At eye level, just to the right of the rear entrance to the coffee shop, someone had plastered a clear sticker with a single word on it.
Every few days when I’d stop by the store, whether it was to treat myself or the family (excluding the dog, who’s trying to kick caffeine), I’d reach for the handle then pause ever so momentarily to stare at this assembly of letters.
Who put this here? Why was it here? What does it really mean?
This vexed me for weeks, and weeks turned into months.
Do I interpret it at face value? Is it a whisper campaign for local band that covers No Depression alt-country? Was its placement just to the right of a computer printout taped to the inside of the glass warning that this door is locked after 9 p.m. a simple coincidence or a flailing attempt at irony?
Every time I saw that stupid word in its stupid black, stupider san serif type, and stupidiest-yet lowercase smirk, it irritated me like a rash of unknown origin. Optimism, my bloody eye.
Then, one day, it was gone.
I ran my fingers over the metal plate it had been affixed to and felt no adhesive tackiness. The baby blue paint that had always been beneath it showed no flaking or hint of discoloration to suggest anything had ever been stuck here before and pried off since.
It was like “optimism” had never existed.
At that very moment, I felt strangely angry with all of mankind.
Every time I entered that door to the coffee shop from then on, I looked at that blank plate and wondered why and how and to where my “optimism” had disappeared.
I did so again yesterday when I wandered in around 2:30 in the afternoon to order a Latte Lite.
“Do you want sugar in that?"
“No,” I said. “That kinda defeats the purpose of ordering a Lite.”
“No. No sweetener.”
The clerk disappeared around a stack of the industrial-sized, stainless steel deus ex machina that make coffee from this place taste so much better than what I brew from the same beans and water through the $200 coffee maker in my kitchen.
“Hey, uh, do you know what the deal was with the sticker that used to be outside by the back door?”
“Excuse me,” she said, reappearing with my coffee.
“For the longest time, there was a clear plastic sticker with the word ‘optimism’ printed on it that someone had stuck just to the right of the back door. It’s been missing for a couple of months now.”
“I’m sorry,” she smiled and shrugged. I figured her English was roughly as suspect as my question.
“Never mind,” I said, handing her a five for the coffee. She made change and I pocketed the bills before dropping the coins into the ceramic “tip mug” on the counter.
I made a quarter turn then hesitated. I reached back into my jacket for a dollar and let it fall on top of the coins lining the bottom of mug.
When I got into the minivan, I peeled back the lid to my coffee, carefully avoiding the sharp edges that had slit open a finger more than once before.
I brought the steaming, caffeinated cup of joy to my lips.
An unexpected sweetness hit my tongue.
I puckered. I winced. I eyed the cup like a deceitful spouse.
Yeah, that’s frickin’ optimism for you.