This morning I stood in line at Starbucks, reading my Atlantic and waiting to order my customary grande hot chocolate with no whipped cream. My friend Ben recently explained that brain scientists believe happiness is generated by the successful pursuit of a goal, such that instant gratification through video games, for example, or pornography short-circuits the process, providing an initial boost of happy chemicals but leading quickly to a let-down, which perhaps explains the gloomy faces on all the overindulged teens at the local mall. I don’t read science, because I have Ben for a friend. He loves science, and reads it, and then we meet at Starbucks and he tells me about it.
So I stood in line, enjoying both the instant gratification of holding and gingerly turning the pages of my beloved Atlantic, while working toward the happy goal of my hot chocolate. It was the perfect blend of immediate and future happiness that enables me to function. Writing is usually like that; there is the work of crafting lovely sentences, but also the immediate thrill of knowing that I am good at it, and that something holy may come from my unholy hands, and that it was what I was created to do.
The Starbucks guy was asking each customer if we have a busy day ahead of us. I like this Starbucks guy, because he is nice, and because once he gave me a free hot chocolate. I think if more people gave me hot chocolate, I would like more people. I like the Starbucks people in general, because they are refreshingly cheery. Someone at Starbucks is very serious about screening out the grouchy, slack-jawed doofuses one frequently finds staffing other such establishments. This is what hiring comes down to, in the 21st century: don’t hire doofuses. It’s harder than you think.
The cute, plaid-skirted Catholic schoolgirl at the front of the line apparently has a big day of doing whatever it is that Catholic schoolgirls do; I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she said it with exuberance. The business guy in front of me got to the front, and announced that he just wanted coffee, black, he didn’t care what kind, and for them to leave room in the top of the cup. The Starbucks guy asked him if he had a busy day ahead of him. “Always,” he said, gruffly, followed by something about being in his own business, or being a captain of industry, or being some kind of implement that one might purchase from Home Depot I couldn’t quite make it out, but I’m sure it supported the impression he wanted to create for all of us, which is that he is a Very Important And Busy Man who can’t be troubled with coffee choices and Starbucks banter.
He took his cup without saying thank you, and strode out of the store, the long tails of his overcoat trailing behind him. He was the star of a movie playing in his own head, as I suppose we all are from time to time.
The Starbucks guy, somewhat chastened, took my money, but didn’t ask me if I had a busy day. So I volunteered it. “In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a busy day. I’m going to shut my office door, drink my hot chocolate, and read.” He smiled. It’s not a bad day, I think, if you can restore the air when someone sucks it out of the room. And I think we all know I’m full of hot air.