Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 273

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee

Everyone was out even though it was raining. The temperature had warmed up and wet roads looked like the beginning of something, the first lap of a race. I got my coffee from Caribou like I always do then went grocery shopping. The lady in check out was flustered, but said she’d had a nice Thanksgiving.

The weekend’s been Christmas shopping. Picking around in crowded stores, not finding what I wanted, searching more online. I like the dynamism of the holidays, the ‘I’ve-got-to-get-out-in-the-world’ sort of feel. I like the kind of celebration that shows we’re all dead-broke and dead-tired but obligating ourselves to do good for our loved ones anyway. It doesn’t matter if your gift’s a hit as long as you’re the one giving it. It doesn’t matter if next year is going to drain a bit more spirit out of you because you’ll get it all back giving something special away.

At a different store, a man with a big dog walked in and the cashier told me he’s the owner. She seemed bothered by him, on edge, and the dog noticed because it sniffed her and wagged its tongue and tail. That was his christmas present, a big wet nose, a bit of kindness when someone needed it.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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Baffled and disgruntled, I fill my Woolworths trolley with dead turkey and lamb, and wonder when Love was lost, among the Christmas crowd.

Judy Croome, A Lamp at Midday

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 270

Hi.

Coffee: Golden Corral Drip; it came in a plastic cup and when I asked for a refill she didn’t bring anything to pour over, she just brought me a second, so I had two cups, two coffees, oil-thin, poured from a machine; I didn’t know what to do with myself; sometimes life’s just like that, confusing you with good fortunes, like ‘what did I do to get here?’; today was good; both coffees tasted the same, loose and sweaty, burnt breadcrumbs

Happy Thanksgiving. I mean it, you know. I’m thankful.

My family and I took our holiday lunch at Golden Corral. For the past five years we’ve been eating out at this buffet in Greensboro, hosted in a Hyatt, but when we called for reservations they weren’t celebrating this year. Last minute plans limited our options and we settled on something simple – Golden Corral. A few years ago, the building in Burlington burned down but they built it back up. I have clearer memories of the old place, but today was a good day of patching them over with something new.

All week I’ve been telling people where we’re going. There’s an expectation that families will cook for Thanksgiving, but I like our years of going out. I like it because it takes the load off all of us – no stress, no cooking, no dishes; and I like it because it lets me see how other people are celebrating, which is a warm thing, knowing people when they’re engaged in something special.

Here’s what I saw:

The booths were packed families with overcrowded plates; husbands and wives, not just couples, though there were some of them too; lots of old white men in camo hats and shirts to match, though the shirts were tucked in trousers pulled up over their bellies, just the way their father taught them, a kind of Southern formal, sunshine-proper; pregnancy; there were three women who were close to term; and kids on the other end of it, young and young and younger, either plating around on their own or following fathers with bowls of bright ice-cream, delicious; I saw the waiters working overtime; a manager made small-talk with the sous chef who was fixing beef stroganofff in the back; one guy says ‘I’ll take that steak medium rare.’

Take any two or three of these people out of this picture and plop them down in the everyday and I’d wager they wouldn’t get along. But here, on Thanksgiving, everything is perfect, or close enough to it to enjoy the commotion of being in this space together. Golden Corral cooks food of all flavors of Americana, and does so in such quantity that no one dish comes out quite right. But that imperfection is part of what you’re looking for. You don’t want it to be perfect. You don’t want it to be sublime. You’re looking for something so easy it means you don’t have to interrogate yourself, or make too many judgments about your neighbor. Who cares what tastes we come with when all the food tastes the same? It’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t have had my holiday any other way.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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I really feel like I’m in America.

William Livesay (my father), while we were waiting in line at Golden Corral on Thanksgiving 2019

Coffee Log, Day 308

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I asked the barista if she’d had a nice holiday; her eyes got real narrow and she looked like she was about to spit in my drink; eventually, when the coffee came, it was double-cupped; ‘we’re out of sleeves,’ she says; I imagine it took great restraint for her not to burn me for the affront of holiday small-talk. Oh, and the coffee was alright.

And it’s another Wednesday. Christmas is over, the year’s winding down. I’ve still got half my life packed in the backpack I’d taken on the trip to my family. My room feels like a hostel. Holiday vagabonds.

The bank isn’t busy today. No-one wants to acknowledge that life is getting back on track. There’s so many fires to put out, ones you’ve been tossing small glasses of water over for the back half of the year, too busy partying to plan, but now half the forest is coming down. The government is a quarter closed. Two Guatemalan children died this week in US custody along the border. The world won’t wait for you to finish putting away your merriment. We’ve all got something to be responsible for in 2019.

I saw two cats this morning. One was licking the other, getting at the dirt and ticks. I almost stopped to pet them but they seemed so focused on the moment that I didn’t want to intrude. I pulled out of the parking lot feeling a little more committed than before.

Novel Count: 6,375

Currently Reading: Nothing! Will pick a new book after the holidays.

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Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Benjamin Franklin


Coffee Log, Day 306

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I found a stash; it was enough for one more cup before heading home for the holidays; tastes like it always does, a little earthy, rich, welcoming, but not giving up any secrets.

Can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. I’ve been up since 3:00, had hardly slept before that. Maybe my body remembers that old anticipation of being a kid on Christmas. Or maybe I should work out more, eat healthier, drink less caffeine, etc etc…

There was this tradition in my house where we’d get up super early on Christmas. It was my Mom’s idea. We started at 7:00, then as the years went by it crept back toward 5:00. I didn’t care, I was young and on vacation and couldn’t sleep anyway. But I think it was a bit of brinksmanship between my parents – who’s going to miss the alarm first?

My family wasn’t religious. Christmas wasn’t about thanking anyone but the people around you. We’d get up before the sun and light the whole house with candles. My mother had an incense spinner that would push these fan blades around and make little wooden figures dance. There was the incandescent tree (this was back before LED bulbs were all the rage).

My favorite decoration was the Christmas village. I’d spend afternoons in December setting up scenes in fake plastic snow. There would be the people dancing on the ice rink, the caroling peddlers, little lit storefronts selling sweets or violins. I saw myself walking in a perpetual holiday haze. It doesn’t snow on a Southern Christmas, so that little town had to do.

As everyone gets older, the decorations scale back. I’ll go home and help them set out the last ornaments on the tree. And that’s okay – tiny plastic houses are numbers in a checkbook now; there’s bigger, warmer ways to spend time with your family. But in the end we all lose a little magic. It’s hard to get lost in the corners of an old home when you’re busy trying to build a new one.

Novel Count: 5,846 (though if you’re counting drafted chapters, it’s probably closer to 25,000 by now

Currently Reading: Nothing! Will pick a new book after the holidays.

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Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.

Laura Ingalls Wilder


Coffee Log, Day 285

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

When I think about Christmas, I think of a thrift store off Main. I’m pretty sure it isn’t there anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure the store only lasted a few years, and I only went to it once or twice.

Anyway, it was on this side road in East Burlington that if you took long enough would either get you to the middle school or to Graham. It was in an old, hollowed out brick building that had fallen on hard times, it was lit like an ER, there were old black particle-board tables set in rows and cardboard boxes full of stuff obliterating the even lines. The owners were old ladies. So what I’m saying is, the thrift store was nothing unusual.

I went there with my Mom. I think it might have been after school, or maybe it was a weekend. Either way it was dark outside. We were Christmas shopping. Not for the family, rather the ancillary gifts you put a few dollars and two cents into in hopes of warming up the people you sort of know and would like to know better. We walked around for an hour and I got bored. There were tinsel wreaths. There were craft ceramics. I bought a tiny straw angel for a family I knew took angels seriously. Then we left.

But that whole store was Christmas to me: a dim, uncomplicated lull of gift-giving; the cheap earnest dressings; the streetlight evening through the windows; I think they were playing Christmas songs on a scratchy record player.

Anyway, that thrift store has been on my mind lately. I’m glad it was there. I wonder if anyone else remembers it?

Novel Count: 15,069 words

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

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Why they were loaded with bags of beans and peas and anything else they happened to pick up when they were still some distance away from the street where the first blind man and his wife lived, for that is where they are going, is a question that could only occur to someone who has never in his life suffered shortages.

Jose Saramago, Blindness


Coffee Log, Day 284

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I couldn’t remember if I’d ever had it and now that I’ve tried it I know that I had; it’s sweet on the first gulp, sour on the second, and by the end of the pot your insides are grumbling like two old men arguing about Nationalism.

I spent half an hour in a Target yesterday trying to find some face cream. We’re getting to winter, the dry cold breaks me out.

The Target was already packed for the holidays. One of the clerks told me they were having a 10% off giftcard sale, so maybe that’s why. It’s a big store, one of those they like to slap ‘super’ on the side of, but even so the aisles were jammed and frustrated families were snagging their carts together. In other words, nothing special for the season.

I’ll tell you a secret: I like those sorts of crowds. I like the sounds of it: all those voices stacked together like a layer cake. I like the nervous energy, the coy competition, the fervor around a bright yellow sticker with a price on it. I’m sure there’s a bucketfull of issues about consumerism and wage inequality stuck in there (some of which I’ve probably brought up on this very blog), but despite that, the holiday department store is the closest thing you get to a communal event in modern America and I’ll take what community I can get.

I found the face cream on an aisle I thought I’d already been down. It was hiding beside a few bottles of shampoo.

Novel Count: 14,846 words

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

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When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.

Sophie Kinsella


Coffee Log, Day 270

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

Thanksgiving feels like it was yesterday. Instead, it’s three days from now.

Holidays are like a spring cleaning: you beat the rugs on the balcony; you clear out the corners.

There was a little while I was on crutches. This was years ago, ten of them actually. It was summer. I was in High School. I was spending the summer at an NC academic camp in Winston Salem called Governor’s School. A six week program, I tore my ACL in the first week playing ping pong. It’s not that I was good at ping pong, rather that I was bad at it.

So they stuck me on crutches for a month. It was awkward, I was young. I felt like a sore thumb – I hurt and I stood out. But I made do.

The way the classes were set up, everyone took two a day and then had a couple free periods. You could fill those with homework or seminars or whatever else. My schedule left me this big block of hours in the morning, 10am to 1pm. There wasn’t much going on and not a lot of people out. Hobbling already, I got stir crazy.

I started taking walks to Ollie’s Bakery. Ollie’s is now closed. They served fluffy scones and vanilla lattes. They had a corner of a road about a mile away, a little brick building, not enough room to think or worry when you were in there, you’d get full on the smells. The trip took me through Old Salem and across a creek. Then it was a hop and skip through this faded industrial district. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was arduous on the crutches. Again, I made do.

I’m remembering this now because it’s important to remember that first time you felt independent. Holidays will put a lot of old sweaters on you: that scratchy-wool love. They’ll show you everyone that has a hand in your pot. They’ll also show you who’s missing.

But no matter how much your family or friends or people you wish were around might matter, when you’ve cleared the clutter and put all the boxes away it’s just you in an apartment, early morning, a torn knee. You can walk to the cafe or sit at home. Either way, the joy is only your own.

Novel Count: 10,411 words

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

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He fell off the table like a crab looking for the sea.

Charles Bukowski