Collateral Damage


Those who have been following the saga of my rhetorical battle with brainless baristas might conclude that the conflict has escalated to outright war when they learn that I marched out of a Starbucks yesterday without completing my purchase. Some suggest a liberal soaking in addictive drugs, others post-hypnotic suggestion, but for whatever reason, to me no coffee tastes quite as good as Starbucks’ French Roast. So, no matter how irritating the purchase process, no matter how firm my resolve to never darken a Starbucks door again, each time the beans run low, I slink back to the store in defeat.

There, I grab the bag of beans and approach the counter, dreading the inevitable exchange. I try to forestall it, answering their “What can I do for you?” with a forthright “Just the beans, please,” with an emphasis on the word “beans.” Then comes the four words I dread to hear. “You want those ground?”

It is at this point I am inevitably reminded of the episode of “Monk,” in which the obsessive-compulsive-disorder-suffering detective is confronted by a precocious little girl who says, “Pete and Repeat are sitting in a boat. Pete jumps out. Who is left?” To which Monk must reply, “Repeat,” upon which, she does. The scene repeats itself several times, and Monks facial gymnastics are priceless as he recognizes the consequences of his answer, yet is incapable of avoiding it.

And so it is, against my better judgment and best intentions, I respond to the inquiry in the affirmative. When the barista reaches for the bag, I say “I don’t want them ground now.” Sometimes I’ll mix it up, by responding, “Yes, I do. Not all at once, though, and none right now.” Or, just once, I answered, “Of course I do. How much Ouzo do you think I drink?”

Obviously, the simplest response would be simply to say, “No,” despite it being essentially a dishonest reply. However, since it was just the other day that a friend called me Chief of the Word Police, I confess to a perhaps irrational resentment of baristas who consistently ask a question whose most efficient answer is a lie. You’d think after six years of studying literature, they’d know better.

Well, the battle will no doubt continue, unless I join CA and break this caffeinated addiction. However, that was not what propelled me from the store yesterday. In fact, I finessed the whole “You want that ground?” issue quite nicely. Rather, it was two attempts to scan the bag, followed by the barista’s blithe announcement that “The computer’s updating itself. We have to wait.”

“Oh, no we don’t,” I thought, announcing that I’d return, but I had other items on my agenda. It’s a curious state we have achieved where people respond to computorial recalcitrance with such passivity. The computer says we must wait, they intone, as if they were the machine just slipped into sleep mode. Something has gone horribly wrong in our technological world, a dysfunction best summed up by the smart phone commercial featuring the two smug males sitting in their chairs, gazing at their phones and announcing to all news, “That’s so 42 seconds ago,” as if paying passive attention to one’s phone is the highest duty of mankind; as if self-absorption is the essence of self-awareness.

No doubt many are chuckling at the contradiction inherent in my typing this essay on a computer, and then sending it via email to my thousands of readers, while then posting links to various manifestations of social media. Yes, I get that, but somehow we seem to be drifting perilously close to the rim of a chasm of enslavement. Technology was supposed to be a tool to make our lives simpler. Instead, it seems an ever greater portion of our lives is consumed in acquiring and learning how to utilize the latest breakthrough. No longer are we manipulating machine; they now seem to be manipulating us.

I can’t wait to send this one out, as soon as my computer allows me to do so.