Mean Deaf Barrista

Performed in front of a live audience at Rick Shapiro’s Spoken Word Night, Cafe Muse, Los Angeles, 2011

redrafted 4/27/2011/11/4 2011

Mean Deaf Barrista has finished making a latte with extra foam and as the poofy haired lady in the maroon suit says thank you, he gives her a dirty look, tracing her steps out the door with his mouth in a scowl.

“Stop it. Bad.” I tell him. He cracks up slightly to himself, snorts in his throat, then hands me my drink with a cocky wobble: green tea soy latte, no foam, no syrup. He rolls his eyes at my frilly silly girl drink.

“Shut up,” I say.

The door opens behind us and he cocks his head sideways at a boy about 23 going out – “Is that your boyfriend?” I ask.

“No,” he says, “too fat.”

“God,” I say.

“My father is rich. He just bought a house in Laguna Beach.”

“So what?” I say. 

“My father is so rich, I buy myself diamonds.” He wiggles his middle finger at me and makes a fake diamond bracelet swirl around his wrist. Then diamonds flow over his hair like diamond shampoo being rinsed down the drain, like a Diamond Barbie, with pull out diamond hair. But he wears no diamonds- not on his fingers, around his thin wrist or in his short hair.

“Tell someone who cares.”

“Fuck you” He mouths, wiggling the diamond on his middle finger.

 Get over yourself,” I mouth.

I do it like this, without saying the words: hand in palm, then hand over my own head. I point and ride: he does not know sign language, so saying it right doesn’t matter. He refuses to learn American Sign Language – he thinks it’s dumb. And, he won’t speak to anyone deaf. That’s what he told me. Mean Deaf Barrista has his own set of principles, completely incomprehensible to the hearing or the deaf. He understands me just fine when I say “Get. Over. Your. Self.” I am a nice person, usually striving to be of service, but I think it may be in Mean Deaf Barrista’s best interests to let a little air out of his elephant man’s sized head. It doesn’t take. He snarls at me, snorts, makes a fake double chin, shakes it off and smiles into the mist of the next latte as I fall utterly out of his head and as he falls into a reverie of his own greatness, he sets to ignoring me so long I feel stupid standing there and leave.

Mean Deaf Barrista is a complex box of wet and dry worms, sniggling and moving, raunchy and emotional, aggravating yet compelling, a cacaphony of sound effects and gestures always causing conflict in the Starbucks. I keep walking in on him having fights with his fellow workers: his arms fly in the air accusatorily, his hands madly gesturing his defense, he is ever righteous and always wronged in a world of injustice and its unjust inhabitants who are blind to the trials of his deafness. He is bitter with resenting the inability of others to comprehend the contorted sounds that argue his case and though he articulates as clearly he can, he is awash and alone in a sea of the hearing and deaf, with nary a soul to hear him. He writes notes when he has to. He has nice handwriting. Mostly Capitals. His traumatized fellow workers confide in me as I step to the ordering podium. Something has always just happened: Mean Deaf Barrista a kind of tornado, with me as his chaser: the cow’s in the tree, and I have to talk it down. He is exiting through the swinging door to go get more cup lids.

Enter in the same swing Tattooed, Nose Ringing, Black Haired Barrista Girl, who is tough by any standards, now wiping a tear from her eye- another victim of Mean Deaf Barrista’s rampages. 

“He hates me” she says, shaking her head, rolling her eyes up, trying valiantly to let it go. 

“He doesn’t hate you.”

“He ACTS like he hates me.”

“He acts like he hates everybody. That means he likes you.”

“He’s always making faces at me.”

“He just uses his face alot- that’s how the deaf talk. It helps them understand and convey subtler delineations of meaning. It’s like tone. Hearing people don’t use their faces that way. You’re just not used to it. It’s not personal.” 

Usually the big words with psychological overtones calm the ruffled victims. But Tattooed, Nose Ringing, Black Haired Barrista Girl is unsure after a fresh attack by a Ninja Master brandishing his gestures and snorts like shiny sharp swords. She disappears in the back as she swings through the door, and here he comes on the way in. They shoulder by each other, not seeing.

“Nice! I like your work,” I say, when he reappears at the register.

“What?” He sneers.

“Stop being rude to people. I’m sick of defending you. Even the customers are complaining!”


“What are you, deaf?” He laughs and covers his mouth, which he has shaped into an O. “Stop asking what. You’re being rude. I’m sick of cleaning up after you.”

He wobbles his head sideways like a Pakistani and laughs to himself, which is his way of laughing with me. It has taken me months- over a year- to decipher the language of his hostility. If he pours it over you like a caramel grid on a swirl of whipped cream, he is making his art for you- frothing it and coaxing it into a friendly shape. It is pretty and fluffy and whipped and feels good in the throat, even if it’s too hot. That’s the friendly fire, a sign of love. If he’s moody or busy and has customers, he makes you order fast and he waves you away with his hand, and you’re the fool who stays too long at the fair. The drink is always perfect, because Mean Deaf Barrista is a Master of the Beverage. If no one is there but he is not in a mood to talk about diamonds or how rich his father is, or if he has no energy to insult you, he says, as soon as you open your mouth, “Don’t.” Just, “Don’t.” Or “Stop.” Before you even speak, he says “Stop.” Like he is the Boss of you. And he is.

Mean Deaf Barrista is a pain in the ass of the highest order, and he so has the advantage in this politically incorrect world that you have no choice but to submit to his demands.The weight of the scales is on his side. He can say “what?” to you but if you say “what?” to him, you’re an asshole, which you probably are, at least in this matter at hand. When you stand before Mean Deaf Barrista, the abrupt exposure of your assholedom is imminent and inevitable. To illustrate this inevitability of your obvious idiocy, his eyes are constantly rolling around in his head. They make me dizzy, dizzy with dreams of diamonds. He’s a poser who’s an exposer. A mirror who shows your two faces. 

One day I come in and stand in line, waiting for my turn to say my drink, which is usually free when he’s at the register, but this day they are making him stock the cup lids before standing at his station.

“What do you want?” He asks as he stacks up the lids.

“Green tea soy latte, no syrup, no foam,” I mouth like a silent screamer, over emphasizing the shape of the O in no foam.

“I know!” He throws his arm at me, and it almost falls off.

“Well why did you ask?”

“What SIZE?”

“Venti, you ass.”

If he knows my drink, why doesn’t he know my size?

“Stop,” he says, and holds up a white venti lid like a red traffic light. “Just stop. I don’t want to hear it today.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Problems with my TV show.”

“TV show?!”

“I have a TV show. I’m going to be rich. I’m the star.”

Mean Deaf Barrista suddenly has a TV show.

“What kind of show?”

“Fashion, what else?”

“Fashion? You’re into fashion?”

He Vanna-motions to his skinny denimed ass, saying, “These jeans are one thousand dollars. One thousand three hundred seventy five dollars for this pair of jeans.” He does this number with fingers, and with some sort of noise coming from his mouth that resembles barking. The over stimulation is deafening. I make gestures that mean “step down, man, I am overcome,” before saying:  

“1,375 dollars? Jesus. Why?”

“Because I only wear the best. I’m a fashionista.”

“A what?”


He yells this at me like the idiot I am but it comes out Vah-gi-neezda and I can’t quite get it. People who think he just called me some semblance of a vagina-ista turn around as if he used the c word. I get it now. 

“I get my jeans for 12 bucks at Costco,” I offer, – you know, suggesting an alternative, and he throws his hand at the end of his arm so hard at me it almost falls off again. It’s a fast, outright gay gesture that verges on violence, accusing the world: the world is guilty, I have had enough. The world is an asshole, the gesture says. Mean Deaf Barrista’s eyes are desperate: WE HAVE NO FASHION SENSE!, they implore. WE ARE ALL GOING DOWN! 

My Mean Deaf Barrista is now Mean Deaf Barrista Fashionista TV Starista. 

The world is spinning so fast, all of our eyeballs are rolling. The bottom of the ride is dropping out as we go faster and faster, but I am sticking to the side because we can still count on gravity, even when the deaf refuse to learn their own damn language, even when jeans cost a k and a half, even when all of the eyeballs of all of the world’s inhabitants are rolling. I can’t keep up with it, or him. If he has a TV show, why is he making green tea soy lattes at my neighborhood Starbucks? If MDB has a TV show, where is my TV show? Is this barrista thing a front for his real life? Is he a rich, diamond wearing hit man for the local coffee mafia? Who IS my Mean Deaf Barrista? 

It’s an extra tall, foamy mystery, with vanilla syrup, extra hot, and though it all makes me dizzy, it feels good going down, so I keep coming back. I am stuck in the downward spiral of Starbuck’s; I go down daily, hypnotized by the swirling life of my barrista.

Staring blankly at the overhead chalk drawing of wintery cups with whipped cream tops, my reverie on the mystery is broken only by the mellifluous sound of Mean Deaf Barrista’s voice as he barks and waves me away with his arm, “Go on now. I’m working here. NEXT!”