Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 67


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I stayed in the hammock long after everyone else had gone and even after my host had left to get ready for bed. It was 3 in the morning. I was 18. I was up thinking of stories.

Earlier, as in during the school year, I’d been at this same house sitting on this same porch (though the hammock wasn’t there, they strung that up for the summer) and talked a big game about how you could make a story of anything. I was trying to be encouraging. My host – we’ll call her the Gymnast – had a big speech coming up. It was at our graduation. She was co-valedictorian. She was scared.

So I said: “Take this: a ham sandwich. But the only topping is mustard. Sound interesting?”

She said: “No.”

I went on and on about that sandwich, building up a history with the bread and meat, a poignant love of mustard that had to do with an absent father. She laughed. It was a terrible story and I hadn’t proved anything, but at least it was fun.

In the hammock, I was eaten by mosquitoes. There was netting but some still got in. We’d been coming here weekly, me and all my friends, dying a last summer bleach blonde and bloodshot with late nights before we dispersed to different colleges. We hung out on the porch and in her basement, the Gymnast’s home. We all crowded in the hammock after her parents were asleep because none of us had gotten too cynical about touching another person’s skin.

I tossed and turned. It took a long time for the Gymnast to come back. She was brushing her teeth, I think. A perfect opportunity but I couldn’t think of anything. I knew I needed a better story but it all kept coming up ham and mustard.

When you’re young and not too poor, it’s easy to compress the universe into something pocket-sized. You take it with you everywhere you go, adding bits of lint, fiddling with it when you’re nervous. Back then, I was always nervous so I was always fiddling. I’d look at the moon and think it was two feet tall. I’d talk to the Gymnast and see a lock and a key and something precious behind a door I couldn’t figure out how to open.

I wanted to commemorate that feeling; I wanted the Gymnast to feel it too.

Finally, she came back and sat beside me, just us, she was in blue pajamas. She said: “Hey.” I said “I want to write something.” We sat together another half hour until it was impossible to ignore the mosquitoes, then she walked me out – past the kitchen where we’d baked together, the hallway she drew me in the first time, and out the front door. We said goodbye on her front lawn. I got in an old car that doesn’t exist as a car anymore (scrapped down) and drove home.

Whenever I’m feeling anxious, or stuck with writer’s block, I fiddle with my pocket and get lost in another universe: a dreamy one where I figured out a better story than a ham sandwich; an impossible world that doesn’t get past 18; some time and place where I knew exactly what to say.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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What a weary time those years were — to have the desire and the need to live but not the ability.

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Coffee Log, Day 168


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

I take the highway at 65 high-school-track-fields per hour, faster than the 8-minute miles I managed fifteen years ago. Things sped up; times changed.

I’m working Raleigh, a branch I haven’t been to. Maps come out the car speaker anticipating twists and turns, turning the music down automatically, red lines for bad traffic, or lines in the eyes where I haven’t been sleeping, supplementing missed midnights with caffeine.

Crickets in the early mornings when I walk the two turnbacks downstairs to the parking lot, reminding me of that one night after high school when we all went to Cedarock Park and built a fire, grilled hot dogs, slept bare-skinned in sleeping bags, made reckless love with ticks and crickets and coal-cracking store-bought branches; or of nights lost to five-more-minutes with the four inches of my iPhone, a spaceship/rocketship sort of life, burning time like jet fuel; or of strawberry-cheeks and IPA lipgloss, the ways I wish I saw you, the ways I wish you saw me, but only the white walls ever see much of anything, even though I haven’t hung them with anything yet.

I’m a bill-payer; news-checker; chatbox stalker; internet lover; a Modern Man.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I didn’t need to think of myself as a walleye drifting along in a current somewhere, just waiting for my hook. I was yearning for it.” – Emily Fridlund, A History of Wolves


Coffee Log, Day 142


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

There used to be a hotel here. I stayed there once, a Radisson. It was a school trip. I was in the ocean science quiz bowl, we were competing regionals in Raleigh. We won.

I remember the night in the hotel better than the bowl. We had a ten o’clock curfew, stayed in gender separate rooms. I was in a room with my best friend and current roommate, a few other guys. Before curfew, the girls hung out with us.

Ac sat on the bed with me. She’d come out the shower, was wearing daisy dukes. I’d had a crush on her since middle school. My friend was crushing on her now, and her on him. Anyway, R was in the shower himself, Ac and I were on the bed, she took my hand and started her fingers sprinting, telling me I had soft skin; a lot of people tell me that. I remember the floral sheets, pink-gold lamplight, Ac’s bronze skin. A couple months later I bought her yellow tulips for her birthday. She and R never got together. Of course, I never got with her either.

Bloodshot attraction at 17 – the Radisson’s gone; took a tack of curfew memories with it.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I went to the Hotel of the Violet Hippopotamus and drank five glasses of good wine.” – Anton Chekhov


Coffee Log, Day 132


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

Kid comes in about 3:00pm, high school, blonde as tangerines, online banker looking this-that-way at the old branch walls. She stops at the slips. She picks up a pen and puts it back down.

“What can I do for you?”

It’s existential, really; her forehead creases; I try smiling more.


She’s got a form, she shows her license, she’ll be a senior in August. The form’s so faded I’m guessing her printer used its last ink on fifth grade science projects. I squint. She squints.

“So – what can I do for you?”

“Notary?” she says, and that doesn’t help a whole lot because I’m looking at a crumpled, oily, palm-sweat slip of paper that’s talking about off-campus lunches.

We dig in a bit. I’ve got my elbows on the table, she’s got her fingers tapping our envelopes. Slow and calm, her story peels like skin-bark after too many days in the pool: turns out, her high school demands all off-campus lunch permission forms be notarized. Not okay’ed with your Homeroom. Not signed by parents. Notarized, officially. My supervisor leans over and says all the Wake schools do that. I’m blown away.

We get her taken care of then I’m laughing and crying for minutes. If you were locked in the vault you could still hear me.

I asked the girl one more question before she left for the stifling summer day: “What do you think about all the new security in schools?”

She said: “It doesn’t matter. If they want to shoot us, there’s lots of ways to get inside.”

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.” – Tacitus, Ancient Roman Historian


Coffee Log, Day 116


Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; It was ok. I wanted to drink it at the cafe but there were no parking spaces. Not many coffee shops open on a Sunday in Cary.

I knew J as the girl in high school who was aware of being beautiful but hadn’t figured out what to do with it. I imagine she’s a woman now, living a life somewhere I’ll never know a thing about.

We weren’t close but had a few classes together. Teenage Me stole glances at her in Civics, she wore yellow shirts pulled down one shoulder, we were learning the Justice System but I was wondering how far that fabric could go.

Later, in AP Euro, we worked on a few projects. There was a mock trial of Martin Luther. One half of the class were prosecutors, the other defendants. I can’t remember which side we were on. I played the role of a witness, some bishop, J was our lawyer. It was her job to think up the arguments, make a case, drive it home. We planned it out for weeks. I gave a lot of input, that’s the kind of kid I was. When it came time for the trial, J clammed up. She asked me – again and again – to give her pointers. She was nervous. I tried to tell her she had it, tried to be encouraging. I ended up playing de facto lawyer for our side.

She told me a couple times that she just ‘couldn’t think as fast,’ comparing herself to me, to some of the other kids in class, a lie she bought completely. It was sad but exciting. I never wanted to admit it, but it turned me on.

AP Euro was on the bottom floor, almost a basement, we had a couple windows that started at ground level and stared at a three foot gap before another brick school building. When it rained, the windows fogged up. You almost heard windchimes. In my memory, it was raining the day of the trial. I still see J shadowed by the water, a pinstripe jacket, black glasses, red t-shirt, more beautiful than she ought to be, her features clogging up the room.

Currently Reading:

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund (2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist); Blowing me away so far; 100 pgs in.

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“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” – Virginia Woolf