A barista of my acquaintance recently told me an interesting story. A family stopped by for some hot chocolate on their way to the ballet. The hot chocolate was made, served, and paid for. The family left. Later, they called to complain that their three-year old daughter had burned the roof of her mouth on the hot chocolate.
What intrigues me about this story, aside from the sheer imbecility of these people, is their assumption that the heat of the hot chocolate was the fault of the barista. What do they not understand about the word ‘hot,’ first of all, and why would they blame the barista for their negligence and inattention in not warning their child that things that are hot have the capacity to burn, and recommend blowing on the chocolate first, so as to cool it a bit, the way everyone else does? What strange, inexplicable mental process acquitted them of their own fully evident ineptitude and prevented them from learning an important lesson in the raising of a child?
It is becoming increasingly evident that we live in a culture of unaccountability. George W. Bush starts an illegal war in Iraq, a war premised on lies, and nothing happens. Two passenger jets slam into the World Trade Towers, and no one is fired for gross negligence. Wall Street perpetrates the greatest heist in world history, which results in millions of lost households, not to mention a sharp rise in hunger in the U.S. (45 million, to be exact), and the only person to go to jail is a two-bit rascal named Bernie Madoff. Meanwhile, some of the figures most centrally involved in the Ponzi scheme that has helped bankrupt the United States, such as Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and Henry Paulson are given positions in the Obama cabinet.
The mind boggles.
Whistleblowers such as Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, Karen Silkwood, Sherron Watkins, Joe Wilson, Daniel Ellsberg and FBI special agent John Roberts are humiliated, harassed, arrested, tortured and sometimes murdered. But the thugs and thieves and incompetents that find themselves in positions of power and wealth go free.
Has it always been like this? Has human history been as corrupt and vile as it is now?
My barista friend tells me that the public has changed in the last few years. They’ve become more demanding, mean-spirited, and crabby. There are people that demand that their coffee be served at an exact temperature. I am not exaggerating: an exact temperature.
There are customers that complain about too much foam in their cappuccino (or not enough), expect to get service when they’re blabbing away on a cell phone (as if the barista were required to read minds), demand that their ice tea be diluted so that the ratio of water to tea is meticulously adjusted according to whether it is Guangdong Oolong, Moroccan mint, or black Darjeeling, calibrated according to tthe temperature of the water, the ambient temperature of the room in which it is served, level of humidity, atomic weight of the spoon, and specific gravity of the mug.
When did people get this fussy? Is it because this is one of the few areas of their life in which they have some tiny measure of control? The easiest way to get attention? A way to postpone going to work? A way to fill the void of black tepid despair fuming radioactive waste at the core of their empty, toxic, neurotic lives? A way to exercise control over another set of human beings all waiting in line and growing impatient by the second?
One thing is sure: if the moron who just ordered a vanilla cappuccino drizzled with caramel syrup sits down at a table, twitters a message of stunning banality to Bono or Yoko Ono while admiring their reflection in the window and spills some of their cappuccino on their lap, they won’t blame themselves, they’ll blame the barista.