“Your Starbucks Cup is Not a Name Tag” and other findings among my penance served in the world of serving

Mostly I write a lot of junk poetry. It’s sort of my daily thing to clear head space. For the past three days though, and really since I poured it all out in the last blog, I’ve felt none too poetical, instead turning the introspective gaze to more solid wondering having to do with what it is to be a young woman in this time in history and all the other trailing ribbons of whatever that means. To help me along in these thoughts has been my spirit guide, Lena Dunham.

Lena Dunham, star and writer of HBO hit Girls, wrote a book called, “Not that Kind of Girl.” Asked to describe this book to a co-worker in 5-words, I gave the smart ass reply, “Not that Kind of Girl,” but in a way it also fits what Lena’s work is all about. I started reading it (and I stopped my daily writing…coincidence?) on the 17th and finished it on the 21st. The book feels like a pleasant coffee date with your BFF: the caffeine consumption allowing you both to open up more than usual, making casual confessions of things you never thought another person would (or would want to) hear. But as you talk, you find catharsis and an understanding of your history in relation to your whole self that’s thrilling, but also a little sad. After your friend goes home, you feel a little depressed and prone to cry at stupid inspirational videos on Facebook that you had no intention on clicking on, but find yourself committing to. It’s like that.

It’s like, on my dates with Lena, I found she was giving the kind of advice I’d only come to give myself after a shattering amount of heartbreak. She went through the crisis for me, and came out the other side with self-deprecating quips I recognize all too well. My favorite and uncomfortably familiar chapter was her “Girls and Jerks.” Lena and I have a painful insanity to throw our lot in with men who fall into this spectrum. So much so that it’s a wonder her (and my) chapter on “girl crushes” is so short.

Women of our age range owe it to themselves to read her confessions in NTKOG, but I want to include a sample of the work as well that hit me hard with self-identification of where I have been for the past couple of years. Here’s to hoping this falls under the fair use of copyright.

She writes: “It wasn’t just that these crushes made the days pass quicker or satisfied some raging summer lust. On some deeper level, they made it all feel less adult. I’d been thrust into a world of obligations and responsibilities, budgets and scrutiny. My creative process had gone from being largely solitary to being witnessed by dozens of “adults” who I was sure were waiting to shout This, this is the reason we don’t hire 25 yr old girls! Romance was the best way I knew to forget my obligations, to obliterate the self and pretend to be someone else”

There’s not a lot else I know to say about the book. It wasn’t the best writing I’ve ever read, but it spoke to me. Sometimes that’s enough.

I’m trying to transition more gently in my blogs, but my topics are most times unrelated and so you may have to just accept the hard breaks in consciousness until I learn to think and write in better ways. Like just now…I had a yellow jacket land on my notebook. I patiently waited on him to leave and then I took a drink from my coffee, startled myself on a large piece of ice unexpectedly coming up the straw, and spit it all over my pants front in compensation. Only a couple of students saw it, so all is well.

Another hard break….and it’s a real hard break. Luther Masingill. If you live in Chattanooga, you are probably well acquainted with his name and legacy. Our whole town is mourning the passing of the 92-year old radio legend, who worked 72 years on-air in Chattanooga for the same station, on-air during both Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

I have an opinion and (surprise) it may not be the most popular. I respect Luther for his work and dedication to the field of communications and to the town of Chattanooga. I enjoyed hearing him describe the latest lost pet. I am touched by all the wonderful stories of his kindness to others from his role as a mentor and even stories of him paying for college tuition of several.

Personally, Luther wasn’t very kind to me. Granted, I encountered him briefly each week and always after a day of work at the radio station as he came into the grocery store where I worked. I say this not to besmirch a legacy, and I’m sure many will find my words petty, but I say them just with a reminders than being kind to those in the service industry is also a measure of character. It’s easy to be a personality on air and kind to those in so-called respectable positions, but taking time and effort to be caring to someone at society’s ground level is something more. I don’t really fault Luther for not being who I expected or respecting some chunky teen behind a cash register. I just wish that I didn’t have these memories of someone who is essentially beloved by all. I’m posting this on the date before Luther’s memorial service at Engel Stadium. By all means, I encourage all to go and hear the wonderful things that will be said about Luther. Many people I respect in turn respect Luther and his legacy, and my words are in no way designed to change the tide of opinion on him or his work. It’s a blanket generalization on our fumblings at human interaction, and we all know how well generalizations work.

Now that my name is on every Luther-lover’s head hunting list, I want to continue to talk about what the serving/food service industry means to me. As before mentioned, I’m leaving this industry, hopefully permanently or at least long-term, for the second time in my life.
I first left retail and barista work in 2009. Straight out of college, I got an assistant editor position at a weekly newspaper and worked there, had weekends off, the whole deal, for two years. I returned to server life when I was laid off and have been there since. Friday is my last shift as a server, and my feelings are mixed to say the least.

Mispy has graciously weathered the storm with me as I passively lament my freedom this week. His innocent comment that maybe I could return to barista work in January or later if ends weren’t meeting between teaching jobs, set off a firestorm in my brain that culminated in me curled on his bed, crying about missing my barista co-horts and stressing irrationally about how I would fill my weekends away from the cafe, while simultaneously wondering aloud how much I enjoy helping a student get proper synonym usage. Bless him for knowing that it’s sometimes best to just pat a girl on the back in the midst of conflicted brain clashes

Here I am reveling in my wingspan as I get positively beside myself explaining the Industrial Revolution to a student. All the while, I’m looking longingly at the automatic espresso machines and wondering if I can justify $8/hr for my time dedication in lieu of a weekend or off days of any kind. And why?

Well, it all comes back to the debate raised earlier by me (mainly as a sort of punch line): “Can Nihilists ever really experience job satisfaction?” Sure, there are varying levels of Nihilism, but it all seems to come around the belief that nothing we do has much, to any, effect on our surroundings, future course of events, or people’s fates. I subscribe, wearily (is there any other way?) that things are going to be what they are. People are going to do what they do, and my effect is minimal. I teach a student a concept, and maybe they take it further than the classroom. They use it to get to college, they get a job, the world turns, and nothing much shifts. We all still end up at the Cemetery Gates. It’s not so bleak unless you make it a central precept of existence, and even then there are concessions around it so you don’t end up offing yourself. So where’s the satisfaction in any of it? Why work if there’s no reason other than to keep the machine on and churning out the same copy of its inner cogs design?

Well, I think, for my part, the job satisfaction has always come not from the paycheck that usually just allows enough funds for you to continue working and living. Neither does it come from the job itself of delivering caffeine or education or whatever to your customers, patrons, etc. The satisfaction is what I got from my barista work that makes it hard to leave. It’s the beautiful, casually loving, camaraderie and shared experience of melodrama and human condition that interactions with co-workers (and less frequently) with customers/patrons/students. It applies to every job. For me, my angst at leaving the absolute tripe I have experience in serving, comes from a similar leaving of the laughter and connections and experience of living among the real and flawed and beautiful people I’ve had privilege to work with in my three years there.

I’ve introduced a co-worker to feminism from the basic definition and worked on building a foundation of knowledge there. I’ve shared relationship woe with every sympathetic ear in the building. I’ve had romantic relationships with these people. I’ve formed best friendships with some. I’ve ribbed an employee until they have become an inside joke that even they are fond of. And yes, I’ve learned that many customers consider their cup to be a nametag of some kind whose alternate spelling thereupon will shake the ego in such a way that they can’t help spelling aloud to the poised Sharpie, “B-A-I-L-E-Y.” They’ve all produced a strange shared life within our team. And I’ll miss this. I guess that’s enough of a reason to do any job, even write a blog…just hoping for a shared experience, a social interaction that delivers an imagined impression of meaning. That’s the satisfaction of a job well done. Even if it’s all a beautiful meaningless mess of paint on some abstract unknowable canvas.

In parting I want to toss out the ideas for what you will be seeing here in the next month as I prepare to participate in National Novel Writing Month (National Blog Writing Month as well).I am debating between posting a thread on Facebook to ask for 30 topics for the thirty days in November and write on one of these thirty each day. Or I thought I could ask for a topic each day via Facebook and the first person to comment or message would be the one whose topic I would write about. Both are designed to be more interactive with my audience, thus continuing this shared experience I desire from my blog space. The third option is I just shower you all with the junk poetry and novel writing scraps…1,666 words of that each day. How’s about ya’ll leave me some feedback on this so that we don’t all suffer with some rhyme about caffeine consumption or lack thereof.

-Anna R Kotopple

This blog is dedicated lovingly to my fellow baristas of past, present, and perhaps future. Once a barista, forever a barista.