Heading home late on a Tuesday night, I was on the hunt for a slice and the only place open was The Bread Factory, the sandwich shop down the street. I was hesitant to go in.
My roommate Erik had been going there to grab coffee on his way to work each morning, and the woman behind the counter noticed he was becoming a regular. She would often have his order—medium, cream, no sugar—ready when he came in at 9:45 a.m., and no matter what she was in the middle of, she would stop to serve him right away. She worked six days a week, five of which he would stop in. Erik is a generous tipper, always giving her $1 on his $1.95 coffee—even if paying with a credit card he would write it in. She got used to seeing him, and, one would imagine, used to the tips. Her friendly brown eyes would peer up at him from under the bill of her white visor as she wished him a nice day, among other pleasantries. However, one Friday, her cheerful well wishes took on a different tone. "Have a good weekend," she said. "Don’t drink too much!" she warned with a sly smile while wagging her finger in the air.
"The Bread Factory lady thinks I’m a lush!" Erik told me later, stomping his foot and throwing his briefcase down. Offended, he went off to D.C. for the weekend to visit friends, where he did, as it happened, drink too much. On his way back to the city Monday morning, he sat on the train troubled by the thought of having to stop in there—sleep deprived and hungover. And sure enough, he got just the reaction he was afraid of.
"You’re laaaate!" the woman exclaimed when he walked in.
Suddenly, he found himself on the defensive. "I told her I was on a business trip," he recounted to me that evening. Can you believe I’m actually having to lie to The Bread Factory Lady?" And so I stood there on the street, contemplating my next move as the infamous corner cafe loomed ominously over me. On the window the slogan read, "The Bread Factory… Where bread is only the beginning." Was I ready for this? It didn’t matter. My mind was made up. I wanted pizza. I stepped in and surveyed the slices behind the glass display. "One, please," I said to the man behind the counter. "That’s it."
"That’s it?" he repeated sing-songy.
"That’s it? Why? Because it’s late and you have to watch it!" I couldn’t believe it. Did all Bread Factory employees purposely offend their customers?
"You have to watch it," he continued, perilously pushing his boundaries now. "But," he traced my shape in the air with his hand, "I think you look good just like that." Ignoring him, I grabbed the slice and loosened the suddenly too-tight belt on my coat.
The next morning I told Erik what happened. He asked if I would make extra coffee. On the way to the subway, marching straight past The Bread Factory, he carried his in an insulated mug. This went on for a few weeks. Erik would either leave our apartment, coffee in hand, or wait to have coffee until he got to work. And I had decided that maybe the guy behind the counter was right. Maybe I did need to "watch it" and resist the temptation of indulging in carbs and cheese late at night.
Then one morning, we were headed out the door at the same time. "I haven’t been to The Bread Factory in weeks," Erik said. "Do you want to come with me?"
"Where have you been?" the Bread Factory Lady asked as we entered the store. "On vacation?"
"Uh-huh, on vacation," Erik quickly answered.
"Oh, how nice. Where?" she questioned him like a peppy private investigator.
"I was upstate," he said, as I coughed, trying to cover my laughter.
"Aha, with your family?" she cocked her head to the side.
"Mmmhmmm." Now we were both trying to keep a serious face. Our cheeks puffed out like bloated balloons and we shifted anxiously back and forth on our feet as she rang up his order. I couldn’t believe how quickly Erik had gotten himself into this tall tale. He handed her a $1 tip and we walked out.