Coffee shop Chronicles: An awkward coffee conversation

January 2017


Livonia, MI

My fingertips touch the grande cup of coffee when I think to ask, “This isn’t yours, is it?”

“Oh no,” the guy next to me says. “I watched her make mine because I got hazelnut in it. I’m trying something new.”

I didn’t really think it was mine; I was being polite. I always order a tall coffee in a grande cup so I have room to add milk. The barista set my side of steamed 2% milk on the counter at the same time she put his tall coffee down. That’s why I asked. Just in case.

It’s an embarrassing thing to touch someone else’s coffee cup. What’s the etiquette? I’ve seen people ask for a new cup of coffee, perhaps thinking of all the germy diseases that transferred from that two-second touch. I’ve seen people walk away without a second thought. Do you, the toucher, ask the touched if they want you to buy them a new cup of coffee? Touching a for-here mug, however, is that whole salad bar sneeze guard thing, except that there’s no sneeze guard at a coffee shop. Fortunately, I don’t need to worry about etiquette. Not today.

“I’m not a hazelnut person,” I say, stirring a Splenda packet in my mug. “What kind of coffee did you get?”

“Just the regular, the Pike,” he says. “I’m just a coffee guy. What about you?”

“I got a Veranda.”  He stares at me. This conversation has just turned awkward.

“It’s the blonde roast,” I explain. That’s how the Starbucks baristas refer to it. There’s dark, medium and light roast. Blonde is the lightest; Pike Place is the standard medium roast; and there’s a rotating variety of dark roast. Knowing to say “blonde roast” means you’re hip with the proper terms and slang to fit in. You know how to order a drink. You’re a regular. I’m a regular, but I still refer to the coffee by the BEAN/BLEND itself, mostly because the dark roast rotates. The average blue collar drinker uses the roast terms. Will this guy understand me?

“I’ve never had that,” he says as he pours excess, filled-to-the brim coffee into the trash bag.

Ew. This is why, I get a grande cup. Would you pour hot liquid into your trash bag at home?

“It’s the light roast,” I say, reaching for another Splenda. “It’s smooth…”

“Oh, yeah, yeah,” he interrupts me.

I’m a bit put out. He wanted to experience something new with his hazelnut. I want to share with him something I like that could turn into a new experience for him.

“They used to offer a vanilla blonde,” I continue, thinking of our shared reference of flavored syrup. I pause, he’s staring at me. I can’t tell if its stop or go, so I continue, “But the vanilla took away from the taste.”

He looks down at his coffee, stirring. I look over his shoulders at the signage board. It’s a place for my eyes to rest on before stirring more milk into my coffee.

“I got a friend who’s a coffee specialty guy. He comes for the special coffee,” the guy says.

Special coffee? What’s that? I’d like to try it if there’s something unique. “Does he come here to this store?” I ask.


“Oh, he must get the Reserve coffee,” I say, pointing to the signage board I was just staring at. Good move there. This store is a Clover location, which is one that has a special coffee machine. A Clover coffee was the first cup of coffee I had today, but you can only get a free refill with one of the regular coffees.

“Yeah, that’s it,” he says, his voice energetic, finally. He had sounded impatient, like I was keeping him from leaving or something, but now, he continues the conversation. “I call him a coffee connoisseur.”

If your speech could roll its eyes, this would be it. He wipes up his trash–poured coffee–he spilled. “Me, I’m a coffee guy.”

It’s that act of wiping the coffee that catches my eye and stops me. He’s cleaning up his mess, like he would do at home. And he’s really cleaning it up, wiping hard with the napkin and scrubbing the counter space.

‘Just coffee guys’ don’t do that. Heck, coffee connoisseurs don’t do that.  I do it when I can because there’s nothing more icky than setting your cup down on a sticky counter. Even when I put a napkin down first, I hope that sticky drop under my napkin is honey.

He says something else, but it’s that friendly garble-rush of someone finishing a conversation with no room to continue. I don’t hear what it is because I stare at his clean counter area. I was wrong about him? He takes a seat at the window seat behind me. So, he wasn’t rushing to get out to his car after all. For some reason, him sitting there surprises me. Regardless, our moment is over.

I’ve spilled some Splenda on the counter. I’d wipe it and brush it into the trash bag, but there’s a rim around the trash bag that I can’t get over. I brush the white powder on the floor instead. It’s something.

Coffee Shop Chronicles: On staying and leaving,

Cherry Hill, NJ
October 2002

I’m shaking from hitting the curb as I pulled in.

I don’t see any damage, but I’m uncontrollably jittery.  It’s a good thing I brought my journal tonight.  My mocha Frappuccino will just add caffeine to my jitters, but the journal, well, that’s relaxing.  I hope.

It’s an older journal, and I’m looking for something writing related.  A passage caught my eye this morning, notes from my belly dancing article for U. S. 1. It draws my mind back to the interview.

Kim, my instructor, says, “I learned that I want to stay there.”

She’s talking about her time in Turkey. “It was more of a style and a feel that I learned,” she continued, discussing her dancing techniques. “Turkish feels very funky, earthy, aggressive.”

Movement draws my attention. The two chess guys have left my table, so I pop over, freeing myself from Mr. Wobbles here.  I’m closer to the windows now.  It’s suddenly dark outside, the dark of a storm approaching.  Trees are stretching their branches in that helpless way, reaching to stop the storm, knowing they can’t.  They’re victim to the tosses of storm winds.

I continue reading my notes and transcription.  I might as well because I can’t find what I’m looking for. 

“It confirmed a lot of things I’ve learned over the years,” Kim says.

“You learn things and you’re not really sure what their roots are.”

I spread out with room to spare and reread the U. S. 1 Philly nightlife article.  I still adore the twists and turns of the language.  I don’t like the attitude of the writer–she comes across as too know-it-all in-your-face–but the language is alive.  “Rolling sushi with ‘frightening perfection'” is still my favorite.

Her vibrant language makes you want to keep reading to discover what she’ll describe next, and how.  This is how you write Show Don’t Tell: “J. Crew crowd and martini meat market.”  Her typing tongue makes some of my Singles articles pale in language comparison.  But it also inspires me to write outside the box, to stretch, to compare and to create.

Back to my journal.  What did Kim say next?  How good was my article with the material I collected?

“I learned and loved it and wondered later, ‘where does it come from, why does it feel like this, what does it mean?’”she says, “so it brought these things home and I got my answers.”

My fiancé–oh, I just love the sound of that– just called to share warm fuzziness.  He’s on his way up for the weekend, and he was thinking how he’ll only be doing this drive for a few more months–155 days, to be exact.  Then I’ll be in Delaware.  That made him think of the box and shopping bag of my stuff upstairs.  I take a symbolic “something” every time I drive down to spend the weekend.  He said he realized soon all my stuff will be in his house.  Our house.  We did a simultaneous awwwwww. Together.

He’s an adorable man.  We are going to have a great life together.

10:15pm.  I’ll be kicked out soon.  That’s okay—I’m done for the night.

Let Me EntertainYou

My husband asked what I was writing about this month. After I answered him, I could tell that he wasn’t impressed—probably not even slightly interested—with my subject. “Finding iPhones,” I said. He smirked, and I knew he was thinking: boring. So, I gently reminded him that “I’m a writer. If I do my job well, then the story won’t be boring.”

But after finishing the piece, I worried that Greg was right. Doubt had crept into my writing process like it does just about every month. I lose the ability to discern whether my personal essays and memoirs will spur smiles, indifference, or yawns.

I’m a practical person. I know that none of my writing will ever be perfect, that’s just not possible. So at the very least, I aim to entertain. Then I revise as much as possible before having to part with my little darlings—my painstakingly crafted articles. Pushing deadlines and my editor’s patience, I eventually let go and watch my little ones fly. This month, after three long days of trying to improve my article and after going off on tangents into unrelated topics, I realized that even I was disinterested with what I had written.

Friend and fellow Deadwood Writer, Diana Hirsch, says “blogging is supposed to be fun.” The first time she said it to me was when I was struggling to transform my jumbled thoughts into a structured idea that wouldn’t put readers to sleep. She may have presumed I wasn’t enjoying the creative process, but that wasn’t the case. I can . . . and do . . . sit for hours writing, because I like most everything about it.

Introspectively, I analyze relationships and reflect on life. I savor the peace and quiet of researching and indulge in sipping coffee throughout the day. I thrive on the challenge of organizing my material into something clever and orderly; of shaping stories, revising them over and over. And—just like I adore holding a book and flipping pages—I love printing my finished articles so I can pass them between my fingers too. I lay the pages out, scan them for errors, and dot them with red ink where needed. I’m sorry for the trees I murder. But there is something wonderful about the feel of crisp paper with knife-like edges; the sight of black ink being constrained by white, one-inch margins; and the sound of pages clicking in place as I line them perfectly on top of one another and then bring them together with a swift tap or two against the surface of my desk—prepping them for stapling in their upper-left corners.

My little darlings are unlike other writers’ self-indulgent brats—superfluous material, screaming to be cut out from the current body of work and saved for a more befitting purpose. My babies comprise the entire article in its imperfect yet finished form. They are born from each letter and every punctuation mark I type and handcraft with love for you.

Dear readers, you are the driving force behind my efforts to raise good children. I want you to find something encouraging or useful in what I write. If I can entertain you or make you smile at some point, I’m ecstatic, but I’m about as far from Gypsy Rose Lee as one can be. I’m not a natural showgirl or a well-known author. I’m a writer battling against mediocrity in my blogs.

Palumbo, Fred, photographer. [Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at a typewriter, facing slightly right/ World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo]. 1956. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed January 06, 2017.)

Many of Hollywood’s leading ladies have stepped onstage to sing the lyrics to the iconic “Let Me Entertain You.” The song was inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee’s popularity as a burlesque dancer. This is how I like to remember her: as an author.

Because you’re important to me, I’m not going to succumb to the pressure of a due date, the one thing about writing I don’t like. Deadlines stress college students, journalists, businessmen and writers of all kinds—in this case, me—who could use just a little more time to finish respective projects. Merriam-Webster hints at the origin of “deadline” with this dreadful definition: “a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.”

Imagine: A prisoner, whose only chance for escape involves crossing a line that’s being guarded by expert shooters. He knows that crossing that line will most likely result in his death. He frets. He schemes. He hopes. He commits, knowing there is no turning back. No return; no surrender. There is no undoing what he’s about to do. At best, he’ll succeed and live a long life on the run. But doubt creeps in as he faces the fact that his attempt at freedom—at crossing the deadline—will probably result in death.

This month, I hope you’re relieved to find out that you don’t get to read a boring account of the iPhone I stumbled upon while Christmas shopping . . .  just because I have a deadline. I’m preserving any good impression you may have of me by killing my darlings.


Photo credit: Palumbo, Fred, photographer. [Gypsy Rose Lee, full-length portrait, seated at a typewriter, facing slightly right/ World Telegram & Sun photo by Fred Palumbo]. 1956. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed January 06, 2017.)


A Writer Gives Thanks

2016-11-picWith the hustle and bustle of the holiday season ramping up, I’m taking a break from writing short stories this month. Instead, in honor of Thanksgiving, I’m sharing my list (in no particular order) of people and things for which I’m thankful, from my writer’s point of view:

  • All my teachers from grade school through college who found a way to encourage and inspire me to write. They taught me the fundamentals I use to this day.
  • My editor Kelly Bixby. Her passion for grammar and the written word keeps pushing me to improve my writing.
  • Deadwood Writers Voices as a forum for sharing my work. Having this commitment gives me a regular deadline to meet so I actually produce something.
  • Everyone who reads my writing on DWV as well as people who leave comments. You help me know someone is out there participating in my experience.
  • Grace Black and Ink In Thirds magazine for publishing one of my poems in the October 2016 issue. It’s a powerful feeling to hear the word “accepted” instead of “rejected.”
  • My cat Calder. He makes writing not so solitary, especially when he thinks my fingers—typing on the keyboard—are toys to bite or swat at with his paws.
  • The physical therapists who are getting my shoulder back into shape. Typing and using the mouse for long periods of time is still a challenge, but my stamina is increasing.
  • The Deadwood Writers critique group. Your support, friendship, feedback, and encouragement are invaluable.



Have you ever had “Writer’s Block”? I have it all the time and I hate it! I’m sitting in front of the computer getting ready to write. My fingers hover over the keys.


Ready! Set! Go!




What am I going to write about? What can I say that anyone, yes anyone, would want to read?


I gained inspiration the last time I went to the Deadwood Writers’ Group. My friend Barbara brought this picture:img_0155


“OMG! Where is that kid when I need him? The last time I had a problem with my computer, I phoned Apple. After waiting 18 minutes on hold, someone picked up.


“Let me connect you to the person who handles that,” he said.


I put the phone on speaker and started answering my email. 20 minutes later and still no one had picked up. I checked my phone. It was still on speaker.


I went back to answering my email. A few more minutes passed. I noticed something. What was it?


OMG! Silence.


I’d been disconnected. My phone said I’d been on hold 25 minutes just to be disconnected. No!


Where is that kid? He may be young but I bet he knows what to do!!!