I was unsure whether the barista was conducting a science experiment, or making chai tea. The strainer appeared like some kind of double light bulb. Bubbles rose from the bottom teardrop, and heated the water in an identical container. The woman in the apron carefully stuck a thermometer into the spherical vase. It must have been boiling. She poured loose tealeaves into the water, and moderately fast, it turned an autumn brown. Instead of stirring with the two spoons, as she had done before, the barista grabbed an oak wood stick, and spun the liquid ever so gently.
She had unusually blonde hair. Her nose ring went quite well with it, however. It hung over the glass as she sniffed, once, then again for a second time. She didn’t mind the steamers and the coffee machines a couple feet away: mochas and Americanos playing caffeinated tricks. Leaning down, she pressed a button that separated the leaves from the dyed water. Other waiting customers seemed amazed at the innovation: they pointed and smiled as if everything were behind a case, captioned and formally explained. Once all the tea had drained to the bottom, the woman screwed off the empty glass. She clapped her palm against the clear curves, dumping the unused clumps of tea. She placed the glass next to all the others in a dish rack, and then shifted her head and neck. I noticed some black hair beneath the blonde. I guess you can change more than the color of a tea bag in a cup.
I had to leave immediately after, because my order had arrived, and I asked if they’d make it to-go. An employee had drawn waves in the foamy milk. I didn’t ask for anything artistic…but I take it some people don’t have to be asked. It was only a single cup, and there were no holders. So I managed with the sting of hot coffee around my thumb and middle finger. I sipped a bit off the surface, with my history of spilling in front of city folk. I grabbed a traveler’s lid from the corner and took off. The line at the café wasn’t so long after I scooted by a man in a green shirt on my way out. I made an estimate, that if I had come at least ten minutes later, I wouldn’t have been standing aimlessly, single file, in something I could have lived out much more easily (in another time).
This was near Fifth & Mission, San Francisco, where everyone seems to leave their hearts…and lose their keys. Where everyone’s cars break down because the hills are too strenuous for two sets of wheels. Where the fog means it’s summertime, and the sun means it’s December. Where Hitchcock took advantage of the weather, and a bridge-way of suicide attempts. Where I paid for coffee at the Blue Bottle, mistaking it for a chemistry lab sometime or the other.
When I leave myself this way (if I do, that is), I’ll grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice, where I read this sentence over, and I grow accustomed to the occasional pauses in my voice: the sweet spots in my mid-tones, the cracks in my chest, the reminders of my days hitting high Cs, playing melancholic chords. Thanks to music, my lower back sagging on the porch steps, my ears: I can write undisturbed. And I can listen to myself…talking.