Call me paranoid—but whenever I’m walking down the street, I often catch people smirking ever so slightly as they walk towards me. Almost without fail, it has me brushing at the underside of my nose to try and scrape free a possible loose booger, as well as touching my zipper in case it’s bungy jumped again. I often try to tell myself they’re not chuckling at me, because at a glance at least, I’m no more funny looking than most other people out there, yet I just can’t shake the feeling people see me, and they think of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, or The Three Stooges, all rolled into one, and start chuckling. Today I realised it may be these people have an ability to see me in a future state of comedic misfortune, and therefore adhere to the rule that other people’s misfortune can be inherently funny.
We have this routine on Fridays—at least, we used to, back when there was actually a UI team to speak of on this project—where we go for a sit-down coffee in a nearby cafe, in lieu of the daily ritual (except on Friday) of going to a different cafe across the road for a take away.
The past month or so, I’ve had the —pleasure— of being relocated to the offices at the airport for a few days at a time, to participate in specially convened and focussed workshops to ensure all the ducks are in a row before build truly commences (until now there’s been a lot of ‘assemble what we can’). I’ve been in situations before with big projects where there comes a time to lock things down, but this one is like no other. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been informed something is to be moved, removed, or on occasion, added, only to learn a few weeks later the decision has been reversed because of the impact on something else. After these workshops, I’m expecting there will be a bit more of that.
The key problem with the airport offices, are their lack of proximity to anything except the airport. It’s about 6km from my place to there, and even the makeshift bike lanes of a shoulder on the edge of the bitumen fade away a good 500metres before the (relative) safety of the airport complex, and given how Canberrans drive, I’m not sure I want to risk sharing the road with them. So, with that in mind it’s either the once hourly shuttle bus, or a taxi, which effectively leaves me stranded there for the day.
There are just two cafes in the office complex, and from what I’ve been able to ascertain previously, the one in the airport terminal is not worth the walk. Yesterday, I went to the one regarded as the better of the two, and got myself a takeaway. It wasn’t terrible coffee, but just didn’t seem as good as what I can get across the road from work in Civic. About halfway through my coffee, I was taking a sip through the plastic lid they fit to the top of every coffee, when a number of people at my table all gave me a “look” at the same time. Right about then, I felt warm liquid running down my chin and realised I must’ve spilt some coffee—potentially a missed connection on the drinking spout, though I was quite certain I’d docked correctly.
On looking down at my shirt I realised the cap hadn’t sealed properly on the cup, and it had been dribbling coffee down my front. That’s a good look on a white shirt with no tie. More to the point, it wasn’t even midday and I had at least six more hours in there. Talk about making myself, erm, self-conscious. At the lunch break I had the bright idea of going to the washroom to see if I could somehow sponge it off with some damp paper towel. That didn’t seem to shift it at all so then some of the hand soap got squirted onto the paper towel and massaged into my shirt. It was at about that time, when the soap had turned to suds on the gut part of my shirt, when I realised I’d done very little to the coffee stain, which I’d been partially successful in concealing with my building pass, and had instead just made a very large, and impossible to conceal wet patch on my shirt. So now I had just one choice. Hide in the cubicle for the rest of the lunch break and hope the air conditioning would suck enough moisture out of the air to dry it. I hope no one noticed, but if they did, they were at least polite enough to keep their laughing behind my back.
By the time I got home, I was glad the next day was Friday and I could go to work in casual clothes. By the end of today, even more so. Had it been work clothes I was in today, I don’t know how it could’ve played out.
One of the few colleagues (Rory) from the UI team who hadn’t been rolled off or over, managed to break free for a time and came looking for me to see if I wanted to go for a sit-down coffee. Being a Friday I was naturally inclined to oblige. I should mention up front, that the cafe in question appears to have sacked (or lost) its entire waiting staff a few months ago, and the replacements have not been especially great. Long delays both in having an order taken and delivered, as well as wrong orders delivered (despite them all carrying around little PDA’s to take the orders), and bill mix-ups have all been experiences I’ve had since the changeover.
Today added another of the classic inexperienced waiter experiences to my list. This time around, there is one new waitress; I think possibly a manager, or definitely the boss of the floor staff. She came and took our orders within a few minutes of us arriving and had my usual muffin to me a few minutes after that. I did think that maybe things were turning a corner there, as we hadn’t had service that prompt for quite some time. So we started talking and I munched my muffin, and had indeed finished eating my muffin by the time we noticed the coffees were about to arrive. I had a long macchiatto, he had a flat white. For those that don’t know a macchiatto, it’s a glass full of chocolaty looking sludge, except it’s coffee—very concentrated and quite potent.
My coffee was first off the tray, and as it descended to the table, everything seemed to slow down. I saw the waiter’s arm get about halfway down to the table, and then the coffee cup seemed to tremble for a moment. The next thing I knew, the coffee glass was off it’s saucer and on its way down to the table where it bounced once, then leapt off the edge of the table towards me and tipped over. The entire coffee hit me pretty square in the groin, and whatever missed splashed down onto the seat between my legs.
The scalding aside, which faded fairly quickly because my clothes tended to absorb much of the coffee and thus the heat, I immediately knew I had a potentially very humiliating experience unfolding. There’s only one way to describe it: dark blue denim jeans + one cup liquid = looks like Ben pissed himself, and quite well at that. As the waiter fumbled around for some towels to try and sop up the coffee (too late, my clothes did that already) Rory asked if I wanted to leave. I took one look at my pants and said absolutely not.
Within a minute or so, the original waitress was at the table offering to pay my dry cleaning, and wanting to know if there was anything else she could do to help. “A dryer?” I asked hopefully. She said there was only the hand dryer in the men’s rest room, so I quickly hopped in there to dry off. Problem was, it was one of those environmentally friendly dryers that only operates when you’re waving your hands around underneath it. This ultimately meant I had to try and stand under the dryer in a way that meant the little bit of heat coming from it would be directed onto the affected area, as well as keep my hands moving around under the dryer to keep the thing operating. I won’t say what it looked like I was trying to do to the dryer, but I was in a position where it would be very embarrassing if someone had walked in. So when one of the chefs came in for a leak he did kind of do a double take, and then shrugged when he saw my jeans and went about his business. I realised at that point the dryer was pointless, and I’d have to assume that position for hours to get my jeans dry.
So I marched back out into the cafe with my big wet patch on the front and sat down. Rory pointed out he’d had to send his coffee back because despite asking for a flat white, it came back with half an inch of foam on top (basically they gave him a cappuccino without the chocolate on top). So we both waited for our replacement coffees to arrive, and my mind invariably became focused on how I was going to get out of there with my dignity intact. The cafe had started to fill with a swell of people coming in for their morning coffees, and just as importantly, the cafe is located in a part of town where the pedestrian density is fairly high. Our second coffees were delivered very carefully, and as we drank those, I began to ponder more openly on how I might get out of there now with so many people around.
On the outer edges, the stain had begun to dry, but it wasn’t drying clear. Coffee being coffee, it dried with a rusty poo brown tint to it, and I realised that even if the stain did dry, it would only look like I pissed myself in those clothes a few hours, or possibly days ago, and went rolling in the dirt or something. I remembered I’d seen waiting staff walking down the street wearing their aprons, which would cover the affected area reasonably well, so eventually I asked the helpful waitress if I could borrow one to run home and get changed. Fortunately for me, she obliged, and I tied on the apron whilst I remained sitting.
With the apron in place, and (I thought) my dignity relatively in tact I stood up and walked out of the cafe. As I headed down towards Glebe Park and freedom, I caught a glimpse of my reflection and thought two things: the apron would be more convincing if I were wearing the black shirt and pants of a waiter, rather than blue polo top and jeans; and that the aprons are surprisingly fattening (I’m still in denial that I’m gaining weight here).
Remember how I mentioned the stain dried a certain colour? And remember how I said the coffee had splashed onto the seat between my legs? Well, the apron only covered me out in front, where (I thought) the bulk of the damage was. As it turned out, there was also quite a stain at the back as well, and with the poo brown colour of it drying, well, you can imagine what it now looked liked I’d done at the back. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised this, and well, also realised the fact I’d walked through the cafe, from one end to the other, with my wet, poo brown coloured rear end on show.
By that time I didn’t care though, I was safely home and quickly stripped off the lot (my socks were the only article of clothing NOT to get doused). As I went to zip up my new, clean pair of pants, I realised that in my haste, I’d forgotten to put fresh underwear on and almost caught my tackle in the zipper. That was the first point where I really laughed, because had that third misfortune happened, I really wouldn’t have been able to show my face at work again.