Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 270

Hi.

Coffee: Golden Corral Drip; it came in a plastic cup and when I asked for a refill she didn’t bring anything to pour over, she just brought me a second, so I had two cups, two coffees, oil-thin, poured from a machine; I didn’t know what to do with myself; sometimes life’s just like that, confusing you with good fortunes, like ‘what did I do to get here?’; today was good; both coffees tasted the same, loose and sweaty, burnt breadcrumbs

Happy Thanksgiving. I mean it, you know. I’m thankful.

My family and I took our holiday lunch at Golden Corral. For the past five years we’ve been eating out at this buffet in Greensboro, hosted in a Hyatt, but when we called for reservations they weren’t celebrating this year. Last minute plans limited our options and we settled on something simple – Golden Corral. A few years ago, the building in Burlington burned down but they built it back up. I have clearer memories of the old place, but today was a good day of patching them over with something new.

All week I’ve been telling people where we’re going. There’s an expectation that families will cook for Thanksgiving, but I like our years of going out. I like it because it takes the load off all of us – no stress, no cooking, no dishes; and I like it because it lets me see how other people are celebrating, which is a warm thing, knowing people when they’re engaged in something special.

Here’s what I saw:

The booths were packed families with overcrowded plates; husbands and wives, not just couples, though there were some of them too; lots of old white men in camo hats and shirts to match, though the shirts were tucked in trousers pulled up over their bellies, just the way their father taught them, a kind of Southern formal, sunshine-proper; pregnancy; there were three women who were close to term; and kids on the other end of it, young and young and younger, either plating around on their own or following fathers with bowls of bright ice-cream, delicious; I saw the waiters working overtime; a manager made small-talk with the sous chef who was fixing beef stroganofff in the back; one guy says ‘I’ll take that steak medium rare.’

Take any two or three of these people out of this picture and plop them down in the everyday and I’d wager they wouldn’t get along. But here, on Thanksgiving, everything is perfect, or close enough to it to enjoy the commotion of being in this space together. Golden Corral cooks food of all flavors of Americana, and does so in such quantity that no one dish comes out quite right. But that imperfection is part of what you’re looking for. You don’t want it to be perfect. You don’t want it to be sublime. You’re looking for something so easy it means you don’t have to interrogate yourself, or make too many judgments about your neighbor. Who cares what tastes we come with when all the food tastes the same? It’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t have had my holiday any other way.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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I really feel like I’m in America.

William Livesay (my father), while we were waiting in line at Golden Corral on Thanksgiving 2019

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 249

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Two Greeks walked into my office. Old, retired, they used to live in Thessaloniki. They needed some help setting up ownership, planning for probate, one was the daughter, one was her father, her mother had died. She sounded like peanut butter when she said it, ‘Mom’s gone.’ On their way out, I dug up an old travel memory and said ‘thank you,’ efharisto.

An older woman sat down across from me and raised her hands. “I’m bringing you trouble,” she said, drawing out the ‘t.’ Jewish. She was having issues operating her online banking. I talked to the woman for half an hour and thought we had the problem solved then she came back. We called the hotline and tried different things. She said she’s bad with technology. She said she’s bad with computers. She said she doesn’t understand why something so simple gets complicated, and I remembered all the times I ever said ‘this is easy,’ and felt bad. Later, when the day was done, packing up, she calls, I answer, and she says its working, and that she was so excited she had to tell me. She said I must be happy to be through with her and I tell her I’d be happy helping anytime. I meant it.

I talked to an Indian doctor who tells dry jokes. I ask him how he’s doing, he says awful, as always. He tells me about all the relatives coming down. Then we get to business and I help him send a wire. It’s international. It goes out, It comes back. Our bank needs clarification on the address. So I call him, the doctor, and try to get the address. He talks so soft and fast it’s hard to understand. I have to ask him to repeat it and by the end we’re both laughing. I don’t know why I’m laughing, I don’t know if he knows. Everything works out in the end.

America sounds best in many accents.

I have never lived anywhere but New York or New England, but there are times when I’m talking to you and I hit a Southern vowel, or a word gets caught in a Southern truncation, and I know it’s because I’m swimming in your cadences, that you permeate my very language.

David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 227

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

After getting home from a long workday, and doing some simple workouts, and sitting in my desk-chair for forty minutes as the sun crept down, I left the house to pick up Taco Bell. Here’s my order: spicy potato taco, spicy tostada, and bean burrito. Mm.

Anyway, that got me thinking: Taco Bell is the best representation of America. Cheap, easy, no pretensions. Pumping out junk food by the liter, a web of corporate partnerships, but it still manages to surprise you – vegan options, culinary creativity, a thousand different ways to serve a tortilla. NASA’s best scientists couldn’t beat the chemical tweakers tinkering taste on the crunchwrap supreme.

Some of you might stop me here to talk about cultural appropriation. How there’s a cheapened sort of Tex-Mex over everything, how the commercials used to lean into latinx stereotypes. You wouldn’t be wrong, and I think there’s something hopelessly American in this too. We see things in the boldest colors, no room for nuance, no time to sit down and think. The big beast of a country eats up all the cultures that come to it and spits out something a little simpler. And I’m conflicted because there’s so many problems, such a long history of trauma in ignoring the value of identities outside the mainstream, but at the same time, there’s breezy kind of beauty in stuffing beans and cheese and lettuce in a hard shell and calling it a taco. As much as America is a constant tearing down of the marginalized and different, it’s also a mess of cultures coming together to create something new.

I finished eating around 7. The food sat with me awhile.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

Wait… we’re at the Pizza Hut (What?)
We’re at the Taco Bell (What?)
We’re at the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Das Racist, Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 198

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I met a woman who’d been evicted twice, soon to be three times. She lost her house to late payments on a mortgage. She lost her rental when the landlord sold the property. She’s been staying at a hotel the last few weeks but can’t pay anymore. Not quite an eviction, but close enough.

There was an expose’ on MK-ULTRA written recently. I read an interview with the author on NPR. Sidney Gottlieb, chemist for the CIA, was given carte blanche in the 50’s to fulfill one objective: mind control. There was a lot of fear in the 50’s of communism’s ever-growing fingernails, a lot a paranoia about what a bunch of authoritarian Russians with enough motivation could do. The CIA thought it possible that Soviets had already worked out the kinks to controlling a human mind. So they set about hiring up ex-Nazis and Imperial Japanese torturers and went to work. They tried everything from electroshocks to giving prisoners daily doses of LSD. Here was the hypothesis: to control someone’s mind, you had to destroy it first.

In the end I couldn’t help her. The things she was asking of me were out of my offering. She had sad eyes and well-combed hair. She made a point to smile, and if I wasn’t talking she’d start talking with herself. Once, she said “I’ll just keep going because I don’t want to hear what he has to say.” The ‘he’ was me, of course.

It doesn’t take ten years of surreptitious torture to destroy someone’s mind. All you’ve got to do is marginalize them to the edges of society, to the thin gray scud, out of sight of anyone, so they’re left not having any reference with which to fix themselves, no place to go to, nothing that looks like home. It’s easy. We do it all the time.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

“Gottlieb wanted to create a way to seize control of people’s minds, and he realized it was a two-part process,” Kinzer says. “First, you had to blast away the existing mind. Second, you had to find a way to insert a new mind into that resulting void. We didn’t get too far on number two, but he did a lot of work on number one.”

Terry Gross interviewing Stephen Kinzer for NPR, The CIA’s Secret Quest For Mind Control: Torture, LSD And A ‘Poisoner In Chief’

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 189

Hi.

Coffee: House Drip, Carolina Coffee House; the coffee came in a white cup without any ornamentation; bits of smoke, a seat by the windows, crowded company; the roast was smooth – easy to drink, though my father kept adding cream

Five shot dead in Odessa, Texas. Not to mention the shooter. not to mention the wounded. He stalked shopping malls and that’s all we know. He caught an officer and a 2 year old. He was using a rifle.

Plato told this story in the Republic: men sit cross-legged in a cave facing the wall. Outside is a midnight fire. All kind of objects pass by the fire – trees, wind, falling apples. They cast shadows down the long slope of the Cave and dance around the walls. The people see the shadows and take them for the really-real. They’re bright and vital. It’s all they know.

Then someone turns around. He takes the chains off his arms and legs and raises his body. He brushes off age-old dust. Climbing on fingers with brittle nails and toes half-broken by years of sitting, he pulls himself to the lip.

What does he see?

Fire flickers the whole world around it. The real, vital, True. His flesh feels hot and warm. He’s alive for the first time in the heat-wake. So he creeps closer, wanting to know the bright light with all his senses. Feet rake wet earth. Ears hear all the world booming.

Like sugar the first time you taste it, indescribable. Five bright flashes from the barrel of a .308.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

SOCRATES: Whenever any of them was unchained and was forced to stand up suddenly, to turnaround, to walk, and to look up toward the light, in each case the person would be able to do this only with pain and because of the flickering brightness would be unable to look at those things whose shadows he previously saw.

Plato, Republic

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 169

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Brew

I went walking in the woods and startled a black snake. She had skin like greased leather and a head like an almond. She was basking on a bridge. When she heard me, she shot off in the direction I was heading. She was candy, licorice, strings on the back of a dress. She stopped at the edge of the bridge. There was a wooden railing to wrap around. She kept her head out of view, but I could still see her tail.

I like snakes, but my heart jumps anytime I see one.

Besides the walk, I spent most of Sunday sitting inside under the ceiling fan. Even though it’s a cooler 89 degrees, that’s still too much for me. I listened to a podcast. An NPR anchor interviewed Colson Whitehead about his new book ‘The Nickel Boys.’ It’s fiction, but based on a real correctional school in Florida that had been operating for decades. The school was known for its abuses. They brought on one of the former boarders for interview. He talked about how he was brought to a small white room on his third day and beaten with a leather whip. Later, they mentioned the unmarked graves on the schoolgrounds, and how one of the bodies had buckshot in the bones. The school was investigated numerous times but only got shot down in 2011.

There’s this milky-white wisdom we all learned in kindergarten classrooms: snakes are poison, America has her amber waves.

What makes your heart jump when you see it?

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

I could see the bird soaring away. And then I realised there was no more shutting of your eyes to the truth,no salvation in being blindfolded,no dream and reality,no being awake or asleep. Everything is one and the same continuing eternal day and world, coiling around you like a snake. This is when I saw vast , remote happiness as being small but close.

Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 166

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I watched a video of an 11-yr-old crying while she told the camera her dad’s not a criminal. This was hours after her father was arrested by ICE (along with almost 700 other brown-skinned men and women in Mississippi). She was wearing pink.

Late last week there two shootings, one in El Paso, the other in Dayton. In Texas, at least, the shooter said he was aiming for immigrants. He called them an invasion. He shot a lot of people, mostly Latinos. He was white, they weren’t.

I read a review of memoir called ‘When I Was White.” The book’s by Sarah Valentine, an author raised white in a white family, but who had a black father, and was taught from day one by her white mother to detest blackness. The review goes into this idea that since the original sin of slavery, whiteness has defined itself by ‘purity,’ the one-drop rule, etc. Valentine finds herself discovering her blackness and losing her former identity in the process.

I met a man who tiles pools. He’s black, and said he has a partner who handles the marketing.

“Why?” I asked. He struck me as a grade-A businessman.

“Because I’m a big guy. And, you know. Around here, people get worried seeing someone like me knock at their door.”

I did know.

When Cortes crossed the ocean and met the Aztecs, he fancied himself a divine visitor. And over the next three years, he cut up all the brown bodies until there was no-one left to contradict him.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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

A 7-year old body becomes
A monument to our excess aggression
On Sunday morning she became
An effigy to our excessive aggression
And our lack of suppression
And access to automatic weapons.

We didn’t pull the trigger
But we pulled the blinds down.

The Fucking Cops, Aiyana