Brian – Part 1 – Final (maybe?) re-write.
Brian’s day began like every other day, a hellish commute to a job he didn’t really care about so he could pay for an apartment he didn’t like. There wasn’t REALLY anything wrong with the apartment. As far as “box” housing goes, it was pretty average; some paper-thin walls, some noisy neighbors, white walls, beige carpet. He was more attached to the memories he had than the place itself. That and he had a really good parking spot if he beat Mrs. Grabowski home after work. In the logical part of his head, he knew that he really needed to find a place closer to work. Or a work closer to his place.
After the break up last year (don’t ask) he just didn’t really give a shit. He knew that it was really stupid to live in Gig Harbor and commute to Kent. He knew he was wasting a fortune in gas every week, not to mention car repairs and all the crap that goes with it. He just didn’t have the heart to leave what had been “their place.” The sad part is that it would actually be cheaper to move, and go to a shrink! Gas at three fifty a gallon and the toll on that stupid new bridge were going to bankrupt him.
Leaving home at 6am, he barely clocked in on time. Two hours to go less than 40 miles. Two hours of choking on exhaust fumes, repressing rage and generally enjoying the white-knuckle frustration that comes with an I-5 commute. Another start to another mind-numbing day. Thank the gods for the home-brew espresso maker. Transportation costs aside, if he didn’t work at a roasting plant, he’d be broke from supporting his caffeine habit. At least he’d been able to give up the nicotine before the breakup. One bad habit was more than enough, thank you very much.
Pulling in to the parking lot, Brian tried to clear his head, and forget about the last month. It was a daily ritual for him: Shake off the breakup, shake off the commute, and prepare his head for the day. When he told most people what he did for a living, they either laughed at him, or made some comment along the lines of “must be nice have such an easy job.” Arrogant assholes had no clue that roasting coffee beans was an art. Grab the iPod, lock up the car (don’t want anybody stealing the collection of crumpled up Starbucks bags or the Wilson Phillips CD that slipped under the seat in 1992).
Buzzing in through the employee entrance, and making his way to the lab; wondering for the millionth time why coffee beans smelled like popcorn during the first roast. He always walked the length of the plant on his way in, to get a feel for the temperature and the humidity inside the old brick building. It also meant he didn’t have to fight for a parking spot, and he could come in 15 minutes late without anyone noticing. Half way to the office, his pager started going off.
He didn’t even need to look at it. Only two people had his pager number, and she was on her honeymoon. Brian ducked into the nearest office, some regional veep of distribution or some such crap. Another Men’s Warehouse suit with too much cologne in it. Without bothering to ask, he grabbed the phone, and punched in the extension. The musk ox in the cheap suit gave him a dirty look, which Brian ignored. MBA’s were a dime a dozen around here; he never even bothered to learn their names. After a few rings, Deborah picked up.
“hey Deb. Yeah, it’s me. Yeah, I got the page. Calm down, I’m already here. The QC lab? Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute.” Figures. Leave it to Deborah to overreact.
Deborah, known as ‘the duck’ was the token on-site HR person. As there wasn’t much “HR” work to do, she spent most of her time migrating around the plant, leaving little droppings of wisdom with the employees: “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little ‘extra'” “It’s time to think outside the box!” and the perennial favorite “E-mail is not to be used to pass on information or data. It should be used only for company business.”
She was known as ‘the duck’ for several reasons, not the least of which was her penchant for wearing dark (mallard?) green sweaters and a horrible orange-ish lipstick that you could swear was color matched to a duck’s lips. She also had beady eyes, and a tendency to sort of waddle when she walked. ‘Ducking the duck’ was common practice in the old building, and you could occasionally find a whole group of workers on a scaffold behind the storage silo, talking quietly, all avoiding the latest middle-management catchphrase.
Doubling back he headed for the QC lab, which was on the other side of the plant, closer to the shipping docks. His normal “office,” if you could call it that, was on the receiving end of the plant, where the green coffee beans came in. As the master-roaster, he was directly responsible for the quality of every batch, and monitored every step from sorting, resting, first and second roasts, right up until the batch was handed over for packaging.
The biggest part of his job was closely monitoring each batch of beans as they roasted, and controlling every facet of the roast: temperature, drum speed, humidity, and most importantly, time. The real art was in killing the burners before the second “pop” of the beans, and letting the residual heat finish the job. The result was a perfect second pop without over-roasting the beans.
There was a visible bustle of activity surrounding and inside the QC lab. White coats scurrying hither and thither, looking like so many albino ants. As he got closer, he saw a flash of gray wool in the midst of the lab coats, and felt a twinge of uneasiness. Nobody in this plant wore a suit. He was the senior staff member, and the closest he ever got to a suit is when he had to walk past them on his way to electronics at Sears. Something pretty serious must be going on to warrant a suit. It was only a few miles up the road to the headquarters building in Seattle, but that commute was worse than his.
He could see through the window as he got closer that Deborah was holding a clipboard, having a very animated discussion with the suit. Presumably she was talking to the occupant, but for all the response she was getting, she would have done just as well to converse with the fabric. Steeling himself for some unknown unpleasantness, Brian walked in to the QC lab, and seemed to bring a blanket of silence in with him. Even Deborah seemed to sense that he was there, and rushed to him, waving her clipboard around. Her green sweater conjured the most absurd image of a mallard duck trying to take off with only one wing.
“Mr. Griffin, it’s about time! There’s a problem with yesterday’s roasts! It’s all decaf.” she said, jabbing her finger into the clipboard.
Brian took the clipboard, and started looking over the figures. He wasn’t about to talk to the suit unarmed. The figures on the clipboard was the results of caffeine content testing from the liquid chromatography machine; all the numbers were flat zeros. It couldn’t be right. It was impossible for coffee to have 0mg of caffeine. Even decaf wasn’t completely caffeine free.
He had never trusted the “magic box” method. There had to be something wrong, and the obvious suspect was the chromatography machine itself. They had tested for years with the standard lead acetate and methylene chloride process. It was the way he had been taught, and this “magic box” robbed the process of its romance.
In a move that would probably get him a rebuke later on, he turned heel and made for his lab, where he kept all his own equipment and chemicals. He would do his own tests, and prove that everything was okay. And he needed a cup of coffee.
While the caffeine punch of the coffee was definitely a boon to his life, Brian had to admit that the ritual of the coffee was at least as important as the drink itself. The primary reason he no longer frequented many of the coffee shops around his home had to do with the ritual. While a poorly made cup of coffee was a forgivable transgression, breaking with the ritual was unforgivable. Every step from the first greeting and selection of the beverage through the delivery of the cup had to fit the ritual. The trend of talkative, flirty baristas was enough to drive him to Folgers.
The methodical chemical caffeine analysis had the same ritual feel to it and he was able to shut out the constant hum of the plant in the background, focusing on the process. The beakers, the Bunsen burner and microscopes; all very CSI, but somehow very mundane. It’s just not the same without the rock music and the weird camera angles. Besides, his lab was way too bright for TV, and smelled strongly of disinfectant.
After the fourth test, he gave up. The same results four times were a pretty fair indicator what the results of the fifth test would be. Zero caffeine. They had to throw out a whole batch. Five thousand pounds of accidental decaf. Most of which had already gone to packaging. Without a doubt, the single biggest loss of his career as Master Roaster. Now he had to figure out how to break the news to the duck. It would be much easier to just go over her head, and call HQ. But if she ever found out he did that, she’d make his life a living hell. Either way it wasn’t the type of discussion you wanted to have without brushing up your resume first.
What really pissed him off was that he had no idea how it happened. How does a whole batch reach zero caffeine without heavy chemical processing? Everyone knows (well, everyone who works HERE knows) that even “decaf” has “caf” in it. Just a hell of a lot less than regular.