Quiet Desperation

We have so many choices now — it’s too bad most are terrible


Jennifer said, “Sip?”

“What is it?”

“Iced tea.”

She handed me a plastic cup. I like iced tea. I was about to take a sip when I noticed a label on the cup with some suspicious looking words: “Three pumps, no water.”

“What’s this?” I said.


Iced tea used to be iced tea. But not anymore.

Years ago, I wrote coffee’s obituary. Now it looks like I have to write one for iced tea.

I drink black coffee. I make minor allowances for cream and sugar for others. And that is it.

Your orders take forever, and sound like pidgin English. Half-this and half-that, with room for this and room for that. It comes with or without foam, with or without a spice, a sprinkle, a twig, a chant, a prayer, a poem, a moment of silence, a glance at the sky.

I asked about the label again.

Jennifer said, “I think I should go outside and mow the lawn.”

“I just mowed the lawn.”


“I vacuumed.”

She said, “Maybe you should sit down before try to I explain it.”

I sat.

“I ask for three pumps of sugar.”

Oh, brother.

The worst was yet to come.

I said, “How can you have `no water’ in iced tea?”

“It means no more water.”

“Why would anyone want to order more water?”

“Dilution index.”

I leaned back, closed my eyes, and screamed as if I just woke up after a dream about Ethel Merman.

The dog went out through the dog door. A painting fell off the wall.

I held my head in my hands and said, “You too?”


We ruin everything. At least that’s the way I look at it. Oreos used to be Oreos. I thought I came home with Oreos, but somewhere between the grocery store and my kitchen counter they turned into Swedish Fish Oreos with Double-Stuf.

The complete list of Oreos now on the market sounds like I made up half of it: Mystery Oreos, Cherry Cola Oreos, and you can even get No-Oreos Oreos. No-Oreos Oreos are just the “Stuf.”

Chocolate used to be chocolate. Pizza used to be pizza. Potato chips used to be potato chips.

When it comes to hot dogs, I hate to tell you. A hot dog is mustard and onions.

Pink’s in Los Angeles has 39 combinations. That’s 38 too many.

Three guesses where Jennifer bought the iced tea. They sell a lot of coffee. I can’t go in there. The torture of listening to coffee orders and iced tea orders might turn into one of my Ethel Merman screams.

Years ago, I went into one and asked for a small cup of coffee, black.

(Of course, they don’t sell small, medium and large; instead, there are embarrassing code names.)

The girl said, “We’re out of coffee.”

I looked around: the place was packed with people drinking something, and employees were handing cups of something though the drive-up window.

“What’s all of that?”

“Flavored coffees. Foamed coffees. Sprinkled, dusted, and twigged coffees. We’re brewing a pot of black coffee for freaks like you. Ready in a minute.”

(Minor exaggeration, to make a point.)

As a writer, I rely upon modifiers. But some things — coffee, iced tea, and hot dogs — don’t need them.

If absolutely necessary, hold the onions.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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