He was not used to it… maybe because it only happened to him twice. Once, in the late sixties. And again, just yesterday morning. (He was going to say “yesterday morning”, but why quibble with James Taylor?)
I was living in London, introduced to and then regularly frequenting The Horse and Groom pub in Hampstead. (The outside sign is still there but it is now a Chinese restaurant inside. I went. I saw. I was sad.)
I was hardly a natural pub “regular.” When I tried rolling a cigarette the flame shot through the insufficiently tightly packed tobacco and almost burnt up my tongue. I could not participate in “rounds”, because after one round – and only a half-pint of “Bitter” to boot – I was done drinking for the evening. (Once, after swaying my way back to my bedsitting room, it took me ten minutes to fit my key into the lock. I was “this close” to sleeping in a nearby graveyard.)
A few months after my arrival, on the day Britain’s Super Bowlish FA Cup Final would be broadcast on the “telly”, I saw the pub manager, Eddy, going around, whispering to various customers – whispering what, I had no idea (such is the nature of whispering.) Then, to my startled surprise, Eddy came over and whispered to me, his sub rosa message:
“Stay after ‘Closing’.”
At 3 P.M., after the unchosen hoi polloi found their way out the door, the “Select Few” – including, inexplicably, myself – remained behind, an old television was rolled in, the pub’s bar was kept open – and was now free (to the minimal good that did me) – and we watched the FA Cup Final, from the club-like confines of The Horse and Groom.
Special treatment. For, apparently, only being myself.
And to prove it wasn’t a fluke, it happened again. Only fifty years later, as italicizedly mentioned – singing the following is optional – just yesterday morning.
I guess I’ve been frequenting the Groundwork Coffee Co. once a week for a couple of years now, in the course of my Wednesday or – as Kobe Bryant changed his uniform number from 8 to 24 in the middle of his career – Thursday walks.
I always order the same thing – a Venice Blend “Pour-over”, not because I am inflexibly set in my ways but because I have sampled many of the alternatives and have found Venice Blend most satisfactorily “to my taste.” Then I became inflexibly set in my ways. (So I am, but not right away.)
Here’s how it works. I go in, I wait in line, I finally get to the counter, I order a Venice Blend “Pour-over”, I pay the exorbitant four dollars (plus a tip) and I wait a few minutes for the “coffista” – “coffisto”, male in Spanish, “coffistus”, male in Latin – to prepare it.
Preparing a Venice Blend “Pour-over” involves coming out from behind the counter, walking to the cabinet of coffee blend bins, opening the bin-drawer labeled “Venice Blend”, scooping up the appropriate amount of Venice Blend coffee beans for one serving, going back behind the counter, grinding the Venice Blend coffee beans, emptying the Venice Blend bean grindings into a filter, and pouring hot water over the bean grindings into a cup. And now you can work there.
So yesterday morning, I step inside Groundwork Coffee Co., I take my place at back of the line, behind four our five earlier-arriving customers, and I wait patiently to be served.
And then something unusual happens. I notice, out of the corner of my eye – giving the corner of my eye credit for a visual acuity it may not accurately deserve – the Groundwork Coffee Co.’s store manager, a black clad, forty-ish gentleman with a shiny, Captain Picard-like hair style, heading for the Venice Blend drawer bin, and then performing the above-mentioned procedure for preparing an, as yet unordered, Venice Blend “Pour-over.”
To my somewhat unwitting surprise, when I arrive at the counter, I find a steaming cup of “The Coffee-of-My Choice”, sitting there, waiting for me. Along with a friendly wink-and-a-smile from the chrome-domed manager of the Groundwork Coffee Co.
Cognizant of my habits, the Groundwork Coffee Co. manager had already known what I wanted, and had prepared it for me, not “On Request”, but, voluntarily and conveniently, automatically.
Wow. Special treatment.
For, apparently, only being myself.
Sure, it felt great. But it also – and here our reactive operandi may differ – felt uncomfortable. Who am I – an integral part of my internal debate – to be singled out for “Priority Attention”?
Let me be clear. It is not like I feel congenitally guilty and therefore I do not deserve anything. Evidence to the Contrary: Honoring the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second, every school child, imaginably in the British Commonwealth, received their own individual commemorative coin. Except if you went to a “Parochial” school – and I do not know what exactly that means but I know the Toronto Hebrew Day School was one of them – you got nothing.
To this day, sixty-four years later, I am still seething at not receiving a Queen Elizabeth the Second coronation commemorative coin. That’s not about wanting
”Select Treatment” (“Where’s my coin?”) It’s about wanting the same treatment. (“Where’s the coin everyone else got?”)
(By the way, we called it “Pinocchio” school, because many of our noses were considerably longer.)
On the other hand…
I once stood in line for a pilot filming of a show made by my bosses, until one of them plucked me out of the line and walked me straight into the soundstage, the unspoken but still felt words, “Who does he think he is?” ringing accusingly in my ears.
For whatever reason, the “singling out” process is problematic for me. I think everyone deserves special treatment.
Of course, then it would simply be “treatment.”
As a result of my general discomfort with people receiving special treatment, I respond awkwardly ungraciously when it happens to me.
“I am so predictable”, I jokingly replied, when the Groundwork Coffee Co. manager told me, “Enjoy.”
I should have simply said, “Thank you.” But I felt too viscerally uncomfortable for “grateful appreciation” to be an available option in my mind.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid I’m going to have to reciprocate.
That would be difficult.
What exactly would I do?