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 42

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Here’s the question: if Lucy Flores had been a man, would Biden have put his hands on her? Would he have kissed her from behind? Listen to your gut: the answer’s ‘no.’

When I was in Japan, I learned there’s a quick way to make a Japanese person uncomfortable: shake their hand when you meet them. You’d see the kids get confused and the adults blush. Pretty soon, I knew well enough to stop grabbing hands.

There’s a sanctity to a person’s skin. Literally and metaphorically it’s the barrier between yourself and the rest of the world. Different cultures have different norms about when a touch is acceptable. In America we shake hands. In much of Europe you kiss the cheek. What’s intimate in one place might be acceptable in another but regardless of where you are a touch has meaning. You’re pressing your identities together. Mixing paints.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments that Biden’s just being ‘old-school.’ I take that to mean this type of touch used to be socially acceptable. And I buy that argument, to a degree – I’m sure it was socially acceptable. But there’s a wrinkle here. Remember the question: would he have done the same thing if Flores were a man? No. There’s a gender dynamic. It’s mono-directional – you can touch the woman, but she doesn’t have the same access to you. It’s couched in power and privilege. So sure, Biden didn’t realize what he was doing, but now he’s making jokes at the fact someone pointed out his wrongs. If he didn’t get it back then, he certainly should now.

Another thing that’s going round is: but Trump! And of course Trump is worse. There are many worse men being held lest accountable than Biden. But is that a good argument to be complacent? Is that a good reason to let him off the hook?

When a demon dances at midnight it puts on a robe of flayed skin. It revels in it’s sin. But when the devil dances, it does so in the finest suit.

Basically, you should keep your eye on all the monsters, but especially the ones that hide their wickedness. You and I aren’t ever going to revel in sexual assault. But if we see that beautiful man dancing in a flawless suit, we might be tempted to try wearing it ourselves.

Novel Count: 36,338

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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So I try to be mindful, at all times, of what a difference a small human gesture can make to people in need. What does it really cost to take a moment to look someone in the eye, to give him a hug, to let her know, I get it. You’re not alone?

Joe Biden, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose

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 211

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee

6:13 am: I watched a man walk his two dogs in the almost-morning. He went around the gazebo, stopped to let the dog sniff the bridge. I’d just gotten up. I was still in my boxers. I watched from the kitchen window. It occurred to me later that he might have been watching me, too.

12:35 pm: In the bank’s parking lot, on my lunch break, I watched a tiny silver spider attempt a web from the closest tree to my driver’s side mirror. She had six long legs with two smaller. She kept falling off the mirror then twisting back up. Vexed, I guess, she’d turn circles on my pearl-white car.  I’d try to laugh but my mouth got stuck on peanut butter. Ms. Spider was good company.

3:49 pm: All the news blows up about Kavanaugh’s accuser. She never wanted the spotlight so I won’t name her. There’s different theories as to why she must be mis-remembering: the long time it took her to come forward; the possibility that she was almost-raped by a different man; Kavanaugh’s perfect pearly-white smile. I heard an interview with a good friend of hers who said the woman was choked by the first news of Kavanaugh’s nomination. I couldn’t help but think that Kavanaugh has a great grip, those same ten fingers having strangled a woman for 36 years.

5:57 pm: I bought dinner from a Chinese diner. I tipped a dollar. I ordered to go. The restaurant was smoky and busy, a non-stop phone. The two chefs were men but a woman and her 13-yr-old son staffed the counter. In between orders, she helped him with his homework. In between assignments, he filled a couple notebook pages with his own art. I got thinking: what will this kid’s hands hold? A dog leash? A gavel? Some girl’s throat?

Before I left, his mom had a long conversation with another customer. Friends, laughing. The boy was back to art. Everyone in the building seemed stressed and honest and good and warm. I want to believe the diner-woman’s slowly managing to spin a perfect web.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.” – Victor Hugo

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Coffee Log, Day 164

Hi.

Coffee: Fair Trade Five County Espresso Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

America taught you I’m a threat. It taught me the same thing.

I was at the Japanese Festival at the NC State Fair grounds. L invited me. Go back a couple generations and his blood’s risen-sun red. We got there early, walked the stalls. There were many American faces, all cultures, all colors. I watched the snap-crack kendo demo. I watched a cadre of kids running with a tiny paper float on their backs, memories of Yamakasa.

On the way out, we wanted treats. I got some matcha mochi with red-bean paste, shared it with L. It was wrapped in bamboo leaves and AC cold. I liked it – earthy, like the year’s first mowed lawn. L wasn’t a fan so we had extra.

Anyway, standing with L and his wife, watching a Japanese woman pound piano on stage, a girl – maybe 17, 18 – walks by and asks “Where’d you get that?” I pointed her to the dessert stand. Then she tells me her grandmother used to make mochi. She was dressed western but had Japanese ravens in her eyes.

I said: “We’ve got extra if you want it.”

She stopped. Lips open; hands closed. Eyes went so wide all the ravens flew out; she shook her head, slightly. I could see the sweat.

“Ok, cool,” I said. She walked quick and the crowd swallowed her.

I was stunned. The bright warm Saturday had changed: eyes on me, a thousand; I hadn’t planned to wear my fangs to the festival, but here they were.

Girls grow up in America surrounded by long fingers, long stares, machinations to dislodge them from themselves. “Men are predators; men are a threat.” It’s too true not to learn the lesson. Her fear is far more suffering than I’ll know, but the bedtime story warps me too. If every girl is red riding hood, every man is the wolf. I feel you stitch the claws on me; that stiff ragged tail; I don’t want these teeth, but now I have them. A few thousand years of pack-hunting womanhood like African ivory and I’m born an animal. I’m a threat, however little I want to be.

I can’t change those stories, but I’ll keep trying to write new ones.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

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Coffee Log, Day 41

Hi.

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

I knew a girl in elementary who took her shirt off at an outdoor assembly. The fire department had brought a truck and the whole second grade was out there watching it. She took her shirt off on the way back and I remember her blond skin and bare chest and I remember thinking it was something I wasn’t supposed to see. A teacher took her from the line and yelled.

Years later, this same girl got pregnant in high school. We weren’t close, but people knew I knew her and talked to me in small voices that said “What the hell is her problem?” There was a pit in my gut like old dead snakes but sometimes I said “Yeah, crazy.” These days, I only know her through social media where she posts smiling pictures of herself with two kids and I think about the red fire truck and her pink-yellow skin and I wonder if the teacher would have yelled if she were a boy, if the jeers would have been closer to “What a stud,” in high school, and I don’t wonder long because it’s obvious.

Everyone alive has an intimate and evolving relationship with their bodies. The difference is that men get to have that relationship more privately. What’s wrong with wanting to let your shoulders feel the cold, Spring wind?

Currently Reading:
Tar Baby, Toni Morrison

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“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” – Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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