Homemade Latte

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A take on the mass consumerism and capital driven world of coffee.

Submitted: February 01, 2008

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Submitted: February 01, 2008

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The counter is covered. Covered with a full coffee pot that is still hot to the touch, three coffee mugs, a gallon of milk in a plastic container, a half gallon of half and half in a cardboard carton, two rolls of paper towels, three spoons and just for good measure—one jar of cinnamon and one jar of nutmeg each.

Mark Kowalski doesn't know why he bothered to take out the jars of cinnamon and nutmeg, or where in the recesses of the kitchen cabinet he actually found them. He can't remember if the girl at Starbucks had added cinnamon and nutmeg to his latte, or not, but they seemed like the appropriate spices to have on hand when making such a drink. He wasn't just making coffee—Mark was making latte.
The tea-kettle was sitting on top of the stove. Mark picked the kettle up and looked at it.  He wondered if he was going to need to use the tea-kettle, or not. He put the kettle back down on the stove and looked at it again. He looked at it intently like it might suddenly sprout little tea-kettle legs and get up and walk across the counter, maybe, sit itself down next to the jars of cinnamon and nutmeg and have a nice little chat. This didn't seem likely to happen, so Mark began to stare up at the microwave above the stove.
He looked at all the buttons on the microwave. He looked at all the numbers, all the temperature settings. He looked at the defrost button, at the cook button, at the cancel button, at the reheat button, at the popcorn button, at the vegetable button, even at the pizza slice button. Where the hell was the latte button?
Tentatively, Mark reached up a hand toward the microwave, but then he pulled it away as if the buttons were on fire and about to engulf his hand in flames. He wasn't so sure about using the microwave. Should he use the tea kettle? Or the microwave? The question echoed over and over in Mark's head. Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave?
The problem with making latte at home was trying to figure out how to steam the milk, whatever it meant to steam milk in the fist place. It had all seemed so simple when Mark had first conceived of the idea. All he had to do was first make some coffee (he did that about a half a dozen times a day), get some milk, steam it (whatever that meant) pour the milk and the coffee together and then—PRESTO! VOILA!—he'd have homemade latte.
Sounds simple, right? Well, making latte at home proved not to be so simple after all. The problem was figuring out how to steam the milk. Whatever the hell that meant!
Mark stood still in his kitchen and looked up at the microwave. Then he looked down at the tea-kettle. Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? How the hell do you steam milk?
Wait, Mark thought, maybe he had it all wrong to begin with. At the Starbucks he remembered seeing them using a stainless steel machine, with nozzles that made sucking sounds to turn plain ordinary milk into "steamed" milk. Maybe, he had it all wrong. Maybe you needed a special machine with nozzles that made sucking sounds like industrial strength vacuum cleaners in order to make your own latte.
As Mark stood still in the kitchen and thought about it, he eventually discarded the idea that you might need your own special loud-mouthed sucking machine to make steamed milk as unreasonable and highly unlikely. After all, as everyone already knows—you can make anything in a microwave.
But should he use the microwave to steam the milk? And if so, what was the difference between steamed milk, and boiled milk? If he was just going to boil milk than Mark figured he might as well use the tea-kettle instead of the microwave, because that way he could pour the milk straight from the kettle and into the coffee. But were boiled and steamed milk the same thing? He supposed that if steamed milk was really some kind of more advanced form of milk than boiled milk then he should probably use the microwave because microwave's by their very nature were more complex and technologically evolved than tea kettles. It was all so confusing. And why did he have a carton of half and half out on the counter?
All these problems started two nights ago when Mark decided to stop in at the Starbucks as on his way to work. Mark didn't normally stop at Starbucks, he usually preferred the dirty water coffee from the roach coach behind the warehouse that cost only a dollar, to the five dollar Colombian stuff the Starbucks offered, but as he rode by the place the line inside hadn't seemed that long, so he had stopped in.
There were three people on line at the Starbucks when he got there. All three of the people carried attaché cases, or briefcases. All three of them were talking into a blue-tooth device, with blue lights flashing in their ears, and all three were shouting at one another over the grating sucking sounds of the stainless steel machines with nozzles.
The line of three people took forever to move it seemed. Mark kept looking at the clock on the wall as the minutes ticked by. He was probably going to be late for work at this point, not that he cared, but it would be awkward having to explain to his boss why he was late.
He could see himself walking into the warehouse, his boss Ramon sitting behind a computer and playing a game of solitaire at the metal table he used as a desk.
"Kowalski! It's ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />7:03! You were supposed to be in at 7!"
"I know. I'm sorry," he'd say.
"Well, if you knew you were supposed to be in at 7, why did you come in at three minutes after 7?"
"I don't know."
"You're supposed to call if you're gonna be late. You know that, Kowalski," then Ramon would click the mouse. The cards would fly across the screen. Someone would get stuck in the freight elevator and scream for help.  Nobody would move.
Mark would say, "I didn't know I was going to be late."
"That's no excuse, Kowalski."
"How am I supposed to call and say I'm going to be late if I don't know I'm going to be late in the first place?"
"What were you doing?" His boss would finally turn to him and ask.
"Getting a cup of coffee."
"Getting a cup of coffee? That doesn't take that long," Ramon would point out.
Mark figured he would say something like, "That's what I thought!"
Finally, the line of three people at the Starbucks two nights ago moved and got to Mark's turn. After the fat guy in the all blue jogging suit, the woman with gaudy earrings, and the teenage girl wearing a backpack as big as a piece of carry-on luggage ordered their fratello-super-sugary-strawberry-peach-milkshake, frappucino-with-caramel-chocolate-vanilla-peppermint coffee and green tea smoothie respectively, Mark stood before the counter ready to order his coffee.
"I'll just have a coffee please," Mark said.
The girl behind the counter stopped snapping her gum, looked up from the cash register, bunched up her lips like she was sucking on something incredibly sour and said, "Uh, like wait. So all you want is coffee?"
"Yes, just a coffee please," Mark said again.
"Tall, Grande, or Venti?" she asked as she went back to snapping her gum.
"What?" Mark tried to ask this as politely as possible.
"Like the size," the girl said as she reached both hands behind her head to fix her brunette ponytail with blonde highlights.
"Oh," Mark said as he fumbled with a couple dollar bills and looked down at his hands nervously, "I don't know. Small I guess," he said.
"You want a tall?"
"Is the tall small?"
"Tall is the smallest size, sir," the girl behind the counter said.
"Okay, I'll have that then," Mark said.
"So all you want is coffee?" The girl said this as she looked right at Mark and stopped playing with her ponytail.
Mark looked at her and thought they'd already been through this movie before. "Yeah, just coffee," he said.
"Can I tell you something, sir?" The girl asked.
Mark figured maybe she was going to ask him on a date, so he stood up straight and said, "Sure, go ahead."
"You really should try and expand your horizons," the girl smiled, "we have all kinds of drinks and you're going to overpay for the coffee anyway, so you should try something new."
Mark laughed. "But I like coffee," he said.
The girl shrugged and turned away. "Okay, suit yourself."
He felt embarrassed, somehow undignified. Mark never could stand to be rebuffed by a cute young woman, in any way, and this girl at the Starbucks was no exception. "No wait," Mark said with urgency as if this Starbucks girl was a long lost love of his and about to walk out of his life forever. "I'll have one of those latte things," Mark said, "after all, it's good to be different." 
The girl smiled after he changed his mind. That's how Mark had ended up trying one of those latte things in the first place, and surprisingly, he'd liked it. But the whole Starbucks experience had left him slightly dazed and a little bit confused. Not to mention that it had caused him to be three minutes late for work that night much to his boss' chagrin. 
After visiting the Starbucks Mark had felt like a troglodyte. He felt like someone who was not fit to interact with other more evolved humans who knew about things like tall, grande, venti and latte. 
He had liked the latte, but he didn't feel comfortable going back to a place where every one seemed so much more evolved and progressive and that's why he was attempting to make homemade latte and wondering how exactly to steam milk.
He looked from the tea-kettle to the microwave. Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave?
And then the phone rang.
Mark answered the phone without looking at it, which was something that he usually did. He had heard that more progressive people check the caller ID first before answering.
"Hello?"
"Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark." It was his boss, Ramon. He could tell because whenever his boss needed to ask him a question he began by repeating Mark's name in rapid succession with an accompanying tone of giddiness.
"No," Mark said.
"What?" At least saying no got Ramon to stop repeating his name.
"I said no," Mark said.
"But you didn't even hear what I had to ask," his boss said with a chuckle.
"Well the answer's probably no. Today's my day off, Ramon."
Ramon laughed. "I was just going to ask if you wanted to use up the rest of your personal days," he said over the phone.
"Oh, I don't know," Mark said as he picked up the gallon of milk off the counter and looked at it.
"Can you come in today?" Ramon asked quickly like he was a trying to slip a question in unawares.
"No," Mark said as he put the milk back down on the counter. Mark had spent over ten years working jobs he hated. Secretly, he hated all jobs. Mark was too skilled a professional at avoiding work to be caught in that trap.
Ramon got silent on the other end of the line and then asked, "Well, why not? Not at all?"
"No. I'm busy," Mark said.
"What are you doing?" 
"Making latte."
"Making latte?" Ramon's voice went about ten notes higher than normal.
"Yeah," Mark said as he wondered why employer's always seemed to want to pry into the personal lives of their employees. That didn't seem right to him.
"Why don't you just go to Starbucks?" His boss asked.
"I can't," Mark said as he picked up the half and half. He thought that maybe he should steam that instead of the milk.
"Why not?" It was clear that Ramon was still angling for a way to convince Mark to come into work on his day off.
Mark sighed, looked at the microwave and then looked at the tea-kettle. "Because of my car," he said.
"Your car's in the shop?" 
"No, it's running," Mark said as he picked up the three spoons that were on the counter and held them up close to his face, "but it has a big dent in the side, it's missing a bumper and water's coming through the windshield."
Ramon was silent on the phone. He was wondering if he should still try to pressure Mark to come into work.  "So? If it's running you can go to Starbucks," he said.
"I can't go to Starbucks in a car like that," Mark said.
"Oh," Ramon said.
Mark stood there with the phone in his hands and looked at the microwave and the tea kettle. His eyes went back and forth between the two, again and again, over and over. There was a long silence on the phone. Mark became so enamored with the question of how to steam milk that he nearly forgot he was on the phone at all. After at least a minute had passed Ramon said, "So you can't come into work today?"
"No, I'm busy," Mark said.
"Okay," his boss said.
Mark thought Ramon was going to hang up but he didn't. Mark looked at the tea kettle and then the microwave. Tea kettle? Microwave? Tea kettle? Microwave? Tea kettle? Microwave? Tea kettle? Microwave?
"Hey Ramon," Mark said as he stood amidst all the confusion in his kitchen.
"Mark, Mark, Mark, Mark," his boss had gotten excited and thought maybe Mark had changed his mind about coming into work, "you'll come in tonight?"
"No," Mark steadfastly asserted, "but I was just wondering if you knew anything about how to steam milk."
"You need one of those stainless steel machines that makes those loud sucking noises," his boss said.
"Oh." Shit, damn it. That's what I thought, raced through Mark's mind when his boss said that.
"Listen, Mark you should just go to Star—"
Mark hung up the phone and looked at the microwave. He looked at the tea kettle that sat on top of the stove. He picked up the gallon of milk on the counter and put it down again. He looked at the tea kettle and then at the microwave. Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? Tea-kettle? Microwave? 
And what the hell is steamed milk, he thought


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