Today Am I a Barista, or a Philosopher?

I grab the gallon of 2% milk and pour some into a pitcher. Dipping the steel nozzle safely beneath the white surface, I rotate the knob which turns on the steam. A noise somewhat like a jet engine consumes the café. What was at first a soft murmuring of vowels, a vague linguistic portmanteau of customers chatting with one another, has turned into a deafening whine. Occasionally, I dip the nozzle further down, allowing little bubbles to leap up to the surface. Then I pull back up until just the very tip of the nozzle is touching the white. This creates a loud hissing sound, as if a hundred snakes had just slithered into the room. The milk moves in violent currents within the pitcher, undulating in tiny whirlpools.

One would hate to somehow become the size of a fly and be caught inside the pitcher. One can imagine the steadily building, suffocating heat, the deafening noise of the steam being interjected into the whirling froth. The noise builds, a sort of Doppler Effect, as if the jet were approaching instead of taking off. The tiny red needle inside the thermometer jiggles rapidly and the temp climbs in regular increments. 100 degrees, 110, 120, 130… Soon the jet noise reaches its climax and rests at a flat rumble. 145 degrees is the designated temp for all hot beverages in the coffee shop. I rotate the knob to its off position and take away the hot pitcher, making sure to hold it firmly by its handle. I do not want to burn myself. Again.

I pour the steamed milk, its texture like wet paint, into the cardboard cup with four ounces of espresso at its bottom. The creamy, tan darkness of the espresso mingles with the paleness of the milk, like two forces conjoining. An image of the Tao flashes in my brain. I begin to ponder the intricate dance of the two liquids, becoming enraptured by all those intricacies known only through the laws of physics.

I place a black, plastic lid atop the cup, lifting up on it once just to be sure it is in place. How easy it is to put on a cracked lid, causing a customer to spill it on themselves. Or for me to hand it over to them, only to have much of the beverage run down upon my fingers in one blistering moment of pain.

I hand the latte to a middle-aged woman with owl spectacles and long, curly grey hair. She says, ‘thank you’ in a sweet tiny voice, like a mouse, and walks out the front entrance. I am thinking that I’d forgotten to add the vanilla flavoring she’d asked for. I can be so mindless, so stupid, sometimes. But, now she is out the door and getting into her car. I watch as the Jeep pulls out of the lot and onto the main road. I take what little milk is left in the pitcher and dump it into a nearby sink. The steam rises into the air and I think of everything as being the same, as being steam. This world, the entire universe, and especially our very lives, seems susceptible to absolute evaporation.

This is, of course, not so much a moral standpoint for one to take, as much as it is a basic law of physics. Within the bounds of every life, there is always a phase change. What was once suspected as something solid, inevitably transforms into a vague, cosmic vapor; a mish-mash of excited particles.

All souls rise, and dissimulate into the balance of nothingness.

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