Annie Vainshtein is a Mustang News coffee columnist who writes about her adventures (and misadventures) with her favorite caffeinated beverage. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Annie Vainshtein

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Over winter break, I walked into my favorite coffee shop, ordered my usual Ethiopian blend pour-over and sunk into the filthy taupe futon at the back of the cafe while Rich Gang blasted in my earbuds.

Suddenly, the music stopped and I was yanked out of my trance by a heavily accented, 5-foot Eastern-European woman (who had been sleeping next to me for the past two hours). Shaking in her royal blue crushed velvet jogging pants, the next sentence she spoke changed the course of my life.

“Excuse me,” she said, pointing at my Teva Hurricane XLTs, “table’s not a place for feet. I wanted to tell you the first time, but I telling you now.”

This cryptic yet utterly confrontational message shocked me. What did she mean by “the first time”? How many times had there been before that? Suddenly I felt like I was in the Truman Show.

As she wagged her fingers at my feet, I took note of her sheep-skin elbow pads. Her eyes started watering and so did mine. We were both there for what felt like an hour (but was probably 15 seconds) until she wobbled off, “Billie Jean” slowly muffling the sound of her decrepit rolling backpack (which I’m sure I had seen in the “ALL ITEMS MUST GO!” aisle at K-Mart).

What had I done?

All this time, I’d been living a lie. For 13 years, I’d frequented local coffee shops, ignorant to the evil of my ways. I started thinking about all the places, experiences and lives my devilish feet had tarnished. Grimacing, I looked down at them, unable to call them my own. My mind raced through long-suppressed memories: the time I blindly rested my flip-flops at the Peet’s in Mendocino, the image of my Steve Madden combat boots selfishly relaxing on the Carved Antique Painted Wood Ranch Coffee Table at Ritual in San Francisco.

How could I call myself a coffee lover, nay, a decent human being, when I was clearly causing so much despair? I was sincerely shocked. I lay limp — almost catatonic — after her departure.

I couldn’t comprehend the life-altering experience I’d just had. Had I been doing it wrong this whole time? Had my entire existence been one muddy footprint on the coffee table of humanity?

In the hopes of unraveling the severity of my actions, I looked around the coffee shop, suddenly lucid in the sight of fellow sinners. These were things I hadn’t thought of before, but my intuition was finally awake, thanks to the unnamed and likely Ukrainian Samaritan who had since moved on to a different couch.

Perpetrators were everywhere.

My eyes widened at the sight of a Stanford graduate student manhandling a defenseless chair, using it to hold his TimBuk2 messenger bag. I felt with every shred of my humanity for the poor gluten-free folk who were forced to endure second-hand gluten exposure at the expense of inconsiderately placed crumbs. Rude people were all around, and I was one of them — but no longer. Never again would I entertain my egocentric ways. My feet would now remain on the ground.

To the woman who started it all: I never meant to hurt you.

I saw you looking at the Sell Hemp, Make Money flyer on the wall. Now it all makes sense. You were simply trying to pursue something real and genuine, and I was in your way.

Under the watchful eye of the wall-stationed Antarctic penguins displayed in the photographs of “Local Artist on Display” Vatche Bezdikian, you were looking to the green light at the end of the tunnel — toward the American Dream — and my performance sandals were blocking your view.

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