I work in a nice coffee shop. Downtown in a Midwestern metropolis, in an historic, renovated building. People come here to buy six dollar lattes with house made syrups. Our milk comes from grass fed cows half an hour outside the city. We also have house made cashew milk for those who don’t want dairy.
I greet customers and guide them to a high quality drink and croissant. People are happy when they get here. They glow when they look at the pastry case. Their eyes sparkle when they watch me pour a rosetta on their lattes. They sit for hours on their laptops and schedule meetings to discuss numbers and charts or yoga and astrology.
The work is hard but it’s not spine snapping. I burn myself but the likelihood of being crushed, stabbed or shot is low. I’m on my feet all day but I’m not going to be buried in a mineshaft or get sucked into a giant fan or slide off an icy deck and fall into the frigid depths.
My job pays better than any other service industry job I’ve ever had. It pays better than my jobs in Washington DC, where you pay a thousand dollars a month to rent a crevice on the northeast side of the Potomac river. My job pays more than any other coffee shop job in the state. It’s still nothing.
I’m poor. My parents are middle class. Their parents were middle class. Their grandparents lived through the depression and clawed their way into the middle class. My genetic line in the 20th century was an upward arc of increasing wealth, comfort and security. And then I came along.
My parents can give me a hundred dollars every now and then. They can take me back into their home if I lose my job or get evicted. But they can’t help me buy a house or a car. They can’t get me out of debt. I owe thousands of dollars to doctors, hospitals and utility companies. I have multiple parking tickets and late fees haunting me like the ghost of a man I murdered in a distant past. I’m 31 and I drive a car I don’t own and live in a groaning nightmare of a house I rent from two people even less organized and competent than me.
My life isn’t mine. I’m a serf, a ragged peasant, an indentured servant. An irish immigrant. The rattling husk of my former self. A hunchback in a bell tower. I work in an upscale café where well-to-do types luxuriate in comfortable settings and enjoy fine coffee products. I’m pleasant and helpful, I make drinks and wash dishes. And then I return to my slave shack stained with cat piss and roach guts where I cook meatballs, pet my cat until I fall into a shallow sleep and wake up at ungodly hours and tremble in fear at my looming death.
My landlord and her revolving cast of ex husbands still haven’t fixed the furnace. It’s getting colder. I have a space heater raging at full power all day and night. The bedroom is warm, the living room is cool and the kitchen is frosty. The bathroom in the back of the house is uninhabitable. Only a navy seal could shit or shower in there. My ass aches from the blistering cold of the toilet seat.
I don’t ask for much. But for god’s sake give me a room temperature toilet, a place I can park my ass for a few minutes and forget my cares. A man wasn’t born to shiver while he shits.