The barista sneered at Allen for saying Large instead of the copy written “El Grande Macho” size. Allen smiled back. He just didn’t want to say El Grande Macho. It bothered him to no end to have to refer to a cup of coffee as “the big man”. It was just another one of those things chain stores did to try and make themselves stand out from the crowd of other coffee chains. Allen remembered when he was young, in high school, he and his friends used to go to a regular old coffee place after school. They would all sit at the diner counter and just get regular mugs of coffee. There wasn’t a size to request. You just had to flip the mug over and the server poured coffee into it. It wasn’t even fresh coffee most of the time. It was blackened and burned from sitting on the hot plate for hours and hours. It was how Allen had gotten into the habit of ordering double cream and double sugars in his coffee. It was the only way to make that swill drinkable.
“Alain,” called the barista.“Allen”, corrected Allen.
“Who the hell pronounces Allen like Alain,” wondered Allen. He shook his head and took his coffee from the side countertop. He took the lid off and gave the coffee a good hearty stir. Allen looked up at the other early morning coffee customers in the commercialized French café. It wasn’t really a French café by any extent but it really tried to be. It was part of the chain coffee shop’s image of class or elegance or European civility or something like that.
In line at the counter was a mix of the neighborhood. There was a young woman, late 20’s or early 30’s at the counter. She kept looking out over her shoulder to the sidewalk where she had leashed her little dog to a parking meter. Allen wondered why so many young women had dogs these days. It was some sort of cultural phenomenon. She was wearing workout pants under a heavy winter coat. She didn’t have a hat or a scarf or even gloves yet it was a very chilly winter’s day. Allen mused that cute girls never seem cold and maybe then never did. Perhaps it was all the special growth hormones they all ate in their processed foods.
Behind the cute dog girl was a young black man in heavy outdoors clothes. He had his earphones in and Allen could slightly hear the music he was listening too. Allen could hear a deep bass emanating from the guy’s earphones but he couldn’t make out the tune. He ordered a coffee the same way Allen had, by avoiding the phrase “El Grande Macho”. Allen smiled and tossed his stirrer into the trash.
The line ended with a very heavyset woman, heavily bundled up against the cold. She had on a red wool cap, a blue scarf over a purple and white puffy coat. She reminded Allen of an ice cream sundae. Right up to the cherry on the top. Her cheeks were wind burned red and she was quite out of breath. She was clearly out of patience with having to wait in line and seemed very agitated. She shuffled on her feet and was clearly exasperated when the cute girl asked the barista to re-toast her bagel because the first one was too burned and she didn’t want a burned bagel.
The cute girl’s voice was a mix of politeness and snark. It had a very odd tone to it that Allen had a hard time getting. It was mean, yet, direct, yet high pitched and condescending, without sounding elitist. Allen wondered where this girl had learned to speak this way.
Allen moved from the counter and put on his own gloves. He took a sip from his coffee. It was just right. He stepped outside. The dog tied to the parking meter growled and barked at him as he walked by. Allen ignored it and started the cold walk toward the funeral home. He wondered which of those people in line would visit him first. Which one of them would wind up on his mortuary table before the others? He wondered about the fickleness and randomness of life, of luck.
He took another sip of his coffee and pulled his collar up against the chill.