The Kid at Stewart’s

I wanted a small coffee. I drink decaf, and at Stewart’s, they have three or four kinds in various carafes sitting on hotplates on the counter. You can pour whatever kind you want into whatever size cardboard cup you want, and add however much milk, cream, etc., you want from a small, adjacent refrigerator. I figured I’d be in and out in two minutes, if I was lucky.

I was not lucky.

The kid, about 16 years old, was new; I could tell by his quickness and efficient eagerness. He wasn’t about to lollygag or chat, like the other two employees — older women who were scooping ice-cream for other customers. He was that smart kid from science class who is full of algorithms. So when the tall, insulated carafe sputtered and wheezed within a moment of my pushing on its lever and I called to him, “Are you all out of decaf?” I knew he would jump right on it.

He did.

“I’ll make you a new pot,” he said, striding towards me. Almost in one swift move, he opened the lid of the empty carafe, spun around and swung it into position under the coffeemaker behind him, yanked a metal basket from its little “shelf” in that coffeemaker, and dumped the old paper filter with its wet grounds into the trashcan below by pounding the basket once, good and hard, on the edge of that can. Then he placed a new filter in the basket and finally, grabbed a sparkling new foil packet of decaf coffee grounds.

Here is where his troubles began.

You could see by the faces and the little animal noises he made (Carol Burnett, where are you?), as well as the color he was turning as he tried to open that packet, that he was in over his head. Holding it waist-high and bending a bit at the knees, he tried to rip open the crimping at the top; failing at that, he raised it to shoulder height and tried again. Then he decided to try to pull the packet apart by its seams, like you and I sometimes do with the plastic bags inside cereal boxes.

I knew what was going to happen. I didn’t think I knew; I knew. Remember the old sitcom “Alice,” where Flo is trying to open a box of straws and finally it “explodes” all over Mel’s diner? I didn’t want to miss this, so I kept watching.

Only the coffee packet wouldn’t open, even for the sake of comedy. The kid’s eyes darted from side to side; I’m sure he was looking for a pair of scissors. There were none. So he did exactly what you and I would have done; he turned his back hoping no one could see, and bit the damn thing.

He tugged on it while its edge was between his teeth; still no luck. He shoved it farther into his mouth and poked one edge over to the side so it would lie right between his top and bottom molars. Now he had it. It ripped apart with just a minimal amount of spit and foil falling into the filter, and when he pushed the “On” button I knew I’d lost my chance to yell, “Kiss my grits!”

Victorious and back in Efficiency mode, he walked toward me and pointed at my small cup with a half-inch of now-cold coffee in the bottom.

“Want to give me that?” he asked. Oh, nice, I thought: He’s going to dump out this old, nasty, bottom-of-the-barrel coffee so I can fill it up with fresh. As I handed the cup to him, he continued, “…so I can hold it right under the coffeemaker and then you don’t have to wait for the whole carafe to fill up?”

“Sure,” I said, though in truth I could have stayed there, watching Mr. Efficiency, all day.