Joeblade

Recognition

The Venn diagram that describes the overlap between my chatty periods and the periods when I need a coffee is basically just two adjacent circles. This is usually manageable, until staff start recognising me.

Last year I spent months getting a morning espresso from a particular coffee shop, picked because it didn’t just serve the best coffee around but was also on my route. They got to know me quickly, and the high of not having to queue for as long or say the same thing every day had to be balanced against the low of the staff asking me how my weekend was, or where I worked, or…God, anything at all.

Spring came, and the first day of the year that I didn’t wear a hat to work all the staff at the coffee shop immediately forgot me. They hadn’t remembered me at all, they’d remembered the hat, and without the hat I was new, and I had to start all over again. Come Autumn, would the return of the hat cause them to forget hatless-me? Would they still remember the hatted me, and ask me where I’d been all these months? I changed jobs and location and sadly would never find out.

Where I work now is a coffee wasteland. I’d been getting coffee from Caffe Nero at first, then switched to a branch of Tossed, an establishment that doesn’t sit well with me because I don’t like to think of masturbation and beverages at the same time. An Australian cafe opened recently which seemed promising but with signs promising ‘free hugs’, a banana-bread-dominated menu and an aggressively hip interior, I knew it wasn’t going to work out between us.

Salvation came in the unexpected guise of a Mexican cafe. Mexican and Brazilian beans from the Hackney-based Climpson & Sons and a painstaking determination to pull the perfect espresso. Good coffee. Near the office. No masturbatory slogans and no plates of fucking Lamingtons everywhere. A lot of important boxes getting ticked.

It took the staff just 24 hours to start recognising me.

On my second day, staff commented on how I was wearing a different-coloured shirt that day so they nearly didn’t recognise me. In under a week I was being greeted with all the warmth and camaraderie treated to Norm from Cheers, three or four bright-eyed young women all smiling and saying hi! simultaneously. As one of their first regular, predictable and easily-pleased customers, they’ve basically imprinted on me like ducklings.

It’s been awful. Every morning I’m faced with either going for a duff, anonymous coffee, or a great coffee tempered with breezy, affable sociability. It’s 9am! I shouldn’t have to be making decisions like that at that time.

It isn’t just that I’m being resentfully forced into acting like a decent human being, either. When you have the same thing every day people start getting cocky about it and when I try for something different I have to shout to stop them. A bakery where I spent months getting a croissant got so smug that they started seeing me through the window and bagging one up before I’d even entered the building. It was almost heartbreaking, seeing their confused, tear-stained faces as I one day walked into a nearby GAIL’S instead.

Yes, I tend to have the same thing for weeks or months at a time, but at least give me the illusion of free will. Take away my agency altogether and I may as well not even be conscious, just a man-shaped bag of meat going through a few Pavlovian motions.

The solution, I guess, is just to wear a different hat every day.

By Paul Haine, in