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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Coffee Log, Day 288

Hi.

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

I bought figures and a game book at the local hobby shop for a DnD campaign I’m running. The store was busy. They were hosting tabletop games.

I like places where people feel comfortable to be themselves. There was a lot of cheering, a lot of laughing at the store. Community is valuable and hard to come by.

I’m writing this in the Chinese joint I frequent. It’s my second trip this week. I’m with two friends, we’re just about the only ones in here. It smells like fat and salt. The lady at the counter knows my order.

A cold whipped Saturday night. Winter storms on the way. In food or games, we wait for the sky to harden and crack apart together. A little warmer this way.

Novel Count: 15,980 words

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

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I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living. – Dr. Seuss

Coffee Log, Day 284

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I couldn’t remember if I’d ever had it and now that I’ve tried it I know that I had; it’s sweet on the first gulp, sour on the second, and by the end of the pot your insides are grumbling like two old men arguing about Nationalism.

I spent half an hour in a Target yesterday trying to find some face cream. We’re getting to winter, the dry cold breaks me out.

The Target was already packed for the holidays. One of the clerks told me they were having a 10% off giftcard sale, so maybe that’s why. It’s a big store, one of those they like to slap ‘super’ on the side of, but even so the aisles were jammed and frustrated families were snagging their carts together. In other words, nothing special for the season.

I’ll tell you a secret: I like those sorts of crowds. I like the sounds of it: all those voices stacked together like a layer cake. I like the nervous energy, the coy competition, the fervor around a bright yellow sticker with a price on it. I’m sure there’s a bucketfull of issues about consumerism and wage inequality stuck in there (some of which I’ve probably brought up on this very blog), but despite that, the holiday department store is the closest thing you get to a communal event in modern America and I’ll take what community I can get.

I found the face cream on an aisle I thought I’d already been down. It was hiding beside a few bottles of shampoo.

Novel Count: 14,846 words

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

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When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.

Sophie Kinsella


Coffee Log, Day 274

Hi.

Coffee Tea: Earl Grey, Bigelow; still having filter issues. Working on it!

The night got so cold there’s condensation on my window. Never been able to resist drawing finger-faces in it.

I guess we’re headed for another winter. There’s that come-down after Thanksgiving, the year-end doldrums, where everyone’s out and frantic for the holidays but also frantic because they know another year’s about to end. It’s an even mix of optimistic and rattled. I like the energy.

One thing I didn’t mention about my trip home yesterday was how dilapidated East Burlington looks to me know. It’s always been run down, but the modern economy has further stripped its stores. There were plans to turn the old rail junction into a supermarket. Those plans were scrapped so now the lot is not only big and empty but full of dirt mounds and deep holes, all of it grown over with nosehairs of green grass.

It’s been going this way for a while: suck all the money out of your physical footprint, keep a presence in the affluent areas, throw the rest of your resources online. Retail’s not what it used to be. Yes, the economy might be doing great in aggregate, but it’s leaving more and more holes in its pockets. What’s a community when it’s stripped of communal spaces?

They closed the Wendy’s I’d been going to since 5 years old. In its place is a local burger joint. I didn’t visit, but I imagine the burners going, the smell of dead beef flicking up in gas fire. There’s an old man by the window. There’s a family of three, two kids and a single father. There’s a woman on her lunchbreak from the Wal-Mart. Real and local. Still thriving. I can only hope it lasts.

Novel Count: 11,888 words

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

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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’