Coffee is hard

[7 August 2007]

By Rob Horning

Maybe the joke’s on me, but this NYT column by Stanley Fish is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read. Fish, who once wrote about Paradise Lost and phenomenology and the intricacies of reader-response criticism, now takes to the pages of America’s paper of record to complain about the rigors of ordering coffee.

First you have to get in line, and you may have one or two people in front of you who are ordering a drink with more parts than an internal combustion engine, something about “double shot,” “skinny,” “breve,” “grande,” “au lait” and a lot of other words that never pass my lips. If you are patient and stay in line (no bathroom breaks), you get to put in your order, but then you have to find a place to stand while you wait for it. There is no such place. So you shift your body, first here and then there, trying not to get in the way of those you can’t help get in the way of.
Finally, the coffee arrives.
But then your real problems begin when you turn, holding your prize, and make your way to where the accessories — things you put in, on and around your coffee — are to be found. There is a staggering array of them, and the order of their placement seems random in relation to the order of your needs. There is no “right” place to start, so you lunge after one thing and then after another with awkward reaches.
Unfortunately, two or three other people are doing the same thing, and each is doing it in a different sequence. So there is an endless round of “excuse me,” “no, excuse me,” as if you were in an old Steve Martin routine.

It as though he’s auditioning to replace Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. Why is the NYT wasting column space on this? It’s not as if we have a corrupt Justice Department that prosecutes cases based on their political implications, or that we’re getting soldiers killed in a war of choice with no clear goals except to save face for an inept administration, or that we’ve just witnessed yet another infrastructure-related tragedy that can be traced directly to the politicians’ negligence and poor decision making. No, the worst thing the average Times reader worries about, in the editors’ minds, is how hard it is to get coffee at Starbucks. Is this some kind of Alan Sokol hoax that Fish is perpetrating, trying to see how far he can push the latte liberal stereotype?

But Fish seems genuinely aghast when he asks, “Why should I put on my own cream cheese?” Why, indeed. I hope I don’t sound this petulant when I claim about self-checkout lines at grocery stores.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/coffee-is-hard/