Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 234


Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Walking alone one morning a few weeks back in Midtown Atlanta, I came across three dilapidated stone walls with ivy growing through them. They used to be the foundation of something, but that something was long gone. A bit of gravel and an old log were all that was stuck between them.

That part of the neighborhood had houses on high hills overlooking the road. Just a block further up was a steep iron fire escape climbing three stories. A guy in a beanie and rolled up slacks was creeping onto it from the second-story window. But anyway, the area was steep, so the broken old walls were likely the bones of a basement. I liked the way the ivy had them, and the deep gray color, and the fact that the sun was hardly out, and the smell of burnt sugar, honeysuckle, and that I was walking away somewhere with someone waiting for me, but sleeping, so that the waiting could go on and on and on with no effort, stress, anticipation. I thought about taking a picture of the three walls but I didn’t. Cameras can’t capture the feeling of old ghosts.

I spend a lot of my time looking for anchors. Bits of scenery, something that seems familiar, important, and that can fix me to a position long enough to get a grasp on who I am. A dwindling creekbed I pass every morning, or downtown Durham after the gas explosion. Life goes so fast I can’t catch myself, so I try finding the places I’ve left myself waiting.

I thought about walking between the three old walls, taking a seat on the log, but I didn’t want to disturb it. Dilapidation hangs together like a card castle. The best I can do is share a bit of it here.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Houses have their own ways of dying, falling as variously as the generations of men, some with a tragic roar, some quietly, but to an after-life in the city of ghosts…

E.M. Forster, Howards End

Coffee Log, Day 276


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 235


Coffee: Colombian, Starbucks Brand (grocery store bought, a gift)

I don’t know whose house you are. I don’t know who owns the property. I don’t know who busted your windows. I don’t know who painted the red alien or the blue alien or the man in bold outlines flipping me off. I don’t know if you used to belong to bedtimes or business. I don’t know how many sets of lips made love to your ample empty beer cans. I don’t know a damn thing about you, you don’t know anymore about me. But I walked inside you last night. Nearby, a couple guys were taking out trash.

It’s gotten chilly. Fall’s here. I met a guy who used to be the best EMT in the county. Now he’s working part-time. He tells me he got beat up a year ago. They broke his ribs, neck, lips, left eye, fingers. He’s still healing. The guys were harassing his partner. From what I could gather, they’re not together anymore. Then he tells me about the older trauma: of working medical, seeing kids scream without understanding, seeing death fold out of the  closet like a Christmas sweater. He said the doctors tell him he’s got PTSD. He said he didn’t believe the diagnosis until it was a late winter rainstorm and he was driving real fast and he’d brought that pistol with him and he knew the best spot to cock it and then he had a thought cross to call some acquaintances, no-one close, and they talked to him all night, and they’re the nicest family, and they make the best Thanksgiving Turkey, and now they’re more than just acquaintances and he’s still here. Then he says “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I told you all that.” And I said: “Glad you did.”

I had too many thoughts under your dilapidated eaves. You were down the hill from a parking deck, surrounded in tall grass, but the city still rose around you. I wanted to move into you for five minutes but I couldn’t not see the city, the buildings, the houses, the bright night lighting where I used to live. In the end, I flicked off the flashlight and walked away saying nothing.

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“A house that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master,
With doors that none but the wind ever closes,
Its floor all littered with glass and with plaster;
It stands in a garden of old-fashioned roses.” – Robert Frost

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