The cream thermos at Starbucks

It was Sunday morning, the first Sunday of spring in Greenville, SC.

I had just received an email containing a much-awaited feedback response. It was negative. I was disappointed.

Oh well. Being an adult, I had no right to be so utterly distressed over every broken dream. I had a husband to attend to, therefore I asked Alan if he would like to go out for breakfast.

In all honesty, if I merely intended to go on living, a radical change was in order. I just didn’t know where to start. Maybe going out for breakfast on a spring Sunday. Maybe no longer writing about my persistent failures, or starting to focus on being “successful.”

I could certainly tell you, that is, tell people outside the U.S., how stunning the beginning of springtime in this country is. There are fresh strokes of color all over the place, as if a talented painter had just woken up and put his hands to work. “Nature,” some would say. Maybe “God.” Uplifting, from every angle you look at it.

We drove to our favorite breakfast joint, a 5-minute drive from our house. House, not home. “I hate this house,” Alan had just admitted. I was inclined to agree. I hated it myself. We’ve lived here too long.

The breakfast place was packed, it had a half-hour wait. It might be too late for breakfast; or, on the other hand, this was the exact time for people who attend church, the vast majority in this neck of the woods, dubbed “the Bible Belt.” Chances were other restaurants would be also crowded, so we postponed coffee for a while and drove to the property, which we’re supposed to visit a couple of days a week in order to imagine how great it will feel to be living up there. Which is expected to happen eventually.

I confess I don’t have a clue about the rules to achieve success. At any rate, there is an overabundance of efficient recipes out there to follow if we are seriously planning to join the “happy few,” although I feel strongly it is failure that makes us human, or binds us closer to people who are “just human.” Olympus is somewhere else; anointed gods don’t act like the average Joe. Moreover, they are surely aware of a couple of sacred tricks they don’t wish to share, despite the millions of dollars spent and earned through publishing books on this subject matter.

But I digress. On our way down from Paris Mountain, we decided to stop at the Starbucks near the supermarket. At first sight, since it’s located in a parking lot, it looks like a desolated coffee shop at a random gas station. But as you enter, it’s a Starbucks, with the exact same color scheme and layout as any other Starbucks anywhere in the world. I wonder if this highly planned uniformity is the secret to business success; I might add that coffee at Starbucks is always great, although the food might not be so extraordinary.

What I loathe about Starbucks is that no matter where you are, in Rio de Janeiro or in Paris or in L.A., it is necessary to know exactly what is demanded of you in order to reach the desired results, no manual of instructions added. Therefore, after I grabbed Alan’s cup and mine — Alan was waiting for the food — I went straight to the cream & sugar counter and discovered that the cream thermos was practically empty. Trying to act like an insider, I pointed it out to the girl behind the coffee counter, and went even further, taking the empty thermos and leaving it right in front of her, before heading back to my seat.

There was a copy of the New York Times lying on the table, and Alan started to read it with genuine interest, something I was repeatedly failing to understand. Less than an hour ago he has been harshly criticizing the newspaper for its political stance and for all the “lies” they publish every day. I was in no position to remind him, or myself, of how relevant I believed the paper still was. Especially on this spring Sunday morning, when I had been rejected for the nth time.

I needed some urgent distraction from my negative thoughts, so I began to observe my fellow customers, while my mind simultaneously wandered through my past, summing up what I have accomplished so far. Although, of course, having changed my course so violently by leaving my own country behind, my chances of reaping positive results were now remarkably slim. For whatever life I have left. I will never be able to fit in.

The cream thermos was still on the counter, exactly where I’d left it. Untouched. Alan — who, to his utmost relief, is now home after his own self-imposed exile — undoubtedly knew the right path to the cream and how to pour it in his coffee, while the best I could do was to ask the wrong person to fill the wrong thermos by putting it in the wrong place.

In my mental musings, I started to reflect about the Trump phenomenon and the crowds that follow the presidential candidate, widely qualified in the mainstream media as a herd of misfits, illiterate, “disposable” people. I caught the impeccable irony implied in the fact that a successful billionaire, possibly an obstinate reader of Hitler’s unrestrained speeches — as Alan and I had discussed earlier, based on an article published in the Times — surprisingly managed to find his way to the hearts of such a dispossessed, boisterous, demanding mob. Or for this very reason: his inflamed rhetoric.

Alan kindly offered me solace on that dreary spring morning, advising that I should simply surrender: There was no way I could make myself known as a writer in the highly competitive English-speaking world, among a myriad of outstanding natives coming out of Ivy League universities. Perhaps I should limit myself to my native Portuguese, keep myself contained within the modest circle of third-world admirers I have already amassed, stop “courting people who do not appreciate me and learn to accept those who do.” In other words, I’d better make my life easier and go easy on myself, stop aiming for the sky (and start focusing on my grave, I was tempted to add).

Alright. Time for a well-deserved break.

“I can feel you want to leave,” Alan said, putting aside the Times Book Review. He threw the empty cups into the garbage bin next to our table, and we walked to the door. The cream thermos rested untouched on the coffee counter, and I bet it was going to stay that way until the night janitor finally came to clean up the place, a foreign worker, probably.



About the Author
Noga Sklar was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1952. She grew up in Belo Horizonte and lived for 30 years in Rio de Janeiro, a city she left behind to take refuge in a paradise among the mountains of Petropolis. Noga met her American husband Alan Sklar in 2004, through the American Jewish dating site JDate. This meeting gave new impetus to her life and literary career, inspiring her first novel, “No degrees of separation” (to be published in English in 2016. She now lives in Greenville, SC, US, where she moved with her husband in October 2014.
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