Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Cold Coffee

No light yet this morning. Car headlights glide up to the intersection, and then glide on. A low murmur of male voices in the cafe. I wonder why only men have the habit of breakfasting in a cafe at six in the morning? Or is that true only of old-fashioned diners like this one? Women don't start showing up till seven or eight.

Except the waitresses, of course. If there's anything rarer than a female six a.m. regular, it's a male six a.m. server.

The present waitress exasperates me, because she insists on talking to me each time she comes to refill the coffee. She asks me for permission to refill my coffee cup. I'll be deep in writing, or working through my flashcards, and -- "would you like some more coffee?" And it's not rhetorical, either. She's going to stand there and wait until I completely switch my attention to her and give her an answer. Drives me crazy. So much for my Buddhist equanimity. As she walks away I find myself muttering "leave me alone, for Christ's sake!"

It's not as though this solicitousness winds up in me getting what I want. The truth is, I have no idea whether I want more coffee, so I always say yes, and what I end up with, after half an hour or so, is a stone-cold cup of coffee. How the other morning waitress makes her pouring decisions, I don't know; but I can sit here for two hours, when she's on, and never lack for a hot drink at my elbow.

Why, I wonder, am I utterly incapable of giving this waitress simple directions? If it matters to me -- and clearly it does -- shouldn't I just say, "please, when I'm absorbed in my studies, just make your best guess and pour or don't pour; I promise I won't be cranky if you guess wrong." But such a speech-act -- which would really be an act of trust and confidence -- is simply out of my range. So I try to train her by answering her without lifting my eyes from my work, which seems dreadfully rude to me, but is within my range. I murmur "sure" and "thank you" without looking up. This last time she spoke to me, but at least it wasn't a question. "I'll just warm this up for you." It's progress. But how much of the energy of my life, I wonder, gets drained out of my soul by my ridiculous diffidence and distrust?

As someone going into a service profession myself, it's something I'm going to dealing with from the other side, soon. Everyone who does bodywork agrees that clients by and large don't tell you when something doesn't work, or when something makes them uncomfortable -- they just don't come back. Something as simple and easy to fix as an uncomfortably-placed seam on a face-cradle cover, or not liking your music, or discovering they need to pee five minutes into the massage, can wreck the session. Client doesn't come back; you never know why.

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