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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Coffee Log, Day 184

Hi.

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

There goes August: running fast enough to trip itself.

I read an article about the ‘A-Team’ on NPR. Not the TV series, but rather the short-lived 1970’s experiment dreamed up to answer widespread migrant worker protests. It happened in California, mostly, and involved granting crop-picking jobs to white high schoolers for the summer. The act passed Congress on the heels of ‘They’re taking our jobs!’ It singled out the best and brightest, the most active white boys for the honor. Within three days of the first year, 200 kids had quit. Those who stuck out the six-day weeks at minimum wage talked about it like an earthbound Hell.

The privilege to walk away.

Not much has changed. Farm labor is still largely migrant labor; or, if you’re in Eastern NC tobacco farms, it’s seven or eight year-olds who pick all day and sometimes miss school. Regardless, it’s hard, unloved work given to people who are most desperate. Five centimeters past slavery, in other words. No wonder our country can’t stomach loading it on well-to-do white boys.

I sit in the shade. Cold tea, new book. September mentions herself in a nice breeze, we exchange calendars and contacts. Autumn ease, there’s not a cloud in sight. Somewhere west of here, another 28-yr-old man bakes until his skin comes off, blood on knuckles, only knowing the sadistic love of burrs and melon seed.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich; FINISHED!! Will have a review soon

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“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” – Cesar Chavez
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