Counter Culture


First Person

A_small_cup_of_coffee“I would have said, You’re getting there. Now that you said, ‘You nailed it,’ we can never go to the Bluebird again.”

“I was trying to give him a little encouragement,” Clancy said.

“Well, you fucked us.”

The first restaurant we liked in Iowa City was the Bluebird. It’s also the only decent cappuccino in town. We’d go every morning, order our fried eggs, and get three cappuccinos each. The waitresses had to make the cappuccinos themselves. We ordered so many that some of them began to dislike us. One in particular, whom we called Lower East Side. But all of them tried to get away before we had a chance to say, Could we get another.

All, that is, except for a Swingers-looking guy, slightly pudgy, whom we were convinced was gay until Clancy complimented his signet ring.

He said, “My wife gave me that. We have the sealing wax, too.”

We bought a Nespresso machine, and so we stopped going to the Bluebird. Also Lower East Side was starting to make us feel uncomfortable, even unwelcome. Months went by.

Last Sunday, because we ran out of milk for our machine, we said, “Let’s go to the Bluebird.”

It was packed. We sat at the counter. Clancy got a cappuccino and I got coffee. He took a sip of his drink and said, “Blech.”

I tried it. “That’s terrible. It tastes like burned plastic.”

Clancy ordered a cup of drip coffee and pushed the cappuccino away. When the drip came, he poured some of the cappuccino in optimistically.

He took a sip. “Blech. I think that’s worse.”

I tried it. “It tastes like burned plastic. Get a new one.”

Clancy looked at Lower East Side and shook his head. While her back was turned he asked a different waitress.

At the end of the meal, Lower East Side looked at all our cups. “What’s going on here?” she said accusingly.

I said, “It tastes like burned plastic.”

Clancy said, “I think something’s up with the cappuccino.”

“It tastes like burned plastic,” I said.

She said, “Do you want me to take it off your bill?” For the first time since we’d known her, she seemed happy. She even seemed to like us. It was mysterious.

On Monday, perversely, we went back to the Bluebird. We sat side-by-side in a booth. We both ordered drip coffee. Lower East Side was in a great mood. When we’d finished our oatmeal, Swingers came to our table.

“So you two aren’t doing the cappuccino?”

“No, just coffee.”

Something was wrong. We didn’t know what. Swingers left the table and returned with two cups of espresso.

“We used LaVazza for years,” he said, “but we roast our coffee, so I thought, Why not roast our own espresso? Give it a try.”

We took sips.

“It’s got a woody taste?” I said.

“A woody taste?” He didn’t conceal his annoyance.

“It’s kind of one-dimensional,” Clancy said, very apologetically.

Swingers walked away. When we got outside I said, “It tasted like he strained a bale of hay.”

“What’s wrong with LaVazza?” Clancy said.

“It must be cheaper.”

The next day, we went to the Bluebird again. Lower East Side said brightly, “Two coffees?” We checked the room for Swingers and then nodded.

When we were done with our oatmeal, Swingers sneaked up from behind and dropped a cappuccino in front of us.

“This is my fourth batch,” he said. “Let me know what you really think.”

After Swingers left the table, Clancy took three big gulps, and I said, “Thank you. You’re a good husband.”