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

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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

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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

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 135

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was talking to the manager of the subway about problem customers.

“There was this lady an hour ago,” he says. “She sees me making four subs. I am the only one working. When I am on the second sub, she asks me what’s taking so long.” The guy pauses like he’s told a story before. “I think she’s joking, of course. But she’s not joking. I see it in her face. She says very loudly I’m making her late.”

“And? Does she get a sub?”

“No, she leaves first.”

We move down the conveyor belt. My sub’s done toasting and I tell him to add all the veggies. This guy’s from Ethiopia, gave me the name of a good vegetarian restaurant I haven’t had the chance to try. What I’m saying is, we know each other, but we’re on a last-name basis.

At the sauce, he says: “The worst customer I ever had was two years ago. He was an old man. He was taking a long time. There were other customers. I asked him to move if he needed to decide, he wouldn’t move. Then he asks me if there is anyone else working and I tell him it is only me. And he says: “Well then I’m leaving because I don’t want my food being made by a foreigner.””

It’s the kind of moment you wish you had a stress ball to demolish but you don’t so you’re standing there, locking eyes with this guy, still smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling, like my muscles were in shock.

“That’s awful,” I told him. “And pretty damn un-American.”

But there’s a happy ending, or at least a silver lining: the customers in line behind the old man cussed him out. And the next day they brought the Subway manager home-baked cookies; and the day after that they brought him a giant cardboard card signed by a 150 people who work in the shopping center saying how happy they are he’s a part of the community.

“That card is still hanging in my home,” he said.

I paid for the sub and shook his hand. His fingers were strong enough to slice a hundred loaves of bread.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.

Victor Hugo, The Memoirs of Victor Hugo

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 134

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee

I knew an old guy whose daughter died to a heroin addiction. The addiction didn’t kill her directly – a 9mm bullet did – but it was the heroin that bought the guns in the first place.

This old guy lived beside my parents. He wore denim jeans and plaid shirts. He couldn’t afford the electric bill after his daughter died and he couldn’t see shit anyway so he sat in the dark. Or, on nice days, he sat outside.

The old guy had a moped. He’d lost his license and his truck didn’t have tags anyway. One night, some guys broke in – friends of his daughters’ – and stole parts off the moped. One of them gun-stocked him hard enough to break skin. Needless to say, the moped stopped working, so sometimes he’d ask my dad for a ride. And since this was years ago and I was living at home, sometimes he’d ask me too.

The old guy’s favorite place to go was the homeless shelter. Not because he got half his food there (which he did) but because there was this lady two decades younger he called his girlfriend. She was playing him – I saw it, my dad saw it, hell, the old guy probably did too. On two separate occasions she stole his flip-phone. But he said he loved her and he went so far as to help her get a job at Wal-Mart (which she promptly lost). This was after they’d broken up. That shortcake-with-the-strawberries kind of love.

Eventually, the landlord managing the old guy’s house wanted him out. He was late on the rent and bad news for the neighborhood. In the middle of the night, the landlord drove out and stapled a sign on the front door that said the building had been condemned. It was pink paper, light ink, not a lot of dollars spent for the notice.

Well, the old guy moved. He wasn’t quite evicted but when a building gets condemned there’s not much more to do but go. He had no relatives and had made enemies with his girlfriend’s folk at the homeless shelter. One day, he hopped in a taxi and that was it.

A month or so after he was gone, the condemnation notice mysteriously disappeared.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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And when they slowed down, the fallen leaves in the forest seemed to make even the ground glow and burn with light.

Malcolm Lowry, October Ferry to Gabriola

Coffee Log, Day 356

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I read an article in the News & Observer about an art exhibit at the Cary Senior’s Center. Not exactly the Guggenheim, but no less important.

Anyway, here’s the short of it: Bing Weng is an artist from China. She comes to Cary last October to visit her daughter. While here, she gets a gig to show 38 paintings at the Senior Center. A couple weeks before the show, the center pulls three of the paintings. They display Xi Jinping with a dark hand over Asia. They are political, overtly. The rest of her work is mostly floral. It’s apolitical, overtly. The director says the works weren’t ‘consistent’ with her other pieces. And of course there were two public complaints.

America, right? Land of Freedom. You can say anything as long as it doesn’t say anything. But life’s not all roses. It’s the sun, the soil, the bugs that eat the roses, too. And why would you want to think about that?

It’s a popular line to say we’re too politically correct in 2019. And the opposite’s got some traction too, that our rhetoric is vile. I think those sentiments come from the same place: fear. We’ve been sitting comfortably for some time (those on the fortunate fringes, anyway). No need to worry about crushing poverty or oppression or global war. Those things happen where you can’t see them. And our culture wants to keep them there, because the minute you’re made to see the wretched green animals stalking around your garden, you’re damned with cowardice or apathy if you don’t stand up to do something about them.

But what do I know? I’m just another flower-painter.

Novel Count: 23,930

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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“When I am in China, I have no freedom of speech, so I couldn’t paint political work,” she said.

Bing Weng, quoted by Joe Johnson, ‘Chinese artist’s exhibit in Cary is missing 3 paintings. The town says they’re too political.’

Coffee Log, Day 315

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

A bright, busy Wednesday.

What does it say about a country that shuts its own government down? Nothing much good, I imagine. We’re going on two weeks of this mess. No end in sight, no stomach for communication or compromise.

I’ve got this unnerving theory that culture is what keeps a people together. That must seem obvious. And at first blush, probably pretty good. ‘Culture’ calls to mind nice things like unwrapping Christmas packages or eating franks at a baseball game. Its variety is why we travel: to voyeur other people doing things quite differently than us, to revel in their accomplishments without any responsibility.

But there’s a dark side to culture. It is inherently exclusive. To gather round the holiday fire, you all have to agree to set one. And if you don’t agree, then you’re cast as the ‘other.’

In America, we have this dream of perfect individual freedom. We’ve never quite gotten there, but it’s the dream all the same. But as we inch closer and closer to realizing that kind of freedom, it necessarily involves breaking those ties that held us to rigid institutions – some of them as malevolent as racial prejudice; others, caught up in the process, as necessary as community holidays.

So we may be more free but we’re freely suspicious. It’s harder to look across the street and take anything about that other pedestrian for granted: you don’t know that he’s progressive, christian, believes in gun rights, only eats fish on Fridays. And not knowing any of those touchstones – big or small – makes it hard to approach him.

So it is with congress. As a reflection of our best (and worst) selves, no-one trusts each other; and even if they do, they understand themselves as the ‘other,’ at best a worthy opponent, not a comrade.

I don’t have an answer for this. Humanity help us.

Novel Count: 9,909

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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Keep your language. Love its sounds, its modulation, its rhythm. But try to march together with men of different languages, remote from your own, who wish like you for a more just and human world.

Helder Camara, Spiral of Violence

Coffee Log, Day 260

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

We took a family trip to Williamsburg, VA when I was about 9yrs old. They’ve got this preserved, colonial town, a sort of streetcorner museum. I loved it. Back then (and lets be honest, even now) I was enamored with fantasy. I wanted to get lost in other people from other times.

My favorite part of the trip was the militia trainer. He was this big guy in boots and stockings with a long, messy beard. He got us kids in two lines. He gave us wooden toy muskets. We were led on drills to fill the powder, stuff the barrel, aim, fire. I hadn’t known that kind of power before. I took the toy gun home and played with it religiously.

America plays with her guns religiously.

The news is plastered with the shooting at the Thousand Oaks nightclub. Not so many details yet, but the guy comes in with a .45 pistol and picks targets. It’s awful, a tragedy, to be sure. Middle class white pundits wail and scream.

But the sad or sobering reality is: this shit happens everyday, it just doesn’t dress itself up for a captive audience.

There were 11,004 gun homicides in America in 2016. Most of those you’ve never heard of because they’re small, one-on-one, domestic. More importantly, they tend to happen to people in the margins: Jon and Chuck who hustle opioids in the podunk town the mills foreclosed on; all those black or brown kids in the urban south whose schools you keep defunding. What makes some lives matter more than others? Is it prejudice, greed?

America wants to watch the show. We want to see rich white purity cast in red horror so we can find someone to rail against. Freddy and Jason, a slasher flick. We want a cause, a commotion, an anxiety bigger than ourselves. But when the answer is right beside us – as simple as putting more dollars to the most marginalized of our neighbors, funding food security and infrastructure instead of a flailing gun debate that only acknowledges dramatic victims – we get bored and turn the TV off.

Novel Count: 6,839 words

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“I flashback on that shootout at the beach, twenty deep
You tried to squeeze, your gun jammed and they released
Blood on your tee, how many stains? I see three
The bitch started to panic so I made her switch seats
Drivin’ now, police chopper ahead flyin’ now
Really not too spooked, calmly asked me, “Am I dyin’ now?”
All I know is keep you calm and collected.” – Nipsey Hussle, Blue Laces 2

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