I really enjoyed this Slate article about how people are using the Notes app on their iPhones to record – well, basically, anything you’d want to record. Possible karaoke lists! Overheard conversations! Lovers had and rejected! Not really a revolutionary thesis, I know, but nonetheless intriguing to the voyeuristic part of me that’s constantly curious about other people’s diaries. It’s a relief to remember that other people have them, too – that diary-keeping isn’t out of fashion, it’s just that nowadays people keep them on their phones instead.

I’ve written about this before, my tendency to hoard words. Normally I keep them in nice little leather-bound diaries (#writer, #Moleskine, #uptown, #hipster, #barf) – I have no iPhone, or else they’d probably be in a Notes app too, as that seems like a neat way to organize them. However, recently I’ve experienced a space problem – namely that I’ve gotten a job in which it is not possible to pause, pull out a notebook, and scribble something down.

Yes, dear reader: I am a barista once more.

“Oh, oh, oh,” said my friend David, who is a serious poet and in Ph.D school. “Do you, like, do you wipe down the counter and think about your novel?”

“Not as much as I would like,” I said.

“Are you just, like…” Here he mimed holding a rag and looking pensively into the middle distance.

“I mean, it’s more hectic than that.”

“Do you mention your novel when customers ask you what you’re doing? Do you wear your horn-rimmed glasses?”

I said that instead I attempt to project an aim of utter seriousness, a due diligence to the task at hand yet a preoccupation with another endeavor, in hopes that this that will lead my customers to act as sponsors, nay, patrons of my art, dispensing with gratuity in the form of ones shoved into my tip jar.

I’m working on my novel,” he said. And probably I punched him a little bit, and he laughed in the way he does, which is like a hiccup, but louder.

I like being back here in Minneapolis, around people who remind me that I’m a cliche. (If you’re macro-aware of it, are you really a cliche? Still, probably, yes. Probably even more so.) It frees me up to do cliched things like I’ve been doing, which is to, in between furious waves of customers (this cafe is esteemed and popular), take notes for my novel on little slips of barista receipt paper. I hide them under the espresso machine.

And sometimes, but not always, I forget about them.

On Tuesday, when I came in to open the store, I found one actually propped up against the register. My little note, left there for everyone. Note-taking while at work is so weird that the person who found it (probably Cool Rachel, who closes! god, the shame) did not immediately recognize it as the bullshit it was – something like “Can C ever forgive M? The taint of longing.” Instead, she kindly preserved it for me to feel shame over.

I couldn’t even look at it, knowing it had been read by someone else. I crumpled it up and dropped it in the wastebasket. I was ashamed of this overreaction; still, it was 5:30 am, and I was alone in a bakery. I felt entitled to strong feelings.

Before, my notebooks have always been private – I’ve been free to ramble self-indulgently or use as many exclamation points as I want. And now, well – even on paper, working in a restaurant does not enable privacy. Everything you do is observed by someone else.

The other day I looked up mid-sentence to find Raphy the supremely capable busboy peering over my shoulder, sipping an iced coffee and trying to read my cursive. He just sort of nodded and walked away, but still – it reminded me of one of the worst parts of this job, which is that your supervisor can, at any moment, pop up at your elbow and say, “You’re doing it wrong. You’re adding too much lemon to the lemonade. You’re steaming the milk way too hot – what are you doing? Why did you just eat the corner of that croissant?”

Restaurant staff have no fear about observing people, about telling them the straight shit. This is rare in Minnesota, and useful, and probably good for me. And if I do intend to actually publish a book instead of being a barista for the rest of my life, I should take any opportunity possible to be told, firmly, that I’m doing it wrong.

I won’t stop writing notes to myself. Instead, I’ll just post a photo of them here as a way to sort of consciously inoculate myself against future embarrassment.

You probably can’t read my handwriting, anyway.


receipt front

I think my favorite idea here is the one for "Sadstagram".
I think my favorite idea here is the one for “Sadstagram”.

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