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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Coffee Log, Day 252

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; when it sits out a few hours, good and cold, and you grab a mouthful and hold it there on the back of your tongue, it tastes real good; new pair of shoes.

I spoke with a middle-aged lady in a denim dress with black cropped hair. She had teacher’s glasses, or maybe librarian’s. Her posture was prime. Her figure was a stick. I asked her if she’d had a nice Halloween.

“Oh,” she says, “We don’t do that. We celebrate Reformation Day.”

And we looked each other dead-on and it was awkward for a sec.

2018 doesn’t teach you how to talk to people. Sure, there’s lots of communication – texts, message boards, the meet-up you do every other Wednesday at the pool bar – but there’s no art to flapping your lips at the familiar. We’ve gotten so good at finding the like-minded to give our time that we’re blindsided when someone with different views comes along. In some ways, I imagine it’s always been so. People are tribal. You stick to your tribe. But I also think that old cave-carving tradition of huddling around a fire and waving sticks at whoever approaches is comically sad.

So I said: “Oh yeah? I’m not familiar. What’s involved with Reformation Day?”

Stick lady lit up. You could tell she was gearing for a fight and this was something other. Her little lips went northward and I watched those glasses bob. Pretty soon, though, she straightened herself and started talking: “Well, it has to do with Martin Luther.”

This much I had gathered. What I hadn’t, though, is that she sits the whole family down in a warm den. There’s a movie on, something Christian, and her husband watches with the kids while she gets things ready. In the kitchen, she’s working a special kind of magic. She files a pretzel to a mock stake ‘like so,’ bakes a big sheet of rice krispy treats, and carefully writes out Luther’s Theses in sweet syrup. When it’s done, they pause the movie and share the meal and talk about a radical faith that’s far removed from anything I believe, but they talk about it earnestly.

When they’re done, it’s another night in bed, another morning, and here we are together, me and her, having had two separate celebrations but sharing the same air, the same blood, the same label of ‘America’ with all it’s horrors and glories.

I thanked her for the story. She started walking. When she was almost out the door, I said “Happy Reformation Day.”

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

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“‎What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and work flow.” – Martin Luther

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Coffee Log, Day 249

Hi.

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

It’s a certified fact that I live in a country that spent $320,000 on coffee mugs for the Air Force at $1200 a piece, just since 2016. Chew on that for a second.

It was too windy to be comfortable outside and too bright-hot in the car to be comfortable with the air off so I took lunch in the office today. I read news. I got caught by budget articles. There was a Senate review led by Grassley on unnecessary expenditures. When they were interviewing the Air Force rep about the mugs, the initial estimate coming out of Grassley’s mouth was $56K. It was the rep who had to correct the figure to six times that much. There was no conclusion to the story, only a lot of talk on how the mugs were self heating and had secret military tech to plug into the jets. Grassley told him to fix it and he said they’d started 3D printing the handles for repairs. Turns out – like thick fudge icing on the gooiest cake – these cups have their handles break at alarming rates.

Meanwhile, Trump’s upped the military force at our Southern border to 5200. They’ve got vests and guns and camo and presumably a lot of hours teaching them the right ways to shoot a man. Meanwhile, the migrant migration is down to 3500. That’s one-and-a-half armed soldiers to every scared, starved, landless mother or father or three-year-old with a bit of freedom stuck in their eye, and that’s 5200 self-heating, highly classified coffee mugs to keep the soldiers’ drinks warm. If you’re only counting dollars, that’s a maximum of $6,240,000 on mugs alone (and really, we might as well give each of them a mug, right? Fair is fair). Meanwhile, the cost in our collective American conscience is much higher.

I have that afternoon daydream of $320,000 of opportunity wrapped in white beds and red cooked food and blue immigration Visas, but like daylight in the winter, it quickly fades.

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

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Grassley: The 60th Aerial Port Squadron at Travis Air Force Base has reportedly spent $56,000 on replacing hot cups since 2016. How many cups have been purchased by the Air Force during this timeframe, and what is the total cost of these purchases?

Wilson: The item in question is a specially manufactured electronic water-heater that plugs into aircraft systems. Because it connects to the aircraft, replacements require FAA airworthiness certification. The Air Force has purchased 391 of these items since 2016 at a total cost of $326,785 …” – taken from a Business Insider article by ; Article

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Coffee Log, Day 248

Hi.

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

I was in line for an hour behind a short, pretty, blue-haired girl and a family of three. The family was a dad and two girls. The girls were reading books and blowing bubbles. The sun was out. Everyone looked comfortable. We were all waiting to vote.

For sixty minutes, it’s like I knew America again: the friend who moved, your favorite lunch in Elementary, the windows in the old office where you could watch crowds going down to the Subway, everything plain and normal but lovely, unabashed composure, five cents until the dollar that buys bread, hope, grit, confidence, respect. Whoever saw me saw a dumb big grin and eyes that were going everywhere. The kids peeked between their father’s arms. Blue-hair was talking priceless on her cell trying to pawn off an old car.

I’m in love with America, that thirsty love that sees water in a desert. It isn’t healthy, isn’t often returned, but unlike with the complexities of another person – a man or woman you’re pushing too hard to fit your dreams to – America belongs to me as much as I belong to it. It’s a self-love, a vanity, desiring the world to look like me on my best days instead of lost or hungover, wanting to pick up and dust his shoulders when he’s gotten down, wanting to reckon him to all the mistakes he’s made. Like nights on a bender, America gets away from me. But every now and then I catch up.

Early voting’s drawn record crowds in NC. People speak when you push them hard enough.

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

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“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Coffee Log, Day 195

Hi.

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

My bank branch flies it’s flag at half-mast for John McCain. I remember my Grandmother voting McCain in the primary against Bush. The man had a long American history. He stood for some things I disagree with, some that I do agree with. In ten years, what will we remember him for?

One of the vipers of democratic progress is the gradual dismemberment of heroes. No-one is perfect. Everyone keeps skeletons packed in closets. With more information and a greater appetite for justice, we begin – rightfully – pulling those skeletons out. This leads to underrepresented voices being heard. Dig enough, though, and who’s left to look up to?

A friend said “McCain doesn’t deserve the praise.” He’s right, of course. It’s important to know John the man as much as John the hero, just as it’s important to know our founding fathers were wicked men holding other men in bondage. But strip all the heroes to their wet, naked sin and what do we have left to look up to?

That’s an open question. I don’t have an answer.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“Glory belongs to the act of being constant to something greater than yourself, to a cause, to your principles, to the people on whom you rely and who rely on you” – John McCain

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Coffee Log, Day 174

Hi.

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

On the way to work, I caught a report on NPR: an unaccompanied minor detention facility in Shenandoah, VA has been cleared of all allegations of child abuse; incidentally, the inspection that cleared them also documented cases of migrant children restrained to chairs with mesh bags placed over their heads.

So anyway, I turned the station to 102.1, heard the bass thump, hip-hop and traffic, it was blue skies with gray clouds, later in the day it rained. I worked eight hours. I clocked cash, counted time. My coworkers: vibrant. If it was busy, we worked well together. If it was slow, we shot the breeze.

If you google pictures of the Shenandoah facility (which I did) you see a pack of picketers outside a building that could just as easily be a library. It’s blue there too, though I guess the kids don’t see it, and someone’s trimmed the bushes, though I guess the kids don’t see it, and even though there were only fifty protestors it’s still something, waving signs in solidarity like high-school colorguard, done in the honor of kids who won’t see it because they’ve got mesh bags on their heads and tight straps on their legs.

I’d packed lunch. Pasta – red sauce, soy chorizo – I sat in the break room while the microwave spun the plastic container. Beep! My phone was on, it’s always on, I texted two friends while I ate the pasta then I took a walk through the parking lot where the rain had stopped and the lot was cool, a good breeze. I sat in the car and listened to five more minutes of NPR but they were doing a food show. I turned it back to 102.1 and swiped Tinder; pretty smiles, so many possibilities for a Friday night I can afford to flick them away forever.

On Google, the other pictures of the holding facility lacked protesters but the building still looked like a library. Long, angular, brick. A trim sign. It’s fitting, really: a house of knowledge; kids learning important lessons: if you’re young, poor, friend and fatherless, the Land of the Free tins you in a confinement can, bags you like an execution, ties up your dignity, then signs off on it.

Cleared of abuse.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” – George Washington
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Coffee Log, Day 158

Hi.

Coffee: India Extra Bold Roast, Cafe Crema

I went to see the Wirligigs in Wilson. For those that don’t know, Vollis Simpson – a Wilson County native – spent his retirement creating massive metal whippets and doodads, colorful, wind-catching, made to sparkle and spin. He was a farmer by birth, soldier by necessity, and mechanic by trade. Before his death, people were buying his whirligigs and sticking them in art museums.

The park was flat ground with an amphitheater, not all that big. The Whirligigs sat around like old dogs surviving summer. Though it was cloudy, there wasn’t much wind and not much was spinning. I walked one full circle of the park, passing three old couples and two women holding hands. It was ghost-quiet. Around us, old brick buildings squatted in differing states of disrepair.

I left the park. I drove through the city, I wanted to see the place that inspired Simpson’s work. I saw a lot of dilapidated houses and chipped paint. There was a big bright BB&T building, but even it looked worn. A wooden train station was packed with people who didn’t have the time to think about appearances, slumped on old benches, struggling to find shade in the holey awning. Across the tracks, police courted a black neighborhood.

Wilson is the unspoken truth of America. She’s put the prom dress down, wiped the make-up away, closed the door on media suitors. She’s not the pastoral daisy of the Right or the verdant commune of the Left. She’s not a hard-working town, a bustling city, the techy suburbs. She’s a place that had it’s prime fifty years ago, one perfect dance under the starlight. Now it’s morning.

There was art everywhere in the City. Black murals on black churches; a series of photographs that caught glints of Civil Rights. According to the census, Wilson is an almost even split white and black. Driving around, all the white faces popped up around the suburbs, the city-center was all black. There were newer buildings in the suburbs, better roads, but it’s one claim to culture was the catch-all of a bloated Wal-Mart. In that way, Wilson is also America: white men and women cling to money whispering into it a faded, fifty-year dream; meanwhile, minorities wrestle with the deck stacked against them after all this time. We voted well in the 60’s, but no-one’s ever learned how to talk to each other. A fractured past, two trauma’s separated by train-tracks, forgotten in a world that sold it’s shipping overseas.

Simpson’s sculptures didn’t do much for me when I was standing under them, but they made more sense after my drive through the city. They were brilliant, vibrant, but sterile. Some moved limply, others simply wanted to move. As a young man, Simpson fought in WWII; he came home to watch the world change. In all substantial ways, America looks better – even in 2018 – than she had in the prime-time years of the 50’s. But the reckoning took a toll. Some of us – those lucky by birth, money, skin, whatever – live on the cutting edge future. The rest of America is Wilson – a beautiful post-depression, grappling with the grief of knowing what precious looks like but never knowing how to open her hands wide enough to hold it.

Tall wild metal, spinning and spinning.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I guess it’ll just rust and fall down when I’m gone.” – Vollis Simpson, interview in the New York Times from 2010

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Coffee Log, Day 140

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; I know I’m getting boring. I’ve been busy, my checkbook’s been busy. I’ll try something new this weekend!

Two black women come into the branch. Mother and daughter, the girl’s in high school. We talk about the heat, AC. Mom needs to open a business account. She goes to our manager’s office. Daughter sits on one of our froofy chairs and checks her phone.

Afterwards, three fat white men come in. They’re regulars. “Hey!” my colleagues say, brightly. First guy’s got a deposit. He’s pink as insulation. His head’s bald. He talks about the shave. He shaves his head often, sometimes his girlfriend does it. Last time she shaved for him, she rubbed raw and left some scabs. He waves his hands big. He doesn’t smile. “Almost hit her with the pine switch,” he says.

I’d been listening. I’d been smiling. And I didn’t say a damn thing to him.

Given my position, I don’t know whether or not I should have – customers, etc. I did glare at him. He caught that, we both looked away. I felt bad for the girl. I looked at her too. We were both too confused to sit our eyes together long. I kept to myself after that. When the men left, I didn’t know what to say. When the women left, “Have a good one,” was the best I could come up with.

Anyway, that’s growing up a girl in America: come to the bank with your mother to celebrate her success, hear strange men laughing about gender violence.

We’ve all got to do better.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Yes, we love the good men in our lives and sometimes, oftentimes, the bad ones too- but that we’re not in full revolution against the lot of them is pretty amazing when you consider this truth: men get to rape and kill women and still come home to a dinner cooked by one.” – Jessica Valenti, Sex Object: A Memoir

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Coffee Log, Day 133

Hi.

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

How can I celebrate America in 2018?

It was ’07; July; I was away for the summer at Governor’s School, a preppy, open-minded camp for academic kids in NC. I had a roommate I rarely saw, a kid who liked swimming and tennis and picking his nose. One night, before going to bed, he talked about the French Revolution. He’d been learning about it in some seminars. He said the French had it so much better than the Americans, chopping heads, etc etc. I told him he was wrong. The kid kept me up for two hours while we argued. He was so convinced that neither of us were allowed to sleep.

Anyway, what I told him was: America’s ideals are perfect. We stand for an optimistic freedom. We give everyone equal power, equal voices, and believe so much in the good in people that we have confidence in a collective outcome.

In 2018, that collective looks shaky. We claw at each other. The one value of our current civil strife is that it’s showing us just how far from the American ideal we’re sitting. Much of the country’s never known equality; those who did knew it the way ancient Athens did – that ‘freedom’ means rich and ‘equal’ means man.

My family likes to brag that one of our ancestors rode the boat with Washington when he crossed the Delaware. I’m skeptical of the story’s veracity, but not of it’s message: revolution’s in my blood. On this Fourth of July, I’ll keep my eyes open and chest poked out. I’ll believe in the America a bunch of immigrant landowners accidentally dreamed up two hundred fifty years ago, not the country she’s turned out to be.

Donate to RAICES, vote in November, talk to your neighbor, film the cops.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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