Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 302

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Dark Roast, Don Pablo’s; my last batch of the bag; it’s been with me since Christmas and gave me a good excuse to start using my coffee grinder again; my morning rituals have turned to nighttime and I’m grinding the beans before work; like the coffee, the experience is dark, quiet, and a little lonely, but in that good way that makes you glad to bump into someone the next time you’re out

I went back to Burlington to see some friends. We ate dinner at a new Tex-Mex restaurant that took over an old, abandoned steakhouse. The steakhouse was closed most of my life, shutting it’s doors somewhere around twenty years ago, and it took all those twenty years for someone else to come in and buy it. Inside, the walls were different colors and the stereo played a bit of Latin guitar, but the place was still so much the same as to drag out my old memories. It was the kind of place that gave you bowls of peanuts, and the kind of place that didn’t care if you threw the used shells on the ground.

The one swinging door that’s kept swinging in my old hometown is restaurants. The mall dried up, so did the new shops around Alamance Crossing. Years ago it was a train town and then it was textiles but those are long gone. One sad sock factory keeps running out by Mebane. That hasn’t stopped people from moving in. New apartments go up all the time, only they aren’t for real residents, the kind you can create a community from, but bedroom divers making the day’s commute to Greensboro, a bigger city that houses their 9-to-5’s and social lives, so Burlington is just a cheaper place to sleep.

But we’ve all got to eat so the restaurants keep coming. In my lifetime, I’ve seen so many diners come and ago. Different cuisines, same locations. They just put a Cajun place where the Five Guys used to be. I’d bet a dollar it’ll be gone by next year.

It’s ghostly, maybe, a haunting, that hope keeps coming back to us, like ‘this is somewhere I can be something, start a business, catch some sales,’ only it’s too comfortable on the west-side to want to leave the plush carpets and thick doors, and too poor on the east to have the time to do anything but work at those restaurants, never eat there. Like the messy prelude to a chicken dinner, my town keeps running around with it’s head chopped off.

I ordered like I usually do at Tex-Mex: a bean burrito, a cheese enchilada, some salad and rice. I mixed it all together, topped off with the table’s salsa. It smacked of old hands working knives and spatulas, trying out another new recipe, but with the back door open, so you can see the stars, the only constant, waiting for the next twenty years of letting this lost building rest.

Currently Reading: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

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To want to own a restaurant can be a strange and terrible affliction. What causes such a destructive urge in so many otherwise sensible people?

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 266

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I got up and ground the coffee; it was heading on eight, dawn was long gone; there was a spider by the grinder, a big one; I looked her up to make sure she wasn’t poisonous and when she wasn’t I left her alone; all morning, I sat six feet away from the spider drinking my coffee, reading my book; it rained outside; I listened, she listened; it was good to be together; the coffee had a flavor like pipe smoke, and it stuck to my tongue like a phlegmy kiss

I didn’t leave the house today. It was just that sort of weather. Grey, cold, on and off rainstorm. I took the weather like a sign and kept myself in comfortable gym clothes. I had hot drinks, coffee and tea, and a beer with dinner. The apartment stayed warm.

Around noon, E started de-boning two pounds of chicken. She had a pair of scissors and blue plastic gloves. When it was finished, she threw the meat and bones into a big pot full of water and set it boiling. After a slow boil, she turned it down and left it on low. Every couple months, E makes chicken stock. When she does, the smell swallows the whole apartment. Thick, viscous, you’re walking through fog that’s two parts Kentucky fried and one part iron, that bit of dead flesh that hasn’t started rotting, a smell like nothing else. The first day’s the hardest then we get used to it. Usually, she runs the pot for half a week.

It’s late night now and the rain’s started up again. An average Saturday.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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But that cold soup stayed with me. It resonated, waking me up, making me aware of my tongue, and in some way, preparing me for future events.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 157

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I cooked a curry but really it was just some stuff I had lying around. An onion, two tomatoes, garbanzo beans, a healthy heaping of cardamom and turmeric. At first I had the burners too high so some of the onions caramelized, only they didn’t stop getting sweeter and burned black onto the pan. Too much of a good thing.

In the end, my makeshift curry matched the mood of the day: hot and scattered, but overall alright.

I talked to a guy who’d lost his job a few years ago. The company he worked for went under and out went his life savings. Since then he’s been building back up, and now he runs a few small businesses. He told me the worst decision he’d ever made was to do just one thing.

Later, I talked to a woman who’s just starting out. New job, new paycheck, looking for a way to build credit. She comes to me with a couple friends. I’ve met them all before, they move in a unit, they complement each other. Anyway, she’s got bigger dreams than I can help her with, but we have a long conversation about putting plans in motion, and she never stops being optimistic as she leaves for the door.

When I ate the curry, I couldn’t help picking out the different parts. I’d spear an onion or scoop a tomato. I had it all over rice. It was red and white and yellow, bits of green from some leftover edamame that snuck. I liked the colors. They looked good together, a complicated life.

For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 140

Hi.

Coffee: House Drip, Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant; the coffee came in a cup with three creams on the side; I’m always thrown off when restaurants give you those tiny plastic cups without you asking – like you expected this, you were owed; dreams of deep reefs gone white from sun bleach, starved fish nibbling the thin plastic sand; comfort is predicated on waste; oh, and the coffee tasted good, but not as good as I was expecting

I took my father out for a belated birthday lunch at Fiesta Ole. It’s a Mexican restaurant halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill and it used to belong to a family of restaurants called ‘Torerros’. The name changed but the menu didn’t, same big bright plates and large portions, and we all enjoyed our food.

The building was bright on the outside and dim in the middle, two stories, though the second was gutted so you could see the rafters. The booths were small but spacious and the place smelled like a fresh coat of wax. It was busy. Lots of people eating, a good sign. The way the light slipped out of the kitchen made me feel like I was being transported, a big black barge, high waters, the kind of cabin that takes you somewhere, drops you off, and leaves without looking back.

It was good to see my family. We talked like we used to. They told stories about different uncles. When the food came, we ate together and the boisterous dining hall got quieter, like the steam was a blanket, and we were making a fort from it, and this space was only for us.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The tone of the repartee was familiar, as was the subject matter, a strangely comfortable background music to most of my waking hours over the last two decades or so – and I realised that, my God… I’ve been listening to the same conversation for twenty-five years!

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 125

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

A city is only as good as its midnight skyline. Low or high, skyscrapers or endless avenues of two-story stores, the lights at night are proof of something: that it’s worth more to the people here to risk all the dangers of darkness for a few extra seconds of knowing than to sleep soundly on the ground as they were born to do. Whether by fire, wax, or LCD silver, human is the only animal that won’t settle for the setting sun.

I was up at 3am for half an hour. My head was fuzzed with dreams. I walked to the kitchen to pour a glass of water. While I was there, I looked the window. Three streetlights had an angle on the glass. The bridge across the creek was lit, and our sister building had that glow of walkway illumination, crisp and militant. It was no surprise to see so many lights on but it took me by one anyway.

I like the idea of beating back darkness. I like the idea of getting lost in it, too. There’s a surreptitiousness to pulling your curtains on a well-lit city. The world goes on without you in it. Grocery store clerks at the 24hr; midnight highway technicians; someone’s making love in the alley behind your favorite coffee shop; old men die like great trees falling, with or without anyone to watch.

Having peeked out at the ongoing bristling of 3am, I closed the bedroom door and drew the curtains, pulled a comforter up to my nose, and tried to hide from the long city fingers for the bleak back end of night.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Night falls – like a fat man tripping over his shoelaces.

Anthony Bourdain, The Layover – Atlanta

Coffee Log, Day 244

Hi.

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

I got Chinese with my roommate then went home to watch Haunting of Hill House. Everyone’s been talking it up. We popped the tops on plastic quart cartons and ran the first episode. They filmed it with a filter that makes everyone look jaundiced. All the actors and actresses looked the same. We stopped the show three times just to figure out who was who.

So anyway, I’ve got lukewarm first impressions of Hill House, but dinner was great. The lady at the restaurant always smiles when she sees me. That’s nothing special, she smiles for everyone. I ordered the Sichuan tofu. It was piping hot. At home, halfway through the show, I had a moment where I got a bit of onion and a bit of sauce, dipped it in steamed rice, and realized I’d die someday.

I’ve been thinking ‘death’ since birth. In 3rd grade I used to imagine I might get reincarnated as the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls. I’d picture myself in his body playing shows. He was the coolest person I could think of. I imagined this every night as I was going to sleep. If I didn’t, it was all cold sweats and heavy breathing, the black wall of inevitability. Like I said, I’m an over-thinker.

So it wasn’t too unusual to think about dying when the slick, red, acidic stuff touched my tongue. But the way it felt tonight was more of a ‘maybe this is okay.’ I’ve been stressed lately. Taken in full, 2018’s done a number. It’s like the third week of school: first is exciting; second’s a breeze; the third is when the tests come, and no matter how you do there’s no going back from the bright red branding of the grade. I’ve been considering next year, and the year after. I feel stretched like good leather.

After the first perfect bite I took another. Some broccoli, dipped. The rich sauce got caught in her green perm. It tasted like something that shouldn’t be so good for you. The stem snapped in my jaw. I washed her down with tapwater.

“I’m gonna die someday,” I thought, “but this is nice for now.”

We finished dinner and the episode. I feel pretty full.

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

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“…food that can burn you down to a charred, smoking little stump.” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, Sichuan episode

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Coffee Log, Day 214

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I talked to a friend who said if he had more money the only change he’d make is that he’d travel more. I talked to a retired divorcee who’s selling Triangle property to move to an aluminum cabin he built for himself in Alaska. I talked to my mother who said she’d like to see Vienna someday and my father who said if he ever got to go to Korea the first thing he’d visit is the DMZ. In college, I paid two grand to study dead cultures in Greece; in 2014, I paid about the same to teach in Japan.

Why do we try so hard to get some place where we aren’t recognized? Is it privilege? Restlessness? The wide-eyed pastures of American culture? When you look in the mirror and see pajamas, a button down, no bags packed in the periphery, where does the stress come from, the shame, the disappointment?

So many posted pictures of places you barely recognize, showing off other peoples’ lives like they’re your own. Spend one more minute alone in your own bedroom and you’ll have to reckon with what you’ve made of yourself. You only stick around when the money’s gone, only pay attention to the street of premium parking lots where there used to be someone’s backyard if you can’t afford the next ticket out of town.

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

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“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” – Anthony Bourdain

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