Grocery day. The lowlight of my week, every Tuesday it shows up unannounced yet again. This particular Tuesday, I have been procrastinating running errands all morning, so it’s nearly lunchtime by the time Baby Girl and I even make it to the shops. We exit the car, I perch her securely on my back in the carrier and – muttering ‘No eye contact, no eye contact, don’t slow down, pretend we’re in a big hurry, sorry-mate-not-today-I’m-in-a-big-hurry’ – we run the gauntlet of charity muggers, mattress salesmen and baby photography spruikers to arrive safely at our destination inside the shopping centre.
After a brief, albeit one-sided discussion, we decide we’d better procrastinate a bit longer stop for lunch and a coffee to gather our strength before we conquer Woolworths. Which leads us to my first mistake: the only food option within a lazy mama’s walking distance is an overpriced coffee chain with a known track-record (in our experience at least) for overdone eggs, soggy chips, and bringing the wrong flavour of milkshake. In fact, I’m supposed to be participating in a lifetime boycott of this place in solidarity with my spouse. But: it’s right there. I’m hungry. And they have a high chair. I’m going in.
I order lunch, then sit down to digest the unpleasant fact that I’ve just paid over $20 for a sandwich and a coffee. I realise they have charged me FOUR DOLLARS extra for avocado on my BLT. There had better be the flesh of at least one entire avocado on that sandwich. I do not hold out much hope for this, and kick myself for breaking the boycott. I’m looking forward to my soy latte though. Mama needs a hit.
Disclaimer: I am not a connoisseur of coffee. I don’t even know the difference between dark roast and whatever other roasts there are. No bean snob am I. I feel like a complete wanker ordering a ‘soy latte’ (even more so when I can’t handle the caffeine of an afternoon brew and have to order a ‘decaf soy latte’), but I like to drink milky coffee, and my breastfed baby has a cows’ milk intolerance. What’s a mama gonna do?
As soon as our food arrives, Baby Girl and I start scoffing the chips. She’s scoffing because she loves chips more than life itself. I’m scoffing because I don’t want my ten-month-old baby to eat too many chips, also I don’t want anyone nearby to judge me for letting my baby eat chips, and the only way to stop either thing from happening is to get rid of the chips quickly by eating them myself. This chip-race distracts me from the glass of piping hot dishwater that has been given to me in place of the delicious soy latte I was expecting. I take an absent-minded sip to wash the last chip down, and notice two things are not right:
1. I have burnt my fingers on the bottom half of the glass, even with a paper napkin wrapped around it.
2. There is no coffee in my mouth. Instead I have a mouthful of hot watery bubbles that taste faintly of coffee grounds.
I take a proper look at my beverage. There is about an inch of ominous-looking sludge at the bottom of the glass, but otherwise my supposed latte is nothing but froth. Not the yummy thick milk froth of a cappuccino. The oily, loose foam you might get if, say, the pimply barista had emptied the drip-tray of the machine into a milk jug and attempted to froth it. It looks foul. It tastes worse. I just want a coffee.
Disclaimer II: Contrary to the title of this blog, I am generally a non-complainer in public. I don’t spit the dummy. I hate confrontation. I worry about hurting people’s feelings. I have never returned a meal, even when it’s been entirely the wrong order, or there’s a hair, or (memorably) a live caterpillar in it. I have an overactive empathy gland, and feel bad for potentially making someone else feel bad if I complain. As a result I’ve eaten some very questionable meals, and walked away from food I’ve paid good money for in the past.
I agonise briefly. Then I conclude that, no, I can’t walk away this time. Not from a $7 coffee that looks like contaminated dam water. Not when I really really need would like a caffeine boost to get me through the shopping. I look around for the waitress. Eventually I catch her eye and she trills, ‘How is everything? I see you girls enjoyed the chippies!’.
I show her the offending drink. I tell her that I never do this, but I’m going to need to return it. She looks at it and wrinkles her nose.
‘Oh gosh. That doesn’t look right at all. I’ll get you another one. What was it supposed to be?’
I resist the urge to reply, ‘Coffee’. Instead I tell her, ‘A latte. It really doesn’t look like one, does it?’.
She agrees, apologises and whisks the cup of dam water back to the kitchen. Baby Girl and I get stuck into our sandwich, and I discover that my $4 worth of avocado is actually a scraping of processed guacamole. Excellent.
We’re almost finished when my champion returns bearing a perfectly blended latte and another apology. It looks great. It smells great. It’s perfect drinking temperature. I take a sip. Delicious.
Wait. A little too delicious.
‘Better?’ she smiles at me.
‘I’m so sorry. It’s great. But I forgot to say soy milk, didn’t I? I can’t drink this or I’ll make my baby sick.’
‘Oh. Right.’ (Less chummy now). ‘Well, I guess I’d better get you another one then. Just a minute’.
‘Actually, can I get that in a takeaway cup this time please?’
We really need to make a start on this shopping.
Finally I’m presented with a soy latte in a takeaway cup, once again perfect in every way. I take a sip, thank my waitress sincerely, load Baby Girl into the carrier, grab a nearby trolley and start making my way across the atrium to the supermarket. I carefully place my drink on the baby seat of the trolley so I can rummage in my bag for the shopping list. Out of the corner of my eye I see a perky gym-membership saleslady trying to make eye contact with us. I lower my gaze, start muttering and pick up the pace to evade her…
And my full cup of coffee falls straight off the seat and onto the floor, splashing my ankles and making an impressively large brown puddle in the thoroughfare. Passersby seem to suspect it is some kind of revolting bodily fluid after I’ve thrown the empty cup in the bin. Near tears, I now need to decide whether it’s my duty to stay and guard my puddle of shame and disappointment, or if it’s enough to have asked the service desk to call for a cleaner?
My only consolation is that I wasted at least $4 worth of coffee from that place, in lieu of avocado. And the only thing that keeps me from ditching the entire shopping trip and going home in disgust is the fact that I need to buy coffee – we’ve run out at home.