While I have a business and make a living, I am a frustrated writer, both in that I have never written anything of note, and that I very rarely actually write anything at all. I would love for these two to be linked and that the only thing holding back my inevitable success is a lack of time and application, but I somehow doubt whether that is true, and anyway it is a depressing thought in itself.
About a year ago I sticky taped onto my laptop a quote from novelist John Banville: “The sentence is the great invention of civilisation. To sit all day assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvellous thing. I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s as near to godliness as I can get.” This was meant to inspire me to write many blog posts, writing being the highest task humanity could aspire to. Over the ensuing months as I persisted in not writing many (or any) blog posts the quote served more as a reproach, silently highlighting my lack of dedication to the highest ideal.
The truth is that most of the time I pour my energy into running the coffee shop, which very rarely leaves me with surplus time and energy to spend writing. This used to depress me, that I was spending so much effort on something which was at the end of the day just a provider of stimulating drinks and chit chat about the weather. I generally enjoy running the shop very much, but in the occasional moment of existential angst I would wonder if I wasn’t meant to be doing something less frivolous and more permanently meaningful.
Then several months ago, an elderly couple came in for coffee as I was setting up, out and about from the hotel next door. The gentleman was tall, had excellent posture and was wearing a dark green suit which fitted him so well it could have, and may well have been, made for him. I am rarely at my chattiest first thing, but I complemented him on his suit, and went about making their coffees while they poked around the shop. As I passed them over the gentleman paused, looked thoughtful, and said, ‘You know, this shop, with the writing your own order, the honesty box and the books on the tables, I think it is the epitome of civilisation.’ And I automatically said ‘Thank you, so do I. That’s why I do it.’
This took me back a bit, both that someone else had such a high opinion of what I do, and that apparently I agree with him. The more I thought about it though, the more sense it made. The most important and fascinating things to me are exploring the ways life can be both more meaningful and more fun, and the way the shop is set up I get an opportunity to do that and to explore that with a whole heap of lovely people every day. Importantly, I get to explore what happens when you don’t have to follow the rules, but can make things up for yourself. This is the beauty of being my own boss, that I have the flexibility to try things and talk to people in a genuine and creative way that would be difficult in a larger organisation. I also have a public forum for my ideas in the form of a blackboard, and as this post explores, it is in many ways an ideal medium with which to deliver messages of meaning to the general public.
Thinking about these ideas made me look at the shop with new eyes, and like a couple in counselling, I’ve started to really appreciate the ways in which it actually is the most important thing I could be doing (double entendre intended… ; ) ). It has also made me think about the importance of actually working out what that most important thing in a life is. For many people it is not what they do for a living, which is a source of pain and frustration for many. I regularly get customers asking about what it takes to open a coffee cart, as they don’t like their jobs, and running a coffee shop must look more fun and more rewarding.
I think this shows that people are looking for a way of life that gives meaning and speaks to the soul, and while he does a great job of guarding the till, unfortunately Jesus is not the answer. (unless he is, in which case good for you). Working out what that is for you and then applying yourself to really embracing and loving it is not a simple thing. For some people it may be having children, which I hear really is a life’s work (compressed into the first six months..), for others it will be a hobby, sport, faith or practice. Whatever it is for you, I think it is vitally important to remind yourself of the place and value in your mind that it really deserves. Reverence I guess, is what I mean, that sense of awe in the face of what is really important. Cultivating that keeps the most important thing for you a little bit sacred, and stops the inevitable pain and disappointment of life from tarnishing that which is for you ‘the nearest thing to godliness’.
So there you go. Turns out I do like writing after all. Just not as much as hanging out with you lot… ; )
Its mid march, winter is being held at bay by the sudden resurgence of summer and life at the coffee cart is as entertaining as ever. It’s over three and a half years since the shop opened, and to those who ask ‘do you ever get sick of making coffee all the time?’ the answer is no. Because making coffee is only a very small part of what we do, and the rest is filled up with very important things like mischief, flirting, gossiping, being generally inappropriate and irresponsible, and teasing all the poor schmucks who have to go to a real job and act responsible, and I’m sorry but that just never gets old.
Fun happenings of this week involved getting to know the members of apparently very famous US country music band Rascal Flatts who were staying in the hotel next door, having my wife guest barista on Friday (which made flirting both more and less convenient…) and playing tricks on Michael the blind man.
The country music guys were brilliant, really genuine guys who had that uniquely American enthusiasm about life in which everything is awesome and they are so open and cheerful that you can’t help but think that they actually believe it. They all tipped, and tipped heavily (another reason to like Americans!) and after I got a $6 tip on a $4 coffee I decided to return the favour and bought one of their albums to play as a tribute when they came in on their way to the airport. It wasn’t quite the ironic retro hipster tunes we usually play at the shop, but it was worth it to watch them double take and go ‘is that..? did you..?’ and then break out smiling when I confessed. They tipped me again, enough to pay for the album (parting with ‘Buy more albums!’) and set off on their endless happy path of country gigs and delighted cowgurls.
The other fun part of the week started when I went to put the lid on a coffee and went ‘Hang on a tic’, looked at it again and realised that there was no drinking hole in the top. Buddhist monks are very peaceful, but they have a sense of humour and enjoy sneaking up on meditating novices and whacking them with a stick, just to help them stay in the present moment and be aware of their surroundings. I like to think that we provide a similar service for the unfortunate souls performing the mindless thankless tasks which keep our society moving, by playing little tricks every now and then to wake them up. So with trick lid in hand James and I started putting it on select people’s coffees and watching them walk away, try and take a sip and then have a wonderful five seconds of confusion before working out what had happened. In the very best moment an anonymous customer* turned to find 20 tipped off customers and two cackling baristas watching for the magical moment of realisation. It was a lot of fun.
Just when I thought that the gag had reached an end and couldn’t really be taken further Kat** came in and got a coffee for herself and one to take back to the office for Michael, a lovely customer who is best known for running into people and whacking them with a stick (and not in the enlightened Buddhist way). Yes, he’s blind, but here at the coffee cart we believe in equal opportunity (somehow this usually involves making fun of Michael***) and so with Kat’s permission I put the trick lid on Michael’s coffee and sent her off with promises to get photos and report back.
As you can see she outdid herself, especially in the final shot in which she suggested he give me a thumbs up. And I thought he was such a nice young man. He did do better than one other anonymous customer who got given the lid a second time and didn’t pick it up until he was back in the hotel and refused to come back and get a real lid because he knew we’d laugh at him. It’s a sign of affection Mark, really it is…
On Friday we had the Redhead filling in for Ollie who is at Bike Polo Nationals (yes, it’s a thing), which was a lot of fun as it involved even more sexual harassment than usual (is it still illegal to put a photo of the staff’s breastal region on the internet if it’s your wife?). It is a bit annoying as she ends up being everyone’s favourite and conspires against me with the female customers- I wore my ‘I’m the Boss’ t-shirt but no one paid any attention. Luckily she went off to some other job on the National Board of some health thing, and left me to the important man duties of reading the paper and talking about cycling with the boys. Some things just can’t be taught.
Must go, I’m off for very important burger and cycling talk related man events.
Until next time, your definitely not bored friend,
*Mark from the hotel. Hi Mark!
** Names have not been changed to protect the guilty.
*** For example, we enjoy writing girls names on Michael’s coffee cups, a gag which lasted a week before someone said ‘Michael why do you have Susan’s coffee? Did you take the wrong one?’
I have a theory about people. I believe that people have two ages- their biological age which changes every year, and a second static age which I term their ‘Natural Age*. Your Natural Age is just that- it is the age you just naturally are your whole life, irrespective of how many birthdays you’ve had. Where biological age is a measure of change (at 18 I was incredibly stupid but had enormous muscles, at 30 I am less stupid, but not as beautiful), a person’s Natural Age is the age that describes the unchanging, innate part of a person’s personality. This is the lifelong framework around which the supposedly defining changes of biological maturity are only ever superficially arranged.
I believe that the Natural Age concept is a psychological profiling tool of vast potential, with any luck in the lucrative fields of workforce management and personal development. You’ve all done those annoying personality tests where you fill out a series of questions and at the end of the session the overly peppy (obviously a ‘motivator’ type…) coordinator informs you that you are whatever pseudonym they’ve come up with for antisocial. While these tests provide a healthy sense of ‘belonging’ for everyone, how much more helpful would it be if rather than someone saying to you ‘Hi, I’m Kevin, and I’m a “Visionary”’, they said ‘Hi, I’m Kevin, and I’m actually 14.’ That way you would know that while Kevin may be 46 and your new boss, he is likely to have an 8 minute attention span and look at your boobs a lot**.
This is not to say that a higher Natural Age is necessarily better. My wife for example, who I have decided is the best person in the world apart from me, has a natural age of six. If you’re a friend of hers reading this I imagine you are now saying ‘Yes, yes she does!’, because many of her most endearing and entertaining traits can only really be understood in this context. While biological maturity has brought with it the ability to focus and competently complete grown up tasks, her natural attention span is closer to 30-40 seconds. The effort required to sustain the longer periods required by the grown up world leaves her exhausted, and the only way she can function is by regularly reverting to her six year old self for brief periods throughout the day. This generally involves annoying those around her to get them to play with her, something she gets away with because she is funny/has great tits.
The positive side of being six your whole life is that you never stop having fun. Playing with people you like remains the most fun you can have in the whole world, except you can’t understand why people keep interrupting to make you do boring things like clean your teeth or go to work. Christmas never gets boring (decorations went up at our place in late October…) and the next super exciting fun thing to do is only ever 30 seconds away (and usually accompanied by your own sound effects). The downside is that life can be a bit, well, frustrating, as when you’re six you’re only really aware of the world as a means of delivering your personal desires and reality often falls somewhat short of expectations. For example my wife is constantly astonished to find that other people have the hide to use her road when she wants to go somewhere (because she has to be there NOW!), and she isn’t terribly good at waiting in queues. Being six does make her great fun to be around though and this is the chief reason why I married her. The fortunate thing is that while her aforementioned assets may eventually succumb to the ravages of age, I can safely rest in the knowledge that while by 90 her looks may have gone, she will almost certainly still be up for a spur of the moment 3 hour trip to go buy ice-cream***.
Each age has its strengths and weaknesses**** and no one age is better than any other. Where my wife is six and has enormous amounts of fun but needs someone else to witness them for it to have happened ‘You’re not even watching..!’, my pleasures tend more towards the ever shifting boundary between middle age and retirement. From an early age I enjoyed cups of tea, dressing gowns, old man slippers, newspapers, peace and quiet, and in life’s rare moments of perfection, all of the above in combination. I am calm, reflective and insightful, and a short burst of teenage angst aside, have been so pretty much from the moment I popped out (an old gentleman at the hospital famously told my mother, ‘He’s a philosopher that one.’). The downside is a tendency towards irritation with the world, impatience with the younger, stupider generation*****. I also like routines a little too much, and if left to my own devices would probably enact the same pleasantly satisfying ‘work, breakfast in favourite cafe on Saturday morning’ cycle for the rest of my days. Luckily perhaps I married someone at the other end of the spectrum and we alternately inspire and drive each other insane with our completely polarised approaches.
I believe that the Natural Age theory also explains why for much of our lives we feel somewhat out of step. For all but the brief and wonderful period when our Natural and biological ages coincide we are expected to behave in a way totally at odds with how old we actually feel. We have a golden period when everything makes sense and our natural responses are completely appropriate and the rest of the time we are forced to mask who we actually are to maintain the pretence that we are the age we look like. Kindergarten for me was very confusing as I couldn’t work out why people wanted me to mess around doing finger painting and other equally pointless activities******. It would have been a lot easier if the Natural Age theory had been applied and a little badge was sewn on all my shirts that read ‘I know he looks four, but Glen is actually nudging 60, just give him a good book, a quiet corner and keep the children at a safe distance.’ My early 20’s were similarly confusing as everyone wanted to start socialising around the time I wanted to go to bed*******, which may explain why I spent a lot of the time single. It’s a great relief to me that the older I get the more closely my natural tendencies align with society’s expectations and I look forwards to getting even older still********.
So by this point I assume you are wondering what your own Natural Age is, and have probably had a guess. Yes it’s interesting to guess your own, but from my extensive research the best way of determining your Natural Age is to ask someone who knows you well. The best thing about this method is that the guesses often differ markedly as an observer is not prone to your bias of wanting to be eternally 21, and often the correct age comes as an entertaining shock.
However, because I realise that this involves talking to another person and you are very busy on the internet, with the help of my six year old assistant I have devised a scientific quiz to provide you with a personally customised Natural Age diagnosis. Feel free to send donations .
If you’re still here stop being so dense. Follow the link.
Your humble friend,
The Coffee Baron
*Trademark pending. Hands off.
**Marc, we decided you were 14 didn’t we?
***We have already discussed how hard it will be in old age to work out exactly what is her and what is dementia.
**** Being fascinated by boobs is not a sign of any particular age, but a general indication of gender/sexual identity.
*****Many of my blackboards explore this theme.
******It was six months before I brought a picture home to my very relieved mother. I must have exhausted the kinder library and got bored.
*******One of the few areas where our Natural Ages are compatible. Both of us like to go to bed around 8pm…
********A possible downside is that I have just had my fourth hip surgery, but I’m going to put that down to coincidence…
An accompaniment to my amazing revolutionary exciting new psychological profiling tool the ‘Natural Age Theory’! Find out your own personally customised Natural Age with the scientifically proven* quiz below!
Q1. If you were an animal you would be:
A) A puppy! Play! Play! Play! Sleep.
B) A goat. Oh that was yours? Yeah, I destroyed it.
C) A meerkat. Highly sociable, but still a bit freaked out.
D) An ant. Must. Keep. Working.
E) An elephant. Carrying the load for everyone else, and not quite hiding the resentment.
F) A sloth. What? What? Slow down, I can’t understand you.
Q2. Your average day consists of:
A) A constant adventure devoid of routine, mainly focussed on finding people to play with.
B) Being oppressed by ‘The Man’ while obsessing over obscure physical abnormalities.
C) Being highly ambitious, completely ignorant and bottom of the totem pole…
D) A mobius strip of a to-do list.
E) What day is it? Who are you?
Q3. Which place are you?
A) Italy. Play, nap, hate each other, cry, best friends, play, nap.
B) France. Annoyed at everything.
C) USA. Happily oblivious of the world around you.
D) Switzerland. Keeping the peace.
E) Germany. Annoyed at having to bail everyone out.
F) Antarctica. Where is everyone? Oh I have such a chill…
Q4. What is your favourite television show?
A) Playschool. Yes, shiny things!
B) Rage. Finally, someone as depressed as me, even though that is impossible.
C) American youth sit-coms (Big Bang Theory, New Girl). Yes that meaningless thing IS funny!
D) The Block/Jamie Oliver. I can make it myself. Yes I can!
E) World News. Still a mess huh. Typical.
F) TV? Someone once showed me Antiques Roadshow – that was ok.
Q5. On your holidays you go to:
C) Contiki tour. Probably Ibiza.
D) Resort full of activities. I’m gunna go to the gym! Sure you are.
E) Caravan Park. Care to join our bridge team?
F) Don’t really care. Must be close to public toilet facilities.
Q6. The world’s best music is:
A) Pop Music! I can dance and I know all the words! All three of them!
B) Nirvana. Kurt was a prophet.
C) I can’t believe that got in the hottest 100.
D) B105. Pretend cool, but completely familiar…
E) There was no music after 1979.
F) Chopin. So soothing…
Q7. When do things have to be done?
A) Now! Now! Now! Now! oh look, a puppy…
B) I don’t care, but I’m not doing it.
C) Tomorrow I think.
D) After soccer training, before piano lessons and can you take the laundry in?
E) I’ll just do it shall I?
F) What thing? Oh yeah, the house is flooded.
Q8. What should we have for dinner?
A) Ice cream!
B) I had some cereal.
C) Leftover takeaway. Or takeaway. You choose.
D) Casserole. Eat your vegies.
E) Same thing we had last week. Why are you even asking?
F) You brought what? Stir fry? I’ll just have sausages. Don’t trust that foreign food.
Q9. Your driving style is best described as:
A) In time with the music.
B) Watch, I’ll do a burn out. Oh, stupid automatic.
C) Fast and erratic, but somehow still late all the time.
D) Safety above all else. For my family anyway…
E) Cautious. 85 is better for fuel economy.
F) I prefer the bus, I like talking to the driver.
Q10. The thing that annoys me most is:
A) Boring things. Work, rules, other people talking, people watching the news when cartoons are on, being told to sit still and be quiet, being told not to talk so much, not being paid attention to notbeingabletodowhateveriwanteveryonebeingmeaniwantapony.
C) Not being taken seriously. Why make me vote if nobody listens?
D) Stains. How did that even get there?
F) Change. Loud noises. No one using apostrophes correctly. Food that makes me gassy.
How did you go? See below for our scientific answer key! To cater for all ages and attention spans we have made it very easy to understand.
What Age Are You?
Mostly A’s: You are a child. Do your work and you can have an ice cream.
Mostly B’s: You are a teenager, which you’ll never find out because you didn’t read this far.
Mostly C’s: You’re in your 20’s. Eternally on the cusp…
Mostly D’s: You’re in your 30’s. Now get back to work.
Mostly E’s: You’re 40-60. If you were in charge the world would be a better place. Oh wait, you are in charge.
Mostly F’s: You’re old. Which is fine. With life so bad, nothing will ever disappoint you.
Congratulations! Now you know your Natural Age and life need never be a mystery again. If you cheated and did the quiz without reading the revolutionary theory behind it, stop being so lazy and go here.
Your friend and comfort in times of need,
The Coffee Baron
*I went to university. I’m pretty sure that counts.
Having not long previously blown through the ‘get engaged, get married’ rite of passage with astonishing haste (from first kiss* to ‘kiss the bride’ in under 9 months…), The Redhead and I this year turned our attention to the next major ‘be a grown up’ ritual: buying somewhere to live. Having proved that getting married was easy as could be (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) finding somewhere to live would surely be a piece of cake.
At first it looked as if we might be right. We found a place we liked in a good location at a price we could afford and despite being in the ‘just looking’ phase, we decided to put an offer in. Offer submitted pretending to be very grown up the whole time, and we started getting all giggly and smug about once again doing with a minimum of fuss and bother something most people struggle over for ages. The next day we got a call from the agent saying our offer had been presented, but for our information he had also had another offer go in just that minute and would we perhaps like to reconsider? We knew the place had been on the market for several months so we decided that we were being played for the real estate newbies he knew we were. We called his bluff and were left with an astonished feeling of loss when the other offer proved to not only exist, but be higher than ours. It perhaps didn’t help that we had been referring to it as ‘our house’ and somehow in the space of 48 hours had constructed an astonishingly detailed plan of what life would be like in the very near and perfect future in which we would be living in it.
We repeated this process several times with other houses, including ‘Awesome House’ at Annerley, inspiration for the famous ‘Do you live in Annerley? Does it suck?’ blackboard. We met a very dishonest Italian in Kedron, inspiration for the famous ‘I got a real estate agent fired yesterday. Suck shit E— C———’** blackboard. We found a beautiful house in Windsor, a stone’s throw from the burger shop, just down the road from my best friend and with a perfect space underneath for the Redhead to run a naturopathy clinic/yoga studio, but the couple selling it selfishly decided to get a divorce and he moved in to the house.
We have looked at a multitude of houses and spent a horrifying amount of potentially useful time scouring realestate.com for the next possibility. We have learnt that you can have two of house quality, price and location, but not all three. We have given up multiple times, and I have taken the drastic step of removing the realestate.com app from my phone so I’m not tempted to check it during the day.
What we have mainly learnt this year is that buying a house is a big deal, with the potential to tap into all sorts of worries and insecurities, dreams and resentments. It is a similar process, with similar frustrations and potentials for delusion, as that of finding a partner. Both involve projecting a future, but more temptingly, both involve introducing a new element into our lives, one with the potential to influence things for the better. The question then arises, ‘just how much improvement can I get?’ Give it enough thought and soon the new house, like a new partner, can seem to be the answer to all our problems, if only we could find the right one. With the perfect mix of functional kitchen, open plan lounge dining, spare bedroom, study, back deck, bicycle storage and clinic space our lives stretch before us in an unending expanse of happiness. The commute would be short, our neighbours friendly and cafes and restaurants just around the corner. Then it seems, life would be simpler, richer and more rewarding. Arguments would be a thing of the past, for why would we, with such a place to come home to.
In short, we are living in a fantasy land, one so shiny that reality pales by comparison. We are currently living in a very nice, very convenient apartment, but in the last few months we have been focussed very heavily on what is wrong with it (‘I can’t wait to get away from these neighbours!’), rather than just enjoying the good things about our situation. In the back of my mind (far back) is the awareness that the problem with moving into our dream home, just like marrying my dream girl, will be that I take me with it. There will be positives and negatives to the house which may influence my happiness to some extent, but as I have discovered from being married***, the greatest contributor to my happiness isn’t another person or where I live, but the effort I put into working on my own problems and being less of an unhappy selfish prick to begin with.
So it is with great regret that I kiss goodbye another potential magic bullet for all my issues, and face up to the unfortunate reality that the only way around my problems seems to be through them.
Maybe I’ll try having children. That should do the trick…
Now you must excuse me. It’s late and I have a house to look at in the morning. I think this could be the one….
Your hopeful but continually deluded friend,
*First grope occurred several moments earlier, a non-chivalrous approach she has never forgiven me for.
** Name deleted to prevent this blog being the third thing to come up when his name goes into Google. He’s promised to behave. If you hear anything to the contrary let me know…
***This is not to say that marriage isn’t great. It is, but it seems that the more you like someone, the more honest you need to be about your own failings so as not to piss them off.
On Friday at the shop we had a special day to honour Steves and encourage the qualities of Steveness in all of us. After ‘What is Steve Day?’ the most frequent question I was asked was “Why Steve Day??” It’s a good question. Got me thinking. This is why.
When I was a little boy one of the big mysteries of life was what I would end up ‘being’ when I grew up. It seemed that at some point as adulthood descended I would magically transform from the familiar, daydreamy creature of my youth into a disciplined, focussed, hardworking adult member of society with a professional trade which defined my being. No more would I spend my days wondering about the mysterious workings of the universe and reading comic books, no, I would be serious and productive, with a culturally approved persona which I could present to an approving world in a way that my dreamy younger self never seemed quite appropriate for.
It came as a bit of a shock when I did grow up and discovered that it didn’t work that way. I went to university and studied physiotherapy because that seemed like a useful, respectable thing to do, but after 18 months my motivation started dropping and I came to the conclusion that while it ticked the ‘grown up’ box, I didn’t really want to be a physiotherapist. So in one of my braver moments, I quit, and have rarely felt relief and terror like it- gone was the comforting dream that a sensible job would provide me with a made to measure adult existence.
I didn’t really know what to do next, but luckily need has a way of forcing the reluctant soul and when rent came due I answered the only want ad I could find that I seemed remotely qualified for, and ended up working at the Indooroopilly Coonan St McDonald’s. That didn’t really seem to be enough to go on, so when a girl I fancied encouraged me to audition for the acting school she was attending I said yes. I got in (I have very dramatic eyebrows), and spent the next two years shouting consonants across the room and pretending to be a tree.*
On days off I worked at McDonald’s and while the actual job was atrocious, discovering that hospitality pretty much involved being an engaging smartarse with complete strangers was a lot of fun. It was such fun that eventually regular customers started telling me that they appreciated being served by someone who was happy rather than a surly teenager- I’ll never forget the woman who placed her order, started to drive off and then reversed back into the ordering park to tell me that she was always disappointed when she came round the corner and someone else was waiting in the drive through booth**.
This was an enjoyable interlude, but two years rolled past and suddenly I was once again faced with the ‘who am I going to be’ question. While I enjoyed the training I had no real interest in being an actor (film sets bore me to tears), and McDonald’s was fun, but I hadn’t been promoted in two years (apparently you’re not supposed to ‘improve’ on their systems…) so I was once again stuck. When in doubt, re-enact failed measures from the past, so I went back to uni. This time I decided to be a primary school teacher. I still don’t quite understand that one as I don’t really understand or like children individually or en masse, but it seemed like a solid, respectable thing to do, so I went for it. Two years in reality annoyingly set in again and having decided that there couldn’t be anything worse than being a teacher, I decided to quit and got a job.
Having successfully talked my way (one lasting advantage of acting school is that being well spoken gets you employed) into a junior position in data entry and account reconciliation with a self managed super fund administration company*** I discovered that there was something worse. The first day was atrocious, and featured cheesecake to welcome me to the team. The second day was worse and had no cheesecake. I quit before the third day.
While wondering whether to ask for my wages for the two days of work I had done (I needed the money…), I was faced with the worrying fact that I had tried the real world and not exactly excelled. So in tried and tested form, I went back to uni. Luckily I hadn’t cancelled my enrolment and I discovered that I could turn my four year education degree into a three year ‘Bachelor of General Studies****’ using one year of any subjects from the education faculty. This was brilliant, as while my colleagues were battling with 9 year olds, I did subjects on Shakespeare, English literature, creative writing (in week three I discovered that my tutor was actually a good friend’s brother- a little awkward as I was in the habit of leaving early…), drama, sociology- everything I was fascinated by.
Once that finished, I went and got a job in a cafe which seemed a step up from McDonald’s. Poor pay, long hours, hard work and I absolutely loved it. After two years (that seems to be my turnaround) some rather dramatic events led to me suddenly opening my own shop, something I discovered afterwards I had absolutely no idea how to do but seemed to have done anyway.
All of a sudden, I had a shop. I am still astonished that that happened, and worked, and still delight in the discovery that my real value to society lay not so much in growing up and being sensible, but in doing something vaguely productive with the whimsical nature which is my want. It turns out that while performing a useful function is necessary, I had it backwards- my real place in the world isn’t hiding behind a grown up job, but doing a job in the way which brings the most out of me and gives the most enjoyment to the people around me.
In a coffee shop this means looking for the most ridiculous, fun way of doing things, which seems inevitably to lead to things like Steve Day. We have a surprising number of customers called Steve, and in consultation with my associate we decided that they should have a day to honour their valuable contribution to the shop and the wider community. And so ‘The First Annual International Steve Day’ was born. In preparation I spent an hour writing Steve on 300 stickers to put over people’s names on the coffee cups, then discovered I was actually writing Steve on the backing paper and started again. I changed the sign to ‘Steve’s Espresso’, stuck ‘Steve’ stickers on everything and made up an entirely ‘Steve’ based playlist (Stevie Wonder, Stevie Nicks, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Earle, Seasick Steve, Steve Wright, Cat Stephens, Sufjan Stevens, The Steve Miller Band).
Then we had a fantastic day calling all the customers Steve (‘Steve your coffee is ready. And Steve yours is up, and Steve, you’re up too!’) and everyone had an absolute ball, especially our genuine Steves who finally got the recognition they deserve. (except Lenny Steve and Steve-o who didn’t turn up- boy are they in trouble…). This it seems, is how I’m most useful, and I only wish I could go back in time and tell younger me not to worry about being grown up, but to just make the most of my naturally immature gifts. At least then I wouldn’t have such a whopping HECS debt…
Your happpily ridiculous friend,
* She dumped me a week later but by then I’d signed up and there were lots of pretty girls there so I stuck around…
**I can’t remember what she looked like, but when I replay the memory she is young and very attractive..
*** This is even less exciting than it sounds.
**** As discussed in an earlier blog post this turned out to be the perfect preparation for working in hospitality.
One of the main pleasures of running a coffee shop is all the interesting characters I meet. If you make coffee for enough people there’s bound to be some oddballs among them, but I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing attracts ‘interesting’ people quite like a job that involves getting up every morning at 2am. Milkmen, this is for you.
The first milkman I had the pleasure of getting to know was a quiet, thoughtful chap in his 20’s called Rowan. I liked him from the start as he has the same name as my brother of whom I am fond, so the morning greeting always had a familiar feel about it. Rowan did his job with a quiet efficiency which suggested that he had any number of higher potentials within him, but for whatever reason he felt more comfortable hiding in a rarely noticed, but highly useful societal fringe. Every now and then something on the blackboard would catch his attention and he would stop for a brief, thoughtful discussion before disappearing back into his cab. He was also a big heavy metal fan, a fact somewhat at odds with his gentle, reflective demeanour.
Rowan disappeared one day as milkmen seem apt to do, and he was replaced by a gentleman called Bevan, who was possibly the most aptly named human being I have ever come across. Bevan was a lovely fellow, a fine specimen of that friendly bogan type who has embraced their boganness without succumbing to the need to be ‘apsirational’. A scruffy, moustachioed man of indeterminate age (he could have been 55 or he could have been 40 and prematurely aged from a constant diet of winnie blues, slabs of XXXX and home-grown haircuts), Bevan summed up in one person the reasons I hope and despair for the human race in equal measure. He was friendly. He was helpful. He was happy with life, and had that certain indefinable sense of being at heart a good person. But he also told the story of joining his father in beating up the brother who disclosed to the family that he was gay, and how that brother was no longer part of the family.
And yet somehow, despite being disgusted by that, I still liked him. It was something about the wholeheartedness of the man, who having been born into a certain way of life had embraced it to the point of caricature, yet didn’t mind being made fun of. I did a blackboard bagging bogans, and Bevan proudly declared himself to be the biggest bogan in the world. I questioned his credentials, but he had the Southern Cross tattoo, the full flannel wardrobe, an overly mortgaged McMansion in the outer suburbs, the perfect name, a job as a truck driver, and as he proudly showed me, some rather tatty boobie magazines for light reading in the cab of the truck. It was hard to argue.
Bevan was somehow married, a fact I discovered when he came in one morning complaining about being in the doghouse. I probed for details, and it turned out that the previous day had been his wedding anniversary. Like a good bogan man, he had gone home and told Mrs Bevan to get dressed up as he was taking her out to a restaurant for dinner. She responded with delight and leopard print*- a good night was in store for everyone. Things however took a turn for the worse when she discovered that the special restaurant they were going to was in fact the Woodridge McDonald’s. Not. Happy. Jan. As Bevan bravely pointed out, it does say ‘McDonald’s Restaurant’ on the sign, but that is a flimsy claim in itself and Mrs Bevan wasn’t buying it. I like that he tried though. And I like that he didn’t take her somewhere else afterwards.
In due course Bevan disappeared, possibly done in by the dodgy back he was always complaining about (while carrying a full crate of milk with each hand- trolleys are for wimps), and was replaced in turn by Rob.
How to describe Rob. The most accurate analogy might be an extremely inquisitive Staffordshire terrier. Short, solid, manically curious with no awareness of personal space or boundaries, with a square, flat but strangely endearing upturned little face, Rob was a blow in from Bolton who wandered into the shop one morning, handed me the invoice (a formality he continues to this day, most other milky’s just stuff it in the milk crates), and proceeded to deliver the milk, play with the coffee machine, check out my breakfast and make merry conversation with the customers. I can only assume that he introduced himself to all the other cafes on his route in a similar fashion.
At first I was I little put out by all this as I am at heart a private person and in the public space of the shop I can be oddly defensive about the ‘inner sanctum’ behind the coffee cart. Rob however seemed strangely immune to my ever so subtle irritation (my wife has no such issues) and continued to freewheel into the shop and poke his happy little nose into anything of interest with nary a care for my somewhat strained reception. Eventually though, after someone gave me a talking to (thank you unnamed tall person) my irritation begrudgingly gave way to the acknowledgment that my annoying milkman was actually a stunningly cheerful and valuable fellow, even more so for having not been put off by my less than stellar response. As this required giving up my much cherished grumpiness it wasn’t as immediate as it should have been, and I admit that my appreciation of his gifts somewhat coincided with the realisation that he was cadging croissants off a bakery earlier in the route, but who could resist a milkman who not only delivered the milk, but time permitting, put it away as well?
The funny thing is that once I decided to like Rob, I really liked him, and realised what a gift it is to have someone turn up at work just as you’re getting started and joke around until you’re in a ridiculously good mood. Among his adventures, he decided that in recognition of her flirtatious gifts a certain early morning customer should be referred to as ‘Floozie’ (it sounds better in his accent), he bonded with the early morning Irishman with serious discussions about the Premier League, and one memorable day, gave a bottle of milk to a hopeful in the Big Brother audition line and exhorted the hundreds waiting in the queue to get a coffee from Glen’s.
What makes Rob’s boyish exuberance even more impressive is that he isn’t even doing what he loves. Apparently when he first moved to Australia he worked as a jackaroo and absolutely loved it, but he met a girl and liked her and eventually had to make a choice and chose her. Now he’s driving a milk truck, and doing it with more heart and boisterous enjoyment than I often bring to my ‘dream job’ of running a coffee shop.
I’m sure there’s more going on than that, everyone has their issues and wishes and I know he’s already making plans for a life after milk, but Rob is walking proof that the humblest task can be made great by what you bring to it, and it does me good to be reminded of that every morning.
In the immortal words of Rob the Milkman (usually after 10 minutes or so of messing about) ‘Well, must be off! The milk’s gotta get there fresh!’
Your initially annoyed, but now gratefully chuckling friend,
* Ok, I made this detail up. But it’s what we’re all picturing…
It’s been an unsettled couple of months since the Queensland elections as Campbell Newman’s mass downsizing of the public service hits home. Many of our customers come from the two government offices on the street, the Department of Justice, and what I will persist in calling DPI as I can’t remember the latest acronym. Depending on who you talk to something like 20 000 people are losing their jobs, jointly saving a lot of money and quietly ending many somewhat necessary government functions. I am not an economist so it’s hard to speculate on the wisdom of this path, though there is certain rock and hard place feel to choosing between living within our collective means and paying people to do things like running drug testing in our prisons.
What I have seen front and centre is the stress that everyone in these offices is feeling. The experience for those in the firing line seems somewhat akin to a massive game of Russian roulette in which anyone could get the tap on the shoulder at any time, regardless of position or influence. While only 20% or so are being fired, no one knows if they are in or out (unless you work in climate change, in which case you are most definitely out- the carbon tax will fix THOSE problems…). Needless to say, morale in the office is low, as those already canned have stopped working (quote: ‘I’m turning my computer on and going to the movies’) and those remaining flinch like bunnies in a lion’s den whenever the boss walks past.
Losing a job ranks as the second most stressful event we are likely to experience*, less stressful than the death of a loved one, but remarkably more stressful than divorce, so imagine that everyone you work with was suddenly and unexpectedly staring divorce in the face and you have some sense of what is going on.
So in the midst of this shit storm is there any good news to be had? Well, maybe. The good news is that people vastly overestimate how profoundly a traumatic experience like getting fired, divorced, or running out of chocolate on a Friday night will affect them long term. While the initial stress is enormous (“No tim tams?! I will never survive!!”), teary predictions of life never being the same again are a product of an over inventive, and not very helpful imagination- five years down the track people are generally doing just fine. (Just don’t tell this to someone having a low blood sugar meltdown or you’ll end up with empty tim tam packaging stuffed down your throat. Trust me, I know**.)
I think the reason we assume the world is ending is that we are pretty focussed on physical security as the goal of life, which is mainly expressed through wanting a good job. The assumption is that once we are physically secure then the main source of suffering in our lives will be solved and we can get on with the simple business of being happy. This is true up to a point- happiness does rise with income up to the point where your physical needs are met (it’s no fun being hungry and cold), but from that point on more money has no effect whatsoever on life satisfaction. The funny thing about survival is that once you’ve got it, more isn’t terribly helpful.
The issue with a life focussed on physical security is that safety and fulfilment are kind of diametrically opposed. You’ve probably come across the great article by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware on the top 5 regrets of the dying (it was huge on facebook…). For a recap, here they are:
1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2) I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3) I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5) I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Two of them refer to having the courage to self express, and one to not working so much. It seems that we don’t get to the end of life thanking our lucky stars that we had a hot dinner every night. We wish we had risked more, been more courageous, and showed more of our true selves in how we had lived, worked, and played with others. It seems that what really causes suffering is not a lack of physical security, but a lack of self expression.
So the real upside to the downside of being fired is possibly that it is the ‘little deaths’ which give us time to reflect on what it is that we really want to do. At the ending of a job, relationship, house or anything else which gives our lives and identities structure and security, there is an opportunity to make a change for the better, a trade-up so to speak***. It will possibly not be a trade up to more money or status, but a redefining of values can make it possible to change to a lifestyle which allows more self expression- a more meaningful career, or more time for pursuing a passion outside of work.
This process of redefining will occur naturally at these times, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find or admit to what it is we really want. A useful guide can be to ask ‘who am I jealous of, and what it is about them or their lives that I aspire to?’ I always secretly hated people who owned cafes, and self employed people who could do their jobs on laptops in cafes (especially anyone who made a living writing in cafes- God, how luxurious…). Turns out I really love cafes and writing… Now I do one for a living, and one sporadically for a hobby and life is a lot more satisfying. This gets a bit trickier when you have a mortgage and family to support (it’s easier to chuck it all in to be a Mediterranean beekeeper when you’re single and 17), but even so knowing personal goals apart from being a provider makes it easier to work some self fulfilment into and around the irritating need to be a responsible adult.
Having said all that, I really hope you don’t get fired after all. I have bills to pay as well, and I need some of you to turn up on Monday…
Your friend and employment rehabilitation counsellor,
*Because I’m not at uni anymore I haven’t referenced this study, but I read it in a book by someone who did, I promise.
** Any resemblance to persons living or dead or married to me is purely coincidental. So shut the hell up.
***As the great sage Homer Simpson would say, ‘Crisi-tunity!!’
About a year ago I got an email from a chap called Glen Scarlett asking me to send him some coffee beans in Melbourne. Below see my reply, and his somewhat belated but admirably offbeat response…
To: Glen Scarlett
Subject: Re: Glens Blend for Glen
Glen Scarlett. Damn that’s an awesome name. I’m picturing you as a tall, mysteriously handsome man with European style and a beautiful brunette on your arm. With a name like that you’re destined to be succesful…
I’m glad you like the coffee, you must have met my slave Nathan on Wednesday. (I went home because it was too hot- no point in being the boss if you can’t go home when you want to…)
Now, the bad news is that I have sent coffee to people in the past, but have generally found it to be uneconomical all round- I don’t make a lot of money off selling the beans
so the half hour at the post office doesn’t pay all that well, and with postage added onto the cost the beans end up being about twice as expensive as they should be.
If you beg and plead you could probably talk me into it (I have guilt issues from a religious upbringing so I’m easily manipulated) but my advice would be to find a specialty roaster near you in Melbourne and get fresh beans from them- if you’re getting ground coffee freshness is very important. Once coffee is ground it loses the tasty oils around 1000 times quicker than the whole beans, so they degrade pretty quick (best advice- if you can handle the mess and the noise get a little burr grinder for home- makes a huge difference if you grind fresh). I don’t know the Melbourne scene very well, but someone like Veneziano at 22 Bond Street Abbotsford does a coffee in a similar style to mine. Most cafes sell beans nowadays so if you find a coffee you like chances are they’ll have beans.
Now, if it’s the novelty of having your own branded beans to impress the ladies that you were really after, then for a nominal fee I am more than happy to post you a package of Glen’s Blend stickers which you can wack on yourWoolworth’s coffee to your heart’s content. This is the sort of subterfuge I am very much in favour of.
So, sorry about the coffee, let me know about the stickers…
Glen (Coffee Baron)
P.S. I have spent many hours trying to stop leaks at the shop, so anyone who has the skills to waterproof for a living has my utmost respect…
How crazy to find your email still waiting for my reply. I believe it officially puts me in “coffee drinker most likely to reply late to an email” category.
Glen, I enjoyed re-reading your email. It brought a smile to my face thinking of that ‘Beautiful, European Brunette (who is actually Blonde)’ and your favour for subterfuge, but it did spark a little fire of reality:
When it comes down to it, I think I was romantically attracted to the notion of my own Glory printed on someone else’s wares after becoming punch drink by the Miami Vice meeting at the solicitors, where by large sums where transferred (washed and waterproofed) through a number of offshore accounts in the Virgin and Cayman Islands allowing a staggering tax neutral position to be acquired and resulting in a massive cash advantage, that is in fact my own form of a ‘Carbon Tax Rebate’ (MYOCTR for short). In the end this all turned into nothing more than the coffee biscuit so thoughtlessly lost into the depths of a bang-bang by one of your minions.
So, I wish for more of Glens Blend for Glen and I want thank you for your generous offer. But I wish to not, not accept it (because I have a propensity to please people to my own detriment due to my strict subservient religious upbringing) , but to accept it in ‘thought’, for I was told and told and told (opps there it is again) that it is the thought that counts.
I also wish to confess that I almost considered stealing your Chuck Norris book, because it is written in the cover that Chuck will eat my Grandma if I do. I thought “Chuck could do that?. ..shit, how would I explain that and MYOCTR??” so I put the book down. Now, if the book has gone missing since then, I am clearly innocent, because Chuck has not eaten my Grandmother, or even my Beautiful, European Brunette (who is actually Blonde)’s Grandmother. Phew, cause she’s rich and I’m hoping to use her as a MYOCTR v2.0.
Procon Waterproofing Pty Ltd
Suite 103 / 254 Bay Rd, Sandringham 3191
PO Box 599, Blackrock 3193
M: 0427 204 555
P: 9598 8295
F: 9598 8328
From: email@example.com [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, 16 January 2012 8:25 PM
It has come to my attention that I haven’t made a post on this site since June. The reason for this is that I have fallen in love, and have been spending my evenings and weekends gazing at my beloved instead of writing blog posts.
This is sickening, but true. I have turned into one of those annoying people who don’t go out or see their friends because it is far more exciting to stay in and giggle like a demented chipmunk with my lady love.
It also makes it hard to write about anything else, as my incredible good fortune has taken over my entire sphere of attention, as anyone who has engaged me in conversation over the last five months will attest.
However, as I am aware that like an acid trip this is somewhat less interesting for those of you not inside it, I will desist, gather my thoughts, and come back soon with something semi-sensible to say.
Unless you want to hear about The Redhead, in which case I will deleriously ramble until the cows come home…
Your besotted, somewhat embarrassed, but ridiculously happy friend,
The Coffee Baron