Black Coffee

I don’t understand why it’s so damn difficult to order black coffee in this city. Go into a deli or bodega or bagel shop and ask for coffee and before you even blink, there’s a pint of cream and a quarter cup of sugar in the bottom of your cup.

People tell me I should take the coffee with cream and sugar because it’s probably in there to mask the acrid, cheap-coffee taste, but I just can’t handle sugary coffee. Cream, sometimes, but not sugar. Ordering it black, though, is a pain in the ass. “You want it black?!” I hear that, I really do. It’s like I’ve asked for cyanide.

When I first got here, I didn’t know what to say, so I’d say, “Large coffee, no cream or sugar.” One day, a counterman said to me, “You can just say ‘black coffee.’ I know what ‘black coffee’ means.” So I started asking for “black coffee.” One day, a different guy said, “You want cream and sugar with that?” When I said no, he laughed and said, “Oh yeah, you did say ‘black.’ It’s been one of those mornings.”

After I used “black coffee” for a couple of months, I ordered a cup and a dude at the neighborhood bagel place said, “You want sugar with that?” I said no, and he said, “You need to tell me no sugar. ‘Black, no sugar.’ That’s what you say. ‘Black, no sugar.'” I envisioned a swarm of cockroaches on his mother’s eyesockets and went about my business.

But I started saying, “Large black coffee, no sugar” until one morning at the Krispy Kreme. I ordered two glazed and a black-no-sugar, and the dude laughed. “Black means no sugar.” No, shithead. Technically, black means black. As in, not brown. As in, no cream. But it’s pointless to argue. Clearly, coffee-slingers here have Attitude, and I’m never going to say the right thing no matter how hard I try.

The only exception is a sidewalk vendor who runs a donut stand at 161-Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. About twice a month, when I come up from the subway, I’ll grab a couple donuts and a coffee. This guy sees me twice a month, and he knows my order and he’s never crabby about it. I walk up, and before I speak he starts to pour a large cup of black-no-sugar. Most places I only visit twice a month, the people don’t even remember me, let alone know my order.

I asked him one day, “How do you remember me? I’m not a daily customer.” He shrugged. “It’s what I do; it’s important.”

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