It all started with a fire drill. Not a real drill, for an actual fire, but a practice run. This happened once or twice a year in my office building—I can’t remember how often exactly—not since COVID and WFH (which I joked at the time was the acronym for “What Fucking Happened?” but it is still applicable today). Everyone in the building knew how the day would go. First the piercing siren on every floor, then the blinding flicker of the LED bulb, like the hands of jumper cables clamped to a car battery at one end and frantically clapping with the other. It was a cattle call down the stairwell after that, the click-clack of heels, shoulder to shoulder, the slow exodus not unlike squeezing a hardened tube of dried toothpaste onto your brush. We slowly circled the drain.
There was plenty of time to imagine how this scene might go if it were truly an emergency. I envisioned a corporate mosh pit not unlike a Smashing Pumpkins concert; suits pushing past dresses; purses slapping passersby like welterweight gloves; the older, more feeble trampled or wedged into corners like the forgotten rinds of Swiss still lurking in the cheese drawer. Darwinism would surely rise to the surface in this situation, emerging victorious, just like turds in a toilet bowl full of water.
After fifteen minutes, we finally reached the lobby and exited the building. (See above: Practice). There was already a crowd gathered across the street in the park, standing like a waddle of penguins, hands in their pockets or folded across their chests (depending if they had pockets or not), shifting from one foot to the other, making small talk and nodding at each other conspiratorially.
Seeing them, my coworker said, “Hey, there’s this great coffee shop a couple blocks away. Want to walk down there and grab a latte? They make the best one with oat milk. It’s so creamy, I love it!”
This sounded a lot better than standing around with nothing to do but small talk with strangers. I was all in. Normally I only purchase a cup of coffee at a shop, but she sold this Oat Milk Latte pretty good, so I splurged. We sipped and walked our steaming cups back to the corner across from the park. And it was a delicious latte.
Eventually the crowd started to wander back towards the glass doors, queuing up in front like a blanket of bees spread across a honeycomb. My coworker and I stood there a bit longer watching. We rationalised we could wait in the lobby to grab an empty elevator back up, or we could wait in the sun on a perfect spring day. When we finally reached our suite my coworker said, “Well if you liked this, you might like the oat milk creamer I found at Whole Foods. It’s really good!” This enticed me. It sounded like a nice treat, an inexpensive one, and one I would allow since I rarely purchased coffee from a shop, choosing to brew my java at home instead.
That weekend, I tucked an insulated bag inside my backpack, and walked the mile to Whole Foods. I had visited this location in the past, back when I did yoga at the studio next door, before the classes became so packed it began to feel like a giant petri dish, my face dodging the sweaty feet waving in front of me, as I wobbled on one leg in Warrior Three. So I knew this Whole Foods well enough to know exactly where the dairy—and the tiramisu—sections were located. They were both strategically placed. The dairy was stacked against the back wall, and the tiramisu sat in formation on cold shelves, next to the checkout line at the front of the store. It was impossible to exit without sauntering past all those ladyfingers soaking in their glorious bath of coffee, cocoa and mascarpone. (You should be having serious FOMO right now if you’ve never tasted WF’s tiramisu).
This visit, I headed straight to the back, and found the oat creamer tucked among the sea of other non-dairy creamers lining the refrigerated racks. It was the size of a small milk carton, and it cost five dollars. Hmm, I thought. I can buy a gallon of milk for less than that. Now I was the penguin, shifting from one foot to the other, holding the small container in my hand, deciding what I should do. Should I buy it? It’ll only last a week. Back and forth I went in my mind.
It’s only five dollars.
Yeah…it’s five dollars!
I walked out without it (and the tiramisu!). I couldn’t pay that much for what was basically a condiment, and one that would only last a week. I headed to South Block next door. Instead of heading home with oat creamer stuffed in my backpack, I picked up a bottle of watermelon juice, what SB calls Hydrate, for nine dollars, and drank it on my walk back home. (I know, my spending rules are complicated, my math somewhat convoluted, thanks to middle age, which is an apt euphemism for what happens in the middle of the middle).
That next Monday, I stopped by my coworker’s desk. I said, “I found the creamer, but it was five dollars for this little container,” demonstrating how small it was my hands for dramatic effect. Grimacing, sucking air though my teeth, I admitted,“I just couldn’t do it…”
She looked into my eyes for a second before responding. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she was thinking about me? The kind of person I was? The kind that won’t spend five dollars at the grocery store for a carton of creamer?
She said, “Well, if you just use a little thimbleful, it should last you a while.”
Hearing this, my face screwed into a question mark. Now I was the one considering what kind of person she was. How does she even know what a thimble is? She was only in her early twenties.The last time, and only time, I thought of a thimble was playing monopoly as a kid, long before she was born. It was one of a few of the game-pieces I avoided at all costs. It was…totally…not…cool. I always dove into the box headed straight for the dog or the race car. Besides, who uses a “thimbleful” of creamer in their coffee? Who uses a thimble to measure… anything? Is that even a thing? Have you ever heard someone say, “I’d like a thimble of cream, please?” Or, “Can I get a thimble of Woodford Reserve, please? Neat.”
As if there was any question to how it would or could be served.
What was the point? Might as well go without. I mulled her words over before replying.
“Well,” I said, “I’m more of a shot-sized girl…even in my coffee.”
She shrugged her shoulders, before looking back down at the papers on her desk, the conversation now over.
I walked away with fresh eyes for my coworker.
I thought to myself, “Only a psychopath would think a thimble of creamer will do.”