Sunday, June 28, 2009

What I really wanted was an Ivory Elephant.

A few days ago I was stuck in line, in Dunkin Donuts, behind a woman who was to my mind the epitome of all that is wrong with society. She wondered if she could order the special, a large coffee and a muffin. But, instead of coffee she would like some ice tea. Lemon, no raspberry, no on third thought, lemon. With ice, and a slice of real lemon. Lots of ice, two straws. And, instead of a muffin, would it be possible to substitute a bagel? I watched as the young woman who was serving her struggled to maintain a friendly demeanor. I watched as the line behind this woman got longer and longer. Then she wanted some water, for her son. No, not just water, also with a slice of lemon. Oh, could you dump some of it out and add more ice? And another piece of lemon. I had plenty of time to think about what exactly was making me so irritated. I am very sympathetic to people on special diets, the gluten allergic, diabetics, lactose intolerant, and others. I am not troubled to go out to dinner with friends who want to ask the waiter questions, or see if there is a way to use soy milk instead of cow milk in the latte. It was not what she wanted that troubled me so much as her apparent unawareness that the store was short staffed and that there were quite a few people in line behind her. Or was she aware?
When I got finally to order I asked for a large latte with caramel. The patient young lady brought it to me, and then rang up a regular coffee, saving me several dollars. . She winked at me. I made up a story in my mind about how I was being rewarded for ordering something off the regular menu. I accepted my bargain beverage, and wandered back out into the humidity still thinking about people who want something just a little more.
I thought of an old friend who is a contractor. He told me that people tend to pull this same stunt, only on a much larger scale, when they have work done in their homes. He told me that just recently he had built an elaborate staircase for a couple in an affluent suburb. The wife had changed her mind a few times about the type of wood she wanted, but had settled on quarter sawn oak. My friend had worked very hard to build a staircase to a standard of craftsmanship that was normal one hundred years ago but is now almost impossible to attain. He was very proud of his work. On the day he finished the wife stood at the bottom of the stairs, which curved up to a landing and then curved again . She remarked that maybe it would be better if the stairs came down on the left side instead of the right. How hard would it be to take them down and put them back the other way? My friend managed to communicate with her that while it would be possible , it would not be done by him now or ever. He also might have mentioned that should she so desire that he rebuild the stairs entirely out of ivory, , that he would not be interested in that project either. He might have made fun of her posh but put on accent, or copied her dramatic hand gestures. Let's just say it was not a meeting of the minds. But his imitation of her saying in a whiny voice "I know I said I wanted a stair case, but what I really had in mind was an elephant, a big white elephant carved out of ivory..." was quite endearing.


  1. I used to request no milk in my tea at Dunkin Donuts, but I gave up because I felt like I was asking too much. (I mean, they always put in milk, too, but you can't really fault them.)

  2. I love the story. We all want something extra sometime in our life, but these ladies are beyond the norm...