Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 203

Hi.

Coffee: Small Black Coffee, McDonald’s; bought the cup at noon which wasn’t soon enough to pick my eyes up off the acid-wash road I’d been driving; at least the drive was a little easier after; I was so in need of the pick-me-up that I hardly tasted the coffee; really, I was just drinking a thin white cup and plastic lid

The last thing the city said to me was “Take a Right on Peachtree and keep going.” That’s how I left Atlanta.

I missed my post yesterday. The fourth time since starting, each time feels a little less bad. Is that a good thing? The Coffee Log came about in 2018 during a cold, disrupted February. The regularity of having every day work its way toward a keyboard helped me. But yesterday I was traveling and too filled up to put my thoughts down.

Atlanta looked like love to me. That’s to say it’s complicated. The streets were busy. Guys smoked the skyline on ashy tenth-floor balconies. My friend and tour-guide took me around town for a drive to different districts. It seemed like every corner had its murals in different colors. You danced between moods and misfortunes. Walk long enough by blossoming houses that can’t afford to root the ivy off their walls and you’ll get to a three-floored mansion, built on the backs of grandfathers, ready to take advantage of your budding affair.

But damn, it was all so beautiful.

Having taken a wrong turn past a bookstore, we routed a middling neighborhood holding up a canopy of century-old trees. In a patch of bare grass was a circle of tall red flowers. Then, a block later, I watched a woman pull a torn blue shirt onto a luckless man waiting out the hot day on crippled church steps. A different kind of love.

All of us are responsible to the ones we give our hearts to. Sometimes that can mean breathing a bit of space between you, and other times its to tape your fingers together and lift each other up. But it’s easiest to abuse what’s closest to you, your blood, partner, community, kin – it takes just a little bit of desire to put a hefty pricetag on what once was affordable housing, to – in deep rapture – take them for all they’re worth.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

T.S. Eliot, The Rock

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 182

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Brew

I got up early to go walking. I ran into a woman and her dog. The dog’s name was ‘Spock.’ I asked if he was an intergalactic traveler. She said ‘Yes.’ Spock licked my shoes.

It was a nice morning. People were out. Quite a bit cooler, overcast, waiting to rain. Later, after lunchtime, I went with E to Lazy Days in downtown Cary. It’s an art walk, a craft walk, a reason for the city to come together, and it happens each year but this is the first time I’d attended. Downtown was packed with people. There were only a few places to park. We walked by the old buildings swinging our umbrella and then we crossed the train-tracks and heard a proselytizer. He had a loudspeaker. He said ‘Give up your life of sin and reclaim your life of God.’

The food was alright. I had yuca fries for the first time. They were sweeter and softer than potatoes. After an hour, I had plans, so I left E with some friends and walked back across the train tracks on my own. I saw lots of people. Five women wearing pink on a Southern porch. A man in a Trump hat. Two college kids talking about oppression.

Next to my car were four more proselytizers, only these were buttoned up like Sunday and speaking Spanish. I don’t know if there’s a God. If you put my life on the line for it, I’d bet there isn’t. But today felt holy because everyone was out in the open – together – waiting for the rain.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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But I need to feel beautiful and holy things around me, always: music, mystery cults, symbols, myths. I need it, and I refuse to give it up… That’s my fatal flaw.

Herman Hesse, Demian

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 179

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Tonight was the last night of the Third Wednesday Open Mic. It had bounced around to different venues and traded hands with hosts long before I started going a year ago. I saw one host and two venues. We’d been reading for a few months at Fig then Fig closed. It was a sign that none of us wanted to see but we all recognized: like a divorce, you can’t force it.

No-one read tonight. Instead, we sat around a table telling stories. I was between a poet from near Fayeteville and a teacher from all over, most recently Chapel Hill. We talked about the way the South has changed. There’s a lot of new construction in the triangle. They’re tearing down malls and selling off property. Every street in Chapel Hill is becoming a canyon with the sky-rises. Meanwhile, down in Dunn, retired guys still go to the Bojangles on their tractors.

We were back at Lucky Tree. I was a drinking a hard cider. They didn’t use to serve these. The ethanol got mixing with my blood and brought me back to February, 2018. It was a Wednesday. I’d been laid off from my job in a bookstore. I was petrified and flailing. I wanted money, I wanted time. I’d been spending twenty-four hours in the house eating instant ramen and scouring classifieds. I needed something to give me back some meaning.

That first night, I brought my roommate E with me to the Open Mic. I was too scared to go alone. We walked around and got dinner before it started, then grabbed some seats at the long table outside the cafe. S was up at the podium setting everything up. I walked up and asked her where to put my name to do a reading and she showed me. She said ‘Is this your first time with us?” and I told her it was. Eight months later, I’d spend an evening in her backyard carving pumpkins and watching horror movies before Halloween.

What I’m trying to say is that the nerves wore off. Before long, Third Wednesday was a part of me. The women and men who read each evening were my kin. Whether they were regulars or one time readers, we were a part of something together.

Everything ends. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have a reason to make it matter. I’m a better writer and more full of friendship thanks to my 18 months at Third Wednesday. In the bitter winter cold I was looking for meaning, and, sure enough, I found it.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 105

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I bought a book from a local bookstore and realized I’ve been shopping more at local stores now. That made me think about my capital, disposable income, and what it means to live in a community when you have means versus when you don’t.

A few years back, I was hovering paycheck to paycheck on part-time jobs trying to write the next great American novel. I wrote the novel, no telling how great it is, but that’s a different story. I remember paying careful attention to how I spent my money back then. I remember when Wendy’s was eating out and how all my necessities came from big-box chains with sweat-shop prices. And to be fair, even then, I was living somewhat luxuriously. There were some days when my dollars didn’t have to stretch.

Here’s a fact: most local shopping is more expensive. Buy a burger at your corner store and it’s more than McDonald’s. Buy beaded dresses in town and it’s more than Wal-Mart. What does that say to the community? You can’t know your neighbors’ best work if you aren’t wealthy. You’re allowed to exist, but only in the neutral space of retail chains.

I’ll say it again: the economics of mass commerce mean the blood and soul of a place is only offered to those with the means to leave it. You earn enough not to be tied to your hometown and suddenly you can access its best features. Meanwhile, the woman across the street working two jobs at less pay than her male co-workers can’t go anywhere other than here, and yet she has no access to the fabric of the place she lives.

I bought the book and later, at a local take-out place, I tipped well, even though a tip wasn’t required. And then I drove home knowing I could just as easily drive to anywhere else.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 69

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I got dinner at a Subway run by an Ethiopian. He asked me if I was vegetarian.

“Yep,” I said.

He told me he’d tried going vegetarian but got tempted working at a deli. I told him that made sense.

We talked a little about home-cooking. He said it must be hard to not fix meat. “Where do you get your proteins?” He had his hands full with all my vegetables.

Halfway down the line, he tells me that vegetarians live longer. I think that’s a nice idea so I say it. I’ve felt better, physically, since I cut out meat. He asks if I’d considered going vegan and I say I’ve considered it but can’t pull the plug. Four obtuse triangles of pepper-jack cheese, toasted. He says I should try eating Ethiopian because it’s half meat, half vegetables, nothing else.

I left the place with a recommendation: Awaze, an Ethiopian place in Cary. I tell him I’ll try to check it out. And after the recommendation, I shook his hand, got his name. I’ll call him S, for short. S always works there. He might be the manager, or the franchisee. He’s got grey hair and square glasses. He wears steel rings. His hands don’t fit well in he small plastic gloves. He does the microwave first, then the cutter, then the toaster, then the veggies. It’s a quiet Subway, he keeps it that way. Whenever I’m there in a rainstorm, he seems at peace.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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It is the stale breath of Death on his open and vulnerable neck that immortalizes the hero, that lends a fireside story its luster.

Nega Mezlekia, The God Who Begat a Jackal: A Novel

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 298

Hi.

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

I was at this Subway for twenty minutes because it was a busy day and I needed to get back to the office. The lady at the Subway was someone I know and the guy at the Subway was someone I know. The guy’s a little odd and he knows I’ve been sick so he tells me ‘Get you some of that 100% Lysol from the Walgreens. Take some of that and it’ll clear you right out.’ I think he meant something other, but I figure Lysol would do a certain kind of trick in that it would cut out the sickness and probably everything else I’ve got going for me alongside.

The lady was easier. She just liked to talk about her Christmas plans.

You eat alone in a corner at 3:00pm while the kids come in and out from the High School. You’re not really alone because you never really are. Hard to know if that’s a good or bad thing.

Novel Count: 6,268

Currently Reading: Nothing! Done with Cherry, still deciding on the next book.

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