The Scone

Ben Trefry

March 11, 2022

Of all the stories I tell, this is one of the stupidest. It’s also almost impossible to tell without collapsing into waves of hysterical laughter.

It takes place in a Starbucks in Nevada. Air-conditioned, sure, but I could still see that afternoon slump in the face of the barista and in the pathetic selection of leftover pastries going stale before my eyes. Overpriced, probably mediocre, but conveniently, probably, edible.

Why Starbucks? I make the case that a limited and mediocre selection is advantageous as it prevents option paralysis, which Urban Dictionary defines as the tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none.1

Out of the three or four pastries on offer, I chose a scone, and asked if the barista could warm it up. In fact, she could! She placed it on some wax paper, placed the wax paper on a metal tray, and slid the tray into the toaster oven. Then she returned to the register to assist others with their infinitely more complex drink requests.

Four drinks were ordered from and prepared by this visored venti visionary while my scone incubated in the Nuclear Cyclone Bake/Toast/RoastMaster 7900. Minutes ticked by, each second an eternity under high heat. When the barista finally wandered back over to the toaster oven, it was already too late.

The oven door opened, and her face fell. Inside lay a nugget of pure carbon that had once been a scone. She slid her spatula under the wax paper and removed the carcass with the gravity of a firefighter extricating a charred body from a fatal car accident. A sigh of disappointment, melancholy amid mediocrity, a raw expression of the afternoon slump straight from the soul, escaped her lips as she lowered the scone into a nameless grave filled with used straws and cellophane wrappers.

It didn’t matter that the scone had been flavorless and stale even in life, nor that a whole rack of similar ones lay between us in the glass pastry case. In this moment, she had let me down by underestimating the crisping, carbonizing power of her oven. And that was cause enough for mourning. Her shift was long, her work monotonous, her hands sore and her wage minimum. Despite this, she cared in some way. I heard it in her sigh and saw it in her eyes.

The taste of the replacement scone I received faded quickly, but that barista’s sigh stuck with me hours later. I replayed the situation in my mind over and over as miles passed beneath our wheels. On the fifth iteration, I broke the silence and shared the story with my fellow passengers. In my head it was mildly amusing. But I could not have foreseen the degree to which I would totally, absolutely, hysterically lose it just a few words into the story. If I’d been driving, we might have died.

So to the barista, you scone-scorching princess of pathetic pastries, I want you to know that you’ve made me laugh more than any comedian, that the little sigh you gave as you laid that scone to rest will be part of me for the rest of my life.

You may not remember it, and you certainly don’t remember me. I have a boyfriend2, and you probably do too. But I want you to know that, as I collapse into laughter for the tenth time telling our story, I also feel a pang of regret that I didn’t ask for your number in Starbucks that afternoon.

  1. ↩︎

  2. identity redacted ↩︎