“Well, There Was An Incident” — I just dropped my fresh coffee on the floor and no one reacted

When I was a kid, if I dropped something on the floor in my local cafe, people would coming running out of the woodwork to help me clean it up.

My parents leapt into action, moving with a speed I didn’t know they had.

Employees showed up with mystical wet rags that only appeared in crisis situations.

Nearby patrons looked on with polite remorse in their eyes, and went home to tell their friends the sad story of the kid who spilled his hot chocolate.

I’d usually feel pretty embarrassed about the whole thing.

Things are different now that I’m in my 30’s I guess.

I like to hang out at the Starbucks near my apartment. They have good wi-fi, and lots of small tables where I can hunker down for an hour and write an article like this. The manager is a good guy and I’ve known him for a while now.

I just spilled my fresh drink on the floor a few moments ago. This floor.

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The floor I recently covered with coffee. Also part of my leg.

I was setting up my computer, and knocked my frappucino right over off the table and onto this floor. It landed precisely upside-down, square on the top of the lid, pressing my newly-unwrapped straw up into the cup. The whole thing shuddered, and tipped over onto its side, and a big splorch of frappucino and whipped cream gushed out onto the floor with a loud slop sound.

I exclaimed “Oh good!” aloud.

And no one reacted.

It’s pretty busy here at the coffee shop. There are 8 people sitting in close proximity to me right now, and another 6 or so were well within earshot of both the ploop sound of the coffee and my “Oh good!” exclamation.

And yet no one so much as even looked in my direction. Nobody let out a gasp, or glared at me disapprovingly, or laughed at my misfortune. I didn’t even get an “Are you seriously that clumsy?” eyebrow raise. They all just continued their conversations, typing, and texting.

As if nothing had even happened.

I was both baffled and elated by this response. On the one hand it seemed I had avoided public embarrassment. Yes!

On the other hand, how dare I avoid public embarrassment! I absolutely deserved it for this one and no one even laughed at me.

I decided I had best clean up the mess. I picked up my coffee cup hoping to discover it was still drinkable. Alas, I discovered that the straw’s sudden journey into the depths of the cup had somehow sucked several particles of floor dirt up into my coffee via the highway of the straw.

Blast.

I sacrificed my meager supply of Starbucks napkins to sop up the mess on the floor. I went into the bathroom to get some wet paper towels to finish off the sticky residue.

Still no looks of concern from the other customers. Even as I knelt awkwardly on the floor in the middle of the room.

It was here I took a moment to consider the following answers to this curious puzzle:

  • Am I a Ghost?
  • Is it conceited to think people should have reacted to this, even to mock me?
  • Am I actually invisible and living inside a computer simulation?
  • Is anything really real?
  • Does this happen so often here that people are just used to it?
  • I know which people in this town I don’t want on my side in an emergency.
  • I miss those employees with the magical wet towels.

I finished cleaning up the mess and plopped my dirt-filled cup into the garbage can. I’m sorry about all the references to floor dirt. I’m not saying anything bad about the cleanliness of the Starbucks; it’s quite nice. It’s just that I dropped my drink in a high-traffic area.

Resigned to finally face my judgment, I walked the ten steps or so around the corner to the counter. The manager raised his eyebrows at me. Aha! Acknowledgement of the awkwardness!

“What’s up, Alex?” he asked.

“Well, there was an incident.”

He blinked. “Can I get you something else?”

“I need to order another frappucino. I dropped mine on the floor and it landed right on the hole.”

Now, I didn’t go with the truth without first considering several other options. I’m not sure why. It’s not like this matters at all.

Oh, I’m buying another one for a friend.

I just like to spend a lot of money on extra drinks.

I need to stock up in case I run out of coffee milkshakes, and I really like the way you make them. I definitely didn’t run out already, three minutes after arriving.

But the truth won.

“Ah of course it landed on the top. Okay, I’ll just remake it for you, you don’t have to pay again.”

I felt guilty about this and left a big tip.

So what’s the point of this story? Today I learned that it’s less confusing to be acknowledged, even in embarrassment, than it is to not be noticed. I don’t normally care about stuff like this, but the mundanity of the scenario combined with the total lack of human reaction was unsettling to my core.

I would rather have been laughed at than ignored. And that’s something I didn’t know about myself when I woke up.

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