Monday, August 20, 2012

A Yin for every Yang

Lara and I were sitting down to supper just the other night and she looked slightly worried. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Well, there's this old lady who works at the library...and she hates me for some reason. The first time I noticed it she was chatting up with some other old lady for all of about 5 minutes and then when it was my turn, she looked at me and the smile fell from her face to the floor. She grabbed my books, slammed them on the counter and didn't say a word to me the entire time. And then when I went back a few days later, she saw me again and told me to stop browsing through the books that were about to be reshelved. They were just returned! They weren't in any particular order! I don't know what I did to her or why she marked me like that!"
I reflected on that for a minute before returning to my volcanic heartburn burger and searched the recesses of my memory to see if I'd ever encountered anything like that before.
And that's when my flashback started.
Back in my halcyon days at UNC, a new dining hall, Ramshead, was opened up. Once inside its halls, you were assaulted by various forms of junk food that would guarantee a Freshman 50 instead of Freshman 15. Pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, pasta bowls, and breakfast all day long were the staples of its fare.
But it also had a decent coffee bar with two tall urns, hot water for tea, and usually hot cider or hot chocolate when it got cooler. I remember walking over to the coffee bar for the first time and seeing him. He looked like an older, uglier, and cock-eyed version of Duke Ellington who glared over the students pulling cups of coffee from the pyramid he'd stacked. I dutifully waited my turn and reached over to grab a mug from the top of the pyramid when he noticed me and spoke: "Uh uh uh. Grab one from the bottom."
I paused. Everyone else was grabbing from the top thus ensuring a stable base was present to support the other mugs. And yet this guy wanted me to grab from the bottom, for what? In the hopes that I might cause his mug pyramid to collapse and proceed to get banned from Ramshead for causing a ruckus? I was on to this guy. Using my jenga skills, I slowly slid a mug from the bottom and poured a cup of joe. My eyes met his. He looked at me. And then his bulbous eyes focused somewhere around my belt.
I got the creeps and looked down too, only to see a tiny speck of coffee that had dribbled out from the spout of the urn. Understanding what his eyes were boring holes at, I began walking away.
"EXCUSEMEEXCUSEMEEXCUSEME! You made a mess! You need to clean this up!" he hollered at me, all while other students were trying to get the spout to stop spraying coffee into their overflowing mugs.
I looked around for a napkin, and not seeing any, I used my hand to try and wipe the drop off the granite counter top, but that only succeeded in flinging tiny brown specks on the floor and the urn.
"AAAAH! Stop that! You need a sponge!" and with that he slinked off to find a wet sponge, and I hightailed it out of there. I'd be more than willing to clean up a spilled drink, an overturned tray, but c'mon, I have to draw the line somewhere or else the first thing you'd see when you walk into Ramshead is me with a bandana on my head waxing the floor with the coffee guy standing over me shouting, "I better see my face in that floor by the time you're through! And next time I won't be so nice!"
I went back to my table and enjoyed the coffee and took it over to the dishes section and felt a horrible feeling. Like icewater in my veins. Like all the happiness and sunshine and fluffy puppies in the world had disappeared. I felt something like an ember on my neck and turned to see the coffee guy over at the coffee bar staring at me with a wet sponge in his hand. He continued staring at me with his eyes, twitched his pencil thin mustache, and then slowly squeezed the water out of the sponge onto the coffee bar.
I wasn't sure whether I should piss my pants or laugh. So I did both.
Walking back to my dorm with my jacket balled up in front of my crotch, I told myself, "Eh, this guy was just looking to push people around. He'll forget all about me the next time I go in and get coffee"
which unfortunately is along the same lines of "I'm sure my ruptured appendix will heal itself," or "perhaps that hooded man with the gun running straight towards me just wants directions."
The next time I went to Ramshead I was sitting down to a quiet supper after a 5 mile swim. I had a pretty decent view of the coffee bar, and was waiting for fresh urns to be brewed and brought out. I didn't have long to wait. I got up and wandered over to pour a mug only to have the coffee nazi walk across the room and yank both urns from the bar and place them under the counter. "Why did you do that?!" I sputtered.
"We need to make more fresh coffee and then we'll start serving thirty minutes prior to securing the ranges and grills."
"But I don't have time to sit around for 45 minutes for just one cup of measly coffee!"
"Measly!?"
"Well, I just want one cup, can you do that for me?"
And with that, he sighed, grabbed my mug, and poured something into it from underneath the bar that was completely out of my sight. He handed the mug back to me, smiled and said, "Enjoy!"
"Thanks," I mumbled and walked back to my seat. I looked at the liquid in my mug. I smelled the liquid in my mug. I took a small drop and rubbed it between my fingers. All of my senses were telling me that this was either used 40W heavy machine oil or coffee that had been boiled for about three days.
"What the heck," I told myself, "I need the caffeine," and poured cream into it. Dark particulate matter began floating up, displaced by the cream, and I took a sip of the substance. It reminded me of hot asphalt tar combined with burnt toast. I gagged it back into my mug and looked around to see if anyone saw that.
The coffee nazi did and he had an utterly disgusted look on his face with mouth wide open.
I gathered my tray while my tastebuds were reeling, and put it in the dishes section when suddenly World War III broke out in my stomach reducing me to take very ginger steps back to my dorm, not failing to notice that new coffee was put out 30 minutes earlier than promised.
After several hours worth of trips to the toilet, I had plenty of time to think and piece the facts together. But nothing definitively made sense. Why had this guy marked me as his mortal enemy? Did I cut him off in traffic? Step on his toe in the Harris Teeter? Was he back in his place right now sticking pins in a voodoo doll's stomach? Maybe he was just stressed out and lashed out at people. Who knows.
After that incident I stuck to eating at Lenoir where the coffee is fresh and piping hot. But with December exams the eating hours at Lenoir were reduced with mostly Ramshead staying open later. I had no choice.
Armed with excessive facial hair, bulky clothing, and a baseball cap, I strode into Ramshead, confident that the coffee nazi wouldn't recognize me. I even passed by him, and he looked up, puzzled and with a far off gaze as if he were trying to remember something, and then shrugged and returned to filling out his timesheet with coffee rings on it.
I snickered to myself and poured a mug of coffee and went to sit in the furthest room of the dining hall and saw that the jukebox wasn't playing. I looked around cautiously and thought, "What the hell?" which is along the same lines of "I'm sure if I ski down this hill I'll miss all those rocks and trees," or "do I really need fully functioning brakes on my car?"
I starting playing Judas Priest, Molly Hatchet, and Foghat, all while sipping my coffee. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur streaming to the jukebox punching all of the motown hits. I peeked over and saw it was the coffee nazi who turned and looked at me. He had fire in his eyes and stormed back to his coffee bar and that's when it hit me. This guy just had it out for me because it was in his nature. He and I were entertwined in destiny's heartless spiderweb. He was my doppelganger, and I was the yin to his yang. And that's when a thought came to me. I marched up to him, put my cup down on the bar and barked, "This coffee is terrible!"
"I'm sorry, sir!" he whispered, to his utmost surprise. I put my dirty dishes away, leaving him puzzling over what just happened, and walked out of Ramshead, confident that I would never drink bad coffee and leave with soiled pants again.
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