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Java Jive

Last week entailed our annual three night run on the local amateur stage, and it was so exhausting that we’ve decided to forgo our usual trenchant analysis and simply run the satirical skit we composed and starred in. It’s premised on a few-weeks old story about the Starbucks coffee shops making it a policy to discuss race relations with its customers, and we already groused about it a few weeks ago in a columned headlined “Black Coffee, White Guilt,” but we’re still annoyed by the company’s self-righteous racial hectoring, even though we’ve never patronized any of its zillions of shops, and it got some laughs on each of our three nights, and we’re plumb puckered, so we’ll go ahead and once again present the script, which was dubbed “Java Jive” in the program.
The scene opens on any old Starbucks, where a CUSTOMER is yawning as he finally takes his place at the counter where a pretty young smiling and chirpy BARISTA greets him:
BARISTA: Good morning and Welcome to Starbucks. I’m Julie, you’re barista.
CUSTOMER:”Barista,” you say? I’m afraid I might not be speaking to the right person, then. I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: I’d be glad to help you, sir. What would you like?
CUSTOMER: Just a cup of coffee, please. You know, a cuppa joe, a mugga java, a jolt of the ol’ caffeine.
BARISTA: We have a wide variety, sir. Would you like a tiramisu latte, our signature espresso with hints of cream mascarpone, finished with our whipped cream and a dusting of rich chocolate powder? Or perhaps a caramel flan latte, an espresso with steamed milk and caramel flavors of creamy flan, topped with caramel-infused whipped cream and flan drizzle?
CUSTOMER: I’m not much for flan.
BARISTA: Then how about a tiramisu Frappuccino blended beverage, a coffee blended with creamy mascarpone flavor, milk and ice, topped with whipped cream and a dusting of rich cocoa powder? We also have caffe Americano, caffe latte, caffe mocha …
CUSTOMER: I was really hoping for just a cup of coffee. You know, a plain old hot-water-run-through-coffee-grounds cup of coffee. Do you having anything like that?
BARISTA: But of course, sir. We are a coffee shop, after all. Would you like that blonde roast, caffe mist, our featured dark roast, or our clover-brewed coffee?
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, but I grew up in an age when we only had three channels on TV and two kinds of blue jeans, and I’m afraid I’m a bit overwhelmed by all these choices. Could you please just sell me a cup of coffee? Just black coffee, no cream or sugar or flan or any of that stuff.
BARISTA: I understand, sir. What size would you like?
CUSTOMER: At this point, I’m going to need the biggest you’ve got.
BARISTA: Very well, sir. that would be our “venti.” And would you care to engage me in a meaningful discussion about the state of race relations in America?
CUSTOMER: Uh, no, not really. Thank you, though.
BARISTA: Are you sure, sir? It comes with the price of the coffee, and it will finally give me a chance to put my multi-cultural studies degree to use. It was very expensive, you know.
CUSTOMER: I’m sure it was. Still, I’ll be quite content with just the cup of coffee, thank you.
BARISTA: It’s our company policy to engage customers in conversation about racial issues. You don’t object to that, do you?
CUSTOMER: Oh, no, not at all. I mean, I’m all for racial equality and social justice and all that jazz, but really, I just wanted a cup of coffee.
BARISTA: Don’t you think it’s time America had a serious conversation about race?
CUSTOMER: America has been having a conversation about race for more than 200 years, not to mention a Civil War and a civil rights movement and all those miniseries and Academy Award acceptance speeches.
BARISTA: But we haven’t had the conversation where whitey agrees to pay reparations.
CUSTOMER: But you’re white, and your whole multi-national corporation, and your one-percenter CEO with this annoying policy, and almost all of your customers, they’re all white.
BARISTA: At least we’re remorseful. I think you need to check your white privilege.
CUSTOMER: White privilege? Lady, I haven’t been laid in months. Find me one brother who will say that. And what the hell good is white privilege if you can’t get a cup of black coffee without two lumps of white guilt?
BARISTA: Sir, your micro-agressions are not appreciated here. Starbucks is a micro-aggression-free space, and if you persist, I’m afraid I’ll be forced to ask the security guards to beat you to a bloody pulp.
CUSTOMER: I’m sorry, I just wanted a cup of coffee, and I’m afraid that a thorough discussion of the past 400 years of American history will make me late for the racial sensitivity training seminar at my office. Besides, I’m not even white.
BARISTA: Really?
CUSTOMER: Yes, I self-identify as a Uygher-American, and as I understand the new rules you’re supposed to regard me however I self-identify.
BARISTA: A Uygher? The Turkish ethnic group of eastern and central Asia?
CUSTOMER: That’s right, but we pronounce it “Uyg-ah,” and you don’t get to stay that.
BARISTA: Please forgive me, sir. Here’s your coffee, and that’ll be six dollars. You know, we don’t get a lot of Uyger-Americans in here.
CUSTOMER: And at these prices, you won’t get a lot more.
(Lights fade.)

— Bud Norman

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Black Coffee, White Guilt

At the risk of sounding like the unfashionable cheapskate old fogies that we are, we confess we have never once patronized a Starbucks coffee shop. Instead we brew our two essential cups of morning coffee with a teapot and one of those conical things with the paper filter and two spoonfuls from a can of the local supermarket’s most inexpensive ground, and in the happy solitude of our kitchen table we savor its bitter taste and stimulating effects at a fraction of the price and without any conversation about race.
The conversation about race apparently now comes with the high price of a cup of coffee at Starbucks, according to press reports. It seems the 60-something white guy who runs the company has lately been concerned about the state of race relations in America and therefore instructed the “baristas” at his company’s store to engage the customers in heartfelt chit-chat about that “police shooting of an unarmed black teenager” and the rest of America’s racist sins. We put “barista” in quotation marks because it strikes us as such a highfalutin term for a coffee-slinger, and “police shooting of an unarmed black teenager” in quotation marks because he’s talking about such a clear-cut case of self-defense that even The Washington Post’s most exquisitely racially sensitive writer now admits it, but the press reports treat this cacophony as everyday language. They further note that the Starbucks “baristas” are writing some “hashtag” on the coffee cups with “Sharpies,” which is also apparently common parlance, and all the more reason to retreat to the solitude of our kitchen table.
At least the reports also indicate that Starbucks’ new policy has already met with widespread disdain. Many people have been “tweeting,” another one of those damnable neologisms requiring quotation marks, that the policy is patronizing toward minorities and insufficiently groveling toward the most up-to-date racial sensitivities. One widely “re-tweeted” “tweet” showed a smilingly caucasian waitress and the caption “Let’s discuss the disenfranchisement of your people that has allowed me to prosper.” Another offered “May I have a latte and an explanation for why your people continue to plunder my country.” Yet another suggested that the “hashtag” campaign “is what happens when a 1%-er without any actual anti-racist education or training has mid-life ‘white man’s burden’ crisis.” We wonder how the disenfranchisement of anybody has allowed Starbucks’ relatively meagerly paid waitresses to prosper, and we’re not at all sure what countries the corporation is plundering, but we do rather like the line about the executive’s mid-life “white man’s burden” crisis. If such more-progressive-than-thou self-righteousness is what it takes to force Starbucks’ retreat, we’re all for it.
The right doesn’t seem to be “tweeting” about it so much, presumably because they abhor the newness of the medium and brew their own coffee at home, but we’re also sympathetic to its largely unstated complaint that the even trendiest yuppie on his way to a multi-cultural sensitivity training session should be able to buy a cup of joe without having to hear some queer studies or gender studies or something or another studies graduate yammering on about race and class and gender and oppression and corporations and the rest of that nonsense they racked up $40,000 of debt learning about to get a job as a “barista” at Starbucks. That conversation Starbucks is hoping to provoke will involve the customer apologizing for his skin tone and that cop defending his life and getting absolution as part of the steep price of a cup of coffee, and somebody should object to that.
Besides, the formerly simple task of ordering a cup of java is time-consuming enough these days. After all the rigmarole about cream and sugar and foam and double mocha and beans from a certain region of Columbia and all the rest of it, adding in a discussion of the past 400 years of racial relations will make you late for that multi-cultural sensitivity training session.

— Bud Norman

What Not to Talk About

We’ve donned our flannel long johns and brewed a cup of hot chocolate, much like that creepily androgynous “pajama boy” in the Obamacare advertisements, but we will not spend Christmas Eve talking about health care.
The First Lady of the United States of America has urged us to talk about the health care reform law during the holidays, but we are resolved to ignore her admonition just as we have ignored her dietary advice. Unless the National Security Agency rats us out she won’t even know what we’ve been saying during her latest Hawaiian vacation, and in any case she probably wouldn’t care to hear what we think of her husband’s stupid law.
Some egg nog-fueled discussions about Obamacare around the nation’s fireplaces would probably drive the stupid law’s approval ratings down further still, but even so we recommend other topics of conversation at your gatherings of family and friends. Let the old folks go on about their ailments, let the young folks go on about the latest pop hits or dance crazes or whatever it is that young people go on about these days, and let the rest of them talk sports. This is that magical time of year when college basketball and bowl season overlap, after all, and it shouldn’t be wasted on something so dreary as politics.
Prior to brewing that hot chocolate we had attended a Christmas party where most of the guests were from the local artistic, journalistic, and assorted hipster circles, and we are pleased to report that no one brought up health care. Except for one pony-tailed but right-wing friend’s conversation about Islam with an all-too-tolerant Mennonite woman we didn’t hear anything remotely political, and it made for a most pleasant evening. The First Lady might not have approved, but we think she would be well-advised to avoid the topic of Obamacare herself.

— Bud Norman