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Late Afternoon at SeaTac Coffee

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'I'm gonna quit and go work in a coffee shop.'

Microsoft Word let out a gusty sigh, and fell forward across his keyboard in a sprawl. The paperclip pinning his forelock into place went askew, poking out at an odd angle down around his eyebrows.

Microsoft Excel, who was more than familiar with his coworker's late-afternoon fits of despair, did not turn his head or pause his typing for a second. 'You can't even keep track of half of the tasks you're supposed to do at this job,' he said. 'What makes you think that you'd be better off in a coffee shop?'




'Welcome to SeaTac Coffee, may I take your order?'

Microsoft Word gave his usual blithe greeting to the application who had just stepped up to the register, but his smile faltered a little when he actually saw the expression on the customer's face. The undercaffeinated masses could be blunt to the point of open rudeness, especially first thing in the morning or right before closing, and yet this customer had a direct stare that usually led to requests to speak to a manager sooner rather than later. His trendy narrow eyeglasses only added to the sense that Word was under unpleasantly close scrutiny.

'For exactly seventeen business days,' the customer declared, 'between the hours of 4:25 and 4:37 PM, I have ordered the exact same medium chai tea latte made with skim milk. Through some impossible coincidence of your schedule or mine, I have ordered that same drink from you each time, right here at this very register. And over the course of those seventeen business days, of the same order being given to the same person at the same time, I have never had the name on my cup spelled the exact same way twice.'

Word waited for the customer to keep going...but that seemed to be the extent of his complaint. His smile widened, because he didn't know what else to do with his face. 'Did I spell it wrong, Mister....uh, Mister....?'

'My name is Excel,' the customer said stiffly. 'On Day One, and on every subsequent day. I gave my name to you as Excel, with the five letters spelled out. And I have compiled a list of the following incorrect names with which my drink was labelled.'

From out of nowhere, he pulled out a sheet of paper. On it, Word could see a two-column table. The column on the right had a list of dates; the one on the left had a list of words.

'The first day,' Excel said, 'the name on the cup read Axle, as in the component of a car. The second day, it was Axel, ending with an E-L instead of an L-E, as in the competitive figure skating jump. And on the third day, you appeared to dispense with the E entirely, and give my name as Axl, as in the popular singer-songwriter.' Before Word could respond with any kind of defence, Excel continued, using one finger to navigate down the page in his hand. 'On Day Four, things began to get creative. I received, in quick succession, a series of medium skim chai tea lattes for Expel, Pastel, Excess, Oxen, Eggshell, and for some reason, Bonspiel.'

Word blinked. 'What's a bonspiel?'

'I have no idea what it is, but apparently on Day Nine, you believed that it was my name.' Excel tracked further down the page. 'Where was I...ah, yes, on Day Ten I was Cowbell -- an unfortunate choice there -- and you rounded off your creative selections by making medium skim chai tea lattes for individuals named Auk, Access -- which would have confused one of my coworkers, had he been present for it -- Espadrille, Exchequer, Exceed, and Auxiliary, before culminating with the copyright-infringing Excedrin.'

It still wasn't immediately clear to Word what the problem was. Yet his blank stare, far from infuriating his customer, only made Excel sigh and rub his forehead with his free hand.

'Look, you have to know that you're losing business to LibreCoffee over there.' Excel waved in the direction of the shop's picture window, where the busy rival coffeehouse could be seen on the other side of the street. 'No one's going to want to pay an exorbitant amount for the same overall product that an open-source coffee shop can provide unless the service really stands out...and you can't even spell my relatively simple name correctly.' He held up the list of offending names. 'Do you have any logical explanation for this at all?'

'Oh, sure!' Word replied, pleased that he'd finally been asked a question he could answer. 'Spell-check doesn't catch wrong words unless they're actually misspelled. And none of those names on your cup were misspelled, right?'

Excel opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut again.

'So I didn't catch the mistakes,' Word concluded triumphantly, 'because they weren't really mistakes to me!'




Word rolled half onto his side, peering over at Excel through the hair falling in his face.

(All right, maybe he didn't really want to work in a coffee shop. But he didn't want to give Excel the satisfaction of saying I told you so, either.)