Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 158

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

A lady flicked me off in my office. Well, she wasn’t flicking me off, exactly, but it still sort of felt like it. We were trying to get her accounts straight. Unexpected expenses, overdraws, that sort of thing. So I try to get to know her and she’s in some kind of uniform so I ask about her job. She tells me she’s doing hotel work. She tells me that the work never stops.

“They’ve gone through three general managers in the last year.”

There’s a rough patch of skin on her neck. It looks like a series of cigarette burns. My eyes keep going for it, but I try to pull them back.

As we’re getting down to business, I go through her information – confirming correct phone numbers, addresses, that sort of thing. We come back around to talking about her job, and about her salary, and she tells me it should be five thousand higher, but her bosses keep denying her a raise. That’s when she gets angry.

“So I tell them, ‘I know what I’m doing, I don’t deserve this,’ I’m looking for another job. But I need the money so I don’t let them fire me. I just need them to get off my nut-sack.”

What I WANT to tell her is: “I’m on your side, you deserve something better, fuck a world that treats people this way,” but instead I say “Sounds real awful. Hope you find something better soon.”

Devil’s in the details, and she knows it too, because that sets her off.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, “we’ll see.” She pulls out her fingers. She’s flicking off her third GM, the hotel, this whole horrible system that pays people less and less for their labor, doubly so if they’re a woman, and of course – rightfully – she’s flicking off the part I play in all that. Because to her, I’m just the banker who left her with ‘better wishes,’ not the soldier standing beside her on the frontlines of social change.

I hope I gave her useful advice, at least. Some help with her finances, a better outlook down the road. I want and need to believe in that possiblity, to let the belief that I can be something positive set my pillow to it’s cooler side at night. But in the end, I’m not the one to judge that.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Butter was plastered on to the roll with no regard for the hard labor of the cow.

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 155

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

I caught myself longing for better days. Days when temperatures were cooler, nights lasted longer, I could hold my liquor like a wet tongue. You know, those times when it was easier to ignore everything outside the front door.

But ‘better’s’ only better in a selfish sense.

There was this night in Munakata. I thought I could fly. Some Japanese men were drinking whiskey on the back porch of the campground lounge. We all passed the bottle, loosening our tongues up until we tried speaking each other’s language. It was just me and J at first, then other Americans joined. I downed half a bottle of Suntory. Everything seemed simple. Then one of the men asked this Blonde to take her shirt off.

The easiest high is at someone else’s expense.

Last night, at the same park I watched a kid work magic at, there was this older guy, Latino, hair in braids. He started out singing the best sounds to the saxophone music. His voice was that extra shot in the cocktail, just enough to breeze past the bitters. I watched him dance around in the background until he caught eyes on a girl in a white jumper. He walks up like he knows her. He shouts something that could have been her name. But it wasn’t her name so when he put his hand on her shoulder she jumps backward. Her eyes were shucked, she clammed up, ran to join her friends.

Life is only nice on one side of the coin. If you get it while it’s heads, someone else will grab tails. And more often than not, that someone has a bit less socially prescribed luck than you.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The fish is my friend too…I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars. Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. But imagine if a man each day should have to try to kill the sun? We were born lucky; he thought

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 135

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was talking to the manager of the subway about problem customers.

“There was this lady an hour ago,” he says. “She sees me making four subs. I am the only one working. When I am on the second sub, she asks me what’s taking so long.” The guy pauses like he’s told a story before. “I think she’s joking, of course. But she’s not joking. I see it in her face. She says very loudly I’m making her late.”

“And? Does she get a sub?”

“No, she leaves first.”

We move down the conveyor belt. My sub’s done toasting and I tell him to add all the veggies. This guy’s from Ethiopia, gave me the name of a good vegetarian restaurant I haven’t had the chance to try. What I’m saying is, we know each other, but we’re on a last-name basis.

At the sauce, he says: “The worst customer I ever had was two years ago. He was an old man. He was taking a long time. There were other customers. I asked him to move if he needed to decide, he wouldn’t move. Then he asks me if there is anyone else working and I tell him it is only me. And he says: “Well then I’m leaving because I don’t want my food being made by a foreigner.””

It’s the kind of moment you wish you had a stress ball to demolish but you don’t so you’re standing there, locking eyes with this guy, still smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling, like my muscles were in shock.

“That’s awful,” I told him. “And pretty damn un-American.”

But there’s a happy ending, or at least a silver lining: the customers in line behind the old man cussed him out. And the next day they brought the Subway manager home-baked cookies; and the day after that they brought him a giant cardboard card signed by a 150 people who work in the shopping center saying how happy they are he’s a part of the community.

“That card is still hanging in my home,” he said.

I paid for the sub and shook his hand. His fingers were strong enough to slice a hundred loaves of bread.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.

Victor Hugo, The Memoirs of Victor Hugo

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 131

Hi.

Coffee: House Blend, Ithaca Coffee Company; It’s been a long time since I’ve ground my morning coffee; I’ve gotten in the habit of drinking the work stuff, or splurging for out-of-housers on my days off; today, I wanted to feel that old sensation of tiring my arms out, and I’ve still got some of these beans my friend gave me a month ago, so I put my all into it; the coffee came out tasting like green beans fresh off the vine

There’s a puppy in the apartment. His name is Gus. He’s my roommate’s brother’s dog and we’re watching him while they’re out of town. This morning, I was up before anybody and went to pet him in his sleeping-crate. He gnawed on my fingers with prickly puppy teeth.

I walked by the pool today and saw people sunbathing. Storm clouds came but they stayed there, bearing the heat and imminent rain, cooking on the grill, exposing their right to live here freely, embracing independence with burned bodies.

It’s the 4th of July – a celebration of America’s independence. I haven’t done much to celebrate. A friend posted a link to the Declaration so I read it. I saw how it said all ‘men’ are this and that, equal and free, etc, etc, and couldn’t help but remember my time studying Classics in college, ancient Athenian law, where there was a functioning Democracy with extensive freedoms for all citizens, only ‘citizen’ was a small category that included only Athenian-born men.

I grew up loving the sound of ‘America,’ and have grown old getting more and more skeptical of what I hear. When we celebrate, what are we celebrating? An old dim dream? Or something you can put your arms around?

There are children being caged on American soil. And I’m not just talking about the migrant communities. In a country of for-profit prisons, can we really celebrate freedom each year?

More work to be done.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…

Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 26

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I heard a woman talking on the NC State University radio about wanting to go vegan and straight edge because choosing to reject what the world tells you to put into your body is the purest form of rebellion. I see her point. However, something about that notion – the rejection of the world – makes me sad. It means the world is worth rejecting.

I watched the Google press conference on their new games streaming service, Stadia. They talked about architecture and data centers and how you’ll eliminate the need for any kind of hardware requirements on the user. Music’s streaming, movies are streaming, why not games? It sounds like a democracy, like it’s giving everyone the opportunity to do something only a very few could do before. But the hands holding that democracy are the most bloated, ubiquitous tech and data giant in the world.

Ever been to Rome? Did you see the colloseum? How about any other handful of ancient monuments? Well, most of those were built by Emperors. In the ancient world, a surefire way to hold your power as a tyrant was to build lavish public works. Everyone’s happy and equal. Unless you disagreed with your lord, then you lose your head. But I can’t stress enough that it was the TYRANTS – not the Roman Republic or Athenian Democracy – that placed protections on the livelihood of the lowest common denominator.

That’s the rub, eh? We all want to have our cakes and eat ’em. Forks at the ready. We want to be free to rule ourselves, but when we vote together, it’s so easy for the majority to manipulate things into existence like ‘segregation’ or ‘apartheid.’ We want the security from injustice, but when we place our hopes in the righteous fist of absolute power, it’s so easy for that fist to crush the people at the margins who just won’t play ball.

What’s right? What’s wrong? It’s not so simple.

I don’t think I’ll ever become a vegan. Long gone are my high school days of being straight-edge. And I’ll probably buy into Stadia if it’s a cheap, easy solution. At the same time, I know I’ve got a golden lap, a wine-drunk fountain, the fortune of American dollars and white skin. I can participate in the oligarchy or autocracy in equal easy measure. For me – and people like me – there’s never been a difficult choice. That’s the real injustice.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.

Plato, The Republic


Coffee Log, Day 276

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I vacuumed the apartment. I started at 4:30pm. I turned all the lights on. I turned the fans on, opened the windows, opened the deck but kept the screen closed. It took about an hour. No-one else was home.

Growing up, my mother did all the cleaning. We were a house of hippies but that didn’t stop the creep of gender norms. I had few chores aside from mowing the lawn and even that I didn’t start until 8 or 9. I kept my toys put away and my bed more or less made. I was responsible for my space but no-one else’s.

Our vacuum is an upright. It’s got a re-usable canister that needs frequent dumping. It stinks when you run it and gets hot as a tea kettle. The cord is long and slippery and there’s no good method of keeping it out of the way. An awkward job. Bad as our footwork was, me and the cleaner made do.

I had a conversation a a couple years ago that changed me. I was sitting in a diner with M. We were coming back from a weekend trip. I don’t remember how the conversation came up, but we were talking feminism and gender roles. We talked about that a lot so maybe the words had just waylaid us. Anyway, I was asking her to tell me if I ever slipped up – if I was dipping into the patriarchal culture that raised me. She got quiet. Then she got upset. And she told me that was the worst trick of all: asking to be lead to justice by a woman’s hand; abjugating your own responsibility; doing the chores when you’re asked, but never taking the initiative; placing the mental burden for equality squarely on a woman’s shoulders.

There’s no framework for a good life. It’s a tremendous privilege to expect someone else to determine what needs doing.

After an hour, the apartment was clean. A few years ago, I would have been at a loss. I would have waited for a woman in my life to ask it of me. Or, barring that, I would have been slobbering for praise when it was done. That’s how you’re raised as an American boy: pampered, on a velvet pillow, with all the world revolving you like the sun.

That’s still in me. It always will be. It’s surely in many of you. But in the end the world believed Copernicus, and you saw yourself as just another planet, one with a blind arrogance to atone for.

Novel Count: 12,212 words

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

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I like upright vacuums. I think canisters are like dragging a dead pig through the house on the end of a rope.

Don Aslett, People Magazine, 1990 interview


Coffee Log, Day 224

Hi.

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

I read a New York Times Magazine article about contemporary art. It started at a dinner table, two friends arguing about the show ‘Insecure.’ One friend liked it, the other didn’t. They both were black men.

The friend who liked it said there were no grounds to question ‘Insecure.’ It’s a TV series by and about black women in America – it’s too important as a social symbol to critique. They other guy – the author of the article – was wary. He described a world of bland dinner parties: no strife, no conflict, everyone agreeing to progressive standards, consuming media that was morally homogeneous. He said that wasn’t art.

But of course it’s complicated. Of course representation matters. There are studies coming out every day showing that kids who are given positive role models from their own race, culture, background, grow into healthier self-esteems. And there are still tremendous thumping gears churning night and day to keep the dark dream of white patriarchy vibrant, all the while actively draining color from whatever minority garden in which art or ideas might grow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is, in fact, ‘important’ that shows like ‘Insecure’ exist.

I met a guy in Japan who still lives there. He talked about America, about Wisconsin, about how everything was bleaker back home. He spoke fluent Japanese and knew how to party. He’d buy the seasonal chocolates at the corner store and ring the bell and clap three times at Buddhist shrines. He wasn’t Japanese but he wanted to be. I think something similar is going on with progressive art. You play an educated left-leaning American of whatever color one song by Kendrick Lamar, then one song by Young Dolph and nine times out of ten they’re picking Kendrick. Why? Because he’s able to sanitize a struggle so it’s palatable. Like Martin Luther King, Jr, he’s a great man with great words and zero blemishes, an idol, a god, in-human, unattainable, safe to aspire to because implicit in his image is the fact that you – 35, two jobs, disenfranchised by voter registration laws, behind on credit cards and paying half your income to rent, probably black but maybe even poor and white – will never get to life that life of freedom. Implicit in a blanket admiration for non-white art is the fact that these aren’t complicated, messy, people – these are fancy macaws and peacocks locked in carefully hidden cages, putting on a show for the upper class.

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

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“This version of the culture wars casts Beyoncé as the goddess of empowerment who shan’t be blasphemed. She offers herself as both deity and politician, someone here to embody and correct.” – Wesley Morris, The Morality Wars, linked here

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