DIARY OF THE FUNEMPLOYED: Free Caffeine Fix

My relationship with coffee didn't begin until I was 21 (call me a late bloomer).

It was a cold autumn morning in 2001. To make a few extra bucks my college roommate and I got up at the buttcrack of dawn to stand in line at the Fleet Center in downtown Boston and wait for the box office to open. The "job" consisted of buying the maximum number of tickets (premium seats, whatever the event) for a local ticket brokerage firm that later sold them "at premium prices" to their "clients." We were to meet a contact who would give us hundreds of dollars in cash for the purchase (they held onto our IDs as collateral so that we wouldn't run off). Although it seemed shady and sneaky, it was a totally legit operation. And it paid in cash. One hundred bucks for two hours of our time.

Anyway, what got me up and ready for the early task was a cup of vanilla roast from Dunkin' Donuts. My roommate, Steve, had introduced me to it. It was warm and smooth and invigorating (the spoonfuls of sugar and heavy cream, I'm sure, had something to do with it as well). Holy Splenda this was good! Was this what I had been missing out on? The closest I came to coffee was an obsession with Starbucks Mocha Frappucinos for a good part of my junior year of high school.

I was hooked. Coffee good.

Cut to a decade later, and I can't seem to get through most mornings without a cup of joe. True, I did invest in a Mr. Coffee just over a year ago so that my budget wouldn't be blown on overpriced lattes at every Peets, Starbucks, and Coffee Bean I seemed to frequent in my neighborhood. However, there's something about those grande-sized cups with the brown cardboard sleeves and green logos. They've become, in a way, status symbols. A nice, steaming venti cup is an indicator of where you stand in society. It tells people, Yeah, I can afford giant caramel macchiato every day - what are you gonna do about it? So what if I'm too lazy to make some at home? And there's no way in hell I'll drink that mulch they make at the office. And don't even get me started on the irresistible holiday cups with their festive red and white designs. Ah, eggnog lattes...

Sorry, where was I?

With the way my budget is going, I'm lucky to afford 2 small fancy cups a week. However, I've managed to find a few cheaper alternatives. First, there are those press junkets I've had the pleasure of attending. As I've mentioned before, the free food ain't too shabby, but what's even greater is the endless supply of coffee, particularly at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Silver spoons, herbal teas, and cream, oh my! I always make sure to grab a to-go cup before I leave so that I'm caffeinated for the remainder of the day.

Then there's my bank. Although they love charging me an annoying checking account fee every month (I really do think they enjoy squeezing every penny out of me in order to contribute to their obscene, annual $5 billion-dollar profit), I thank them for their little coffee station. Instead of making my transactions at the ATM outside I will walk into my branch - even for the slightest of reasons - just to get my hands on one of those complementary Styrofoam cups, sprinkle some non-dairy creamer and pour some hot black stuff to get me going. I wonder if the tellers would notice if I brought in a thermos to fill up for the rest of the day...

The other day I walked into said bank for the sole purpose of a free coffee. I had no paycheck to deposit, nothing to withdraw. In order to keep up the charade, I held in my hand an old pay stub, pretending to prep myself for a transaction. I went up to the counter, grabbed a deposit slip, started to fill out a few numbers, and then feigned frustration as I crumpled up the slip of paper and backtracked - this time stopping at the coffee station. "Oh, might as well grab a cup while I'm here," said my body language. I filled up, flashed a smile at the bank manager, and made my merry way back home.

Desperate? Or just plain creative in my thriftiness?

H.P.M.

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