Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 233


Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I talked to a Subway manager while he was ringing me up. “You know that I’ve always got stories,” he says. And I do know this because he’s told me a few before. I ask him for another. He takes off his clear plastic gloves so he can dig in.

Last week there was this old guy. Old old, he came in with a cane. The guy orders a sandwich, some kind of turkey, and pays with a card at the counter. He leaves the same way he came in. He hobbles all the way to the door.

An hour later, the manager finds a wallet. It’s a long one, like a pocket-book. It was set by the register and forgotten, Fall leaves. There’s a couple customers so the manager asks each of them if it’s theirs. It isn’t. He opens it up. Right there in the plastic window is the old guy again, staring through his license photo. So the manager thinks ‘I’ve got to find him.’ he looks around the license, finds credit cards and prescriptions, no phone numbers. There’s $1200 cash. Not knowing what else to do, he calls 911.

It’s late in the day when the old guy returns. He comes in without his cane and rushes to the register. The manager has the wallet, offers to let him look through, make sure nothing’s gone, but the old guy tells him he trusts him, that only a good person would go so far as to call 911 to return it. And that’s heartwarming, but the story doesn’t end there.

The old guy sticks around. There’s customers, a long line around dinner, and the old guy hangs in a corner without ordering. The manager thinks this is strange. He asks across the counter if the guy needs anything, but the guy just shrugs. Later, when the crowds are gone, the old guy comes up to the counter crying.

“I’d been saving for two years,” he says. All that cash? It was put off to take his ailing wife to Florida. She’s sick, she wants to see it again, and he’s finally got the money to show her. The man’s a mess. He’s salt rain and thank yous. He leaves waving with both hands and the manager feels good.

A few weeks later, a gift shows up at the Subway. There’s a batch of baked cookies and a t-shirt waiting by the counter. The manager asks what it is and the employee says it’s from the old man’s family, that there were ten of them in earlier wanting to thank him. He’s touched. The cookies taste like cinnamon and burnt sugar. The shirt’s a Florida palm.

When I left the Subway this evening, after paying, and thanking my friend for his long story, I thought about what the moral should be, and I came up with this: the only real heroes are people who are willing to go just a little bit out of their way.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.

Florence Nightingale

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 67


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I stayed in the hammock long after everyone else had gone and even after my host had left to get ready for bed. It was 3 in the morning. I was 18. I was up thinking of stories.

Earlier, as in during the school year, I’d been at this same house sitting on this same porch (though the hammock wasn’t there, they strung that up for the summer) and talked a big game about how you could make a story of anything. I was trying to be encouraging. My host – we’ll call her the Gymnast – had a big speech coming up. It was at our graduation. She was co-valedictorian. She was scared.

So I said: “Take this: a ham sandwich. But the only topping is mustard. Sound interesting?”

She said: “No.”

I went on and on about that sandwich, building up a history with the bread and meat, a poignant love of mustard that had to do with an absent father. She laughed. It was a terrible story and I hadn’t proved anything, but at least it was fun.

In the hammock, I was eaten by mosquitoes. There was netting but some still got in. We’d been coming here weekly, me and all my friends, dying a last summer bleach blonde and bloodshot with late nights before we dispersed to different colleges. We hung out on the porch and in her basement, the Gymnast’s home. We all crowded in the hammock after her parents were asleep because none of us had gotten too cynical about touching another person’s skin.

I tossed and turned. It took a long time for the Gymnast to come back. She was brushing her teeth, I think. A perfect opportunity but I couldn’t think of anything. I knew I needed a better story but it all kept coming up ham and mustard.

When you’re young and not too poor, it’s easy to compress the universe into something pocket-sized. You take it with you everywhere you go, adding bits of lint, fiddling with it when you’re nervous. Back then, I was always nervous so I was always fiddling. I’d look at the moon and think it was two feet tall. I’d talk to the Gymnast and see a lock and a key and something precious behind a door I couldn’t figure out how to open.

I wanted to commemorate that feeling; I wanted the Gymnast to feel it too.

Finally, she came back and sat beside me, just us, she was in blue pajamas. She said: “Hey.” I said “I want to write something.” We sat together another half hour until it was impossible to ignore the mosquitoes, then she walked me out – past the kitchen where we’d baked together, the hallway she drew me in the first time, and out the front door. We said goodbye on her front lawn. I got in an old car that doesn’t exist as a car anymore (scrapped down) and drove home.

Whenever I’m feeling anxious, or stuck with writer’s block, I fiddle with my pocket and get lost in another universe: a dreamy one where I figured out a better story than a ham sandwich; an impossible world that doesn’t get past 18; some time and place where I knew exactly what to say.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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What a weary time those years were — to have the desire and the need to live but not the ability.

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 62


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

L came over. We’re playing Dungeons and Dragons tonight. For once, he’s DM’ing instead of me. That means he’s the storyteller, I’m an actor in the story. It’s a nice change of pace. A different perspective.

All my life, I’ve loved getting wrapped up in stories. My parents read me Narnia before I’d gotten to elementary school. I watched Power Rangers religiously. Maybe that’s where my itch to write comes from – when I run out of things to read, play, experience, I want to create them myself. There’s more to it than that, but it’s an important part.

At work today, we all talked about things that happened during the week. That’s what you do on a Friday – reminisce. One person had luck with their clients, another couldn’t get anyone to return their calls. We talked about lunches, talked about weather. A colleague gave me a bottle of Raspberry Vinaigrette because earlier in the week we’d been talking about how much we both liked salad. People understand themselves in retrospect. We’re not present creatures, but just-done narratives.

Tonight, I’m playing a Bard. The setting is 1939 America. My character makes magic by playing his harmonica. I’ve been looking up old folk songs on youtube. It’s a fun fantasy. A good way to end the week.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.

Toni Morrison

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 20


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I read an article about positive parenting. It followed a few researchers who lived with the Inuit. It reeked of Westernism – ‘they’re so happy!’ ‘They’re such a peaceful people!’ It said they were never angry. No-one’s never angry. Cultural fetishism aside, though, the article had some interesting points.

It talked about stories. The Inuit teach morals and manners with stories. Think mother goose, only it’s an Aurora that steals your head if you don’t wear your hat. All the kids in the city grew up with these stories. All the adults could recount them. They talked about tempting a two year old to hit his mother with a stone. When he did, she’d cry, exaggerated, performing a play, and when he didn’t, she’d hug him. But it was always a story. And that’s how people learn.

As a wannabe writer, that stuck with me. I thought about what stories I’m telling. I thought about what stories I’ve been told. I grew up with Goodnight Moon. What man has that made me?

A funny thing happens these days. Kids are coupled to computers. Their eyes go wide with games and movies, and more than that they’re wrapped up in YouTube. They stream themselves. We watch other peoples’ watching. We consume media so we can talk about it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different kind of story-telling. You can’t trick the kid to think he’s owed a visit from the tooth fairy. You can trick the kid to believe he might be famous if he posts an insta pic of that lost tooth. In 2019, kids skip a step: they’re becoming storytellers without having been a part of any story. They’re not the heroes but the narrators.

What do you do with that?

Novel Count: 30,349

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED! 

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Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere.

Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon

Coffee Log, Day 251 (Halloween Special)


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.




“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