Sometimes a simple act can become extraordinarily complicated by the addition of an onlooker. Making coffee, for instance, has recently become a brow-wrinkling, palm-dampening nightmare for me. One of my clients is in possession of a tremendous espresso machine. This is not one of those $89.99 KRUPS bitches; itís a professional barista model with multiple single and double-baskets, manual settings, a water trap, steamer wand, conical grinder sidecar with single-pull tamping arm, 27-inch chrome rims, real chinchilla fur lining, and a flatscreen LCD panel and DVD-player built into the side of each accompanying espresso cup. It is capable of producing a fully pimped-out, and very gay thumbleful of espresso.
Unlike my own French press coffee maker, which is simple enough to leave even the most severely retarded barista bored and restless and searching for exposed wires to lick by the third cup, my clientís ESPRESSISIMO 3000 FALCON LE is like a coffee-making dungeon crawl, with the potential for peril around every corner. It involves grinding, apportioning, tamping, brewing, steaming, cleaning, massaging, praying, holding both triggers down while tapping up, up, down, left, start, and, providing everything goes according to plan, drinking. I was trained on the machine and, left to my own devices, I think I could eventually produce a mediocre to slightly-better-than-mediocre cup of espresso with it.
In fact, when I practice on my own I am pretty good at it. Iím relaxed and patient. Iíve achieved a velvety smoothness with regards to milk. And I rarely burn my tongue on the spout. (rule of three!) However, the last time I was in the kitchen fiddling with all the mechanics of the FALCON LE, a co-worker popped in and asked, ďhey, can you make me a cup, too?Ē I seized up. The reason for this is simple Ė stagefright. If I mess up an espresso for myself I can live with it. I know itís not good, but itís all Iíve got. However, if I mess it up for someone else, it means he knows Iím a terribly incompetent person. Plus, he might drink the espresso Iíve made for him and think, ďThis guy has no idea what good espresso tastes like if this is the brown pee heís drinking every day.Ē Itís like when someone invites you over for dinner, and has been bragging for months about how much they love to cook. Then you eat the dinner and itís filled with bones. (and believe me, grilled cheese should have no bones in it) Or, simply, the food just ainít no good Ė I mean the macaroni's soggy the peas are mushed and the chicken tastes like wood. You canít help thinking this person is completely delusional about his or her expertise in the kitchen and, further, has no idea what good food tastes like. Well, maybe itís not because your friend is a weak chef; maybe itís because that person suffers from performance anxiety.
When I was put in the polite position of being asked to steam some milk for a co-worker, I did it all wrong. I was incredibly self-conscious and the milk bubbled and frothed and burned. As I poured it over his shot of espresso, I couldnít help thinking the gesture was analogous to being asked to place whipped cream on a slice of blue ribbon-winning pie, and then shitting on the pie instead. I was basically being asked to RUIN his coffee because his presence made me nervous.
I do this in many types of situations. If Iím performing onstage and thereís someone in the audience I want to impress (Merv Griffin, for example), I will inevitably have the worst show of my life. My voice will escape me when Iíve got something important to say. And when I was a kid, I would lose control when I was playing a video game in an arcade and someone placed their quarter up on the machine, indicating they had ďnext.Ē This simple action would inject a sense of urgency into my game: It made me think I needed to finish quickly, or risk making someone impatient or angry. My sudden incompetence would increase tenfold when someone asked to jump in and play against me or, worse still, didnít even ask. You canít say no to a challenger; itís a sign of your weakness. You can only glumly agree, then watch as a ten year-old Japanese boy beats you with a flawless victory.
These days Iím especially lame around teenagers, because they are a very judgmental demographic and I automatically assume they think everything I do is square or ďfor the birds,Ē as they are wont to say. Because of this inference, a simple gesture like buying an ice cream cone or getting my cock pierced is punctuated with all sorts of embarrassing actions and words. On more than one occasion, Iíve caught myself telling a teenage cashier, ďcatch you easyĒ or ďtwo pumps of amaretto syrup would be def.Ē I should really just take a deep breath before entering into those situations, then confidently announce, ďHi, Iím a total faggot. Now letís make a Frappuccino happen.Ē