Thursday, February 10, 2011

Just One Cup of Coffee, Please

The poorer a people are, the more greedy they become. A scarcity of money adds all the more to the value of the same. Greed is good, right? Well, greed is at least necessary in conditions of continual poverty. Every penny counts.

I had become accostumed for a time to visiting a particular restaurant on the beach, where I would order a cappuccino and take my laptop along to do some writing. Just as I had been accostumed to doing back in Portland, I would nurse down my cup of coffee while I worked on a story. It's a relaxing sort of situation for me and always seemed much preferable to an over-quiet room or my own desk at home. John Cheever once said that he would dress everyday as if for work, drive to an office he had rented, and then write there, as this gave the pursuit a greater sense of purpose, becoming something that was habitual, just like a job, and not open to the hundreds of altnernative options one might otherwise entertain.

So I would go down to the beach and sit at my table and order my coffee, and this seemed both familiar and also condusive to a good couple hours of work. However, I began to understand at some point that the management at this particular restaurant would much prefer me to order more than one cup of coffee. "Just coffee?" they would say. Nothing else? Maybe breakfast? How about a pastry?" I realized by and by that as far as they were concerned, I was not doing my part. They had much to offer, for a much greater price, and I ought to be ordering much more than a cup of coffee--especially considering the inexhaustible riches I possess as an American.

And so it became uncomfortable. Given that money was so much needed, I could not justify my presence for a single cup of coffee; and given that I have no money to speak of (despite nonnegotiable beliefs to the contrary), I could not justify spending funds I did not have just to try to make myself more comfortable.

Therefore, I no longer go to that restaurant.

In America we have Starbucks. People go to Starbucks every day for a single cup of coffee. They sit as long as they like with their single cup of coffee and are never begged nor badgered into ordering more. This, of course, is because Starbucks, in their great bounty, does not need to scrape and scrabble for nickels and dimes. For the restaurant or warung on the beach, however, the competition is stiff, for there is another next door, and next door to that, and so on all the way from Sindhu to Kuta. To order no more than a single cup of coffee seems to them unkind, even careless.

They need the money. It is a personal thing for each and every employee, from waitress to cook to cashier. They are not being paid by the regional office--no, their money is coming straight from the individual customer. If the customer is from America, or from Europe, or from Japan, he must surely have money, and the very reason he is here in Bali can only be in order to share his wealth. He is therefore a rude, incalcitrant, unfeeling man who will order but one cappuccino and believe he has done well.

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