Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 102

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I spent fifteen minutes sitting on a wet step with a cat that’s moving away. This was about an hour after a thunderstorm. Dogs passed. The cat stood on her hindlegs to sniff at leaves.

Some moments speak for themselves.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 38

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

When all is said and done, a man’s life becomes R.I.P. posts and coroner reports, all the more so if he’s famous. Yesterday afternoon, Nipsey Hussle was murdered.

I remember when Mailbox Money blew up. I was just getting into hip-hop. Nipsey had a way of saying things with just a few words. I’d been listening to Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne. Nipsey condensed their sort of gymnastic paragraphs into single lines: “Blood, sweat and tears, just squeezin my fruits.” He inspired me. He made me a better writer.

I was going to start this differently. I was going to say: “There are very few male role models in 2019. Good men doing good things, maybe, but few who interrogate deeply what it means to be a man. Nipsey Hussle did that interrogation.” And that’s all true – he was uncompromisingly masculine, rapping about how to define manhood in modern America – but when I sat down to write it, it felt too safe. Tame, even. That’s not all he was. “Hold me down through these troubled times, be another victim to my stubborn pride.”

As an artist, he beat the system. A hard thing for anyone to do, even harder for a black man in deeply prejudiced America. He briefly held a record deal with Atlantic way back in the day but dropped the deal as soon as it was clear they’d own the rights to his masters. He spent the next decade releasing mixtapes, developing his own label, and only last year did he sign with Atlantic again for the release of his debut album – only it was just a distribution deal. Nipsey was his own master until the end. He even bragged about the legal language: ‘Atlantic’, this massive corporate monster, had signed itself as a ‘partner.’

He kept things local. He reinvested in his community. I won’t get too deep into that because it’s not my community, I can’t know the pain or pride they feel right now. Nipsey Hussle was unequivocably a proud black man. His words had power. They opened my eyes as this white guy bobbing his head to hip-hop. They helped me understand the trauma of black Americans in a way I hadn’t before. They made me hold myself accountable to my role in that trauma. “One Shot got life, Zimmerman got acquitted; Talkin’ ’bout a carjackin’, we talkin’ ’bout a killin’; Wonder why we never have faith in the system; Look at young [black men] like a waste of existence.”

I feel like there’s beer on my breath. I feel like I’m drunk on something. Weak, thin stuff, no glamour. A missed train. A march I didn’t go on. Important dates I didn’t keep.

Victory Lap – that was the name of Nipsey’s debut album, released just over a year ago. The Marathon has been his brand for years. Life is a Marathon. You can sit on the sidelines or you can run it. That’s a beautiful thing, but it’s hard. It comes with a responsibility – you’re committed to the race, you’ve got to finish. Nipsey Hussle made me a better artist. Nipsey Hussle made me a better citizen. Nipsey Hussle made me a better man. He earned his Victory Lap. I’ll keep running in the wind he left us in, bruised weary at a world that knows violence, strong enough to love the ones caught up in it, committed to live honestly and play my part to fix it.

If he’d lived, he was scheduled to host a conference today with the L.A. mayor on ending gang violence through youth outreach and empowerment. A few hours before he died, he posted this to Twitter: “Having strong enemies is a blessing.”

Novel Count: 35,930

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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

But I’m knowin’ that this game to be changed
I should be afraid of afraid
I’m just tryna live up to the meanin’ of my name
I’m just tryna live up to them [people] in my gang
I’m just tryna live up to my moment on the stage
I’m just tryna live up to the truth in my pain
And the power that it gave me on the youth of today

Nipsey Hussle, I Do This


Coffee Log, Day 108

Hi.

On a dark March evening in 2013, lying beside a sleeping woman with whom I’d been collaboratively ruining two lives – mine and hers – I was strung out, lit up, crying, and inspired as the hot blue TV played the Hokkaido episode of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain was sipping soup. The soup was prepared with fish sperm. Absurdly removed from my nook in North Carolina, that scene confirmed my decision that – no matter where I was or who I was with in a year – I’d follow up on a lead to teach English in Japan. In 2014, I did just that. All that is to say: Anthony Bourdain helped me save myself.

So it was a little disorienting that he hung himself last night in a French hotel.

I went to lunch at China Chef for the third time today. It was less crowded but still full of shift workers. The lady at the counter knew my name, my order, I sat at my awkward window table below a CRT blaring Fox News. I watched cars drive by and ate a good meal. Bourdain would have disapproved of the dish – tofu, no meat – but I think he would have appreciated the restaurant. A mom&pop run by immigrants. Food that connected me to another culture and to my own. I found myself over and over in the hot rice, thick sauce, bubbling-crisp spring roll – this was every tiny Chinese diner I grew up visiting with my Dad. Like my last couple visits, I was the only white face. I felt wonderfully alone and wonderfully together.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He found a voice in hardship, empathy in privilege. He had power but used it to lift those without it. He wasn’t good, wasn’t perfect, or even all that nice, but he kept his eyes open and ears ready and tongue watering for whatever disagreed with him. He grew. Watch A Cook’s Tour, then watch Parts Unknown. He knew that America looks best when she’s bursting full of language, flavor, culture, color. He knew he’d lived thirty years of advantage so he spent the next thirty traveling the world to understand – and ultimately extend to others – that advantage. He didn’t have a message, an agenda, other than to approach the world on its own terms, however frightening or strange it might seem. He spoke love to the simplest places and cut wickedly at those with corrupting power.

Anthony Bourdain was the best thing going for white America. He was an example of how to be both honest and good. Last night, he hung himself in a French hotel.

I’ve gotta say: what you did was pretty selfish, Bourdain. You probably knew that – you had a hundred dark horses running through your thoughts – but knowledge doesn’t absolve so I have to call you out. There’s no strength in running and no matter how weak you are there’s always enough strength to go on. Take it from me – I grew up in a family of brinksmanship; I’ve flirted with the edge on windy nights. But there’s no justice to bowing out early.

People still need you. Your family surely does. Every immigrant cook in an American kitchen needs you to keep giving their powerful voices a platform. America needs you, especially now as her most dangerous demons bubble up like indigestion. And, like a million other writers, artists, scoundrels, addicts, vagabonds, low-down honest persons just trying to get by, I need you. It was a bad, nasty thing you did last night. It hurt us all; it will for a while.

But I guess I’ll take a page from your book: just this once – inspired by the open way you met the lowest, weakest, roughest hearts exactly where they were, no judgment, just open ears and appreciation – I’ll forgive you.

I don’t know which hell or heaven has you, Bourdain, but make sure you’re too much for them to handle.

“Night falls – like a fat man tripping over his shoelaces.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Coffee Log, Day 104

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast; I poured it in a new travel ceramic for work. The mug didn’t work too well but I like the way it looks. It was made by machines, but looks like it was made by hands.

First off, some house-keeping: I’ll be announcing the winner of the April/May contest this week! Life happened fast these past two months so I wasn’t able to promote the contest as much as I would’ve liked. Because of that, I’m putting contests on a hiatus while I catch up. I’ll do better in the future.

Now, onto the Log:

I talked shop with a geneticist outside a cafe. He told me his best friend was a writer. He told me his best friend makes no money but publishes anyway. I told him the guy sounds crazy. He told me the guy’s real happy. We talked a bit about labwork, the dullness of it, then he talked about the the way’s he’s compiling the human genome electronically. Computers talk like your high school English teacher: big words, clauses, Latin to me.

Speaking of language, I’m obsessed with it. There isn’t a better word. Probably a better phrase: dim-witted fishhook in a constant stream. But anyway, language is my obsession. When I was four, I wouldn’t let my parents put me to bed until they’d answered a few questions. The content wasn’t what I was after, but rather how they would say it: what’s two plus two? Four…door’s brother and dour’s close cousin. A lot of people call me Garrett and I think that’s fine, but deep down I’m obsessed with the ‘h.’

I spent some time trying to talk it out. We could be something, yeah? We could have something, yeah? Parrots for each other’s happy. But we just talked beside each other. Not past, because the words were hanging close to both of us, a finger, thread, half-done zipper. Then our conversation tied its shoes and walked off. I doubt I’ll hear from you again.

Do any two people speak the same language?

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“The past is always tense, the future perfect.” – Zadie Smith

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