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In honor of International Coffee Day (tomorrow), I share with you this slightly abstract shot of coffee steaming in a styrofoam cup on the porch of the Rabbit Ears Motel. It was very good coffee (to me), which means that it’s like coffee you’d get from a truck stop or a jar of Folger’s Crystals. In other words, anyone else would think it was terrible coffee. Poor MKL is a bit of a coffee snob, and is scandalized by my lack of taste in this area. But it has provided us with kind of a code for the quality of coffee in restaurants, as detailed below:

Me: Is the coffee good?
MKL: YES! Would you like a sip?
Me: No, thank you.

Or…

Me: Is the coffee good?
MKL: You’ll love it. (Because he doesn’t like to speak ill of things I like.)
Me: Thanks! (drinking the whole thing)

Mystic Coffee
Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.” — Hunter S. Thompson

Daily gratitudes:
Bookstores
MKL
Cooler air
Healthy grocery shopping
Helping people find their way

Incongruity in a small town.

IMG_1271

Kremmling, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “Long accustomed to a life of self-indulgent solitude, he began to yearn for the beauty of giving himself to others.”  —  Yasunari Kawabata

Daily gratitudes:
Sunny January days
Yummy lasagna
Discovering super-low gas prices
Geese
Loving someone enough that it’s hard to sleep without him

After Noon At Starbucks

The ventilation fans sound like overstimulated crickets
As a Robert Downey ( Jr.) clone enters boldly in his orange shirt.
The woman sitting next to me
is surprised to see him.
He talks to her, touching her too much,
too familiar
and I can tell that
she cannot tell
how much she minds.

The air is a blur of sneezes, hums, mingled voices,
soft
low
male
female.

Jazz riffs skate across a keyboard as baristas whine idly,
harmonically,
about nothing in particular.
Keys jingle in a pocket
as the front door quietly opens and closes.

No one orders a coffee here;
it’s a vente caramel macchiato with soy
or a grande mocha jingle beefcake latte
but hold the whipped cream.

The barista named Saffron
flirts for tips
and her customer strides out,
whistling and smiling.

She reveals to her coworkers that
he looks so much like her father’s friend.

A woman who should not
appears in horizontal stripes and leggings,
and I am sorely tempted
to direct her to the furniture store across the parking lot
for a mirror.

From here,
I can watch the snow move in from behind the mountains
And imagine shooting down the heart-shaped mylar balloons
on the table in the entryway.

The espresso machine hisses like a thousand snakes gone wrong,
spitting steam and spraying a sea breath of foam into the air.
Cups clang waiting for cleaning,
A cooler door bumps shut over and over
until the latch catches.

Saffron wipes down the counters diligently.
She wears a belt that looks like a piano keyboard.

I suspect that

Saffron

is not

her real name.

Coffee cups seem to have a curious aura about them for some people.  I am one of those people.  Are you?

As I was cleaning out some stuff from my former house last week, I found a particular box that contained things that I have kept with me since I left home at 18.  I’d been wondering, in idle moments, where they were.  The box holds things that I used to display on a small wooden shelf – where the shelf went, I have no idea.  Among the contents are numerous dried roses from forgotten special moments, a small empty bottle of Moet and Chandon from a perfect date in Boston, a can of Florida sunshine given to me by a boy I dated over Christmas break the year before I came to Colorado, a small oval still-life that my Mother bought me at an art show at Northgate Mall back when it was still a strip mall, a wooden vase my high-school chemistry teacher made for me, because he was fond of me and he said I tried the hardest and did the worst of any student he’d ever had, and a rust-colored pedestal pottery coffee mug that I stole from the first restaurant in which I worked.

I never particularly liked the mug, but it was one of two that I liked to have coffee from when I worked there.  I can’t recall the other one – I just know that there were two.  When it was time to leave the restaurant for the first time, when I moved to Boston, I wanted a reminder of my time there, so the mug joined me on my journey.  I didn’t use it much in freshman year, since I didn’t have access to coffee in my room, but it was with me like a talisman, reminding me of the place and time that I cast off the unfortunate bonds of my rather snooty school and came into my own.  It did see its fair share of coffee – and mold – in sophomore year, when I had my own little coffee pot.

I drank more coffee that first semester in college than I ever had before or ever have since.  By the time I came home for Christmas break, I was drinking three giant styrofoam cups full before 9:00 a.m.  So over Christmas, I went cold turkey. It was awful – I had horrible withdrawal headaches, and was about as bitchy as my parents had ever seen me, which is saying something.  I hope I apologized to them about that before they died.  I think I did.

Over the years, I had favorite coffee cups. There were two, one blue and one green, that I bought from a man curiously selling pottery in the middle of the woods by the Eno River.  A large brown one was purloined as a memento from the first catering company I worked for.  I took it to my last big company, and brought it into my very first meeting.  One of the women in the room said, immediately and loudly, “That is the biggest coffee cup I have EVER seen!”  I wasn’t sure if I should be pleased or embarrassed – you know how nervous you can be on your first day. And to me, it was a pretty normal mug – it’s not as if it were the size of my (albeit small) head.

Some people at work had their own mugs that they kept at their desk, but others would just take whatever mug came to hand in the communal kitchens.  I have always cared what mug I was drinking from – the size matters, the shape matters, the color matters, the design matters – it serves to enhance or detract from the coffee experience (or the tea experience, which is a different story, to be covered in a different essay.)   A mug that was appropriate for one morning’s cup will not necessarily be the right mug for the next day – or even for the afternoon.  Based on the casual consumption of coffee from random containers, I suspect this is not a feeling that everyone shares.  What essence does the character of a mug impart to the coffee, or to the experience?

I’ve always liked coffee cups with saucers.  I borrowed one from my favorite spot on Anegada some years back.  Last year, the cup fell from my wet fingers to shatter on my countertop.  I was devastated, but the need to replace it gives me a good excuse to go back.

The Captain and I liberated a cup and saucer from a special restaurant in San Francisco.  We shared them long distance, trading off who had them.  He was going to make a special travelling box for them, but he died before he could get to it.  I suspect they went off to some thrift store someplace with the rest of his things – no one else knew their significance.

I rescued an old mug from a little hotel on Jost van Dyke.  I felt as if it were my duty to do so before someone else did, as the place had been taken over by new owners and the special mugs were going to be replaced by something generic.

My father had his favorite coffee mugs – kind of oatmeal colored pottery with a wide handle.  He had two of them.  I don’t think I ever asked him where he got them, but he had his coffee from them every morning.  E-Bro took at least one of them home with him after our Mother died.  I was very pleased that he wanted them.  So I suspect that my Dad had the same sensitivity to drinking vessels as I do.

I’ve always had an affinity for the old-fashioned standard thick, white, chunky coffee mugs used at greasy spoon diners like the Busy Bee Restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts.  I guess that’s consistent with my affinity for the 1940’s era, which is when the Busy Bee most likely opened.

When I moved out of Pat’s house, it felt like I was evacuating before a fire or flood.  I didn’t really pack.  I just took things more or less at random in a state of semi-shock.  I left behind several mugs that had meaning to me, and many that didn’t.  I have very little room in the cottage, and don’t need a lot of things – or a lot of mugs.  In fact, I don’t often drink coffee these days – tea sometimes, but usually at coffee shops where I like to work.  Even then, the mug is important – none of those crappy paper to-go cups for me.

As life goes on, I will surely accumulate more mugs, and not always by stealth.  And each will, most certainly, hold not only copious amounts of coffee (or tea or tequila), but some unique sense of place, space and time that speaks to me with every sip.

I’m looking forward to those sips.

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