Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 270

Hi.

Coffee: Golden Corral Drip; it came in a plastic cup and when I asked for a refill she didn’t bring anything to pour over, she just brought me a second, so I had two cups, two coffees, oil-thin, poured from a machine; I didn’t know what to do with myself; sometimes life’s just like that, confusing you with good fortunes, like ‘what did I do to get here?’; today was good; both coffees tasted the same, loose and sweaty, burnt breadcrumbs

Happy Thanksgiving. I mean it, you know. I’m thankful.

My family and I took our holiday lunch at Golden Corral. For the past five years we’ve been eating out at this buffet in Greensboro, hosted in a Hyatt, but when we called for reservations they weren’t celebrating this year. Last minute plans limited our options and we settled on something simple – Golden Corral. A few years ago, the building in Burlington burned down but they built it back up. I have clearer memories of the old place, but today was a good day of patching them over with something new.

All week I’ve been telling people where we’re going. There’s an expectation that families will cook for Thanksgiving, but I like our years of going out. I like it because it takes the load off all of us – no stress, no cooking, no dishes; and I like it because it lets me see how other people are celebrating, which is a warm thing, knowing people when they’re engaged in something special.

Here’s what I saw:

The booths were packed families with overcrowded plates; husbands and wives, not just couples, though there were some of them too; lots of old white men in camo hats and shirts to match, though the shirts were tucked in trousers pulled up over their bellies, just the way their father taught them, a kind of Southern formal, sunshine-proper; pregnancy; there were three women who were close to term; and kids on the other end of it, young and young and younger, either plating around on their own or following fathers with bowls of bright ice-cream, delicious; I saw the waiters working overtime; a manager made small-talk with the sous chef who was fixing beef stroganofff in the back; one guy says ‘I’ll take that steak medium rare.’

Take any two or three of these people out of this picture and plop them down in the everyday and I’d wager they wouldn’t get along. But here, on Thanksgiving, everything is perfect, or close enough to it to enjoy the commotion of being in this space together. Golden Corral cooks food of all flavors of Americana, and does so in such quantity that no one dish comes out quite right. But that imperfection is part of what you’re looking for. You don’t want it to be perfect. You don’t want it to be sublime. You’re looking for something so easy it means you don’t have to interrogate yourself, or make too many judgments about your neighbor. Who cares what tastes we come with when all the food tastes the same? It’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t have had my holiday any other way.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

I really feel like I’m in America.

William Livesay (my father), while we were waiting in line at Golden Corral on Thanksgiving 2019

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 261

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

It’s been so bleak lately. I was reading an article about impeachment, it was going over the codification and standards laid out by the founding fathers, and there was this ink-print picture at the top of four men, Jefferson, Adams, sitting by a table. And I thought about what it must have been like to be fat and sweating in the 1700’s, head slipping around in a powdered wig. When it took two weeks to get a letter to where it was going, there was nothing to distract you from big, unreachable ideas.

I got gas the other day. There was a lady in a camo shirt across the pump. She looked cold, but not enough to put a coat on, and busy, but not enough to deter her from five minutes getting gas. She had a big truck, a full tank, a look like ‘I don’t need this.’ I wonder where she was going? I’ll meet her online, of course, by chance, anonymously, but never with the threat of having to get along.

Coffee thoughts. 2am string-outs, mid-morning breaks in the employee lounge. Still trying to find the best in us.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

New day yawning
Another day of solitaire
House is honest
Clearly more than I can bear
Drag me off

Audioslave, Gasoline

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 259

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

It was a bitter cold. The wind blowed like Ikea. All bluster, taupes and blues, thinner when you’re in it than looking on from the outside. I watched a small yellow dog run laps around her owner. I thought: we’re stuck together, little dog, the same home, same ground, you and me, like it or not.

I worked today. It’s a Saturday. That always throws me off. So instead here’s a story: I used to work at a coffee shop tucked up one level in a Barnes and Noble. It had its own podium, tables, chairs, but you could see the whole store so you felt both a part and apart. When it was busy, I smoked lattes off the steamer. When it wasn’t, I’d watch bits of rain come down the windows.

There was one customer who always ordered a hot cider. He came alone, mostly, once with his daughter. He had a bald head and black eyes and wore button-ups, was important, or looked that way, and his vice was the hot juice, that sugar. Unlike the other regulars he wouldn’t talk to you and if you asked his name he wouldn’t repeat it. He wasn’t sour, just stoic, looking past us, self-absorbed, but in an endearing way, like school teachers, or marble statues. Late nights, closing the cafe on a Saturday, he’d show, and we’d talk (about the order), and then he’d leave, and I’d forget about him, pass him out, pass the gallstone, until I saw him again. But now that he’s so far gone from me, I catch stories going over in my mind of his face and features, because it bugs me, wondering who he is, this person I used to see so regularly, and what he’s doing now.

That was it, the whole story. Was it alright?

Sicker winds in the evening. The kind you want to hold, wrap in blankets, inhale, a sense of camaraderie.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

On the way down the hill we walked three abreast in the cobblestone street, drunk and laughing and talking like men who knew they would separate at dawn and travel to the far corners of the earth.

Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room