Coffee Log, Day 251 (Halloween Special)

Hi.

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

You wake up in the backseat of someone else’s car. The wind’s beating trees. You can hear it, one of the windows is cracked. It’s pitch, it’s night, there’s a thick orange cloudcover so you must be close to the city. You open the door. The ground’s gravel. You’re in a forest. You don’t know where you are.

It was warm this morning so you’re in shirtsleeves. You wish you’d thought ahead. That same wind brings all the hairs on your arms to attention. You pace a few times around that car.

Are they coming back? Who brought you here?

It’s an old Camry, ’91 or ’92, blue paint faded, a busted front headlight. The only clues  don’t mean anything to you. You peak into the seats to look for keys but there’s an empty ignition. The road curves left up ahead and right behind you. A leaf falls. Your heart shakes. You think about spending the night in the car, but then you consider who might be coming. You start walking down the road.

It’s a slow walk. The path is getting steeper. You trip and when you get back up there’s blood coming from you. For some reason you can’t explain, you lick it. Every dead sow you’ve put inside you; the red ink of our mother.

Scatter – a flock of birds. It was deeper in the forest and something shook them. Ten slick bodies spiral through the leaves. You wait and try to listen, a bit of the blood still on your lips. There’s only the wind at first and then you hear it: “Pad, pad, pad” – little muffled footsteps; a park stroll; only it’s dead night and you woke up in the backseat of a foreign car.

Now you’re pounding. You walk. You stumble. You run. You stumble more. The footsteps are getting louder and louder. It’s all you can do in the dim night to keep to the path, keep your bearings, have a sense that you’re still a part of the world. The road is all uphill. It twists and snakes. You push past a point of exhaustion and think there’s no way for you to go any further. You remember the blood and you push further.

Then there’s a light. It’s through the trees and you only catch parts of it. It’s yellow, orange, a candy corn, somewhat repulsive but still inviting. You quickly realize that if you follow the path you won’t find it. It’s Eastward, and you’re going nowhere close. You pause a second and look behind you. Little specked things are in the trees. They twist and rattle. Beneath the commotion, the footsteps keep coming. With all you have, you step into a mess of bramble off the road. It cuts. It stabs. It’s better than whoever wants to find you.

A half hour passes following that pumpkin light. You can’t tell if you’re getting any closer. Then, all of a sudden, the trees slip back and you’re in a pasture. There’s a wide, mowed field with a house in the middle. It’s a wood house, one-story, a porch with pole-columns and rocking chairs. There’s an old dead tractor rusting on the lawn.

For a second you’re frozen. An unknown home – could be the man or woman who got you, stranded you here. Could be it belongs to the pair of too-light feet that have you in twenty yards. But there’s no time to think. You walk. You run. You’re running. Fireflies escape the blades of grass. A personal sea of stars. The house is forever across the field and then you hear the ‘slap-slap‘ of something running. It’s behind you. You turn around and only see the fireflies.

Time stretches as much as your tired muscles. It’s forever to reach the porch. Finally, though, as inevitable as Spring, you’re there. There’s an old rusty doorbell and light coming through the thick curtains. You try to spy inside but there’s no gaps. The thing behind you is still coming. You don’t know who or what lives here. You press the button. There’s a ringing behind the door.

Bzzt.

Bzzt.

Bzzt…..

“Trick or treat!!” Old Lady Johnson has the biggest smile and pumpkin earrings. She sees your costume – all dolled up as the dark things in the night – and pats your head and hands you two Snickers. On the way down the porch, you see your mother. She’s talking to some other parents, some other families. You open one of the candies and eat it before she sees you. It tastes red and perfect and you’re proud you’ve kept the secret. A million kids are out here tonight but not a one knows your secret: that for a brief time you were somewhere else, lost in a dark forest, haunted, and that you made it home.

Happy Halloween

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

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Led through the mist,
By the milk-light of moon,
All that was lost, is revealed.
Our long bygone burdens, mere echoes of the spring,
But where have we come, and where shall we end?
If dreams can’t come true, then why not pretend?” – Patrick McHale, Into the Unknown, a song from Over the Garden Wall

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Coffee Log, Day 238

Hi.

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

Woke up with a crick in my neck. I took two ibuprofen but it stuck around. Now I’ve got this itinerant friend, nag-nag-nagging me at home, at lunch, at work. It’s nice to have company, but he’s a little overbearing.

I went to the apartment office after work. I’m expecting a package, it hadn’t come. The managers were meeting in a huddle around a corner desk. They were talking whispers, hushed when I came in. The walls were done in fake spider webs and somebody had managed to string a few purple lights. Smiling on the ceiling was a plastic ghost. In the midst of such a scene, I can only assume the managers were conducting a seance. I guess our new neighbors will slip right through the thin walls.

A neighborhood kid came by to borrow a key fob for the gym. She was in a sweatshirt. It was chilly, already getting dark. I thought to myself: “I guess it’s Autumn.” There’s a special kind of wonder to the back half of the year. All the biggest holidays. It’s a cold, dark time to be an adult, but the best time to be a kid. When you’re ten years young and half my size, you’re still getting tingles as you look for what’s behind every corner. Then you grow up and see that it’s only dead grass and hoarfrost.

But the grass looks good when it dies, and frost gets your lover’s lips pink. Seasons change and change you with them.

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

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“Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt, exhausted, and stayed.” – Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves
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Coffee Log, Day 210

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

Years ago, I dated a nanny. She worked for two families while we were together, one in North Raleigh, the other somewhere south of Chapel Hill. The second family had infants. They lived in a new development, the kind you drive by and get shivers, like: ‘Have I been here before?’ There were few trees and lots of cul-de-sacs. To get to the family’s house, you had to cross a creek that always had green water.

About the only nice thing in that neighborhood was a circular playground squatting in a traffic circle. It was an island, not too big, some slides and monkey bars, park benches, young oaks. On days when I’d pick my partner up, we’d sometimes take the babies’ last stroll together. We’d stop in the circle and she’d say: “I can picture them goofing off here. It makes me feel old.” And of course we both saw it, six-year old dreams.

It’s been six years since I broke up with the nanny. I haven’t been to that neighborhood since. I’m sure the trees are taller, the creek’s probably flooded from Florence. I wonder if the playground is still there? It seems like every passing day people get more frightened of each other. Can’t let your kid wait for the bus alone, can’t trust the family next door. I have a hunch that instead of grass-stain memories, those kids are tapping iPhones in the safety of their home.

But I’m one to talk. I should get out more.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“Time is a game played beautifully by children.” – Heraclitus

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Coffee Log, Day 200

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s; Don’t know how much you miss something until it’s gone. I spent forty-five minutes this morning unboxing, washing, and testing the new coffee pot. It’s nothing fancy, but it makes a good cup.

A girl and her father went around the apartments sticking voter registration forms in everyone’s doors. When they got to mine, the girl looked in my window and our eyes locked. She’s thirteen, fourteen, pigtails only a kid could pull off. She had a blue dress. I was so surprised to see her I didn’t have time to smile so maybe that’s why she hid. It was comedy: I see her drop down below the windowsill; she’s walking like a prowling lion; two feet, four feet, ten – she’s at the door; I’m glancing over, trying not to spook her; she slips the registration form and runs away giggling.

When she was gone, I got wondering: was that an innocent fear – the kind that makes kids creep behind their parents’ legs in the super-stores – or was it something born of 2018, the kind of neighborhood fear that puts horns on pedestrians and ghosts in every window? I don’t know. It was pretty funny, pretty sad. I wanted to tell her ‘Good job.’ Hell of an American way to grow up, getting out the vote.

I’m already registered, was already planning to vote this November. Now I’m geared up again: let’s make a world where our kids feel safe and comfortable.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln

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Coffee Log, Day 174

Hi.

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

On the way to work, I caught a report on NPR: an unaccompanied minor detention facility in Shenandoah, VA has been cleared of all allegations of child abuse; incidentally, the inspection that cleared them also documented cases of migrant children restrained to chairs with mesh bags placed over their heads.

So anyway, I turned the station to 102.1, heard the bass thump, hip-hop and traffic, it was blue skies with gray clouds, later in the day it rained. I worked eight hours. I clocked cash, counted time. My coworkers: vibrant. If it was busy, we worked well together. If it was slow, we shot the breeze.

If you google pictures of the Shenandoah facility (which I did) you see a pack of picketers outside a building that could just as easily be a library. It’s blue there too, though I guess the kids don’t see it, and someone’s trimmed the bushes, though I guess the kids don’t see it, and even though there were only fifty protestors it’s still something, waving signs in solidarity like high-school colorguard, done in the honor of kids who won’t see it because they’ve got mesh bags on their heads and tight straps on their legs.

I’d packed lunch. Pasta – red sauce, soy chorizo – I sat in the break room while the microwave spun the plastic container. Beep! My phone was on, it’s always on, I texted two friends while I ate the pasta then I took a walk through the parking lot where the rain had stopped and the lot was cool, a good breeze. I sat in the car and listened to five more minutes of NPR but they were doing a food show. I turned it back to 102.1 and swiped Tinder; pretty smiles, so many possibilities for a Friday night I can afford to flick them away forever.

On Google, the other pictures of the holding facility lacked protesters but the building still looked like a library. Long, angular, brick. A trim sign. It’s fitting, really: a house of knowledge; kids learning important lessons: if you’re young, poor, friend and fatherless, the Land of the Free tins you in a confinement can, bags you like an execution, ties up your dignity, then signs off on it.

Cleared of abuse.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” – George Washington
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Coffee Log, Day 135

Hi.

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

The rain took the heat away, then the rain went away too; packed-up houses. I took my daily walk in the space it left.

Tonight, I saw: a new family. The mother and father were both taller than me; their son was twig-high. He was toddling, dressed in a red tee. They held both his hands when he needed it. The three walked the parking lot searching for sticks and acorns. He picked one; he wasn’t satisfied.

“They’re better by the playground,” Dad says.

“Yeah,” says the toddler.

There’s a bend in the neighborhood that obscures oncoming traffic. The rain washed the tires of an SUV loud enough for me to dodge. My downstairs neighbor drove by. She waved. In her wake, I saw a mother and daughter slogging toward recycling. Mom was stern. She had handfuls of wood and cardboard. Her daughter was sterner. She pulled a pink wagon full of broken boxes.

Trees look best in a storm; your first love coming out the shower. I snapped a few pictures, even the sewers looked nice.

At the dog park, wet fluffs were yapping. They had death in their lungs but cuddles everywhere else. Their owners chatted across the fence. The dogs weren’t happy. Both were fat, still hungry.

The last stretch goes by the office, the pool, there’s a deck that’s always open and a guy in a dark armchair who’s always watching TV. We see each other often but look away when our eyes catch.

I took the new bridge across the stream. I saw the family again, only the Dad and son this time. I waved. Dad waved. The kid ran circles, he was scared of me; I’m no stick, no acorn. I said “Hi Hi!” to red shirt, folding my best paper-plane smile.

“Say hello,” said Dad.

“No!” said his son.

He ran away to find more fairies. I wasn’t hurt; summer storms are enticing company.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I’m tryna get high as I can.” – Future, Hate the Real Me

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Coffee Log, Day 131

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; back to basics; grinding beans like a kid’s eraser tip

Drake’s got me thinking about kids. It’s the most relevant thing he raps about on ‘Scorpion.’ For those who don’t know, Pusha T called him out on hiding the fact he has a son. He did hide it, but he tries to give some excuses on the album. They’re maybe good, maybe bad. They’re well-written if nothing else.

As a kid, I was pretty convinced I’d never want children. I saw my gangly arms and bowl-cut hair as profound signals: the world doesn’t need another one of these. That notion stuck around until 2012.

That autumn, I helped my partner on some nanny gigs. I remember a walk in the woods. Three boys, me and them, twenty-two, five, and three years old. I was scared of snakes so she led the way. I’m still scared of snakes, a little less so. As we were leaving the park, the littlest kid cried. He was tired. In the way that only makes sense when you’re that young, he didn’t want to leave the cold fall park for a warm suburban bed. My partner started to carry him. He kicked.

That’s when I kicked in: I told stories. I started with the trees: “Did you know it’s fairies that take the leaves and hide them so they don’t get too cold in winter?”

He liked it, wanted to hear more; I needed something better. You could see all the big stones in the foliage. I picked the biggest, roundest, and said: “Did you know that’s actually a sleeping witch?”

He screamed. Not scared, the kid loved Halloween. Half the time he wouldn’t leave the house unless you let him dress like Woody from Toy Story. He just knew that horror was a gate to courage and the kid was ready to be brave.

“She’s a big, gnarly witch. Her nose is this big. Her toes have caterpillars living under the nails. When she breathes it smells like Brussels Sprouts, when she catches you she’ll turn you upside down and tickle you and then give you a cold bath. Run!” I said.

We ran. S didn’t drop him. We got in the car and the kid fell fast asleep. His brother had us play “Moves Like Jagger” on repeat.

That day made me think: how lovely to give stories to a small someone. I still don’t know if I’ll ever have kids. I believe in being responsible and my life is far from bountiful. If nothing else, though, I think I get it.

And yet there are a few thousand families still separated at our border; a few thousand kids in steel cages. America spins a different sort of horror story.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

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