Recently, people have been asking me why, specifically, I’ve been boycotting Starbucks for the past two years. I have insofar managed to not tell the story, on the grounds that it gets rather long and winding, is comprised of a nearly unbelievable series of events and, really, doesn’t have all that much to do with Starbucks. With the latest query to be delivered to me, though, I figured I’d set the record straight, or at least less crooked than it was, on my one remaining boycott.
I suppose you could say that it all started with a storm.
In the latter portion of 1999, Hurricane Floyd arrived and beat the living bejesus out of New Jersey. Three things came from that, and from the fact that I live near a flood zone, which were that a) I found myself wading through five feet of cold water in my basement in a futile attempt to save my washing machine, b) I had to be removed from my house, at gunpoint, by National Guardsmen in rowboats and c) my closet got thwacked.
The third fact is the one that we’re focusing on, and it is also probably the toughest to grasp. It helps to know that the ceiling in my closet is the other side of the roof of my house, and that driving rain doesn’t do good things to the roof of a house that was built the same year that the Titanic sank. The natural result, anyway, was that, at various locations on the ceiling of my closet, water decided to come stomping in with fire-hose force, decimating everything in its wake and chipping the paint on one wall. These chips irritated me once I was allowed back in my house, so, as soon as my roof was put back on, I decided to do some repainting.
Now, though the walls of my bedroom are painted in the venerable “Colonial White”, the walls of my closet are not. In fact, the closet was painted by those mysterious and Christmas-loving Tookers — Dorothy, William and their teenage daughter, Cissy — the inhabitants of my house during the sixties and early seventies, and who left a large portion of their belongings in my attic.
I didn’t want to repaint the entire closet. Only one of the walls was marred, after all, and my cubicle-sized closet is far too small for me to stand in for extended periods of time without being either asphyxiated by the paint fumes or rendered suicidally claustrophobic, so I decided to just “touch-up” that one wall and call it a day.
And so I went to get a can of plain white paint, as any red-blooded American might, at the Home Depot… which is where the saga beings.
I was, to this point, unaware that “Fuchsia” had become a standard color. “Periwinkle”, also, is apparently just around the corner from being deemed primary. “Burnt Umber” is no longer what you get when you, er, burn umber and, for some inexplicable reason, “Shark Blue” contains a mixture of seventeen different colors — none of which are actually blue.
Not realizing any of this, I found myself in the paint section of the Home Depot, naively searching for white and not finding it. Though “Plain White” may have been a perfectly viable color when the Tookers first took it upon themselves to paint my house all those years ago, these days the “White” section of Home Depot is comprised of every imaginable shade of white EXCEPT “White”. There’s Colonial White, Off-White, Soft White, Hard White, Cloud, Picket Fence, Workspace Gray (which is really white and not, as you might guess, gray), Snow, Polar White, Overcast, Satin White, Paper, Virtue and Virgin (which are manufactured by the same company and are exactly the same)… God knows how many others, which is not even counting the “designer” shades, which could probably fill their own encyclopedia.
After about an hour of searching through endless swatch booklets and muttering expletives as I squinted to read the labels on the top shelves, twenty-five feet above my head, I decided to pull aside the only Home Depot employee not currently engaged in the task of cutting out small triangular pieces of green carpet (an act to which every other Home Depot employee seemed almost obscenely interested).
“I need white,” I told him.
He fiddled with his clean orange apron and stared at me, so I repeated my statement. “I need white. Paint. I need white paint.”
“Sorry,” he shrugged. “I work in lumber.” That said, he walked away.
You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Starbucks.
After flagging down numerous other orange-clad employees (all of which worked in lumber; apparently Home Depot’s lumber section is vastly overstaffed at the expense of every other section), I was finally able to walk away with a shade of paint which was almost entirely not unlike white. I believe it was called “Wicket”, or had the word “wicket” in the title somewhere. “Wicket” is not the kind of word that one forgets easily.
This took hours, of course, and required quite a bit of talking, snarling and inhaling sawdust, so by the time I got out of there, my throat was somewhat parched. While driving home, I noticed a Starbucks sitting inconspicuously in a mini-mall out the corner of my eye. I had never been in a Starbucks, but I had a tremendous thirst and assumed that it would be the closest place, geographically at least, to quench that thirst.
So I stopped. And so began my Starbucks adventure.
The line, which I was at the end of, stretched to the horizon and I found myself waiting, two counties away, behind a guy in a turtleneck who felt it entirely necessary to talk to me about poetry. I’m not a huge fan of poetry and it took two hours of him talking for me to realize that neither was he. The guy had never read anything that he liked. Ever. He began hour three of his dissertation when I interjected with my very own poem:
Before I make your vertebrae pop and displace,
Why don’t you just get the fuck out of my face?
After a decade or so more of waiting, I finally got to the counter of the hellish coffee house and prepared to place my order. “Welcome to Starbucks,” said the cheery girl with the perfect smile behind the counter. “What can I get you?”
“Er…” I looked around. There was lots of coffee, and I don’t like coffee. “I’ll just have a large chocolate milk.”
She said nothing but simply looked at me with eyes that would have made an elderly sheep confident in his SAT scores. I told her what I wanted again. She looked at me again, still smiling, still with empty eyes, so I said it a third time, this… time… slowly… and… distinctly.
“Er…” she broke her silence finally, smile not flickering for a heartbeat. “Can I help you?”
“Chocolate milk!” I said, exasperated. “You know, you take chocolate and you mix it with milk… that white stuff you put IN coffee!”
I realized my mistake as soon as I made it: I should have learned from my week in Home Depot that there was no such thing as white, and to try explaining the concept of a non-color to an employee of Starbucks was easily as effective as trying to mow gravel.
“Wicket,” I backpedaled. “Er… off-white. Virgin! That workspace gray stuff you put in coffee!”
“Ah,” she continued smiling, and set about making my drink.
I don’t know if you have any idea of what it’s like to take a big gulp of chocolate-flavored hazelnut dairy creamer, but it was enough to make me swear off Starbucks for the rest of my natural life.