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Barista! The Gift Card That Saved Christmas

When I wrote about our motley weekend bunch for last week's posting, I had no idea the overwhelming response I would receive, nor that it would arouse a sequel. My devoted related readers appreciated my uncharacteristically sparing use of the word "fuck." And my sister thought it was good of me to write a "nice" column right before Christmas. Ha! I guaranteed her this was not a decision I consciously made, but rather the column appeared nice because I didn't actually talk about any of my regular customers for a change.

But perhaps the best thing to come from last week's column was the response from my tittilicious co-worker's husband, Niles. I've talked about Niles in past posts, specifically about how he is a cynical sonuva- just like me. For the past eight weeks of red and green disgust, Niles and I have been in a duel trying to see which of us hates Christmas more.

I took the lead about a week prior to Christmas when I developed a nasty flu and my shriveled heart actually shrunk three sizes, as I had even less energy to deal with the holiday shit hitting the fan. I suffered through my work week, which was only enhanced by two random nosebleeds in front of customers, and the sudden appearance of hundreds of more assholes than I usually see.

It was this past Saturday, on the eve before the Eve, when Niles came into the store and purchased a gift card. He handed it to my sick disoriented self at the bar and instructed me to buy the homeless people's coffees that evening, on him. Needless to say, I was very touched by his gesture.

Saturday turned into the most hectic and stressful day I have encountered in my barista history. And my week-long illness took an unfortunate turn into an ear infection, rendering me closer to useless and also partially deaf. I was miserable beyond words by the time the homeless people arrived early that night.

As they began ordering their usual small coffees, I told them to get whatever they wanted, that it was the treat of one of our customers. Each of their faces lit up like I had just handed them a million dollars. In disbelief, two of them in particular, Chris and Tiffany, followed my offering by asking how much a bottled soda would be. "Free," I said, "take whatever you want."

Embracing Tiffany, Chris told me that he had no house, but he had a car to sleep in and a great friend. He felt blessed. Tiffany told me she still believed God worked miracles through people like me. I battled with Chris when he took out a five-dollar bill and put it into our tip jar. He said he worked at McDonald's and he appreciated our hard work and refused to take back the money. I was humbled beyond words at his gratitude and selflessness.

Of all the rich suburbanites I serve on a day-to-day basis, many of them don't even think to throw their ten cents' change into our tip jar. These are people who live in 6,000-square-foot homes and carry Louis Vuitton purses and never flinch when their daily drink order alone totals more than five dollars. So you can imagine what happened to this Grinch's shriveled heart when a homeless man gave more than he could or should, to express his appreciation to us.

Later in the night, a man I had never seen before came into the store. He was obviously of money, and he purchased a gift card with a couple other little merchandise things. As he stood at the counter, he wore the most pompous smirk on his face while he looked around at the homeless people in the store. He continued to smile like that until the end of his transaction, when, behind his grin, he asked me, "Is it always this . . . crowded here on Saturday nights?"

I knew what he meant, but decided not to give him the satisfaction of joining his arrogance. I think he was expecting me to poke fun or express some sort of discomfort with the less fortunate crowd occupying the store. When he left, I watched him walk past the store and stare at each of them individually through the window, as if he was attempting to dehumanize them through the glass. After the kindness I witnessed that night from someone like Chris, that man only appeared even more pathetic and soulless to me than he would have on any other given day. I wanted to smash his head through the glass so he could get a closer look at the superior quality of people he was degrading.

But I could no longer be upset or miserable by the time that jackass crossed my path. I was too high on holiday warmth to let him bother me for long. He only served to put the night's events into clearer perspective for me.

When Niles originally bought and gave me the card late that afternoon, he tried to justify his good deed to me, as if my non-spirited self was going to argue with his gift or something. "You know I hate this time of year, but it is the season after all . . . " My response to him was along the lines that his action was what the season was supposed to be about. Here we were, the two biggest Scrooges in the whole town, trying to make the holidays resemble something other than a materialistic scramble to the ornamented tree.

I didn't even feel right accepting the bombardment of gratitude from all the homeless people when it was Niles who ultimately provided it. But I must say it made my hellacious day all the better, and for the first time in a long time, I really felt that holiday cheer that I've heard so much about. And coincidentally, it didn't come wrapped in a box.

Maude Perkins is The Beachwood Reporter's pseudononymous service industry affairs editor currently serving time as a store supervisor for a large, publicly-held corporate coffee chain. Catch up with the rest of her heartwarming stories here.



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Posted on December 27, 2006


MUSIC - The Week In Chicago Rock.
TV - Cricket vs. Brexit.
POLITICS - Trailer: Swing District.
SPORTS - Ryan Pace's Narratives Are Killing Us.

BOOKS - Chicago For Dummies.

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - The Sears Motor Buggy.


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