Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 47

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Does it make any sense to grieve for a building? Or a city? I don’t know.

A little past 10:00am today there was a gas explosion in downtown Durham. A worker nicked a line while drilling holes for new internet cables. At least that’s the current story.

Honestly, it’s a mess. The mayor says they don’t really know all the details. The fire chief is still fighting the fire. The explosion was sudden and violent and it ripped a whole row of old buildings. One person died. 17 more are in the hospital.

Like any disaster, I’m concerned for the people. Human lives are worth more than a bunch of bricks. If I’m being honest, though, it’s the overhead pictures of downtown Durham smoldering that really get to me.

Cities are special. They take on a soul, the old buildings especially. A thousand people passing the same facade for fifty years imprints a bit of their emotions on the structure. Homes for our old ghosts.

The building that shattered was around the corner from a tex-mex place where I’d meet my parents when they came to visit me at college. More recently, I drove down that road on the way to meet a date at Fullsteam. I remember looking at the building – which had offices on top and a coffee shop on the bottom – and thinking ‘who would ever go here?’ It had that dangerous combination of being both too close and too far from everything else.

Gone now.

Of course, they’ll build it back up. They’ll check the lines this time to make sure none are too exposed. They’ll build a new building like they’re already doing all over the city. They’ll make something flashy, fresh, maybe even nice. But the memories that had taken residence in the old bricks are truly gone – melted glaciers.

Again, the most important thing is the human tragedy. I feel for the loss, wish them quick recoveries. But I don’t know those people. I did know the building.

Novel Count: 37,208

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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I think one of the primary goals of a feminist landscape architecture would be to work toward a public landscape in which we can roam the streets at midnight, in which every square is available for Virginia Woolf to make up her novels.

Rebecca Solnit


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 46

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Since it’s Spring, and cool, and a little cloudy, I took a short walk after work today. Nothing special, just a circuit around the apartment complex. There were weeks last summer where I would take a walk like this every day, but with winter and rampant rain for the last few months my strolls had tapered off.

Here’s what I saw:

Two kids were swinging on the swing set. They were both wearing blue, though not the same shade, and they were both talking loudly about school, though with different pitched voices. Isn’t it nice how kids become each other when they’re playing together? It’s easy to slip together with someone when you’re still learning who you are.

I saw a lot of crushed flowers on the creek banks. It rained so hard yesterday that trees were coming down. The creek flooded. The wind walloped. The brightest spring colors were washed into the mud. This means we’re close to summer. Another couple weeks and the heat-stink will be back. Oh well. Spring’s mostly beautiful because it doesn’t last.

A family of four was walking with their dog, a big black German shepherd, and the dad had to reign the dog in when it saw me. It started barking and slobbering. It was trying to protect it’s family. It looked very young. It hasn’t been around long enough to know I spend just about every day choosing to not be a threat. That’s what being human’s all about, right? The choice to avoid violence? Puppies can’t do that without a leash and a firm hand.

Two geese went by as I got home. They shared a long, sad honk. They looked like they were headed somewhere, maybe farther north for summer. I don’t know what they were sad about, what they were missing.

Novel Count: 37,208

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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A sound like a big crowd a good way off, excited and shouting, getting closer. We stand up and scan the empty sky. Suddenly there they are (the geese), a wavering V headed directly over the hilltop, quite low, beating southward down the central flyway and talking as they pass. We stay quiet suspending our human conversation until their garulity fades and their wavering lines are invisible in the sky.
They have passed over us like an eraser over a blackboard, wiping away whatever was there before they came.

Wallace Stegner


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 45

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Rain came dramatically after work, a thunderstorm. It’s turned us all into frogs hopping between tiny islands of dry ground. We need the rain. It’ll wash off some of the pollen. Earlier, everyone was coughing on a yellow pine-pollen cloud.

I made something new for dinner. It had many familiar parts – onions, soy ground beef – but the seasoning was different. I chopped up cilantro. I added two limes’ worth of juice. I topped everything with cans of black beans. Mexican-inspired. I served it over rice. It was a good experiment.

Today was long and frustrating. I spent a lot of time spinning in place. Not literally, of course (that might have actually been fun). Work was a series of problems. I solved all of them, but they weren’t the kind of problems you feel any sort of accomplishment having solved.

I think that’s where I’ll leave it today. Right now, I’m drinking a glass of water and listening to the rain. I’m trying to move from ‘frog’ to ‘fish’ so when the thunderstorm goes long enough and the creek outside stars flooding, maybe it’ll carry me away.

Novel Count: 37,208

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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And since today’s all there is for now, that’s everything.
Who knows if I’ll be dead the day after tomorrow?
If I’m dead the day after tomorrow, the thunderstorm day after tomorrow
Will be another thunderstorm than if I hadn’t died.
Of course I know thunderstorms don’t fall because I see them,
But if I weren’t in the world,
The world would be different —
There would be me the less —
And the thunderstorm would fall on a different world and would be another thunderstorm.
No matter what happens, what’s falling is what’ll be falling when it falls.

Alberto Caeiro


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 44

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; Gray skies and wet roads, I always feel like driving after a rain; so I drove to Caribou and got coffee; their intercom was broken so they had a big handwritten sign that said “Say HELLO! and we’ll hear you;” I said ‘hey’ and they took my order; waiting for the drink, I caught three baristas laughing; one of them caught me spying through the drive-thru; she buttoned right up and said “Here you go, have a good one,”; I could hear that laughter like blue birds as I drove away; But what am I saying: the coffee was good, mellow, like a dark chocolate bar that’s still got a bit of sugar in it, enough to sweeten out the rough notes, the roots, the tang that comes with anything that grows out of soil.

I went to Chapel Hill. A was in town, I haven’t seen him in years. He’d grown his hair out and had it slicked back like someone who’s seen some things. It was a good look but I kept forgetting to tell him that.

We spent a few hours re-getting to know each other. A’s still in school, though he’ll be finished soon, and we were with J who’s damn close to a full fledged doctor (well, he’s already a doctor, but not quite in the working world). Meanwhile I’m cracking jokes. I don’t know how to react when someone asks me what I’m doing. I say something witty and cynical about working for a bank. I talk about the starving artist that I am, though I exaggerate the starving part and maybe the artist too. Whatever honest question they might have I’ve got a comeback. I’m quick today. I’m snappy. Everyone’s laughing. I’m doing well. I’m not saying a single thing without color.

Isn’t it strange how much we lie to our friends?

After walking them back to their Air BnB, I stroll through the luscious houses around UNC’s campus. The trees are green and the flowers are in bloom. I’m caught in seven years ago when I used to live near here. I remember walking late nights from our apartment into town. It misses me – my old life bundled in some other train, heading a different direction, gone without stopping – I got off track. And that’s a good thing, I think, so I keep going, trying to stay present, but I’m in and out of different years the whole way home. There’s the spot where A and I used to talk about society. There’s where we’d meet R for dinner. There’s the auditorium that H would sing at, where I’d feel uncomfortable trying to get whatever woman I was with to love me, and there’s the art museum that can’t contain those nice memories of when I met my cousins, or any early days I used to visit, because it’s full up with one simple afternoon spent walking around with you. That’s the freshest memory of all of them. I walk right past it too.

I start thinking: who else had I been lying to? Ten years of train stations locked and boarding in this one small college town and somehow I was always saying goodbye to the wrong things. I’d tell you I’d be happier in Michigan. I’d tell you I’d drink through my liver. I’d tell you all these stories of distant people and places – some happy, some sad – and hop in the car to carry me off wherever. But when the dust had settled and none of the trees or highways remembered me, I’d come back to the same place and do it all over again. An endless cycle of witty one-liners, mis-directed promises. Vibrant and cyclical like a southern Spring.

Novel Count: 36,889

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Again and again, the cicada’s untiring cry pierced the sultry summer air like a needle at work on thick cotton cloth.

Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 43

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee; I worked today; It’s Saturday; I still had to work; the coffee was watered down like the morning; if I was being pretentious about it, I’d say it had notes of #2 pencils and conference rooms.

I get a letter in the mail that says the dealership wants to buy my car. Only they’re not talking about my new car, just the old one I lost to alternator problems last year.

One week later, I get a phone call. It’s a Burlington number. I don’t know it so I don’t answer. After work, I see a new voicemail from this number. Intrigued, I press play. It’s the dealership – a young woman who’s having trouble sticking to script – telling me that they’d really love to buy my car.

I’ve been in sales for four years now. Or is it five? I know a thing or two about how to make a sales call. And I know a thing or two about how hard it is. I considered calling the woman back, if only to give her closure. When her boss says “you’re not selling enough,” she can say “I tried.” And she’ll pull the call log and tap the recording and they’ll hear me tell her how the car died, how it was shot in the alternator. ‘Would I like to trade in my 2018?’ No ma’am. Suddenly, I’m the one to blame. The fault’s all mine and this dealership lady gets to go home a little happier to her kids.

Of course, I didn’t call her.

I like one thing about sales and nothing else: it’s the purest sort of work outside of making something new. Why? Because it’s just people being people. You set yourself up, put yourself out, and crash into your customers. You bend and twist to try and fit the little holes they’re looking for. You can’t do sales without knowing how to listen, and you can’t know how to listen if you’re not open to really hear what a person has to say. Half the time (maybe over fifty), they’ll tell you something awful. They’ll cut you up and serve you on a tray – dinnertime dialogues, ‘this fucking guy that called me…’ But hell, all least you let them show you something.

Novel Count: 36,338

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

The thing about rabbits, sir, is that everybody has one, I’d like to see you step up to the goat-class where I feel you belong. Frankly you look more like a goat man to me.

Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 42

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Here’s the question: if Lucy Flores had been a man, would Biden have put his hands on her? Would he have kissed her from behind? Listen to your gut: the answer’s ‘no.’

When I was in Japan, I learned there’s a quick way to make a Japanese person uncomfortable: shake their hand when you meet them. You’d see the kids get confused and the adults blush. Pretty soon, I knew well enough to stop grabbing hands.

There’s a sanctity to a person’s skin. Literally and metaphorically it’s the barrier between yourself and the rest of the world. Different cultures have different norms about when a touch is acceptable. In America we shake hands. In much of Europe you kiss the cheek. What’s intimate in one place might be acceptable in another but regardless of where you are a touch has meaning. You’re pressing your identities together. Mixing paints.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments that Biden’s just being ‘old-school.’ I take that to mean this type of touch used to be socially acceptable. And I buy that argument, to a degree – I’m sure it was socially acceptable. But there’s a wrinkle here. Remember the question: would he have done the same thing if Flores were a man? No. There’s a gender dynamic. It’s mono-directional – you can touch the woman, but she doesn’t have the same access to you. It’s couched in power and privilege. So sure, Biden didn’t realize what he was doing, but now he’s making jokes at the fact someone pointed out his wrongs. If he didn’t get it back then, he certainly should now.

Another thing that’s going round is: but Trump! And of course Trump is worse. There are many worse men being held lest accountable than Biden. But is that a good argument to be complacent? Is that a good reason to let him off the hook?

When a demon dances at midnight it puts on a robe of flayed skin. It revels in it’s sin. But when the devil dances, it does so in the finest suit.

Basically, you should keep your eye on all the monsters, but especially the ones that hide their wickedness. You and I aren’t ever going to revel in sexual assault. But if we see that beautiful man dancing in a flawless suit, we might be tempted to try wearing it ourselves.

Novel Count: 36,338

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

So I try to be mindful, at all times, of what a difference a small human gesture can make to people in need. What does it really cost to take a moment to look someone in the eye, to give him a hug, to let her know, I get it. You’re not alone?

Joe Biden, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 41

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

It’s been an exhausting day. I was sick last night with a stomach virus. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t make it to work. I spent the morning in and out of day dreams, the afternoon in a deep orange haze. I can’t remember most of the pieces of the day. I know I read a lot of The Sense of an Ending, so I guess I’ll talk about that.

The book’s grown on me. I feel like I say that with every book I read. Maybe it just takes me some time to acclimate to an author. Maybe it’s a confirmation bias – this far in, I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted my time.

The narrator is still a pretentious prick, but I think he’s supposed to be. The book is about looking back on your life and realizing your memory of events gets it wrong. You weren’t as good a person as you thought you had been. Your worst enemies were more complicated than you gave them credit for.

One thing that bugs me is it ends up being about a woman. Not in the ‘this is an examination of this woman, or womanhood, etc,’ but in the manic, hungry way every book written by a man ends up being about a woman. Even in Crime and Punishment, salvation is found in a separate female body.

I’m guilty of this, too. Pop over to the Writing Samples section of this website and you’ll find my most recent published work – Chessboard and Tequila – full of all kinds of wining about ‘losing the girl.’ It’s complicated. A lot of life is driven by love. But is this really love? Is this fictional mad-dash to absolve something wrong in your maleness by attaching it to a woman anything like real love?

So where does this trend come from? Male writers have been writing these same stories for centuries. Is it genetic? Is it something in our cultures?

Even now, my novel involves a bit of chasing girls. The idea comes out of my fingers like summer crickets on the keyboard, bouncing all around, making a racket. I try to catch them but a few get through. These days, I figure the best I can do is draw attention to this oddity – this obsessive problem in male art, including my own. The best I can do is pick and prod it until it shows me something new.

I’m tired of stories about men chasing women.

Novel Count: 36,338

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!


Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment