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There was a controversy at my bodega this morning that escalated into a shouting match. A Jamaican man was making a fresh pot of coffee and blocking access to the machine while myself and another customer, a Mexican, stood waiting, even though a fresh pot sat ready on the other burner. The Jamaican paced back and forth as he prepared the pot, loose limbs flying in every direction, muttering under his breath. The Mexican and I, apparently, had no choice but to stand by and let the chef cook.

The Jamaican had an unorthodox method of preparing the filter and one of the Yemeni men who runs the joint stepped in to hurry the proceedings along. The Jamaican took offense. Choruses of “let me do this,” and “my way is better,” wrinkled the morning calm. When he said, “I pay money,” what had been a small kerfuffle mushroomed into a referendum on capitalism.

“This is America. Everybody pays money,” said the Yemeni. The argument lost its thread as everyone seemed to be saying the same thing, only louder – “I pay money. You pay money. Everybody makes money.” To this dead end the Jamaican added the turn, “I don’t always make money.”

The Jamaican started towards the counter as the coffee pot had finally been wrested from his hands. Fresh brown elixir splashed down into the empty vessel from the spout. By this time the Yemeni working the front had joined the fray, not as loud as his brother but granted special gravitas given his authority over the cash register. “You only pay fifty cents for coffee,” he said, “sometimes you don’t even pay.” I stood in line waiting to pay a full dollar for my cup as the Jamaican exited the shop, stage right. “I pay for my coffee,” he said, “I pay.”