The Java Dojo Incident
Warren tossed a pinch of fresh ground espresso in his mouth then stuck out his tongue and scraped it clean with his teeth. How could something that smelled so good taste so awful? He put the scissors down on the coffee counter and passed the open bag of coffee to Gloria.
“Thanks Warren,” Gloria said. “Better get out from behind the coffee counter before Alphonse sees you.”
“Why?” Warren said.
“Because you haven’t been trained to work behind the counter yet. Alphonse would fire you.”
Gloria dumped the bag of dark roasted beans into the large bowl atop the coffee grinder, then pressed the power switch. The coffee grinder roared while lively coffee clerks, with tight grins and nerves on edge, hurried back and forth, tidying already neat shelves and mopping spotless floors to the rhythm of pop music pulsing from speakers in the coffee lounge of the Java Dojo.
The Java Dojo on Kerby Street was one of a small chain of upscale “coffee cafés,” in Kerbyville’s trendy Kerbian District. Like any other coffee shop, the coffee clerks at the Java Dojo scheduled their duties around the waves of patrons ebbing and flowing throughout the day. The first wave harried middle managers, piled in early morning. They purchased five-dollar coffees they couldn’t afford, and charged them to their minimum payment credit cards. The second wave, stroller-wheeling trophy wives, rolled in mid-morning. Each would have been able to buy a dozen coffee shops if they could have gotten their hands on their husbands’ offshore nest eggs. Instead, they made do on weekly allowances, handouts from hubby’s pocket money. The third wave, cardigan-wearing solopreneurs, sauntered in mid-afternoon. They settled into chairs in the nearly empty coffee lounge, pretending to work while they were really looking for simple human contact to keep them from becoming antisocial. They ordered brewed coffee in the smallest cup; the one not shown on the menu, then nursed it all afternoon while talking big business with other self-employed types.
As a “white belt” coffee service specialist trainee, Warren Whitaker had been assigned the most rookie-proof responsibility, table wipe-down. Alphonse’s first words still echoed in Warren’s head, how he had better see Warren “on the move” throughout his entire shift. Alphonse had said if Warren wanted to make it through probation and keep his job, he had better not get caught standing still.
Warren snugged the white cotton apron belt around his waist, then picked up his rag and started buffing the customer tables, knocking off the crumbs while other coffee service specialists, wearing yellow belts, ran between the tables with push brooms, sweeping the crumbs to the trashcan. While he wiped, Warren daydreamed about someday landing a job worthy of his liberal arts education, but as always, he could never form a clear picture of what that job would look like. There had to be high-paying work out there for a liberal arts graduate with a first-rate mind like his. Right?
The Java Dojo organizational chart was loosely based on a system of apron belts similar to Japanese martial arts schools, with new hires such as Warren wearing white belts. When promoted, an employee would receive a new coloured belt, yellow, orange, green and so on, with the manager, or “sensei,” awarded the coveted black belt.
Gloria, the only female coffee service specialist, had confirmed for Warren the rumour that the fastest way to get promoted to your next belt was to spend frequent “Zen” sessions in the lockable accessibility washroom with Alphonse the assistant manager.
“How bad are the Zen sessions?” Warren had said.
“Bad,” Gloria had said. “And don’t expect any of the niceties. Foreplay consists of Alphonse yelling at you to hurry up and get your pants down.”
“Have you done any Zen sessions?” Warren said.
“No,” Gloria said. “Alphonse doesn’t like women.
As one of the few straight men on staff, Warren had decided a Zen session with Alphonse was out of the question. Instead, he would earn his promotions the old-fashioned way, by catching Alphonse stealing, then blackmail him.
Alphonse sported the trademark red apron belt worn by assistant managers at the Java Dojo. He was the liveliest coffee service specialist on staff, voted by his co-workers most likely to break the record for getting the largest tip at the Java Dojo. Warren had secretly voted Alphonse most likely to chew a mouthful of dark roast beans and squirt espresso out his ass.
By eight-thirty that morning, the last of the middle managers had collected their paper cups full of rich, dark courage and gone careening off to work. For another half hour after that, the staff had polished, scraped, blotted, and mopped every surface of the Java Dojo. The shop would be free of customers until ten o’clock, when the trophy wives would roll in with their husbands’ infant heirs. Alphonse referred to the quiet hour between nine and ten as “Coffee Corner,” a time when he liked to impart to the staff not only his dark roasted wisdom, but more importantly his J.D.A., short for Java Dojo Attitude, which was so important for the development of a real coffee connection with customers. Today, during Coffee Corner, Alphonse was going to decide if Warren was worthy of promotion to a yellow belt. Warren was feeling tense because he had turned down a pre-test Zen session with Alphonse, and he hadn’t caught Alphonse stealing anything yet.
“M-kay, everyone, it’s time for Coffee Corner,” Alphonse said. “Stop your cleaning and take a seat at one of the tables in the coffee lounge. What’s that Jeremiah? You want to know if you have to clean the table you’re sitting at? No, I told you to stop cleaning. Just pick the pieces of gum off the underside of the table with your thumbnails. And put the gum in your pocket, not on the table.”
Alphonse polished the sink taps with a wet rag while he waited for everyone to take a seat. He stuffed the end of the rag in the back pocket of his pants. A small damp spot spread across the pocket.
“M-kay everyone,” Alphonse said. “Before I evaluate Warren Whitaker for his yellow belt, I want to talk about a couple of things. First, I don’t want to catch any of you not working on your chi today. I want to see lots of energy, lots of movement. Second, I want to talk about the wet spot.” Alphonse took the rag from his pocket and waved it over his head. “Gerand,” he shouted.
A small young man sitting at the back of the coffee lounge stood up. He glanced at the other coffee service specialists who didn’t dare look at him.
“Gerand, get up here.”
Gerand hustled toward the counter.
Gloria leaned over and whispered to Warren, “Alphonse is going to roast that kid.”
“He’s going to roast him? Like a coffee bean?”
“It’s a Java Dojo thing. A roasting happens when Alphonse is pissed about some small rule violation. He makes the violator stand up. Then, he humiliates him in front of us, and gives him some sort of degrading punishment.”
“Does he do it a lot?”
“Seen it a million times. If he calls your name, then says, ‘Get up here,’ you’re going to get roasted.”
Alphonse looked pissed. “I’ve been staring at Gerand’s ass all morning,” he shouted. “Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with Gerand’s ass?”
No one spoke. They sat silently, their nails ticking against dried gum like a dozen tiny time bombs.
“Stop picking gum and answer me. What’s wrong with Gerand’s ass? Perry, Gloria, Chuck, anybody.”
“It’s too flat?” Perry said.
“It’s dirty?” Chuck said.
“No, no, no. His ass isn’t dirty. Dirt’s not the problem. The problem is his ass is dry. Dry, dry, dry. Look at Gerand’s ass. There should be a wet spot there, on his rag pocket. People, if I don’t see a wet spot on your rag pocket, that means your rag is dry, and that’s not how we roll around here. What can you clean with a dry rag? Abdul?”
“Nothing?” Abdul said.
“That’s right. And how did you know that, Abdul?”
“Because I have a wet ass.”
“That makes no sense at all, Abdul. Anyway, wet asses, everyone. That’s what I want to see. Wet, wet, wet.”
Alphonse turned his back. He pointed to the damp stain on his pocket. “I’ve had this wet spot on my ass for three years. The skin underneath the wet spot itches. Doctor said it was a fungus. From the dampness. Wanted to give me some cream for it. To make it go away. Told me not to put my rag in my pocket. But I said no. I told him he could keep his cream, and I’ll be keeping my rag right where it is. And I’ll be keeping the fungus too. And you know why? Because every second of every day, that itch reminds me of who I am and what I stand for. And that, THAT, is what JDA is all about. THAT is Java Dojo Attitude. Am I right?”
The coffee service specialists sat on the edges of their chairs, unsure whether to nod their heads or shout agreement. Both responses had been known to anger Alphonse.
“I said, ‘Am I right?’” Alphonse looked at them as if deciding which one of them to eat. “Well? Am I? Let me hear you.”
“Yeahhhhhhhhhh, they shouted in ragged unison, hoping they had given Alphonse what he’d wanted.”
“That’s right, that’s right,” Alphonse said. “That’s what JDA is all about. So, from now on, I want to see every one of you with a wet rag hanging out of your back pocket and a wet spot on your ass.” Alphonse pointed toward the lockable accessibility washroom. “Gerand, go. I’ll be with you shortly.”
Head hanging; Gerand crossed the coffee lounge floor and entered the washroom. Warren winced at the sound of the washroom door clicking shut.
Ten minutes later, a scowling Gerand followed Alphonse out of the lockable accessibility washroom. Gerand took a seat in the coffee lounge while Alphonse went behind the counter and started wiping the granite surface with his rag.
“M-kay, people,” Alphonse said. “I want you to put on your customer hats. Today, we’re going to use role-playing to learn about establishing rapport with the customer and, if all goes well, we’ll get him-and-or-her to buy a premium cup of coffee plus food, preferably our fudge nut Danish roll treat. And why do we want the customer to buy our fudge nut Danish roll treat? Jeremiah?”
Jeremiah stretched his face as if stifling a yawn, a nervous response to Alphonse singling him out. “Because they’re decadent?” he said.
Alphonse stopped wiping and looked at the ceiling. “God, why did you send feeble-minded Jeremiah to my shop? Was it punishment for that Zen session with Ruprecht?” He looked at Jeremiah and shouted, “Of course the fudge nut Danish roll treats are decadent. All of our baked goods are decadent. But that’s not the answer.”
“Who’s Ruprecht?” Warren whispered to Gloria.
“Former employee,” Gloria said. “He quit after a particularly nasty washroom session with Alphonse. And by the way, Alphonse is totally pissed at you for not putting out yet.”
“He’ll have to stay pissed,” Warren said. “I’m not putting out for him.”
“Your choice. But Alphonse is vindictive. If you don’t put out, he’ll try to screw you on your employee evaluation.”
“Can anyone tell me why we want the customer to buy a fudge nut Danish roll treat?” Alphonse said. “Gloria, Warren, Charles. For Christ’s sake. Anyone.”
“Because they’re our highest margin product,” Gloria said.
“Thank you, Gloria. Thank you for restoring my faith in retail trade workers. Now where was I? Oh, yes. Warren, for your final yellow belt test, you’re going to role-play with me. First, you’ll play the customer, and I’ll play the coffee service specialist. Then we’ll swap roles and I’ll evaluate your performance. After that, if you’re up to it, we’ll finish with a quick Zen session.
Warren blanched. A vision of the two of them in the lockable accessibility washroom flashed through his mind. He picked nervously at a small piece of gum on the underside of the table, which turned out to not be gum at all.
Alphonse looked up from the patch of granite he was polishing. “Warren, are you on me?”
“On you?” Warren said, his eye twitching while he tried not to imagine Alphonse, all hairy and hunched over the washroom sink.
“Are you focused on me?”
“Oh, yeah, right,” Warren said. “I’m all over you.”
“Good. We don’t have a lot of time, so pay attention.” Stepping away from the coffee counter, Alphonse took a breath and centred himself in preparation for his role as a coffee service specialist. He passed his hand over his face, blanking his expression. Then he practiced several toothy smiles settling on one that looked as if he’d just wrapped up a Zen session with Ruprecht. He waved Warren to the counter.
“Good morning,” Alphonse said, grinning toothily at Warren. He walked to the refrigerator and took out an enormous container of milk. “And how are you today.”
“Goodyou?” Warren replied, using the non-committal, “goodyou,” favoured by a growing number of customers.
“I’m well, thank you. What can I help you with?”
“Could I have a latte?”
“Certainly. Can I interest you in a tasty treat?”
“What do you have?”
“Well, our fudge nut Danish roll treats are to die for.”
“I think I’ll have a peanut butter cookie.”
Alphonse winked at the staff sitting stiffly in their chairs. “The peanut butter cookies were baked last night. They’re a little stale.”
“Oh, in that case, I’ll take the fudge nut Danish roll treat.”
“Excellent choice.” Alphonse beamed at his audience. “Did you see what Warren did? He made me work for it. Warren, I want you to do the same thing again, but amp it up. Play the customer, but throw me some big curves. Make me really work for it.”
“Make you work for what?” Warren said.
“The tip, of course,” Alphonse said rattling the tip bowl. “And the upsell too. Remember, we bonus you on your upsells.” Alphonse took a breath and passed his hand across his face, blanking his expression. “M-kay, Warren. Let’s start again. “And how are you today?”
“Stop, stop, stop,” Alphonse said. “Make me work for it, Warren. Try again. “And how are you today?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” Warren said, careful not to ask how Alphonse was feeling. “I’ll have a small latte.”
Alphonse nodded approval. “I’m well,” he said, dropping the milk container on the counter. He gave Warren a sarcastic grin that stretched back to his molars. “Thanks for asking.” He rubbed his hands together, waiting for Warren’s next verbal pitch.
“I didn’t ask how you were,” Warren said.
Alphonse paused, surprised at Warren’s comeback. He composed himself and said, “Don’t you think you should have asked?”
“No,” Warren said, remaining in character. He examined the cookie display, pretending to contemplate a purchase.
Alphonse’s smile hardened a little. “Why not?” he said.
“Because I’m the customer.”
“And?” Alphonse said, waving his fingers at Warren in a come-at-me gesture.
“And because I don’t care how you are,” Warren said, watching Alphonse’s neck muscles tightening as he spoke.
Their role-playing was turning into a verbal sparring contest, and Warren suddenly realized this was intentional. It was Alphonse exacting revenge because Warren had refused to join him for a Zen session in the lockable accessibility washroom. Alphonse was setting him up, looking for an excuse to deny him his promotion. Warren decided to tone down his rebuttals, before Alphonse accused him of insolence, or insubordination, or some other violation of store policy.
Alphonse frowned at Warren while he removed the lids from a row of milk pitchers lined up beside the espresso machine. “Are we having a bad morning, sir?” His voice had picked up a note of irritation.
“Yes, I guess I am. Sorry about that.”
Alphonse leaned over the counter and looked hard at Warren. “Don’t patronize me,” he said. “Give me your best shot. Start again. Are we having a bad morning, sir?”
Warren hesitated. There was no doubt his responses were annoying Alphonse, and the last thing he wanted to do was lose his job on the day he was to be promoted. But he was trapped, and it made him angry.
“Warren,” Alphonse shouted. “Are we having a bad day, sir?”
“We are now,” Warren said, picking up a gift box filled with chocolate-coated coffee beans. “May I have my latte, please?”
Alphonse narrowed his eyes at Warren while he filled the pitchers, spilling a little milk with each pour and swearing quietly.
“Sir if you can’t be civil,” Alphonse said. He paused and looked past Warren at the other coffee service specialists, making sure they were paying attention. “If you can’t be civil, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.” He flashed Warren a winning look, knowing no customer in the history of retail service had ever survived the dreaded request to leave. Once the request to leave had been uttered by a retail clerk, any response by the customer, other than an apology, brought the threat of a call to the police.
“Did you hear me sir? I said if you can’t be civil, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Warren said nothing.
“Answer me, Warren,” Alphonse shouted. “Or this will be your last day on the job.”
“I’m afraid I am being civil,” Warren said. “And I’m afraid I won’t be leaving until I’ve gotten my latte.”
“Let’s try again,” Alphonse said. His voice rising.
“Are we still in character?” Warren said. “Are you still talking to the customer?”
“Yes. So, let’s start again.” Alphonse lifted each pitcher and wiped up the spilled milk. “How are you today, sir?”
“Not well,” Warren said. “I’m the owner of this shop and I have to fire a clerk who’s been annoying the customers.”
Alphonse ground his teeth. “Look, Warren, you have to have a little fun with the customers. They expect it, m-kay? And no customer ever makes smart-ass comments. So stop it.” He spun the screw-top lids onto the milk pitchers.
“I see,” Warren said, feeling his anger rising. “You’re saying that, as a customer, I should have found your sarcastic banter playful and maybe even fun.”
“Unfortunately Alphonse, I wasn’t’ having any fun at all.”
Alphonse gathered up the milk pitchers and walked them to the Self-Serve Pod. He stubbed his toe on the mop bucket beside the pod. The pitchers slipped out of his arms and clattered on the floor with one lid popping open and its contents spilling on the freshly mopped tiles. Alphonse swore while he lifted the mop out of the wheeled bucket and began pushing it through the spilt milk, knocking the pitchers underneath the Self-Serve Pod.
“In fact,” Warren said, “I was having so little fun, that I wanted to slap the arrogant smile off your mouth. We are still in character, right?”
For the first time that morning, Alphonse stopped moving. He stared down at the spilt milk on the floor, then, just as suddenly, he started mopping again. “What’s the matter, sir?” he said, hissing like a jet of steamed milk. “Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”
“No,” Warren said, “I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I just want to slap that look off your face. Then I want my latte.”
Alphonse lifted the mop off the floor and dropped it in the bucket ringer. He pressed hard on the wringer handle and the bucket tipped over, soaking his feet. He swore again. “If you can’t be civil, Warren, I’ll have to ask you to leave,” he said, his voice tightening.
“Are you asking the customer to leave or are you asking me to leave?”
“Are you mad at me?”
“Not at all, but your behaviour is inappropriate.
Warren hated the word, inappropriate. Sounded like someone accusing him of exposing himself. “I was role-playing, Alphonse, you know, acting.”
“No you weren’t. You were being deliberately obnoxious. I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
“Save that shit for the customers,” Warren said. “You don’t have the authority to ask me to leave. I’m a clerk, just like you.”
Alphonse looked up from the bucket. “I’m management,” he said, his face darkening.
“You’re not management. You’re an acting, assistant, manager trainee. You’re a grunt like me.”
Alphonse shook his head and tried to look sad, the same way Johnny, the manager, liked to do. “It’s too bad to see you struggling so early in your training, Warren.”
“I’m still waiting for my latte,” Warren said. “Are you going to serve me or do I have to speak to someone in a position of authority?”
“M-kay, m-kay,” Alphonse said. “I’ll play. Latte coming right up, sir.” Alphonse leapt into action, brewing a latte so fast, he probably set a Java Dojo record for the fastest latte ever brewed. “Here you are sir. That will be four ninety-eight please.”
“The latte better be free of charge after the aggravation you’ve caused me,” Warren said. “And don’t expect a tip either.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to write you up for non-collaborative behaviour, Warren,” Alphonse said. “Johnny would expect nothing less.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to write you up for being afraid of everything, Alphonse. Johnny won’t be expecting that, but I’m sure he’ll appreciate the heads-up.”
Alphonse bared his teeth. “It’s all about fit, Warren,” he said. “And you don’t fit. After Johnny reads my report, he’ll fire you on the spot. Now, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Get out.”
“I’m not going anywhere until the manager shows up this afternoon,” Warren said.
“Fine,” Alphonse said. “Either way, this will be your last day.”
Just before ten o’clock, Alphonse shouted, “Ear plugs in, everyone.”
Warren and the other coffee service specialists jammed flesh-coloured earplugs in their ears. At ten o’clock precisely, a herd of chattering trophy wives banged through the doorway of the Java Dojo, wheeling strollers carrying their means to an opulent post-divorce existence. They barged through the chairs in the coffee lounge and parked their strollers at tables, before charging to the coffee counter to place their orders. They arrived at ten o’clock every morning, straight from personal training/sex sessions, all “sweaty” in their spandex and baseball caps with ponytails poking through the back holes.
Warren had asked Gloria why the wives didn’t have nannies to take care of their kids. Gloria had explained that the twives, slang for trophy wives, did have nannies, but they preferred to show off their kids themselves by parading them around the coffee shop. They loved to point to their children as proof that they were good for something other than posing for photos on their husbands’ yachts.
Each day at ten, when the first of the wives were lining up for their drinks, the coffee shop was quiet enough for Warren to make out snippets of their conversations, heavy talk about pre-nups, alimony, and child support, all crucial to their futures, post-divorce. But as the wives picked up their coffee orders and migrated to the coffee lounge, and more wives poured into the shop, the sound level rose to a homogenous, tooth-rattling buzz. Then the babies would cry when their ears started ringing, and the women would talk over the crying. Then the coffee grinder would roar and they would talk over that too. Then Gloria would turn up the music and they’d shout over the songs. The babies would cry louder and the wives would have to scream to hear each other. Every morning for two hours, the Java Dojo became a giant humming hive.
Warren waved at a woman dressed in street clothes pushing a three-seat stroller loaded with triplets. She was obviously not a member of the trophy wife set, as she had been unable to afford in vitro fertilization, settling instead for fertility drugs, which tended to produce litters rather than single offspring. The woman waved at Warren as she bumped through the stroller gridlock. Ignoring the dirty looks from the twives, she made her way to the back of the coffee lounge and sat by herself in a corner. She stared glumly at the toned bodies standing in line at the coffee counter, women flexing tight faces and wrinkling nipped noses, while they wagged their bobbed chins.
Warren had served the woman with the triplets on his first day as a coffee service specialist at the Java Dojo. He had found her to be a delightful person, slightly paranoid, but with a dry sense of humour. Each day he would make a point of delivering her coffee to her table rather than making her line up with the twives, and they hated that. One time Warren doubled over laughing when the woman had told him there was a way to know what a trophy wife looked like before plastic surgery.
“How do you tell?”
“Just look at their kids.”
Those women must have spent a lot of money on surgery because those babies were butt-ugly.
Warren pressed the video record button on his phone and dropped it in his shirt pocket so that the lens was exposed. Maybe he’d get lucky and catch Alphonse stealing. Alphonse was working the espresso machine, his hands a blur, manufacturing complex coffee concoctions with the speed of an assembly line worker on amphetamines. Warren zig-zagged through the crowded coffee lounge to the table in the back corner and set a cup down in front of the woman. “You okay, Jackie?” he shouted. “You look a little pale.”
Jackie waved Warren closer. He bent forward so she could yell in his ear. “Something’s wrong,” she said.
“What’s wrong?” Warren said. “You a little under the weather?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me. Check out the lineup at the counter.”
Warren immediately spotted the object of Jackie’s concern.
“See that guy in the sweater standing in line?” Jackie said. “He looks about as comfortable as a June bug in a hornet nest.”
Half way back in the line at the coffee counter, a tall man wearing a sweater vest fiddled with the reading glasses hanging around his neck. He put the glasses on and attempted to read his folded newspaper, but soon gave up. He lowered the paper and drummed it against his leg.
“There’s going to be trouble,” Jackie said.
“Trouble? From Mr. Sweater Vest?” Warren said. “I don’t think so.”
“He’s a man out of time,” Jackie said. “He shouldn’t be here. He’s causing a rift in the fabric of space.”
Warren sighed. “Please, Jackie, no more sci-fi theories.”
“It’s not a theory. It’s real. I should know. I was married to a guy like him. My first husband. He was a pressurized bottle of anger. He would never have shown up at a coffee shop in the morning. And that guy in the sweater vest shouldn’t have showed up either.”
“He’s a solopreneur, just like my first husband.”
“I understand that,” Warren said.
“No, you don’t understand. Men like him never walk into busy coffee shops. In fact, men like him won’t enter a coffee shop if they think it will soon get busy. That man standing in line, braving the Java Dojo at ten o’clock in the morning, is unheard of. I mean listen to these people. The noise in here is worse than a rock concert. It’s the reason you all wear ear plugs.”
“You’ve got an overactive imagination,” Warren said.
“That man shouldn’t be here. Not until two o’clock, when it’s quiet. He’s going against the laws of nature. But you know all that don’t you, Warren?
“I know that guys like him don’t show up until two o’clock,” Warren said. “Doesn’t mean we’re going to have an apocalypse at the coffee shop because one solopreneur drops by in the morning.”
“You’re wrong, Warren. This is a catastrophic occurrence. Think about it. Solopreneur collides with trophy wives. Like when matter meets anti-matter. You know what happens when matter meets anti-antimatter, Warren?”
“You’re telling me the man’s going to explode?”
“Yep, and he looks ready to blow right now. That’s why I’m leaving. You should leave too.” Jackie stood up, then smashed her way through the strollers in the coffee lounge, and hurried outside.
Warren looked at the man standing in line. The man’s face had turned a deep red. His khaki pants were black where he’d been drumming on his leg with the newspaper. Warren crossed the coffee lounge and positioned himself behind the counter across from the man. He noticed the man’s shirt collar soaked with sweat.
Alphonse stopped spraying milk into mugs and shouted at Warren from the other end of the coffee counter, “No trainees allowed behind the counter, Warren. Get lost.”
Warren kept his eyes on the man, who appeared to be inhaling an enormous amount of air.
“Warren I told you to get lost.”
“Alphonse,” Warren said. “Take a look at the man standing in line. He’s having a problem.”
“Do you not understand English, Warren? I said get lost.”
The man exhaled, producing a deafening wail that sounded like the world’s rustiest hinge. “Be quiet,” the man shouted. “Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet.”
The wives in line stopped talking and looked at the man. Then they started talking again. The man reached out and tugged on the ponytail of the woman in front of him.
“Be quiet,” the man shouted. He tugged on her hair again and the ponytail detached from her head, above the band tied around it.
The woman turned and stared at the man with eyes and mouth wide open, then she let loose a torrent of military-grade profanity. “Give me that,” she shouted, holding out her hand. “Give me back my hair.”
Alphonse poured two shots of espresso on his shoes while he watched the man toss the ponytail into a nearby stroller. The baby in the stroller picked up the banded lock of hair and shook it like a pom pom. The wives in line stopped talking and looked at the woman who’d lost her ponytail. Then they started talking again.
“Sir, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” Alphonse shouted at the man.
The man turned toward Alphonse. He vaulted over the coffee counter and lunged at Alphonse, yanking on his red apron belt, and pulling him close.
“Are we having a bad day sir?” Alphonse said, sounding like a frightened child.
“Yes, we are having a bad day,” the man said.
“Sir, if you don’t leave I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police.”
“Be quiet. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet.”
“I’m afraid yelling at me will only make things worse for you,” Alphonse said, his voice rising to a squeal.
“Be quiet,” the man said, leaning in close to Alphonse. “Or I’ll make you be quiet.”
In three quick steps, Warren was behind the man. He reached across the man’s chest and pulled him backward over an outstretched leg. The man fell back, hit his head on the floor, then lay still.
That afternoon, Warren and Alphonse sat in the Java Dojo office in front of the manager’s desk. Johnny, the manager, sat on the other side of the desk with his feet resting on top.
“I heard you had an interesting morning, Warren,” Johnny said. “Everybody’s talking about how you saved Alphonse from Mad Mr. Cardigan. The police are recommending you for a bravery citation.”
“He was spectacular,” Alphonse said, smiling at Warren. “Like an action hero.”
“All righty then,” Johnny said. “What’s the verdict, Alphonse? Should Warren get promoted to a yellow belt today?
“I tested Warren for his yellow belt this morning,” Alphonse said. “Although we couldn’t complete the test, I believe I was able to make an accurate assessment of Warren’s chi, his Java Dojo Attitude, and his potential for collaboration.” Alphonse gave Warren an encouraging nod, then turned to Johnny. “Unfortunately, even after witnessing his heroics first hand, and knowing I possibly owe him my life, I’m afraid I won’t be able to recommend Warren for his yellow belt. And I hate to say this, but I don’t think Warren is Java Dojo material.”
“Why not?” Johnny said.
“Yes, Alphonse,” Warren said. “Why not?”
Alphonse sighed. “Warren is a man of action. He’d be happier as firefighter or a cop, out there saving the day. He’d soon get bored working here, and become problematic.”
“Problematic?” Warren said. “What does that mean?”
Alphonse gave Warren a sad smile. “It’s all about fit, Warren. And you don’t fit.”
“We both know that’s crap,” Warren said. “The only reason I don’t fit, is because I won’t put out for you in the accessibility washroom.”
Ignoring Warren, Alphonse gave Johnny an even sadder smile. “For that reason, Johnny, I’m afraid I’m going to have to advise you to let Warren go. Sorry Warren. I’m doing it for you and for the Dojo.”
“Warren, I defer to Alphonse in these matters,” Johnny said. “If Alphonse says we should let you go, then you’re gone.”
Warren took his phone out of his shirt pocket. He held it in front of Johnny and Alphonse and pressed the Play button. A video flashed on the tiny screen, depicting the enraged man in the sweater vest pulling off the woman’s ponytail and leaping over the counter.
“Great video,” Johnny said, “Is there a point to it?”
“Yes, Warren,” Alphonse said. “What’s your point?”
Warren stopped the video and reversed it a few frames. At the bottom corner of the screen, the camera had picked up Alphonse’s hand stuffing a customer payment in his pocket.
“You were spying on me,” Alphonse said. “You violated my rights.”
“Which right did I violate, Alphonse?” Warren said. “Your right to steal?”
Johnny smiled and shook his head. He walked around the desk and removed the red apron belt from Alphonse’s waist. “I’m sorry Alphonse,” he said. “But I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to resign.” Handing the apron belt to Warren, he said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to make you the new assistant manager, Warren.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to accept,” Warren said.
“Would you like to do the honours, Warren?” Johnny said.
Warren nodded and gave Alphonse a tragic smile. “I’m sorry, Alphonse, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. It’s all about fit, and sadly, you don’t fit.”