Monday, November 19, 2007

The Thirty-Two Cents

This evening Dr. K was whimpering about how she "just really wanted something from Starbucks." She didn't want to go across the street because she was afraid to miss the patient who was coming in 25 minutes, so I offered to go for her.

"Okay, here's what I want: a tall . . . hmm, what I really want is a chai but I have that every morning, so maybe a latte, no . . . a gingerbread latte! I want a tall gingerbread latte, two pump, extra hot, decaf - definitely decaf - with, hmm, should I get whipped cream? Light whipped cream, make sure you tell them light, oh, no foam, did I say foam? No foam. Yes that's what I want."


She fished in her purse for some cash. "I know I'm high maintenance," she said chattily, "but I figure, I spend so much money in there that I can be as high maintenance as I want."


"I mean, I spend $1300 there a year."

O- what?!

"Have you thought about an espresso machine?" I asked.

She gave me her arched-brow "what do you mean by that?" look. "Well, we used to have one but I just like it better when they make it for me."

I nodded. "Oh, okay!"

So I bundled up and dashed across Rockville Pike as darkness fell. When I got to the Starbucks, I ran into a girl I used to work with. Her family is quite wealthy so I chatted her up about chiropractic and handed her Dr. K's card. When it was my turn, I read out the order, which I had written down on a post-it note. "Here, let me see that," the barista said cheerily, plucking my note neatly from my hand.

She squinted at it. "Ordering for the boss, huh?"

"Mmhmm," I nodded.

"Jeez." She rolled her eyes. "I bet she's a joy."

I laughed. "Mmhmm."

"So it's like that," she said sympathetically.

"Yeah, it's like that," I told her. She chuckled.

"Okay, calling!" she shouted, turning to the baristas manning the espresso machine. "Can I get a tall decaf no foam extra hot gingerbread latte with light whip!"

"Wait wait wait!" the others pleaded as they grabbed for jugs of milk, pump bottles, spray cans of whipped cream, and little espresso cups. She read it again, then told me my total was $3.68.

"Thanks!" I said, dropping the change into the tip jar and tucking the dollar bill into my purse.

I hurried back across the street, trying to clean up the milky brown whipped cream goo that kept spewing from the sip hole and dribbling onto my Steve Madden sheepskin jacket. Once I got to the office, I sped first to the kitchen to wipe off the beverage so that Dr. Kat would have a nice clean cup to drink from, then slipped into her office.

Dr. K was on the phone. I set the cup down gently but before I even had a chance to let go, she was thrusting out her hand and wiggling her fingers. I dug through my purse and handed her the dollar bill. She continued to wiggle. "Where's my change?" she mouthed.

My heart dropped.

"I, uh, gave it as a tip . . . " Her face darkened. "I'm sorry . . . I just assumed . . . I always tip when there's a tip cup, I just thought . . . " I sputtered off pathetically.

In truth I had hesitated before depositing the change. But I just would have felt too embarrassed not to leave a tip. When I was a barista, we really relied on the couple of dollars doled out to us at the end of a busy shift, and to me it's a necessity to toss some change in there. If I can't afford a tip, then I can't afford to make a purchase.

Apparently Dr. K feels otherwise. Her eyes bulged and her fingers curled shut savagely. She hung up the phone.

"You did what?" she asked quietly, biting into every word as if it was my head.

"I'm sorry," I blubbered. "I just always give a tip. I assumed - I'm sorry - here, I have the change in my purse," I offered quickly. I mean, what's a couple cents in exchange for peace and quiet?

"No, no," she spat. "That's okay. It's just I really counted on getting that change. I really needed it this week."

"Gee, I'm so sorry," I apologized again. "It was my mistake. Let me get you your change." I turned to grab my purse but she stopped me again.

"No," she sighed. "No, that's okay." She looked morose. "It's just one of those weeks when I really needed that change."

"It's okay," I told her. "It's no problem. I screwed up. I have the change right here." I ignored her as she called out another breathy reassurance and hustled to grab my purse. I counted out exactly thirty-two cents and went back to her office, plunking the four coins down on her desk in a stack.

"No no no," she insisted. "Really, it's okay." Then she caught sight of the coins. "Is that it?"

"Mm-hmm," I murmured, trying not to sound snappish.

"Really? Just thirty-two cents?"

"Yup, that's it."

She considered this for a moment. "Oh. Because I really thought it would be more."

"Mmm," I responded. I returned to my desk but I was feeling very angry. Perhaps I wouldn't have felt quite as angry if Dr. K had not shared with me the following tidbits throughout the day:

"I took Jen out to lunch yesterday. It only cost sixty dollars."

"I ordered Mary a bottle of wine for Christmas. We're not very close friends but she really likes wine. It only cost a hundred bucks."

"I bought our tickets today. We're using our miles so it should only be about three thousand dollars when we go to Egypt in April."


Three thousand bucks.

To Egypt.

So begrudging some beleaguered coffee slingers a couple of cents after they made your confusing-as-hell drink to your specifications seemed a little uncharitable. Particularly after I sat through a networking breakfast the day before where she rudely whispered through somebody's entire presentation, sharing with me fascinating tidbits about how all the Jews in the group really piled up their plates because they wanted to get their money's worth, and then jabbing me every time a Jew lifted fork to mouth.

With that in mind, I was feeling pretty pissed. But I didn't say anything because, well, she's my boss.

She, however, couldn't let it go. The rest of the evening I kept hearing about "the thirty-two cents" and how she would have been shipped off to the poorhouse if she hadn't had it. I continued to murmur my assent and try to look as industrious as possible, so that maybe she would drop it. Not satisfied, however, she tried a different tack.

"It's just that I pay so much," she said, "and I expect things to be done right. And," she continued, "I bought you that latte."

Oh, Lord, I thought. She did not just go there.

It's not that she doesn't pay well. I feel fairly compensated for my work and she is right to expect that I execute my job responsibilities completely and accurately. But even if the situation by itself had warranted all this breast-beating, there were a couple other elements that contributed to my growing exasperation.

For example, every week Dr. K goes to a networking lunch in a heavily congested part of town. She has to feed a meter in order to park and she never has enough change. Every week she asks me for change and nearly every week I give her a dollar or two. She also never has postage and I frequently give her stamps for her outgoing mail. I was not concerned about this because I like working in a mutually giving environment and I felt comfortable saying "No" if necessary.

I had no idea that we were keeping a running tally of who owed what to whom.

So I literally gaped at her as if she had lost her mind. "Wow," I said. "I . . . really don't want it to be like that. Do you?"

"What do you mean?" she asked cluelessly.

'Umm, just, I mean," I stuttered. I felt uncomfortable listing examples of my generosity, especially in such a "take that!" way. "Well," I continued, "I give you parking money every week."

She stared at me as if to say, "Yeah, so?"

"And . . . " I drawled. "And I try to give you postage whenever you need it . . . "

Was I really having this conversation? I felt as if I'd been transported back to the fourth grade, deciding whose Barbie deserves to wear the pretty outfit this time.

Apparently she had no such qualms. "I thought the latte took care of that," she said snippishly.

"Oh, well . . . " I didn't have anything else to say. I mean, if on her planet a $3.68 latte "takes care of" a forty or fifty dollar gift, then I guess I don't live on that planet.

I really stood back and reconsidered whether Dr. K is someone I can work for. Through most of her insanities, I can step away and chuckle to myself, enjoying to some extent the truly bizarre vagaries of her mind. But something about her resenting a couple of cents dropped in a styrofoam cup as a thank-you for good service made me reconsider. Maybe our values are just too divergent for me ever to be able to anticipate her needs. Maybe I won't ever have a day when I don't think, "I can't believe she wants me to do x. This is so wasteful, inconsiderate, or irresponsible." And maybe my resentment at having my suggestions dismissed, at feeling forced to be destructive, rude, or thoughtless, is just too large for me to stick with this.

I am sticking with it. I'm going to try to continue to learn and become a better employee, because I do have a lot to learn. But one of the things I've learned is that in some situations, I can't just shrug it off. I can't just mentally rub my hands with glee as I start imagining my next blog entry.

Some things are just worth more than thirty-two cents.


Luap Otisopse said...

That is such a shocking situation... You could spin this into a sitcom! I feel for you sis...

Crittergal said...

What would we call this sitcom?

Hollywood does need new scripts right now . . .

Nivek Yrurd said...

I mean, to me that it has gotten this far is shocking. You surely have more determination and patience for people than I do. It appears that she would benefit from the shock of one of her employees leaving because of her! Or perhaps she would go home and vent to whoever would listen about Crittergal's shortcoming and how Crittergal doesn't understand her at all. This person, is seemingly a petty surface deep one who really isn't worthy of Crittergal's time and loyalty. You deserve better than her.

Tip that damn Barista, did you hear that order!

Aye-yae-yae, if your strong enough...