And a Madness Came to Sherman Oaks

The Shining

You meet a lot of people at Starbucks.  People who are nice, and people who aren’t.  People having a good day, and people who aren’t.  People who are Steve Carell, and people who aren’t.

It’s tough to make a mean person not mean, but it isn’t that hard to change someone’s bad day into a good one.  A dash of kindness here, a dad joke there, a smile, a laugh, and voila!  You have a happy customer and, more importantly, a happy human being.  It’s my favorite thing to do at Starbucks.  If I can cheer somebody up, I feel like it’s a job well done.  I’ve not yet been able to transmute the not Steve Carell’s into Steve Carell, but I’m working on it.  It’d be a big get.  He tipped me five dollars.

Steve Carell

Even if someone’s order is wrong, there are ways to fix it.  Corporate suggest simply apologizing and saying “what can I do to fix it?”  The fact that you want to help changes so many situations from bad to good.  If you care, people notice.

The one thing you can’t change is crazy.  At last I can’t.  Maybe with the proper medication and counseling a psychiatrist could, but I’m a writer.

We had a regular who came in practically every day over the summer.  I never caught his name, because he only ordered brewed coffee, but I did catch his scent.  It was a miasma of body odor and halitosis, not the kind you might find on a homeless person, but rather on someone who just doesn’t care.

He always wore sandals, cargo shorts and colorful Hawaiian shirts.  More often than not he would have a Fidel Castro hat on.  He was a weird guy, but he’d always been polite, and I enjoyed chatting with him just as much as anyone else who came through that I only sort of knew.

It was a May afternoon, and I had been on register all day.  I was looking forward to getting home, cracking some beers, and playing League of Legends.  I fiddled with the cup holder below my register.  The springs were always cracking and falling out.  I was trying to fix it.

A stench overwhelmed me.  I stood up, and there he was, standing at my register, smiling with this sort of vacancy in his eyes, and lack of movement in his face that made him seem very insane.  He practically starred right through me.

“One coffee, please” he said with a mad lilt.

“Of course”

I got him his coffee, and he just kept smiling.  He took it, and passed me two dollars.

“If they come by, don’t sign it.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The people.  They’re coming around with a clipboard and getting you to sign things.  Don’t sign anything.”

I looked over at Andrew, who shrugged.  I decided to do what I always did in difficult situations: pass the blame up the food chain.

“Oh, it’s Starbucks corporate policy not to sign petitions.”

The smile remained.  He pointed a finger at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism.”

“I’m not going to sign anything.”

He smiled, nodded, and raised his coffee cup to me.  Once he was out of earshot:

“What the actual fuck was that?”

Andrew was laughing.

“I don’t know.  He was…”  Andrew stopped.  He starred at the coffee bag display.

“What?”  Andrew just pointed.

The guy was back.  He was still smiling.  He pointed at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism, okay?”  He shouted.  I didn’t know what to do.  Normally, I just ignore crazy people.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you even look at them, they might direct whatever is happening onto you.  I couldn’t ignore a customer at Starbucks, though.  I smiled a nodded.  “Don’t sign anything.  I’m serious, okay?  Not kidding.”  He laughed.  It was terrifying.

I just nodded again.  He dismissively waved me away and went to put cream in his coffee.

Why couldn’t I just turn him into Steve Carell?

“Welcome back, Mr. Carell.  I loved you in the office, and basically everything you’ve ever… what’s that?  Five dollars?  Thank you!”

A hispanic woman as at my register.  She seemed nice.  Nothing crazy about her.

“Hi, welcome to –”


I turned to the coffee again.  He was back.  The smile was gone.  All that was left was rage.

“9-11 was an inside job.  The planes, the oil, jet fuel.  It’s state sponsored terrorism!”  He was shouting.  I looked around for help.  Everyone was just as scared as me.  I raised my hands to signal my passivity.  He just kept going.  “No one else heard what you said, but I heard it.  You know.  9-11 was a fucking INSIDE JOB.”

He twitched.

“They’re after me.  I’m a wanted man.  It’s state sponsored terrorism.  They want me because of what I have in here.”  He jabbed at his head with his index finger.  “In my brain.  They know I know and they’re after me.”

This was possibly the most frightening thing he said.  I searched for a weapon with which to defend myself.  I could use our serrated knife, but we only had one, and we might need it later to cut a bagel.

I settled on the broom.

I heard a snort.  Slater was on the floor, counting over the money from the safe.  He was laughing.  He was actually laughing.  I looked at him and mouthed “what” as in “what the fuck is funny about any of this.”

He just shrugged and kept laughing.

I clutched my broom all the tighter.

“I’m calling corporate on you.  You won’t think I’ll do it?” He threatened.

Steve Carell wouldn’t,  I thought,  He’s a nice man.

I didn’t say anything, though and he went away in a huff of anger.

I went to the back ten minutes later.  Michael and Slater were counting the money.  Slater was laughing again.

“Here he is,” he said, looking at me, “he can probably tell it better than me.”

“Slater was saying some guy was yelling at you?” Michael asked.

I told him the whole story.  Michael took it very seriously.

“Okay, I’ll call corporate,” Michael said, and I thought thank god!  He’ll get banned, or arrested or something! “Just in case he makes a complaint, I’ll let the district manager know he should just disregard it.”

Disregard it?  Disregard it?  The dude’s crazy!  He’ll probably babble on about moon rocks and the dark lord Cthulhu.   I don’t care if they disregard it.  I wanted a body guard, a Starbucks employed strong man than could protect me for when this man inevitably returned with a gun.

He’d motion with a little wave of the barrel.  “Come on,” he’d say, “we’re taking a walk,” and then he’d take me up to the roof of the parking deck for a murder suicide so we could both board the galactic ferry on it’s way to Cariathor to meet the Lord Xenu or whatever.

I’d stare at him, and I’d say “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do to fix it?”

Who knows what he’d do then?

I know one thing, though.

If he was Steve Carell, he would have tipped me five dollars and taken his adorable daughter to the Disney store.

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  1. countingsheepstudio

     /  September 18, 2015

    No, you can’t change crazy- but it sure makes for a great story! Ignoring is probably your best defense, though if they really take a liking to you it’s pretty hard….great reference to Steve Carell. Love him.

    • williamcharlesbrock

       /  September 18, 2015

      I actually served him an iced grande vanilla latte once. It was amazing

      • countingsheepstudio

         /  September 18, 2015

        I would definitely be starstruck if I ever ran into him. The only celeb we have living here in Asheville is Andie MacDowell. Meh.

      • williamcharlesbrock

         /  September 18, 2015

        Come to Los Angeles. We’re lousy with the things.

  2. lookingforhappiness

     /  September 18, 2015

    Okay, I just got so into your blog that I completely forgot I’m supposed to be putting my nephew to bed and he’s fallen asleep on the sofa. Oops. Some light child neglect. Anyway, before I put him in his bed, I want to say, you made tea come out of my nose. Which hurt. Xx

  3. The mall I work in is actually home to a few “local” (Chicago) celebrities- Bo Jackson, Jim Thome (baseball player of the Chi White Sox and Minnesota Twins), Dennis DeYoung (former lead singer of Styx), and Jim Peterik, who formed the Ides of March and Survivor. Peterik is super nice and always buys tons of music books from the bookstore I manage- I have, however, seen some downright crazy bitches at the Starbucks in the mall. There is one lady who always seems to beat me there- I call her “The Zombie”. She’s a little older lady who’s of some foreign origin (honestly, I have no idea what) who talks to herself. She buys FOUR tall coffees and drags them all over (in the cup holder) to the bar with the creamer, milk, and sugars. She then takes all the lids off and sips a little bit, then begins. She dumps in vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and chocolate. Then she’ll stir each one and take a drink out of every single one, then talk to herself- SHE IS ALONE. ALWAYS. Then she’ll dump in a little of the half-n-half, skim, etc. all the options. Stir some more, drink some more, talk some more, then she puts in sugar, Splenda, Equal. Into ALL of the cups. Stirs, sips, talks to her imaginary coffee partner. She crowds the entire bar. And talks to herself the whole time. There are times when, I kid not!, she is wearing pajamas. We are in, as I’ve said before here, in an upper class mall. This is highly unusual. No matter how many times the Starbucks employees try to engage her in conversation or even in a smile, she really does not make eye contact, nor speaks to anyone- except that imaginary coffee partner. I am not afraid of many people in my line of work, but something about this woman terrifies me. Even the mall custodians stay the hell away from her- and her crowding the coffee bar keeps them from getting back to work.
    I hope Crazy 9/11 dude doesn’t come back. Or at least turns into Steve Carrell. And then you can slip him my phone number… I’ll send his daughter cute books.

  4. I used to work the overnight shift at a Circle K store, and we got a lot of crazy. Some nights we’d get more crazy than not-crazy. Fortunately we also got a lot of cops, since we were the only place in the neighborhood where you could get coffee at 3am.

    Steve Carrell might have come in, too. I have no idea who he is, so I wouldn’t have recognized him.

  5. A very interesting encounter. Customer service, the front line is a tough place to be. I get a more than my fair share of crazy as a nurse…though some might argue it is to be expected. Nice work and well done in relaying the tale. Thanks btw for swinging by my place. I’ll keep coming round.

    Oh and I’ve seen this goblin pic before. Where is it from?

  6. Nice storytelling…
    I worked in food service for years, and I’m glad that I never had an encounter like this. But since I was a college kid back then, I was probably still crazy enough to have found it all funny. Now, it would only freak me out enough to take a day or two off.

  7. Scott

     /  September 24, 2015

    Careful with the word “crazy”–it’s a double-edged sword!

    I recently learned a very effective technique for dealing with just about any uncomfortable-comment situation:

    I commented to a manager of a sandwich shop I frequent that I was really looking forward to summer ending, and these selfish drivers from out-of-state going back home (forgetting that at least one of the managers commuted from out-of-state every day).

    This woman listened thoughtfully to my comment, then replied: “I understand what you’re saying.”

    It was brilliant–she had acknowledged my comment as valid, to my satisfaction, yet had refrained from expressing agreement or disagreement with my comment!

    I left, having learned one of the most clever communication techniques in my life–and I resolved to use the same technique, the same statement, myself!

    When the man said, “The people. They’re coming around with a clipboard and getting you to sign things. Don’t sign anything.”

    If you would have seriously replied, “I understand what you’re saying.”

    Bet it would have unmade any “scene” then and there!


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