Untithed Earnings for Starbucks and Smashing the Patriarchy

Submitted into Contest #205 in response to: Make a character perform a ceremony to set something or someone free.... view prompt


Coming of Age LGBTQ+ Funny

I’ve never been that into weddings. Like when I was little I didn’t dream of myself in white and put my mom’s sheer scarves over my face and take those weird steps where you bring your foot next to the first and stop before you take the next one. And now I’m actively against them: they’re this weird relic of a patriarchal society where the dad gives the daughter (whom he owns!) to the husband because he needs an heir factory and the dad doesn’t want to pay to feed the girl anymore. Nevermind the only reason he has to spend money on her is that he won’t let her earn her own. Gross.

I wrote my persuasive essay about it for my online AP Language and Comp (™) class. I told my parents I wrote about how abortion should be outlawed even in the case of rape because it’s logically inconsistent to say that a baby is an innocent life that deserves a chance except when its dad commits crimes. I said at the dinner table, “when a dad robs somebody, we don’t put the kids in jail.” They bought it. So then they don’t ask to see my actual essay, even though they are very skeptical about me taking outside classes. 

They never worried about math, because like how corrupted can you get by points on the Cartesian plane? I guess the word problems could be like “if the prevalence of gonorrhea is 1 in 65 adults, how many dudes does Tammy have to smash before her likelihood of infection exceeds 50%?” They even used to read the word problems looking for stuff like that because they heard that Florida had banned even math textbooks. But the fact is even they have to admit that mom’s ability to teach my math curriculum dried up in fifth grade. She’s the one who makes those idiotic comments about how stupid people who think 2+4x2=10 are. Except she’s not really because she would never do anything as unholy as scroll social media. But she does think the answer is 12, so yeah, online math. 

Anyway, once I got 1420 on my PSAT and they realized that I had solid shot of getting their names and the success of their homeschool program in the newspaper (or at the very least announced to the congregation at church), they agreed to let me take English from someone who had like, read a book. So that’s why when I arrived at the Cates/Ferengi wedding, my head was full of research about marriage and the patriarchy. Real research, too, since I finally had a teacher who could tell me that the comments on a Times of India article could be cited as evidence that people say something, but not that it is true.

I was just there to get the kids out of the Cates’ hair so they could move on to partying, but since the kids were in the ceremony (I saw Dylan when he tried on his little tux, and you would have died! So cute!) I couldn’t just keep them at their house. Plus, this way they didn’t have to pay me until I arrived near the end of the ceremony. Not that they cared: what was twelve bucks to them? But to me, apparently, it was enough to overcome my moral objections to the patriarchal sacrament of marriage. Also, I could tell my parents that they paid me just 7 bucks an hour as I was literally not allowed to get a regular job because of the evil influence of having too much money. I could even tell the Cates’ to confirm the 7 bucks if they asked. Mrs. Cates (who hates it when I call her Mrs. Cates, but I’m not looking to jeopardize this whole arrangement because my dad hears me “disrespecting her”) winked at me and said her regular rate was seven dollars an hour and she’d appreciate me keeping bonuses to myself so the other neighborhood teens didn’t feel insulted.

I needed the extra money (that I didn’t even have to tithe!) for (what else?) Starbucks (™) (I just found out that the keyboard autocorrects tm to ™, so I’m using that all the time now!). My AP Language and Comp (™) teacher would be quick to note that the previous sentence had an unconscionable number of parentheticals, but then she would also note that when you write creatively you are only bound by the rules (even of grammaring!) in that you may be a novice and choose to follow guidelines while your confidence grows. 

I go to Starbucks (™) for three reasons: 1. Humongous coffees with tons of cream, sugar, and caramel syrup are life-changingly delicious. 2. The people there are fascinating to watch. 3. My parents make this sour face about me wasting money, but they are committed to the idea that I need to learn to live within my means through practical experience, so when I argue that it’s my money that I earned, it pisses them off AND they go along with it. It’s like the cream on top of the Frappuccino (™--this one is supposed to be a little R hovering above, but that one doesn’t autocorrect and I don’t know how to make it, so you’re getting more ™s).

But let’s talk about reason number two, which is also intimately connected to my essay on marriage as an anachronistic ritual expression of misogyny because I started going there while I was working on the paper. Reading about the history of marriage made my brain run out of fuel until I wanted to smash something, and since the patriarchy wasn’t exactly a figurine on a shelf in my house (though I did secretly smash one of my mom’s many little cutesy religious knick knacks that have nothing whatever to do with real theology--I mean does she picture that tiny four-year-old chubby-cheek angel striking fear in the hearts of the shepherds watching their flocks by night? Uh…But, like I said, actually reading a book isn’t her strong suit), caffeine and sugar would have to soothe my annoyance. 

So I’m sitting there keeping an unreasonably sized cup of caramel goodness company, observing really miraculous phenomena including: 1. A grown man in a suit get foot-stampingly upset that his name was misspelled on a coffee cup. 2. A man with a beard of fashionably disgusting length sit down, open a laptop, use his phone for 30 minutes, including by making a phonecall in which I heard him say that he was writing at Starbucks, and then close the laptop and leave without using it. 3. A woman with a baby and a raspberry muffin pick every raspberry out of the muffin and leave them on the table and then pull a container of (I kid you not!) raspberry yogurt from her purse and feed it to the baby. There were three other muffin flavors available; I checked.

But since the place was packed with these unparalleled weirdos and I was taking my sweet time pretending to read while I watched them, someone asked if she could sit in the empty chair at my table. I looked up at the person I wanted to watch the rest of the afternoon, or maybe like, my whole life. She was wearing bell bottom jeans and a ribbed sleeveless turtleneck that ended three inches above them, showing a swath of belly I would die for. She had the kind of curly hair that when she stood in front of a light, it shone through all broken up like she had a halo, and her skin was something White girls like me can’t seem to stop themselves from comparing to edible things, but I swear to god was the exact color of my…book title lettering. You thought I was going to do it, didn’t you? But since that doesn’t give you any actual sense of the skin, the book title was the exact color of my Frappaccino, (™) which more closely resembled the skin in smooth richness (and, I’ll venture, general life changingness). 

“Cool phone,” she said, indicating my flip phone, which I definitely-- ; ) ; ) --had because it was trendy and not because my mom wouldn’t let me have a regular one. “Can I sit here?” She nudged the chair out with a scraping noise and indicated the fullness of the place.

“Oh yeah, sure.” I said putting my book down.

“What are you reading?” she asked, cocking her head to see. “Oh I read that last year! Are you in AP Lit?” She didn’t say ™, but as she settled we did start talking about books until “Daphne” was called at the counter and she got up to get her drink. Perfect, I thought. An unattainable goddess. Then I had to put my head back in the book and look like she was interrupting me when she came back instead of just watching her walk there and back like I really wanted to. 

“Do you hate romance?” I asked when she came back, because I’m a dork. But, just for future reference, if you meet a beautiful girl and you need a perfect test of if she is a fellow nerd who will want to know everything you just geek-binged about why the the institution of marriage needs to burn, AND her name happens to be Daphne, it turns out the “Do you hate romance?” is the perfect choice. So she didn’t explicitly say that she’d rather turn into a tree than let a dude touch her, but she did understand the Apollo reference and rolled her eyes about everything from changing last names to dowries. Imagine the joy of sitting across from a person who will not only be duly outraged when you say “and you know that the tradition of giving women jewelry is because that’s the only kind of property they were allowed to own!” but will respond “And they make fun of women for liking shiny stuff!”

She had hot coffee, so while all this was going on, I also got to watch her blow into that tiny hole in the coffee lid at each sip, puckering her lips out in a way that made me wish a wasp would attack me if only it would make her blow on the sting. 

When she got a text that her ride was here, she stood up and said “down with the patriarchy” with this playful jump in her (perfect!) eyebrows by way of goodbye. Only after I watched her sway out the door did I realize she’d never asked my name.

So you see, I had to go back and loiter at Starbucks (™) at the same time everyday in case she came back in. 

But then, after five days of that, the day of the wedding, the barrista, Gemma, who has really cool short hair and an eyebrow ring, leaned on her elbows over the counter and told me “I told that girl you were talking to the other day that you come in here at this time. You know, in case she wanted to run into you again.”

And I died of embarrassment. Right there in the middle of Starbucks in the strip mall between the Pizza Hut (™) and the sparkle nails (not ™ I don’t actually know what that place’s real name is). So then Gemma had to come around the counter and give me mouth-to-mouth and pump my arm up and down like when a dog on Bugs Bunny (™) drowns. My soul was floating over my head with a little puffy cloud harp to play when she said, “She left you a note.”

So then my soul backtracked into my body with a rewind tape sound (my mom had to explain to me what that sound effect meant ‘cause although we have video tapes in the house, there’s never been a machine that could play them there in my lifetime, but still that is the sound of the soul reentering the body after first dying of humiliation that Gemma knows that you’re practically Apollo pursuing this forest goddess (and told her so! (parentheses within parentheses--horrors!)) and then finding out that rather than turning herself into a tree to avoid you, she’s LEFT A NOTE). So I revived and found myself, not lying on the floor at all, but standing at the counter looking at a sheet of paper that read: “Daphne: 8-6-7-5-3-0-9” Okay, that is not a direct quote, but I’m not going to give you her number. And if you're my parents' age, I did just put that song into your head, though: you’re welcome.

“Shit!” I said. Gemma shrugged. Bumping into someone casually at Starbucks (™) and dialing their number on a phone were completely different things. Gemma, the barista, likely appreciated that difference already. Like me knowing I’d been hit by a poison arrow and Gemma knowing were different (why had I already smashed that dumb cupid angel when now was clearly the moment for revenge on cupid?)

“You could just text.”

That would be better, but still.

Look, it isn’t like I’m not aware that I think girls are hotter than boys, but if you take a minute to consider it, you’ll find that you do too. Yes, you, the straight woman reading this (statistically women read more than men and straight people outnumber queer, so you, the average reader, are a straight woman). Just put in your head the skin of a girl (well woman for you since I don’t want you creeping on anybody underage) and the skin of a man and be honest about which one is nicer to touch. Think about the smell of a woman and the smell of a man…. So you see, thinking about girls this way doesn’t by itself mean anything that I have to start saving money for my inevitable disinheritance over. But there is the possible disinheritance to consider, and possible bringing it up in church for people to shake their heads and pray over, and…yeah, there’s not going to be any texting.  

Gemma was still watching me practically tearing myself in pieces, and it occurred to me that she just observed, made a quick remark to another patron, and at no point mentioned hell, humiliation, excommunication, childless future, or the enduring challenge of opening the pickle jar without any man hands around. She just shrugged and wanted to make me a coffee. And she did. And it was life-changingly delicious.

So all of that is to provide for you the complexities of my thought process as I arrived to wait (for 12 dollars an hour) outside the second wedding hall area in the Ramada Inn (™) to pick up the little Cates kids who were presumably adding the mess of dropped flower petals to the mess of promising to love, honor and obey

I looked through the little window and saw the bride: slim, white satin falling in a clean line like a Brancusi sculpture, a half-dozen calla lilies wrapped together with something large and deep green like a palm frond. I saw the little heads of the two kids (and only just managed to keep my soul on the inside), Dylan in his tiny tux, Clara with baby’s breath wound into her coronet hairdo, at the elbow of the bride. 

And then I saw the second bundle of calla lilies, and a dress, not satin but lace, with a little more cleavage, a little more curve to the hip. A second bride facing the first, eyes misting with emotion. The two kids both looked up to their cousin at that moment, probably because of something the officiant had said to dismiss them. She bent and kissed their cheeks and they ran to their mother, whom I now spied at the back of the room, but who had already seen me. 

Why hadn’t she mentioned that the wedding was a lesbian wedding? I had seen pictures on the Cates’ mantle of cousin Grace (the slimmer bride) at family beach trips. They’d never told me she was marrying a woman.Did they think I would disapprove? Did they think I wouldn’t be allowed to sit for them anymore if I knew? Were they right? 

The kids had reached their mom while the officiant said some words. They paused listening to him. Mrs. Cates had told me to be available on standby while she gave the kids a chance to watch if they could sit still. “Weddings are so boring, though. I don’t know if they can handle it,” she’d remarked. 

Boring. Somehow my soul had smuggled the cloud harp back inside and was strumming away while she died of boredom. I looked at the faces, the older ladies in the front row, presumably the brides’ mothers, and they glowed with pride. One of them was dabbing her eyes already as the brides began repeating after the officiant. I scanned, more wet eyes, more fumbling for kleenex (™). I saw a youngish woman, probably a friend of Grace, raise her hand to her heart. The man, seeing the tenderness of the movement, laid a hand on her wrist and they exchanged a look of love. 

And I got it. They didn’t hide from me that it was a gay wedding. To them it was just a wedding. A patriarchy-free, twice-the-beautiful-bride for your money, romantic, loving wedding where nobody said anything about conceiving kids, or hell, or pickle jars. Just a wedding. The whole room was filled people there to celebrate a love that caused no one shame.

I checked my pocket for kleenex (™) and found a scrap of paper. 

“Down with the patriarchy ™” I texted Daphne, who has still never turned into a tree. 

July 06, 2023 17:24

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Allan Bernal
15:37 Jul 12, 2023

You very effectively created a quirky narrator and nailed her voice! Lots of intricate inner thoughts and wit throughout - nice!


Angela Ginsburg
16:00 Jul 12, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and leaving a nice remark. Glad you liked my narrator.


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Kevin Logue
11:40 Jul 12, 2023

This has such a unique yet relatable voice Angela. I got a genuine laugh when you acknowledged the TM's it was alike you were in my head! The overbearing parents were palpable, the know it all teen and then the twist of wedding. Very nicely done.


Angela Ginsburg
12:57 Jul 12, 2023

Thanks, Kevin! So glad you liked. Thanks for reading.


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Michał Przywara
01:27 Jul 10, 2023

Well, I think this nailed all three tags :) Definitely has a great voice of a young person starting to understand the world, finding issues with it, and being swept away by The Big Problem they've just identified. The additions of the tm and the parentheses, as well as the fourth wall breaking, sell the voice. "but I swear to god was the exact color of my…book title lettering." :) I really like the twist of it being a lesbian wedding, as this is the moment our suddenly-knows-everything protagonist is stunned by the fact that, no, she doe...


Angela Ginsburg
09:54 Jul 11, 2023

Thanks Michal. Glad to see you got everything I was going for, and the young voice worked, because I am not young! Thanks for reading and leaving supportive comments.


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