The Bemused Barista
(Containing a response to Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy as well as a warning against placing one’s trust in lay psychologists)
Some twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds ago, it was your pleasure to place before me a commission, the successful execution of which, so you stated at the time, could not fail both to secure my own fame and fortune and win for our nation, the bountiful favor of that happy and holy trinity: The Father, The Mother, and The Children of Future Generations, or ‘CFG’, as it was your pleasure then to term them. If you will further recall sir, I expressed some reservations as to my ability to discharge the heavy duty which you had placed before me, for though keenly sensible of the honor and all that, I was not confident that my life’s experience had adequately prepared me for such a heavy undertaking, and that as there had been no prior correspondence or confidence of any kind between us, I could not altogether dismiss from my mind a suspicion that my candidacy had been settled on either because you are singularly whimsical or utterly insane, though why I should have established a distinction between those two conditions I cannot, at present, recall. To state the case plainly sir, I was until the moment I met you, a humble barista in an unassuming dispensary of coffees and cakes, and I did not see then and I do not see now how our exchange of some few coins for one large cappuccino in any way constituted an agreement between us that I should afterwards undertake to save humankind on your behalf.
I was therefore disposed to reject your proposal sir, and that most emphatically. I was prepared sir to draw myself up and speak impressively to you sir; but your promise, conditional on my acceptance of the commission, that no other establishment should receive your custom touched the right note with my employer who happened to be standing nearby and overheard you; and his immediately observing to me that ‘You were as jumpy as a Tuesday turnip’ (my employer is famous throughout the town for his idiosyncratic associations) was sufficient for me to understand that I was being directed to accept whatever might be asked of me, and that if no other good should come of it, we should still be confident of increasing our monthly sales of caffeinated drinks by no less than four hundred percent. Thus having no other option than to accept, I agreed to place myself at your disposal.
Perhaps, sir you will be so good as to recall my surprise when, after permitting myself to be guided into a chair which a gentlemanly patron, already sitting there, did not expect to have to share, you placed into my hands a volume of case notes relating to the career of one ‘Horrid Henry’, and asked me to see what I could make of them. At first, I could make nothing of them because the gentlemanly patron upon whom I was sitting was making loud and distracting noises, expressive of acute surprise and extreme annoyance. My natural sympathies with his plight were somewhat lessened by his making unpleasant faces at me, which actions were very injurious to my feelings, it being one of the operating principles of my existence that whatever else a person may expect from life, he may at least expect that his declining years should not be disturbed by the obtrusion of other men’s angry tongues into spaces which have been set aside for the occupancy of one’s own nose. For a time, I sat in embarrassed silence, but my employer, never at a loss on such occasions, soon struck in and announced that what he heard reminded him very distinctly of the mating calls of a herd of particularly amorous walruses, though when and where he should have had occasion to chance upon such creatures and in such a state, I really cannot say, it being generally known that among the members of the animal kingdom, the walrus is among the most discreet in the expression of its affections, and my employer among the least perceptive. I did not dwell upon the matter, however. Time, known by all to be the greatest of healers, was already having its effect, and as the patron began to accustom himself to his new position – and mine – I felt it incumbent upon me to encourage this new restraint by applying myself fully to the matter in hand.
A quick perusal of the pages was enough to convince me that the person who had composed the case history did not regard its subject as being one who was a credit to his community; on the contrary, it was clear to me that the introduction of this Henry into the world at some earlier date was held to be the very worst error to have been committed against the interests of the human species since That Nineties Band had come to the decision that just one more single couldn’t possibly hurt anyone. But what distinguished this Henry from That Band was the superior disruptive faculties of the former relative to the latter: whereas the Band considered the repetition of three off-key notes and poor color coordination of its costumes to be the full extent of its offensive capacities, Henry was clearly a youth who meant to represent to the public that if it was beyond the abilities of the adults of his acquaintance either to rise above mere injunctions or to adequately describe his outrages against their interests and those of society, it should not be for his failing to provide them with many and varied materials with which to work. No project of villainy, it seemed, was beneath his consideration: on one occasion, he tried to cheat the tooth fairy; another time, he sought to disrupt a wedding for which he had been called upon to perform some minor office; and my reading of the documents given to me left me in no doubt that if the opportunity to assassinate some high-level dignitary should present itself, he would apply himself to the task as a matter of course, and with the same fixed determination as he had demonstrated on every other occasion. That no particular motive should seem to attend his actions only added to his infamy, for it seemed to sustain the belief prevalent among those who knew him that Henry’s nature was such that he could choose no other course, and that he must either live wickedly or not at all.
The epithet ‘Horrid’ is, therefore, apt so far as the writer and the community may be concerned, but I would beg to put it to you sir that I suspect it does not fit Henry’s understanding of himself. Henry, I am disposed to believe, does not know himself. He knows, or thinks he knows what it is that he desires, but desire and self-knowledge can hardly be said to be the same thing. Henry, I am sure, would regard himself as the hero of his own story, and as such, he would think it proper that the principal benefits of life should accrue to him, rather than to the ‘lesser’ characters with whom he is required to share the pages; his desire, therefore, arises from a fear that no preferment or material gain can be had in other quarters which does not represent a loss to himself as well as a loss of himself. His development of a sense of identity independent of such considerations is still in its primitive stages, and is confined to analogues relict of prehistoric times: volcanoes, sharks, etc.
Essentially, sir, what seems to be at issue is a matter of self-definition, which issue is constituted by two interconnected questions, those being: ‘Can I define myself, and therefore exercise some manner of authority over my own life?’ and second, ‘Do I have the capacity to escape myself, or to redefine myself beyond my present parameters, or am I merely a creature which, having been defined, is subject to a determinable end?’
Having said as much – or as little – as that, I should be grateful of the opportunity to remind you sir that I am no psychologist, and that if you are content to pose your questions to a barista, then you must satisfy yourself with a barista’s answers, which far from improving the lot of humankind, seem only to have caused the gentlemanly patron under me to faint clean away; but despite which unhappy result, business being business and having discharged my side of the bargain and to the best of my abilities, I should now very much like to know if you desire your next drink to be of the same type and size as your last.
Yours and etc.
A Rather Bemused Barista