathsome. The thimble has been a disappointment ever since my pinky finger became too large to wear it. The boot? If it weren't the style of boot from 1935 when Monopoly first came out, I'm sure it might've had a chance, but that weird metal lip that stuck out in the back was just as awkward to hold as the wheelbarrow.

The T-Rex token is impressive. It's very "Jurassic Park" or "Jurassic World," depending on which era you're from. The rubber ducky reminds me of Ernie from "Sesame Street" singing "Rubber Ducky, you're the one," so it makes sense why that one made it. The penguin, to me, is a stretch, but I get it. I mean, there were the movies "March of the Penguins" and "Happy Feet."

I'm not sure which ones I would've voted for, but with my 90 followers on Twitter, I'm sure I could've come up with quite the campaign.

I don't need to go out and purchase a new Monopoly game just so I can own the new pieces -- my collectors status has waned in the past few years, especially since no one will play the game with me.

They complain it takes too long.

And then, they go and play Risk.

Monday, March 13, 2017

March started, but coaching did not


This is how the last twelve years of teaching have gone:

We would come back from winter break in January, and I landed on my two feet, slightly refreshed from the slam dunk that is the end of the second quarter. I look at the horizon and know that the third quarter is never going to be easy.

The third quarter is when the yearbook demands the most time. Along with the yearbook, there's also lesson planning, grading, other publications I put together, video announcements once a week, as well as being a part of committees, tech coordinator, and all the things that aren't school related, like family, a house, school.

Then, just as the yearbook got wrapped up, and everything started to slow down, the third quarter ended, and I feel like I could take a breath.

But, nope, the fourth quarter began, and I lost time all over again.

Because track had started.

For the past 12 years, I went from one busy quarter of staying after and working on the yearbook, frazzled and figuring out how I'll get everything done, to the fourth quarter, where I was just as busy. January to May was a nonstop marathon.

Some days you could find me under my desk, hiding from responsibility.

"Too much," I shivered. "I. Just. Can't. Adult. Anymore."

Granted, it was never as busy when my sister-in-law was in softball during high school. I went from school, to practice (or a meet) and then to a softball game. Those were the nights I didn't get home until 9 p.m. a couple of times a week.

This year, the fourth quarter started, and the yearbook was finished, and I had nowhere else to be. For the first time ever, I was able to start my fourth quarter as simply as the first quarter. No yearbook. No track.

No nothing!

The eighth graders were not happy with me this year.

"You're not coaching this year?" they lamented. "Why couldn't you have quit after we left?"

And, what, get the same drama from next year's eighth grade class? And the year after that?
I was slightly surprised that kids were upset that I wasn't coaching anymore. I figured they caught on that coaching wasn't really my thing. I ran drills. I helped keep the chaos down. I perfected my coaching in high jump, where I worked with 10 kids max, but I was never a coach's coach.

You're hurt? Go talk to the trainer. I'm not going to make up something and have you get injured more. You need a special stretch? Go see Coach Kenney, he runs long distance for real. I know nothing about stretching. I'm just here to look pretty.

"My shins are hurting…" a sixth grader would say, coming up to me, limping like they were coming out of battle.

"I don't know what to tell you. I'm not a real coach, I just play one on TV."

"How should I stretch my calves?"

"Find a unicorn, lean up against it, and push."

That's how I saw myself, but maybe it wasn't how the kids saw me.

Or they did, and they were just sad I wasn't going to be there. I may not have been a coach's coach, but I was a total nut.

Maybe they just liked hanging out with me.

I feel like Sally Field.

"You like me! You really, really like me!"

I won't miss the time track took, but I will miss hanging out with the coaches and the students. It was one of the times where I was an adult, making sure things were getting done, but I wasn't in charge. I was an assistant coach. It's not like my classroom where I have to have a plan and be more strict.

I could have fun.

Not that teaching can't be fun, but there was a freedom being an assistant coach -- being one of six other assistant coaches. It's nice not having the answers.

But as the weather begins to warm, I'm going to be perfectly fine with leaving school at a decent time so I can go home, sit on the patio, and just enjoy the evening, even if I need to work on something from school.

Or write.

Let's hope I take advantage of this extra time.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Apothecary's Dilemma

The bell that hung over the door jangled as the woman walked into the store.

"Welcome to the Apothecary's Dilemma," the man behind the counter said. His head was shaved bald and shone with the light that cascaded through the windows of the two-story entrance. He wore a monocle in his left eye as he poured through an enormous tome of old writing. His frenzied right hand scribbled on a yellow legal pad.

The woman had blonde hair, the curls draping over the shoulders of her burgundy leather jacket. She pushed her black Ray Bans up, creating a headband. "Where might I find some of your rare books?" she asked.

He pulled the monocle from his eye and pointed to his right.

Behind her, a wall of windows allowed streams of midday light to gather across the almost black wooded store. The second story was visible from the first floor with only a waist-high railing acting as a wall. She could see through the stairs leading up to the second floor. The bookshelves on the top floor were perfectly inline with the bookshelves on the first floor. Particles of dust danced in the light as she walked past the stairs toward the stacks.

Her fingers graced the leather-bound spines of earthly colors. She skimmed the titles that pointed up and down. The book she sought wasn't quite as old as these. She pulled one of the books out, it looked like the title was in German, and pushed it back. She pulled another out, it wasn't the book she was looking for at all, but she opened the tanned and yellowed pages, listening to the glue in the spine crackle. She held the book up to her nose and inhaled. The biblichor was intoxicating -- vanilla cake and almond icing wrapped in the bark of an ancient tree.

A man she loved long ago introduced her to the aroma of books. Now the smell just brought back the saddest of romances entwined with the best of memories, a bittersweet that consumed her like the first sip of a strong red wine.

She put the book down. This wouldn't do. She would not find the book lined up with these antiquities. This, she already knew. The row of books, here, was the setting of their first kiss. It would be sacrilegious to visit this store and not spend a moment where it all began.

They may not have still been together, but she saw him everyday.

Their son had his eyes.

She approached the monocled man.

"You look good Stewart," she said.

He pulled the lens away from his eye, stuffing it in his front vest pocket, and looked up, then smiled. His lips revealed a line of crooked teeth.

"I didn't realize that it was you," he said, his voice a grumbled coo.

"It's been a very long time," she said.

"What do I owe the pleasure?" Stewart asked.

"You must know," she said.

He frowned at her. His unpleasant teeth disappeared, leading to an even more unpleasant snarl. "I haven't sold that book for a very long time," he said, looking down at his notes. "You know what happens to muses who are seen with that cancerous tome."

"Where's the renegade I once knew?"

"I have moved my interests far away from the dark side of amusing," he said, pointing down at the monolith of a book before them. As he tried to force the giant book shut, she forced her right hand in between the pages, blocking him.

"Stewart, you are one of the filthiest dirty muses I have ever met," she said. She opened the book back up and turned the book toward her so she could read what he was researching.

"A codex?"

"I knew their ideas had come from somewhere," he said. "There are ancient writings that will help prove that the Triple A is truth. Maybe not the complete truth, but there's so much we muses don't know."

She knew he hadn't changed.

"I want one of your copies," she said.

"I told you I don't have any."

"That book was Biblical to you." She reached her inside jacket pocket and pulled out an envelope full of cash from the bank. "I thought you might be difficult to work with, which is why I came prepared."

He looked down at the money envelope. The snarl faded.

"How much?"

"More than enough to hire a cleaning lady," she said. "You've let this place go. Your grandfather must be turning in his grave."

He pulled the envelope toward him, carefully lifted the glued-down lip, and peered inside at the crisp dollar bills. He smiled. His crooked teeth were back.

There was a gleam in his black eyes she had never seen before. Ice shivered through her body and left through her tail bone.

This was a mistake, but it was already too late. He turned around and faced the painting that was behind him. Impressionistic in style, the painting showcased the first school for muses built in Athens, Greece. Although there were eight other schools around the world, this was their Mecca. A muse's holy land. Stewart gently touched the gold frame, rapping it just slightly, and the frame popped out from the wall.

"That secret compartment is ballsy," she said.

Stewart remained silent, slid his left arm behind and pulled out a rectangular package wrapped in brown paper. He handed it over to her.

"Do not open it until you are in the safety of your home," he said.

"Oh, Stewart," she said, "where's your sense of adventure?"

His nostrils flared, and he spun the giant book back around to continue his research.

"I don't want to see you again," he said as she was leaving.

"You won't have to," she said, and as she walked through the door, in the luminescent afternoon sunglow, she reached across the lip of the package and tore through the paper.

She smiled.

She finally had a copy of "The Argument Against Amusing."  






Saturday, March 11, 2017

The guy with a pirate shirt and lace-up boots



Author's Note: Typically my Interesting Characters are a chance for me to write about a random fictional personality, an exercise to stretch my writing muscles. Today, I'm going to introduce you to a character that was a real person. I don't remember his name, but his was one of the hottest messes.

One of my best friends in high school worked at the Wendy's on 96th street. While she worked there, she met a few work friends. 

Some of those work friends were brought into our small group sometimes. The instances those random people showed up was like forcing a piece of the puzzle in the wrong place. It looks like it belongs, but it obviously doesn't. 

And because this person doesn't really fit, now rest of us are all uncomfortable. 

I believe this was a trend with some of my friends from high school. They were particularly fond of people that made you feel uncomfortable, like ill-fitting underwear. I should've had the wherewithal to walk away when said new person was introduced.

But, no. I usually lived through the evening, hating every moment of it. 

I do believe a conversation or two happened when one friend said, "I don't like it when you bring in new people to the group." 

And the other friend said something along the lines of: "Well, maybe our small group is getting boring."

Feelings were hurt, just like any scene from a dramatic high school confrontation. 

Looking back, if these were the confrontations that were happening with friends...then maybe they weren't really the best choice of friends. 

That or hormones. I mean, we were just teenagers. 

I preface the story with all this because there was one distinct time a friend from Wendy's came our way, infiltrating our small group of friends for a brief moment.

Of course I don't remember his name so we will call him Lancelot. Lance for short. Apparently my friend Jessie and her boyfriend had hung out with Lance, and he was so cool. You see, we were 16 or 17, but Lance...he was in his twenties

Jessie, Derek and Lance had hung out one night, and it was insane, because according to Jessie, he gave them these wine cooler things that tasted just like Cherry Coke. 

Jessie was all, "You couldn't even taste the alcohol." 

I feigned interest because, well, what had happened was obviously illegal. 

And then I met Lance, and realized not only was the whole scene illegal, but it was also creepy. Like, smarmy-creepy. The word residue comes to mind. 

Lance had a personality that left a residue. Being near him made my soul soil itself. His existence reminded me of the slimy film similar to what a slug excretes when moving. 

But since Lance was so amazing, according to Jessie, it was decided that we would all hang out one night. 

My friend Beth and I decided that we would drive together, arriving separately from the others, to give us an easy out if need be. We pulled up into the Wendy's parking lot, where we were meeting, and standing out in the parking lot was Lance. 

He had the long hair of dude from a 90's romance book cover. It drifted down over his shoulders in brown waves. Atop his thin frame was the frilliest shirt of ruffly cream, untied at the top, revealing chest hair. He wore skin-tight pants, and finishing his pirate role-playing-game ensemble was his calf-high, suede, lace-up boots. 

"Everyone, this is Lance." 

It sure was!

Jessie showed off her friend, this character from "The Princess Bride," with pride. It was like she had won some kind of contest. That, or it was Take Your Weird Friend Home From Work day. 

It was decided that we would go to Lance's house and hang out.

An uncomfortable situation wrought with more discomfort. 

Lance lived with his dad, who was a hairdresser. As we toured the ranch-style house, we saw that Lance's dad had a salon in the garage. 

I saw it briefly in the dim spasms of cold blue fluorescent lights. The small salon reminded me of some off-kilter version of "Steel Magnolias" where sordid southern drag queens hung out, figuring out life, while getting their wigs pruned with glam. 

It was all very John Waters.

Lance continued to give us the tour. He showed us his room, which was covered in slug slime. I mean posters. I think the bed had an animal print bed spread rustled and bunch up on top of it, and underneath that comforter were dark, silk sheets.

I gagged. 

I wanted out. 

Even at that age, I knew you could never trust a person who slept in silk sheets.  

Then, we made our way to the living room where Lance offered us all libations. Jessie told us to try the Cherry Coke ones because they were so good. To their dismay, Beth and I declined. We had spoken telepathically already, planning our escape. 

Once Jessie had her adult Cherry Coke, she kicked her legs over the arm chair she sat in, like she was obviously so comfortable there, and in the most nonchalant voice asked Lance a question:

"So, have you decided how you're going to kill yourself yet?" 

I heard the screech of a record off in the corner somewhere.

Say what, now?

Beth and I obviously had no clue what Jessie was talking about, so she filled us in. 

"Lance is going to kill himself before he turns 30." 

Lance, then, disclosed that life wasn't worth living after 30. 

Well, obviously, Lance.

You're a man in his twenties contributing to the delinquency of minors all while wearing lace-up boots and a billowy pirate shirt. 

There's no where to go but down from there. 

I looked for the end credits of this B-movie, but it wasn't over. 

We were going to have to walk out on this one.

And we did, never stepping foot in the vicinity of Lance again.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Science, technology, engineering and math will save us


It's been over two years since I've had the rifle through the notes that've been written at the end of the world. Things were looking up, apparently. The Zombie Apocalypse didn't take as many lives as we thought, slowly dying out, but there has, since, been a resurgence of worry.

It seems some believe the end is way more nigh than anticipated. With books like George Orwell's "1984" and Margaret Atwell's "The Handmaid's Tale" hitting best-sellers lists again, it may be time to start taking more notes about what we need to do when the end comes.

So when it does, we'll be ready.

There's been a surge of interest in schools dealing with science, technology, engineering and math. The acronym for all four of these is called STEM. These are the careers that are a driving force right now. It entails a high amount of problem-solving. This is very important at the end of the world because when we stand at the end of the world, what we face is one. Large. Problem.

It's time for creative thinking because existence in a post-technological world is going to be very different than what our Pioneer ancestors dealt with. We'll have had that technology, so going back to what worked back when won't work going forward.

STEM is of ferocious importance, especially for someone like me. My mind is incapable of gadgets, technology, math and science. While engineers are in my family, I was not gifted with that type of thought. While I am a creative thinker, I will need to build up my know-how so I can be of assistance when it comes to building structures that will allow us to survive the harsh new reality that is the end of the world.

As modern sources of power dwindle, we'll need to engineer our way into a new normal. What will be the threats we'll have to protect ourselves from?

Harsh winters? Mutated animals? Harsh people? Mutated neighbors?

In order to live in this new gray wilderness, we'll need to use a combination of old ways, like drilling wells, with a mix of modern thought and conventions. That way of thinking, taught in STEM classes, must remain at the forefront of our new journey at the end of the world.

Analyzing a text won't help feed you when the sun goes down. Writing a paper about our founding fathers may help us understand political thought, but it won't keep us warm at night. Singing will keep our spirits high over the campfire at night, but it won't help keep infection away.

Understanding the science of things, how to engineer and work through processes, while using the math involved, and creating new technologies may give us a fighting chance.

Using five random things, with the help of science, basic technology and engineering, so we can MacGyver our way through a problem -- that is what will save us.

We just ran out of our last match to start a fire? Don't worry -- we can use these five things!

We've run out of proteins. It's time to hunt, let's build a trap that will catch a large buck deer. We'll need to know the speed at which the buck runs, its estimated weight, and apply that to the math it will take to build the trap.

We're how far from the river?

What's the best way to transport water without exhausting ourselves and our animals?

STEM will know, and it will help build and create new energies and alternative sources of power so we can still exist at the end of the world.

Because the world may have ended, but that doesn't mean we have to.