LAUGH LINES : No Common Grounds for a Happy Medium


Growing up back in New England, it was no big deal to order a cup of coffee to go.

At Murphy’s, the Pilgrim Luncheonette or the Mrs. and Me Diner, I’d routinely ask for a “Medium. With milk, no sugar.”

In return, the waitress would pour me a medium. With milk, no sugar. Medium was the size between large and small. Milk was milk. No sugar was no sugar.

These days, in Santa Monica and other caffeine-crazed communities across Los Angeles County, a simple request for a medium-sized serving of high-octane mud can cause a waitress to consider reaching for the phone to call in the SWAT team.


Take, for instance, just one of several recent dealings at a popular bakery along Montana Avenue (which could be renamed Demitasse Drive), where one can mingle with the linen shirt and cashmere sweater crowd while waiting to select a macchiato, cappuccino, caffe latte, caffe mocha or an espresso in one of three sizes: singolo, doppio or grande.

“I want a medium cappuccino,” I declared matter of factly after a lengthy wait in line.

“We don’t have medium,” chirped the coffee counter person.

Perplexed but not shocked, I sought to calmly explain: “Well, what I want is the middle of the three sizes on the menu up on the wall.”

The clerk seemed dumbfounded. Speaking that special jargon of java joint jockeys, she rejoined, “Is that one shot or two?”

“I didn’t hear any shots,” I replied. “I just want a medium cappuccino.”

“We don’t have medium.”

Truth be told, having glanced back up at the menu, I knew in my heart of hearts that doppio appeared to correspond with medium. But then why, I thought, didn’t she know that?

And for that matter, why, for God’s sake, should I say I want a doppio? If I pronounced the word correctly, I’d have sounded effete. If I got it wrong, I’d have sounded like a D-O-. . . . Well, you know.

Pondering my next move, I glanced at the menu again. A singolo was one shot, a doppio was two shots and a grande was: also two shots.


Now, I was confused. If I said I wanted two shots, how would I know whether I was about to receive a doppio or a grande? All I wanted was a med--, I mean, a doppio.

And let’s not forget the lactic factor. A doppio, the menu said, contained two shots of coffee with one shot of milk. A grande, in contrast, consisted of two shots of coffee with two shots of milk.

And none of that is to mention what percentage of fat content I preferred in the milk.

Gritting my teeth, I mulled the options. Finally, I firmly repeated: “Just give me a medium. The one in the middle of the three sizes that are listed on the menu.”

The waitress looked ready to drop her beans. But the line behind me was growing. After an X-ray stare, she shrugged her shoulders, appearing to cave in. Still, she had one more trick up her sleeve: “Do you want that coffee in a small or large cup?”

“If I get the medium size in either cup,” I replied, “wouldn’t it still contain the same amount of fluid?”

She pondered the question. Meanwhile, my thoughts returned to the doppio. Why call it a doppio? Why not call it a sleepio? Or, a grumpio? Or forget about the Seven Dwarfs. Why not just call it a hoity-toity?


Her silence continued. And my jittery, joe-starved brain raced on: Why not go whole hog and name the sizes the way delis dub sandwiches? After all, this is a neighborhood of stars in a city of celebrities.

A large container with a big mouth? The Roseanne. Even bigger cups with no taste? The Angelyne.

Then again, with the prices they charge, why not just offer a single tall and skinny size? How about La Cher.

At that point, a familiar voice interrupted my reverie. “But we don’t have medium.”

An addictive craving in my craw, and easily embarrassed relatives in tow, I finally hit upon common grounds.

“Look,” I said, in as conciliatory a tone as I could muster. “See the one there on the board that says it costs $2.30? I want that one.”

The waitress perked up. A flash bulb popped in her head. She began jerking the java.