Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 140

Hi.

Coffee: House Drip, Fiesta Ole Mexican Restaurant; the coffee came in a cup with three creams on the side; I’m always thrown off when restaurants give you those tiny plastic cups without you asking – like you expected this, you were owed; dreams of deep reefs gone white from sun bleach, starved fish nibbling the thin plastic sand; comfort is predicated on waste; oh, and the coffee tasted good, but not as good as I was expecting

I took my father out for a belated birthday lunch at Fiesta Ole. It’s a Mexican restaurant halfway between Durham and Chapel Hill and it used to belong to a family of restaurants called ‘Torerros’. The name changed but the menu didn’t, same big bright plates and large portions, and we all enjoyed our food.

The building was bright on the outside and dim in the middle, two stories, though the second was gutted so you could see the rafters. The booths were small but spacious and the place smelled like a fresh coat of wax. It was busy. Lots of people eating, a good sign. The way the light slipped out of the kitchen made me feel like I was being transported, a big black barge, high waters, the kind of cabin that takes you somewhere, drops you off, and leaves without looking back.

It was good to see my family. We talked like we used to. They told stories about different uncles. When the food came, we ate together and the boisterous dining hall got quieter, like the steam was a blanket, and we were making a fort from it, and this space was only for us.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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The tone of the repartee was familiar, as was the subject matter, a strangely comfortable background music to most of my waking hours over the last two decades or so – and I realised that, my God… I’ve been listening to the same conversation for twenty-five years!

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Coffee Log, Day 312

Hi.

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

There’s an animal conservatory in Caswell County, not too far from where I used to live. It takes in animals that are abandoned or rescued and not safe to keep anywhere else. It has lions. Today, one of those lions got loose while it’s cage was being cleaned. It killed a young woman who’d been interning there for two weeks before being shot and killed itself. A tragedy, but an all-around innocent one.

When I was 15, I got invited to play with lion cubs. The then-wife of a friend of my father’s worked in conservation. She’d take the wild animals to her home to nurse them until they were fit to ship to wherever. Fifteen years ago, she was nursing two cubs.

I sat on the floor and let the lions walk over me. They made little growls that sounded like a frustrated raccoon. You were supposed to pet them rough – if you were gentle, you were prey. So I slapped the cubs on the tops of their heads. Their fur was wiry. Their bodies were muscle. It felt like cheating – like I’d been let in on some secret the world saves for its gentler species, something off-limits for all-consuming humanity.

Tonight, I cooked a feast. My parents gave me a wok for Christmas. It was a thoughtful gift. I spent an hour seasoning the wok with oil and green onions and ginger. I cleaned it over and over to get the factory oil off. Then, when it was ready, I tossed together vegetables, onions, more aromatics – fresh basil – and tried flash-frying tofu. I finished the dish with chili paste.

The dinner was good. Bloodless. There’s no sin in a wild animal picking it’s game. There’s no real sin in a human embracing her wild tendencies. But I’d like to think I’m a little better than the lions because – when given the choice – I’ll choose not to eat them. It’s a lonely world, artificially pure, privileged, but that’s also what makes it kind of divine.

Novel Count: 8,178

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; Four chapters in and it’s consciously meandering. Jury’s out if it ends up anywhere interesting.

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Did you think the lion was sleeping because he didn’t roar?

Frederich Schiller


Coffee Log, Day 273

Hi.

Coffee: Some kind of sweet stuff they served at the Koury Center Thanksgiving Buffet; they told me it was coffee, but all I could do was take their word.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Things I’m thankful for: ….

Don’t you hate being put on the spot like that? Of course, in all honesty, I’m thankful for lots of people, places and things. But with the finger-guns to your head and a ‘ready-set-go!’ to tally up what matters in life, nothing seems to cut.

I drove to Burlington. I picked up my parents and we drove to Greensboro. It’s been years since we’ve cooked anything. Everyone’s busy, no-one can coordinate the labor, and none of us have a stomach for some kind of patriarchal pushing of the hard work on one person. I don’t miss it. I can cook any day of the year; only a few excuses for long drives with my family.

The convention center is done up like usual: two big Christmas tress in the lobby, a long aisle past the 1970’s indoor pool, a row of chairs around steel canisters pumping hot apple cider, reservation takers by the bar. You’re led to a table and slapped on the back like a new baby: ‘onward to feasting!’ My favorites this year were the sage stuffing and bundles of cherry peppers.

It’s nice seeing the faces people wear for the holidays. Painted and perked, you strain to smile at Uncle John’s bad humor or Aunt Tameka’s weird work stories. You don’t know these people. Hell, you don’t much like them. But today they’re family and you can’t deny that family matters. You’re trying to dip this moment in amber. You’re making a carefully staged photograph where all of you look better than on a Monday, or Tuesday, or…

A woman with a service dog tapped my shoulder as I was sitting down with a second plate.

“You really put it away for such a little guy! I’m impressed!”

I was caught off guard and didn’t say much, just a smile. She ate some ice cream with her partner and left. I’m glad the lady tapped me. I’m thankful to have been a part of her Thanksgiving.

Novel Count: 11,651 words

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

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After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.

Oscar Wilde, ‘A Woman of No Importance”


Coffee Log, Day 247

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; a blue cup, a burnt roast, a cloudy day.

It was J’s birthday. Well, the celebration anyway, the actual date’s tomorrow. We got together at the Cracker Barrell. There were seven of us. They gave us the round table past the fireplace. It was busy at restaurant, brisk like night air, they had the ceiling fans turning so it mixed up all the smells. I played checkers. I made excuses to keep passing by the fire. J looked happy, I think we all were. It felt like home.

I’m two cups of black coffee, a white plastic plate, the fork with a dish-soap stain, feet under the table knocking wet socks until they’re warm.

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

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“I drink to the general joy o’ the whole table.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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Coffee Log, Day 244

Hi.

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

I got Chinese with my roommate then went home to watch Haunting of Hill House. Everyone’s been talking it up. We popped the tops on plastic quart cartons and ran the first episode. They filmed it with a filter that makes everyone look jaundiced. All the actors and actresses looked the same. We stopped the show three times just to figure out who was who.

So anyway, I’ve got lukewarm first impressions of Hill House, but dinner was great. The lady at the restaurant always smiles when she sees me. That’s nothing special, she smiles for everyone. I ordered the Sichuan tofu. It was piping hot. At home, halfway through the show, I had a moment where I got a bit of onion and a bit of sauce, dipped it in steamed rice, and realized I’d die someday.

I’ve been thinking ‘death’ since birth. In 3rd grade I used to imagine I might get reincarnated as the lead singer of the Goo Goo Dolls. I’d picture myself in his body playing shows. He was the coolest person I could think of. I imagined this every night as I was going to sleep. If I didn’t, it was all cold sweats and heavy breathing, the black wall of inevitability. Like I said, I’m an over-thinker.

So it wasn’t too unusual to think about dying when the slick, red, acidic stuff touched my tongue. But the way it felt tonight was more of a ‘maybe this is okay.’ I’ve been stressed lately. Taken in full, 2018’s done a number. It’s like the third week of school: first is exciting; second’s a breeze; the third is when the tests come, and no matter how you do there’s no going back from the bright red branding of the grade. I’ve been considering next year, and the year after. I feel stretched like good leather.

After the first perfect bite I took another. Some broccoli, dipped. The rich sauce got caught in her green perm. It tasted like something that shouldn’t be so good for you. The stem snapped in my jaw. I washed her down with tapwater.

“I’m gonna die someday,” I thought, “but this is nice for now.”

We finished dinner and the episode. I feel pretty full.

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

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“…food that can burn you down to a charred, smoking little stump.” – Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown, Sichuan episode

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Coffee Log, Day 154

Hi.

Coffee: India Extra Bold Roast, Cafe Crema

I’ve been eating raw tempeh for a week. I thought that was okay, but apparently it’s dangerous. In Japan, I ate eggs fresh-cracked and uncooked pig intestine from a shady bar. What’s ‘dangerous?’ Yesterday, I read an article about parental hand-holding shaping an entire generation to be anxious and depressed. Today, I went ahead and cooked the tempeh.

They just found liquid water on mars, or at least the probably did. It’s buried a mile deep near one of the ice-caps and they can’t figure how it hasn’t frozen. They also found a petrified piece of bread from 14,000 years ago in Jordan. It revised some logic, complex cooking must have come first, farming after. Apparently, the Epipaleolithic chefs seasoned the bread with mustard seeds. Beetle-eyed conspiracy theorists are revising their Martian narratives: the ships came quicker, and they taught prehistoric man dope recipes.

A restaurant in an airport doing high-volume; beef bowls; pickled ginger; gray plastic bowls to prop your cracked egg.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Why? Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg. Each of us is confronting a high wall. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals.” – Haruki Murakami

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Coffee Log, Day 137

Hi.

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

I wanted to fry some tofu so I went to the Korean Grocery. I bought Chiankiang Vinegar and Shaoxing Cooking Wine. Both came in glass bottles with complicated labels. Medicine bottles, the kind you see in old-timey photos.

The grocery was busy. It’s always busy, even more so on a Sunday. I didn’t see any kids. Instead, I saw old faces, middle-aged faces, a couple young couples cuddling by racks of dried cuttlefish. It took a while to find the wine. I shared the aisle with an older Indian pair.

Leaving, the sun got hot but not too hot and I packed the bags in the car. I drove and got lost. I crossed one run of train tracks three separate times. There was a big field and half was fallow. At the head of the other half was a bright red gazebo with bright white signs hawking raspberries. Three cars pulled alongside. I considered buying some but my roommate was with me and she had places to be. We drove home.

And that was the day: moving, moving, moving, gradually. The creek outside’s risen after thunderstorms. It looks good when it’s full. The water is thick brown-green. Everything good and simple survives in the thick brown-green.

Goodnight, Summer.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I love grocery shopping when I’m home. That’s what makes me feel totally normal. I love both the idea of home as in being with my family and friends, and also the idea of exploration. I think those two are probably my great interests.” – Yo-Yo Ma
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