Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 230

Hi.

Coffee: Lady Grey Tea

I like people more when I see them smoking. Going back home from groceries, I saw a van, a ‘former State Senator’ bumper sticker, and a lady’s arm hanging out the window burning a white cigarette. I like the vice in it, the desperation. Turn lungs to tar, and for what? It makes you seem a little more human.

I’ve had a lazy 3-day weekend. Monday’s off for Columbus Day, so I went to the Nasher to see an exhibit on indigenous American art. Something that stuck with me was the way so many of the pieces seemed to be in communication with the history you hear about, a long-standing culture, colonial oppression. I came away wondering if that’s just what the artists show to a paying white audience and, if so, what is it that they show to each other when the lights go down and the only sound to hear is a sister’s breath?

I bought two pillows off Amazon then I thought about wage labor. Amazon’s not the worst offender but it’s got it’s hands in everyone else’s pies. I spent awhile looking for these pillows from different vendors but the only options were Wal-Mart or faceless eBay vendors. And I tried to find information on who made them, the parts and labor, what foreign factories they were abusing, but I couldn’t dig it up. There’s a lack of transparency that gets in the way of ethical action, and there’s a lack of options also. But in the end I was the one who funneled money to a mega-corporation responsible for devouring the American economy, for widespread store closure, for pushing radical, robotic efficiency on people trying to make a buck to survive. It was my dollars that bought the pillows, just like it’s my head that’ll sleep comfortable at night.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and landed on land where other people were living, and did his best to consume them in his colonial machine. He wasn’t the only evil white man crossing an ocean, but he’s one we still celebrate. And he’s somebody’s ancestor, maybe yours or mine. We’ve come a long way, but we still put people in chains, only they bite around your spirit rather than your skin.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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It’s like, how did Columbus discover America when the Indians were already here? What kind of shit is that, but white people’s shit?

Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 223

Hi.

Coffee:  Americano, Caribou Coffee; like being back in university, it’s become a tradition for me to get a Caribou Americano on Sundays;; caffeinated church; I’ve been trading coffee traditions every couple months; the espresso was warming today, which went well with the second chilly morning of Fall

Sitting outside for five minutes while the dog ran around the park, L told me about his job. He works at a printing company and injured his hand on one of the machines. He’s been delegated to office duty, which he enjoys, but there’s politics involved that have him doing busy work because he hasn’t ‘earned’ the cushy spot off the lines. When he heals, there’s a chance he’ll be right back down there, stacking paper, pushing hot sheets through big machines. One thing he says he’s missing is the community – “Those guys all want to get to know you,” he says about the line workers. They were teaching him Spanish and had him over for barbecue on one of their birthdays.

I’ve been listening to the 1619 Project podcasts. I’m 3 deep in the show. In the second episode, they go over how American Capitalism has long roots in slavery, how its management practices come from foremen on the cotton fields. On the 3rd episode, it talks about how pop culture began in minstrel shows.

Two weeks from now I’m getting a promotion. It’s a new position and next year I’ll be learning investments. I feel good about the promotion because it means I’ll have more chances to hear peoples’ stories, and I feel good about the promotion because it means more money for not too much more work. There was a bit in that 2nd episode of the podcast where they talked about banking. Back in the 19th century, banks were trading bonds but the bonds weren’t backed by the treasury, or equity, but on the most valuable property at the time, human slaves. Many banks grew big and wealthy with this practice. Families were separated, white men were rich, and half the world had forgotten how to care.

Some people say that Autumn is a ghostly season. Those cold misty mornings, spirits slipping out of graves. I like this idea, and I’ve always like the celebration, the shared horror, popcorn face-masks and candy-corn, festive Halloween. But deep down below the sugar is a sicker stuff, the dead rot of history climbing through the tubers, coming out not in Autumn but under the hottest white July, to sweat and pool wherever you’re stepping, always under you, always out of site, but present, so present it sticks, and even when you take the afternoon shower to wash the grime down the drain, it never goes away.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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You would get nowhere telling him that weeds too have tubers, or that the first sign of loose teeth is something rotten, something degenerate, deep within the gums.

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 191

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

Two small frogs hopped off the sidewalk. Now they’re in tall grass.

It was a pleasant night. I got in the car and rolled the windows down. There’s a road that goes to north Cary, and another past a park. I took both then circled home. Driving, I listened to a punk album. Then, when the album was over, I listened to cars and windy trees. Even though it’s the 2nd of September the night’s still busy. Grasshoppers, cicadas.

I couldn’t decide who I was today. I looked through Facebook folders of old pictures. At 2:00, I read awhile, and at 3:00 I played games. I was alone, mostly. I drove to the grocery and when I came back I took a walk. Why didn’t I walk to the store? That’s what I mean – things weren’t connecting.

For a long time I used to labor on Labor Day. I was in retail, holidays are a busy time. When I talked to friends with desk jobs I got bitter but wouldn’t show it. Those were long days, mouth running like a motor, hands on clothes hangars or new books.

It was something real, though – when you put a store together it’s your store. The company takes your blood and money and time but they can’t take the magic of seeing things set in the order you gave them. Odd hours set you to a separate schedule – I used to wake up at 6:00am and have whole mornings before going to work.

Finishing up the drive, I heard something restless. A bird, maybe, or a squirrel. It shot off the ground and startled the bushes. Leaves in my rear-view, still moving.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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All of them had a restlessness in common.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 183

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Brew

What’s the value of work?

I went to the store today to buy cheese. Yesterday, at the grocery, I bought a bag of vegan mozzarella and half-gagged. I’m working my way to vegan but I’m not there yet.

Today, the cashier was a woman with red hair and black glasses. She was short. She had a pin on her shirt that said ‘Happily Serving Since 2019.’ Her hands had a lot of freckles on them.

Part of what was in our cart was a pom-pom mushroom. The cashier tried to ring it but it wasn’t in the system. So she set to flipping through the sku book, searching the computer, all to no luck. Eventually, she took the price per pound and multiplied it out by weight. She did the calculation on a piece of receipt paper.

Before we left, I asked the cashier how her shift had been. She smiled and said she’d been working since morning. Just before we came up she was supposed to take her half-hour break but the store got busy so she was sticking around to help. I thought that was really something.

Outside, under a cool gray sky, I tried to find pride in the way I spend my days.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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And suddenly, not a soul’s at the store as for other & similar & just as blank reasons, they’ve gone to the silence, the suppers of their own mystery.

Jack Kerouac, Book of Sketches

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 158

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

A lady flicked me off in my office. Well, she wasn’t flicking me off, exactly, but it still sort of felt like it. We were trying to get her accounts straight. Unexpected expenses, overdraws, that sort of thing. So I try to get to know her and she’s in some kind of uniform so I ask about her job. She tells me she’s doing hotel work. She tells me that the work never stops.

“They’ve gone through three general managers in the last year.”

There’s a rough patch of skin on her neck. It looks like a series of cigarette burns. My eyes keep going for it, but I try to pull them back.

As we’re getting down to business, I go through her information – confirming correct phone numbers, addresses, that sort of thing. We come back around to talking about her job, and about her salary, and she tells me it should be five thousand higher, but her bosses keep denying her a raise. That’s when she gets angry.

“So I tell them, ‘I know what I’m doing, I don’t deserve this,’ I’m looking for another job. But I need the money so I don’t let them fire me. I just need them to get off my nut-sack.”

What I WANT to tell her is: “I’m on your side, you deserve something better, fuck a world that treats people this way,” but instead I say “Sounds real awful. Hope you find something better soon.”

Devil’s in the details, and she knows it too, because that sets her off.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, “we’ll see.” She pulls out her fingers. She’s flicking off her third GM, the hotel, this whole horrible system that pays people less and less for their labor, doubly so if they’re a woman, and of course – rightfully – she’s flicking off the part I play in all that. Because to her, I’m just the banker who left her with ‘better wishes,’ not the soldier standing beside her on the frontlines of social change.

I hope I gave her useful advice, at least. Some help with her finances, a better outlook down the road. I want and need to believe in that possiblity, to let the belief that I can be something positive set my pillow to it’s cooler side at night. But in the end, I’m not the one to judge that.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Butter was plastered on to the roll with no regard for the hard labor of the cow.

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

Coffee Log, Day 264

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; tastes like the pine needles you used to watch your mother bunch around the trunk of every tree in the yard.

There’s a ridiculous corner of the apartment building just outside my window. It’s a hodgepodge of laminate vinyl siding, wooden bracing and brick. A few kids with Legos might come up with it. I’m pretty enamored with the corner.

2018 has felt fragile. People and places you loved have had .45 barrels lowered at them or have been consumed by political flames. In some cases, the flames are more visceral. How many times have the California fires trumped themselves for ‘most deadly’ this year?

I think it’s important to keep your eyes open to the tragedy. Even more important to keep focused on the tragedies you could prevent. However, sometimes it’s also necessary to step back and find yourself amazed at the vast, human complexity that we’ve built up and are scared to lose.

Take my apartment corner: how many hands had held her before she was born? There were architects, designers. There were the workers who shaped the bricks. Someone chopped tall trees in the Amazon for this corner. A woman in a labcoat theorized the perfect vinyl. All those pieces ticked away independently until they came together, only to realize everyone had set their clocks the same. Now I live inside it, the product of so many simple, honest, hard, human labors.

When you’re brushing your teeth or straightening your tie in the mirror, realize that you’re looking at one small, essential part of a triumph.

Novel Count: 8,314 words

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

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“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston S. Churchill

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Coffee Log, Day 194

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s

I sat in a lot of chairs today. R was buying another – his desk chair broke – and I went along with him. We started at Staples, meandered to Target, ended in an Office Max that was once an Office Depot. There were bright yellow clearance bins in the Office Max. It was crowded, mostly kids, back to school shopping. We were there one hour before close.

R sits in a chair and a staffer shows up: “How do you like it?” she asks. She’s got spaghetti blond hair, basset hound wrinkles, she’s over 50. R says “It’s alright, seems like a good deal.” The chair was half off. She’s happy he noticed. Then R says “Yeah, these things can get pretty pricey,” and the woman dead faces him with one last line before walking off: “Well, most people have jobs.” He and I couldn’t stop laughing when she was gone.

We left the store with a different chair and got cheap Chinese for dinner. I kept thinking about the lady. I felt a little bad for laughing. He and I are both employed, but how would she know? And even if we weren’t, it’s bitter and lonely to mock someone who can’t work. But then I got to thinking: it’s Labor Day; a beautiful, stormy September; this lady is stuck doing shift work at an office store. When she looked down on us layabouts testing her chairs and wasting her time, maybe she was actually trying to say: “Don’t look at me. Don’t laugh at me. Don’t see me as less than you. I am working. I have a place that needs my blood, my bones, the sweat of my later years. It might be a corporation that doesn’t respect me – I might get paid pennies to another man’s dime – but here I am working when the rest of the world rests in big, comfy chairs; this is my pride, and if you won’t take it then I’ll shove it down your throat.”

Similar thoughts got Trump elected. And a similar fit of laughter when those thoughts turn the corner tanked any hope for Hillary. I’ll try to accept what the world is handing me: elitism. In spite of that, I’ll try to keep the bitter fire I used to know and bury that elitism below a head capable of hearing what old white women working two jobs on bad knees are trying to say, rather than the words that come out.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“No man needs sympathy because he has to work, because he has a burden to carry. Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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