The Caucasian Radar

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a Starbucks barista observes the ignorant behaviors of white people where he works

Lena Puterbaugh
Age Rating:

The Caucasian Radar

Dear Subscriber,

First of all, I would like to apologize for the lack of the past four monthly issues on The Caucasian Radar newsletter. I know many of you must have been worried about me, and I regret that I could have been the cause of any sort of sadness of yours, my dear subscriber. Toss those antidepressants in the trash and dig into the newest and most in-depth findings the Radar has ever picked up on in the four months since its establishment. The reason of my sudden disappearance has been due to the most extensive and strenuous encounter I have ever had with an individual of Caucasian descent at work (Starbucks, for those of you that are new). It is an awful case. So awful that I needed four months to not only experience, but to also digest and reflect on the dispute that has occurred between this woman and I.

Let me begin to describe to you the being who has established herself as the bane of my existence- a woman named Brenda. I suspect as she reads this, tears of pumpkin spice latte will spill onto her computer keyboard, leak in between the keys and break the computer, leading her to lose connection with the outside world altogether and die of loneliness. Or so I hope.

The first time I met Brenda was when I was working late handing out drinks at the drive-thru. I was using my typical method for handing out drinks: leaning against the wall by the window so I can make eye contact with the driver and assert my dominance as the individual who has control over their coffee. This eye contact allows me to establish a connection between us so, upon their approach to the window, they may be able to catch their cup of coffee as I fling it at their car. This way I can get more cars in and out of the drive thru during my shift so the store can make more money, leading to an increased paycheck (two dollars!!). This also allows me to test the customer’s reflexes- if they don’t catch it, they are just another simpleminded American I need not worry about- and if they do, they are a spy sent by the FBI to kill me.

What irritated me about Brenda is that she was neither of these.

Brenda drove up in a white SUV wearing sunglasses and combing her long bleached hair with sharp black fingernails. She kept a trim figure, but was just on the borderline of forty, dark spots beginning to form on her skin. I looked into her eyes and chuckled to myself. I know who this girl is, I thought to myself. Her fake tan doesn’t fool me.

I stretched my right arm out next to me and my co-worker Jerome placed a cup in my hand. I smirked, much like a baseball pitcher might when he or she is about to pitch even though their team is going to win anyway. Why even try?

I swung my right arm around, and once it had reached outside the window, I chucked the coffee cup at her car window as hard as I could.


Brenda had not even rolled down her window by the time she had reached my station. She had not been in the least bit prepared to receive her coffee, even after she paid for it, even after I stared her down. No one I had ever served had just not rolled down their window before. This was uncharted territory.

My mouth hung open as I watched the coffee dribble from the window down to the car door. What was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to treat her if she was not trying to kill me or being an uncoordinated simpleton?

I leaned out the window a little more to see if she was just going to leave or- well, never mind, I thought, she’s rolling down her window. I pushed myself farther away from the car and prepared for the worst. I could use one of the coffee machines if she came at me.

As Brenda rolled down her window, I swear that was the day I saw the evil eye. I may have inhaled a quart of air in three seconds. She stopped her window when it was halfway down, so you could still see the coffee stains. Then she raised two lethal fingernails to her forehead and flicked her bangs away from her eyes, saying, “Can I see the manager?”

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

“Would you like a napkin for that?” I asked through a fake grin.

“No, it’s fine, thank you.” she said, snapping her gum. “I just need to see your manager.”

This can’t be happening, I thought. I can’t believe she pretty much did the parallel of calling the cops on me in the customer service world. What do I do?

Just as I was reaching for the machine, Jerome called for Luisa inside the store. I closed my eyes and sighed. I should have known that Jerome would forget about the pact we made to never get Luisa when someone asked for the manager. He was supposed to act as if he (God forbid) was the manager and let it all slide, save my job, and vice versa. Why the hell would I put my job in the hands of bird- brained Jerome? I thought. What was I thinking?

Now that Jerome had let our pact slip his mind, I had nowhere to turn except hope. Hope that Luisa might cover for me as she occasionally did for her employees when the store was doing especially bad. She would act as if she were the customer’s long lost friend from school, and they would totally forget about what happened. It was an incredible sort of brainwashing.

But how could I count on Luisa? Her side bangs are so long now that they covered on of her eyes- she could be a pirate for all we know.

Luisa was at the window only seconds after, and I hoped to God that she would save me from this idiotic, yet also justice-seeking woman.

“Hello ma’am, what seems to be the problem- wait a minute.” She leaned forward just so she could see Brenda’s license sticking out of the leather wallet in her lap. “Brenda? Brenda Calderman? My god, when was the last time I saw you?”

Brenda shifted in her seat and slid her sunglasses down the bridge of her nose. “Oh my god, Helen Groffman?” She rolled down her window all the way. “How have you been, sweetie?”

“Oh I’ve been doing great! Doing a lot of managing at different stores- it really fulfills my bossy spirit, you know?” Luisa scrunched up her nose and joined Brenda in a laugh that sounded like one hundred seagulls choking.

“Oh my god, remember in junior high when you beat up George in the middle of class because he cheated on me?” Brenda said, and they laughed even harder. “Oh boy! Went through so much pain so early!” She said, slapping her knee.

“Oh god, I am really sorry about your car, though,” Luisa said. “We can get you a free drink if you want.”

“Oh, you know what, it’s fine,” Brenda said, waving her pointy nails in dismissal. “I need to learn sometime that coffee doesn’t cure my daily hangovers!”

“Don’t we all!” Luisa said, and they threw their heads back in hysterics once again. “Alright, see you soon Brenda!”

“Bye Helen!”

She drove off and I sighed in relief. “Thanks a lot, Luisa,” I said. “Didn’t know you two would get along so well.”

“That was exhausting,” Luisa said, rubbing her forehead. “I hate that almost all of the people who call for the manager are wine moms. Those people are sad in the most insufferable way. A couple of those moms really scorched us on Yelp last weekend, though. I really can’t afford it anymore.”

Now that day I was only handing out the drinks at the drive- thru, and since I was busy being efficient, I had no idea what she had actually ordered. It was not until the next day, when I was working at the cash register, that I came to realize that Brenda was my sworn enemy.

That day Brenda felt active enough to walk into the store and actually stand for a few minutes. I mean that literally, because Brenda sat on the floor after a full three minutes of standing in line. When I saw her standing there, I prayed to the Lord in heaven above that He would let Jerome take her order instead of me. But, of course, she had to have ended up with me.

She approached the counter with what seemed to be a severe case of resting bitch-face, still one of the worst I have ever seen. Nevertheless, I stared straight into her ungrateful eyes and asked her just what she would like today.

“I would like a Pumpkin Spice Latte with six shots, no foam, and raspberry syrup-” She lowered her voice as if she was gossiping about someone nearby. “like on the secret menu-”

I raised my eyebrows and sighed. “There is no secret menu, alright?” I said. “You’re not special.”

“Oh- well, do you still have raspberry syrup?” She said.

“Yes, but it depends on whether or not I want to give it to you,” I said.

“Um, okay… do I get it?” She said.

“I TOLD you, it depends,” I said as I scribbled her name, which had now become Breadna, on the cup. I hoped that this would thwart her plans of any future visits.

“So do I just wait?” She said.

“Yes, I’m glad you’ve caught on,” I said.

“Okay, geez. Slow down. “ She said.

“SLOW DOWN?!” I yelled, slamming my hands on the counter and leaning towards her. ”YOU’RE TELLING ME TO SLOW DOWN? IF ANYTHING, I HAVE COME TO A COMPLETE STOP!! YOU’RE THE REAL PROBLEM HERE-” At this point, Luisa had to drag me into the backroom for another meditation session. I was pleased to hear that when Jerome took over, he forgot to put in the raspberry syrup. Good. Let her suffer.

However, I was quite displeased (to say the least) when I saw her the next day I worked. I guess “Breadna” was not a deep enough blow to her self-esteem to steer her away from Starbucks forever.

When she got out of her car and walked up, she positioned her hand on her forehead to form a visor so she could peek through the window and see inside. We made eye contact and she spun around, massaging her temples with her fingers. She stood there for a good five minutes, back turned to me as she gripped at her hair and bit her nails. I wondered why the decision to go inside Starbucks and buy something was so hard for her, considering that she usually waltzed in without a second thought.

She took a deep breath, nodded to herself, and strode inside with the same confidence as always. I noticed she was wearing pink capri Nike tights and a grey racerback tank top that read, “My boobs aren’t small, they’re just low-fat” in pink letters. Sure, Breadna. Sure.

Once again I prayed to the Lord almighty that Brenda would end up with Jerome. I further contemplated as to what the hell was wrong with Breadna as I watched drops of sweat roll down her forehead and into her eyebrows.

In the following moments, I was forced to realize that there is no God. My customer had just left, Jerome was still trying to figure out if green tea was actually green, and Brenda was the next person in line. This must have been why my mother was an atheist, I thought. I opened my mouth and managed to utter a series of strangled sounds similar to the words, “I can help the next person over here,” and Breadna took a careful step forward.

“What can I get you today?” I said. I swear I could feel hot tears creeping down the backs of my eyeballs.

She gulped. “I would like a black coffee, no foam-”

Even at this early stage in the order, I found myself incapable of forgetting the stupidity in her words and tuned out what she was saying. I stared at the granite counter, trying to calm myself down with thoughts of David Bowie wearing dresses, but it was no use. I became overwhelmed by the words of the imbecile in front of me. I used my help phrase:

“Hold me back.” I said.

Jerome and Luisa rushed to my side and each snatched one of my arms and pulled it towards them. As they dragged me to the back room, I screamed, “BLACK COFFEE DOESN’T HAVE ANY FOAM! HAVE YOU SEEN BLACK COFFEE THAT HAS FOAM? I SURE AS HELL HAVEN’T! I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS IS WHAT OUR COUNTRY’S DEPRECIATING EDUCATION SYSTEM HAS DONE TO OUR SOCIETY! YOU ARE THE SCUM OF THE EARTH, BRENDA! YOU-”

It takes a while to get to the back room.

I had to ice my forehead for about twenty minutes with a bottle of cream to reduce what felt like the swelling inside my brain, but what Luisa told me was blood coursing in my temples. Luisa said it looked like a vein sticking out of my forehead was going to burst out of my skin, I was so agitated. I kind of wished it had, because then maybe Brenda would realize what a nuisance she was and not bother me again.

You can imagine that I was not impressed when Luisa came to the back room and told me that Brenda was here again, and she wanted to talk to me.

“I don’t know if I can look at her without flipping out again,” I said. “Plus, I haven’t even started my meditation yet.”

“And I haven’t put on my pin that says ‘Helen’.” Luisa said. “We are all quite unprepared for this.”

“What about Jerome?” I asked.

She leaned against the doorframe, arms folded. “He’s never prepared for anything, Cole,” Luisa said. She glanced at her watch. “It’s looking like he wasn’t even prepared to come back to work today after his lunch break.”

“Okay, good,” I said. “At least I won’t have to deal with two stupid people for the rest of the day.”

Luisa gave a small huff, walked to her corkboard with all her different name tags on it, and plucked one off that said ‘Helen’. She pinned it onto her apron, walked out to the counter, and beckoned to someone I could not see. I knew it was Brenda for sure when Luisa said something, and it was followed by a disembodied laugh like one hundred seagulls choking. I pressed the cream bottle harder into my temple.

Brenda craned her neck to peek through the door, but Luisa pushed her back and raised her hand, signaling for her to wait. I heard her say, “Your lack of knowledge on pretty much everything he is experienced in infuriates him to the point where his veins almost pop, so I suggest you stay here a moment.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

Luisa appeared at the door. “Do you think you can see her or…?”


“Okay, she can just stand with her back to you, I guess…”

“I think I’ll just turn around,” I said. “She is able to stand the sight of me.”

“Oh, alright then.”

I scooted around so my back was facing the door, but also so I could look at the pictures of David Bowie’s different haircuts I had pasted on my work locker.

I heard the soft patter of Brenda’s sneakers on the cement floor and waited for her to speak, since she was the one who wanted to talk to me. Of course, she did not speak for the five minutes I allowed her to find something to say, so I had to break the silence.

“Didn’t you want to talk to me, Brenda?” I said through gritted teeth.

“Oh! Yes, of course,” she said, as if she had forgotten why she was sitting in the back of a Starbucks with me in complete silence.

She said this, and yet I could still hear the electricity buzzing in the walls.

“So I’m assuming that if you wanted to talk to me, you would be speaking to me right now.” I said, now looking for another cream bottle.

“Fine! Fine,” she said. “I just… I’m confused as to why you seem to hate me so much. Y’know, you threw my coffee at my car the first time we spoke, you screamed at me twice, you insult me. What did I do wrong? I just want to be able to go to Starbucks without being scared.”

“Well, Brenda, you’re kind of the embodiment of everything that annoys me.” I said.

She let out a shaky breath. “Okay…” She said. “What annoys you?”

“Stupidity,” I said. “You don’t know a lot.”

“Stupidity is not what you don’t know,” Brenda said. “It’s the lack of judgement or common sense. So when you say I don’t know a lot and that annoys you, you’re really saying ignorance is what annoys you. And you can’t put someone at fault for what they don’t know, especially when they haven’t had the same experiences as you. Like I wouldn’t know that there isn’t a secret menu because I don’t work at Starbucks.”

I listened to the buzzing in the walls for a minute. “You have to admit that maybe you could have been a little more observant with the foam thing, though,” I said. “You could have just looked in a cup of black coffee and seen that there was no foam.”

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Saying ‘no foam’ in my orders has become automatic.”

“That’s pretty stupid.” I said.

I heard her give a loud sigh. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?” she said. I heard her fumbling in her bag. “I don’t view myself as stupid anyway, and I would appreciate it if you thought the same. It gives one a much more optimistic outlook on life if you decline to think of anyone as stupid, just uninformed.” Her footsteps echoed on the cement flooring again, and when I peeked over my shoulder, she was gone. I felt a panging in my chest that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I wondered if I was having a heart attack until I remembered that those were not the symptoms. I was forced to realize that I may have felt bad about making Brenda so upset that she had to leave. I pressed the bottle into my temple, but the spot was numb.

I put down the cream bottle and stared at the pictures of David Bowie’s hair in the ‘80’s. I decided that maybe it wasn’t so bad that Brenda was mad at me, because that might mean that she wouldn’t come back and annoy me anymore. I might not have to spend so much time in the back room. I could get more work done throwing coffee cups in car windows instead of screaming at Breadna. Maybe I wouldn’t even have to throw the coffee cups. I hoped that I would be so at peace knowing that I would never see Breadna again that all the anger bottled up inside me from people’s ignorance would melt away.

I smiled to myself and walked back out to the counter, feeling ready to serve customers with the same pep in my step as the first day I began working. I breathed in the smell of coffee and burnt pastry puff, listened to the coffee grind and a customer ask Luisa, “Wait, there isn’t a secret menu?”

Brenda had sliced my soul long ago, but now people who seemed to be her devilish spawn followers were beginning to fester in my being and infecting the wound.

I stopped in my tracks and stared straight ahead. I should have known there were more like her out there. Luisa seemed to sense I was near and grabbed my arm and led me to the back room while saying, “Why are you out here? Jesus, and right as she said that! You need to stay in the back room, take care of yourself.”

I touched her arm and took a deep breath. “You know what Luisa? I’m fine.” I said. “I will be fine. I need to learn to tolerate these ignorant swine.” Maybe Breadna prepared me for this.

Luisa let go of my arm and nodded. “If you’re so sure you can do it.”

“I am sure.” I said. “I will put up with stupid people.”

I waltzed over to the cash register to the left of Luisa and called out, “I can take the next person over here!”

The next person in line was a short, middle-aged woman with also short, mousy brown hair and round sunglasses on top of her head.

“Hello, what can I get you today?” I chirped.

“Can I get a grande, non- fat, decaf green tea?” She said.

I looked into this woman’s eyes for a moment, just as I do when I am working at the drive- thru. She had hazel eyes which looked clear in some spots when the sun hit them a certain way. This woman seemed intelligent, but to an extent, considering she did not know that tea had no fat when served the way she was ordering it. I decided that this woman needed to learn a lesson, but I did not want to risk busting a vein.

“Sure I can, but just a fun fact, there is no fat in green tea.” I replied in the same cheerful tone. “So did you want a no fat green tea, or a no fat no fat green tea, which is to say no green tea at all?”

“Oh! I’m sorry, I guess I didn’t know.” she said. “I will have a grande, decaf green tea then!”

“Alright! And what is your name?”

“Susan.” Of course. I should have guessed. I scribbled “Lazy Susan” on the cup.

This is how I began to deal with ignorant people.

Now mind you, reader, I do not enjoy combating the ignorant behaviors of my fellow Caucasian people on the knowledge of their coffee orders in this way as much now as I used to. I have begun to run out of ways to mock them on their coffee cups, and now I have resorted to writing essentially scat words that contain letters in their name. Jerome has given up on reading them. But understand that it is my duty to use these passive- aggressive learning tactics to make a better and more knowledgeable American people. I will admit- Brenda’s people are strong, and many in numbers. She has trained her children well. But she also trained me well. If I have recieved anything from Brenda besides temporary insanity, it is preparation for the masses of people she left in her wake when she left the back room that day.

So maybe, just maybe, we have a chance at winning this fight. Maybe Steven will look up if water can have foam in it after he picks up his cup that reads, “Skoobulldeebop.” Maybe after I ask Cathy what the highest level of education she has received is, she will ask her friend if they know whether or not you can order a decaf mocha. Maybe America will become great again, and more importantly, the generations of Brenda-spawn will die out. And all will be forgiven.

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