Mr. Barista and Me

Monday’s are my only day off. Normally, I spend every Monday with Anna, every Monday except for this one. Anna is working today because her boss’s dog died, and I am apartment sitting for Selena on the Lower East Side. On this particular Monday, I was awoken at 8 am to the sound of skateboards hitting the pavement, in a bed that is too firm for my liking, with a cat that isn’t mine biting at my toes. Today is a “me” day, which means spending money while also doing nothing simultaneously. After a glass of blueberry Kefir and a good 15-minute Tinder session (the L.E.S is prime real estate), I finally get pants on and I’m out the door.

I decided on Little Canal for breakfast. Partly, because I used to stop there on my way home after sleeping at Joe’s, and also because it’s the only place I know in the neighborhood. Joe, I remember as not being good, but Little Canal has a great egg sandwich. I mosey on in and sit down at the bar. I didn’t bring my glasses, as perusal, so when the cute barista with a buzz cut sees me squinting up, he brings over a paper menu with a coffee stain down the middle. It’s too early to be making eye contact, but I throw him a tight smile. I do notice that both of his arms are covered in tattoos, well at least as far as I can see, until his Limp Bizkit tee cuts my line of sight.

The 30-something woman next to me is asking Mr. Cute Barista about vegan options on the menu. This is funny to me because if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the mink on the back of her chair was about two seconds away from getting up and walking out. That’s what my friend Nick calls “being vegan for the waistline.” She’s done now and I’m forced to make eye contact so I can order.

“Egg and cheese on everything and a hot coffee with oat milk, please.”

He nods and makes my coffee right away, bringing the fat white mug over with the whole jug of oat milk. You know a place is good if they don’t charge you for alternative milk and they let you pour your own. I don’t know this guy, but I feel like we have this sort of bond through our common hatred of the fur coat wearing vegan. When she trips going out the door, we both giggle.

It’s been about 15 minutes since I ordered my egg sandwich and I’m starting to get nervous that he forgot about me. Mr. Barista has his back turned to me, cleaning the counter.

“Why don’t we serve matcha?” He says to his coworker. “That’s what all these yuppies drink.”

He’s right, I think to myself, yuppies do love matcha. In that second, he drops a plate and it shatters behind the bar.

I can see him looking around embarrassed and in that same millisecond we make eye contact; I immediately look away, back to staring into my phone. Suddenly a hand slips a plate between the counter and my face. “Sorry it took so long. Hot sauce?” he says. I nod, and a bottle of Cholula is dropped right next to my coffee. I practically inhale the bagel and soon he’s back to take my plate.

When he returns with the second coffee I ordered, I get a “whatcha watchin?” He is of course referring to the Trisha Paytas Mukbang I’ve had playing since I got my first coffee.

“A Mukbang.” I want to die.

“I love those things,” he says. “Last night I watched some guy in Korea eat 15 Big Macs and three Crunchwrap Supremes.” I can hear the wedding bells chiming.

“It’s amazing what the human body is capable of,” I quip.

“Yeah shit is crazy.”

I was so caught off guard that all I could offer was a giggle, before he was called away to help some other Gen Z in the booth next to the window. I watch him as he moves though the cafe, smiling at everyone and fixing his tiny beanie in the reflection of the coffee machine.

His coworker is handing me the bill now and I’m disappointed that it's not him. I take my time paying and finally get up to leave. I don’t dare to look in his direction but I’ve convinced myself that he's staring at me, even if it isn’t true. I walk out and around the side to where I can see him in the window. We lock eyes as I walk back down Canal.

Goodbye lover.