Coffee Log, Day 274

Hi.

Coffee Tea: Earl Grey, Bigelow; still having filter issues. Working on it!

The night got so cold there’s condensation on my window. Never been able to resist drawing finger-faces in it.

I guess we’re headed for another winter. There’s that come-down after Thanksgiving, the year-end doldrums, where everyone’s out and frantic for the holidays but also frantic because they know another year’s about to end. It’s an even mix of optimistic and rattled. I like the energy.

One thing I didn’t mention about my trip home yesterday was how dilapidated East Burlington looks to me know. It’s always been run down, but the modern economy has further stripped its stores. There were plans to turn the old rail junction into a supermarket. Those plans were scrapped so now the lot is not only big and empty but full of dirt mounds and deep holes, all of it grown over with nosehairs of green grass.

It’s been going this way for a while: suck all the money out of your physical footprint, keep a presence in the affluent areas, throw the rest of your resources online. Retail’s not what it used to be. Yes, the economy might be doing great in aggregate, but it’s leaving more and more holes in its pockets. What’s a community when it’s stripped of communal spaces?

They closed the Wendy’s I’d been going to since 5 years old. In its place is a local burger joint. I didn’t visit, but I imagine the burners going, the smell of dead beef flicking up in gas fire. There’s an old man by the window. There’s a family of three, two kids and a single father. There’s a woman on her lunchbreak from the Wal-Mart. Real and local. Still thriving. I can only hope it lasts.

Novel Count: 11,888 words

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

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What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.

Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage’


Coffee Log, Day 234

Hi.

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

The button came off a pair of my work pants. I think I can sew it but the pants are old and wearing and I’ve been meaning to get some new pairs so I went to the store. I had an ad in my email for BOGO at Express and the closest store was in Triangle Town Center so I went there. The mall’s a half hour through Raleigh. When I got there, they were doing renovations and the store was closed.

But the trip wasn’t for nothing. It was a cold day, cloudy, the kind of weather you want to break your heart to. There was a lot of traffic on the roads. I’m not used to going this way so the flighty voice of a map app guided me. She took me down Capital Boulevard. I saw many closed stores and open office parks. A newish high rise with no name and glass windows stared down a shuttered hotel. They’d been doing work on the hotel and stopped when the money ran out. The walls were chipped and the asphalt lot had big holes in it.

Triangle Town Center was much the same. Aeropostle was closed, Dillards was limping, Sears was a wasteland. Inside, many of the stores were stripped to lightbulbs and they were running big, silver, exposed ventilation around the bottom floor. Still, the mall was busy. People walked around on cell phones. Kids eyed cookies as big as their heads. It was alive but listless, broken like the gray day, a hymn to late 20th century capitalism, everyone working hard and poor to put themselves on the pages of the already half-written history books.

I didn’t buy anything. I drove home and ordered two pairs of dress pants online.

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

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“Since the Leeburg Pike [at Tyson’s Corner] carries six to eight lanes of fast-moving traffic and the mall lacks an obvious pedestrian entrance, I decided to negotiate the street in my car rather than on foot. This is a problem planners call the ‘drive to lunch syndrome,’ typical of edge nodes where nothing is planned in advance and all the development takes place in isolated ‘pods’.” – Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000

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Coffee Log, Day 172

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; it’s become a tradition to buy Caribou when I run out of beans at home. There’s not much to it – five minutes in the drive-through – but I’ve done it a half-dozen times, guess it’s stuck. The Caribou is two blocks farther than I usually drive. There’s no easy way into the parking lot. I figure it’s a bum gig because I haven’t had the same barista twice. Today, it was a lean guy. Last time, it was a lean girl. Every barista I’ve known has ambitious eyes. Sometimes I miss making coffee for customers.

This time last year, I’d just come to Cary and settled into a job I don’t have anymore. I worked a bookstore, a head cashier, internally prestigious position but I got embarrassed giving myself away with that description. I’m glad I lost that job.

Now I’m a banker. A teller, really, though the title’s dressed up, one of those dogs you see in sweaters. America likes money, so I feel less shame saying I’m a banker than a bookseller, but retail’s retail, and my white collars still come no-suit-required.

Sometimes, if I wake up cocky, I’ll introduce myself as a ‘writer,’ pointing to my few publications and this blog as proof. Then there’s always the questions: “What books you got out?” “What genre do you write?” I’ve got answers, but like lice in your daughter’s kindergarten bowl-cut, the questions keep coming. Friendship and love are well-meant interrogations; justify yourself.

But I’ve got it good. I’ve got a job that sounds mostly respectable, a passion that (though far-fetched) is somewhat relatable; I’m no fast-food chef going home to gorgeous cases of pinned insects, hotel cleaners finding time for life in the margins. No wonder Caribou keeps rotating baristas – bad hours, bad pay, social scorn.

My coffee was good. Simple, but good. The lean guy said ‘bye’ brightly and got ready for the next customer. I want to live in such a way that no-one feels the need to justify themselves to me. To keep breathing – whatever letters are beside your name – is beautiful, full stop.

Well, except for the CEO’s. I wouldn’t mind making millionaires prove they’ve earned the puppet strings.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“The people that I liked and had not met went to the big cafes because they were lost in them and no one noticed them and they could be alone in them and be together.” – Ernest Hemingway

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Coffee Log, Day 112

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Sumatra Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

One of the customers is going to Scandanavia. Specifically, Norway and Sweden and Denmark. All three countries have kroner, he ordered some of each. This customer is an old man with white hair. He wore a purple polo today. He’s plump like a chicken under the butcher’s knife.

This guy had a particular style to him: no matter what he was saying, it became condescending. He asked whether you could interchange the kroner across countries. We looked it up, you can’t. He said: “Oh, look at you, you learned something today.” He pointed at each of us with freeze-dried fingers. It was hard not to laugh.

There’s a mean streak to white Southern pride. You define yourself against the rest of the world. If you are to have worth, you have to compete and you have to win and you have to let everyone else know you’re winning. Big-rim trucks. Your aunt’s three-foot Sunday hat.

I love and hate that part of my heritage. Hate it for the obvious reason: it’s obnoxious. Love because it’s pitifully honest, pitifully animal, a bunch of eager baboons comparing ass-cheeks.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“Early in my career…I had to choose between an honest arrogance and a hypercritical humility… I deliberately choose an honest arrogance, and I’ve never been sorry.”- Frank Lloyd Wright

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