Some thoughts on coffee…

Coffee.  So much is in a word.  The way it punctuates the day. The way it can act as both an invitation to social interaction, and a buffer against it. Its fascinating and varied history. How it has become one of the most ubiquitous, conspicuous consumption items of choice for middle class Americans.  Its ability to give people a sense of personal identity (Triple non-fat dry cappuccino anyone?!)

We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup…You don’t even really need a place. But you feel like you’re doing something. That is what coffee is. And that is one of the geniuses of the new coffee culture. – Jerry Seinfeld

I write this while sitting among the caffeinated masses in a popular local spot.  Everyone here who’s not chatting loudly about their drunken escapades from the previous night is immersed in their laptops and earbuds with looks of concentration (such that I also probably have right now) that would give the impression that one is writing the next great American novel, or at the very least curing cancer.  When in reality, we’re all just working on crafting the perfect Instagram caption and/or trying to devise a witty hashtag.


Office civilization could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.” – Alain de Botton

My day is punctuated by when I am having, have had, or will have coffee. It is my time stamp, and one of the key indicators that time is indeed moving along. Take my most typical day for example: Coffee upon waking up (7am). Coffee when I get to work (9am).  Pre-lunch coffee (11am), Post-lunch coffee (2pm). Occasional bank lobby coffee (5pm), post dinner coffee (8pm). It’s how I know whether I’m coming or going.

“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.” – Dave Barry

The Viennese coffee culture has existed for centuries, but until Starbucks made headway in the American suburbs, the idea of “going for coffee” was a primarily urban, city dweller activity. Before Starbucks became ubiquitous, coffee for most people meant a black, watery substance that served as a vehicle for a morning pick-me-up.  Taste, quality, and variety were certainly not a concern.  Now, soccer moms and yuppies alike partake in double espresso macchiatos and dry cappuccinos.  However, the elevation to the mainstream that Starbucks has allowed for in American coffee culture has only created a backlash of sorts among the original, pre-populist, coffee aficionados.  Thus the rise of the “non corporate” coffee culture. It is antithesis of and reaction to the demystification of coffee perpetrated on the populace by a green and white Siren.

“Just the other day, I was in my neighborhood Starbucks, waiting for the post office to open. I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle’s Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top.” – Sarah Vowell

Have you ever noticed that every TV talk show has coffee cups present? It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. I’ve always wondered whether it’s actually coffee that is in there, or something else.  But then again, what’s the point of using a coffee mug if you’re just going to put water or juice in it?  Why not just a plain glass? Perhaps the coffee mug elicits more candid responses from talk show guests…getting back to that whole idea of coffee-as-social-lubricant, thing.

“Do you know how helpless you feel if you have a full cup of coffee in your hand and you start to sneeze? ” – Jean Kerr

Why does my bank want me to have coffee?  I see the free coffee stand to my right and think, “I know it’s 5pm and I’m heading home, but then again, this may take a while…The struggle is real.

Perhaps the bank coffee is a primer, a subliminal message of sorts, that coffee and banking go hand in hand.  It would make sense, since every bank commercial seems to feature coffee as an essential part of the “at home banking” process: a cozy atmosphere (perfectly fitting), comfortable clothes, laptop – all of the accoutrement one needs. The actors in the commercials are poised for banking success. Achievement with a capital “A” is imminent. Coffee, no doubt, has played a key role in this. The subtlety is not lost on me. And yet, I still pour myself a quick cup, adding to my already caffeine addled brain, and fill out my deposit slips.

What I learned from leaving Facebook.

I have not been on Facebook now since December 2015. I wrote about the reasons why I was leaving it in an earlier post. I would say there are both upsides and downsides to not having Facebook. However, the good far outweighs the bad.

Here are some general observations since leaving the site: Continue reading “What I learned from leaving Facebook.”

Day 24 – Black Mirror : A Look at our Dystopian Future Selves

I may be a little late coming to this, but the British show Black Mirror, currently streaming on Netflix, is one of the best pieces of dramatic social commentary I’ve seen in some time.

In this anthology series, each episode tells a different story from the perspective of a not-so-distant future “us” that has somehow allowed certain technologies to progress to their logical, albeit dystopian and destructive conclusions. Continue reading “Day 24 – Black Mirror : A Look at our Dystopian Future Selves”

Day 22 – Have we reached peak cynicism?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

We all know what happens when excess is mistaken for progress: housing bubbles, tech bubbles, financial bubbles – name your bubble. I’m beginning to feel we are approaching the zenith of a cynicism bubble. Peak oil?  It’s time to start talking about peak cynicism and its repercussions.

Here’s why I am just as guilty of it. Continue reading “Day 22 – Have we reached peak cynicism?”

Day 20 – What’s in a word?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

I am reminded every election year that words matter. Language is very powerful as a motivating force in political rhetoric. Coupled with the right personality and the right amount of charisma, words can lead a nation towards inspirational, lofty visions  (The Gettysburg Address, civil rights, the moon landing), but they can also manipulate fears and insecurities towards engaging in unspeakable actions (internment camps, death camps).

As I wrote in an earlier post, 1984, by George Orwell, is one of the books that most significantly shaped how I see the world around me – especially as it relates to that of political bodies and governments. Don’t get me wrong.  There is a lot of good done by governments for citizens, not the least of which includes programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the National Highway System, to name a few. But I have also seen innumerable instances where, both in my life time and in past decades, governments have acted in ways that are wholly self-serving, corrupt and dangerous.

So as we enter the last ten months of the 2016 elections, let us all keep in mind three key phrases from 1984 – three mantras, if you will –  that are used in the novel to control and paralyze people, and that have existing forms in modern U.S. political rhetoric.
Continue reading “Day 20 – What’s in a word?”

Day 16 – Three Essential Books to Achieving Happy Relationships

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

In my continuation of book-themed posts, here are three books (sometimes all you need is three) that get at the crux of our relations with other human beings.  Whether it be romantic or platonic, familial or collegial, these three books will give you valuable insight and understanding of yourself in the context of your relations with others. Continue reading “Day 16 – Three Essential Books to Achieving Happy Relationships”

Day 13 – Five Books that Changed How I View the World

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

Anyone who is even a moderate reader has at least one book that they can point to and say, “That book changed my life.”, or, “That book completely changed the way I view the world.” These are the stories that stick with us; the universal messages that shape who we are as individuals and our world view.

Here are the books that had that impact on me: Continue reading “Day 13 – Five Books that Changed How I View the World”

Day 12 – Overly connected?

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 Challenge).

There is something off in our society when incidents of walking injuries are now more common than distracted driving.  This stems, I think from the modern expectation of social availability, and the culture of shared experience that we find ourselves.

The professional and personal expectation nowadays is that one is always and instantaneously available – or at least that they should be. Emails, texts, (calls?), come at us at all hours of the night and day, including holidays, and the implication is being, “I know you have a smartphone, so I know you see this.” Private/professional boundaries are at an all time low. Yes, one can choose not to respond. We can choose this, but the insecurity of feeling the need to respond for fear of. (I’m not sure what exactly)..is always present.

One of the moments one can escape this (well, at least for the most part), is while on an airplane. You don’t really realize just how much noise and distraction is associated with our current connectedness until the plane lands, and before it even reaches the gate, the plane is a cacouphony of “bings!” “dings!” “whistles!” “swooshes!”, and whatever other irritable noises people choose to subject their fellow passengers to.  Continue reading “Day 12 – Overly connected?”

Day 11 – On death

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge).

Writing early in the morning brings out random ideas in me for some reason.  One of them is death. Death: the BIG sleep, as it is sometimes known (although I think that is not quite a helpful way of putting it for purposes of psychological ease in dealing with the matter.)  Who wants to sleep forever AND be aware of it?!

Okay I admit. It’s a seemingly macabre topic, but one that I’ve often been fascinated by for quite some time.

When my grandmother died two years ago, I became even more fascinated.  I saw a woman of 79 years go from a perfectly healthy, active member of her community, to a gibbering basket case, unable to make sense of words or her surroundings, ultimately losing it all due to the random ravages of a malignant brain tumor.  It was quite sad to see this progression slowly taking place.  What was even more upsetting was seeing how she too knew it was slowly happening, and was ever more aware of her inability to comprehend.  Talk about a downer.

Once she died, and i was able to see her body at the funeral, the curious thoughts that occasionally creep into my mind about death were suddenly forced right back into my face. Questions like, “Where is she now?” “Is she aware of this funeral, or anything?” “Does she feel anything, now?”  All very deeply probing questions, but all without the slightest inkling of anything resembling an answer.  I think that used to bother me – not having an answer – but now I’m okay with it. Continue reading “Day 11 – On death”

Day 4 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 1 of 2)

(This post is part of the 30 for 30 challenge)

This past Saturday I was traveling home back west from the east coast, and witnessed a rather unsettling encounter between a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, and what I would call your typical, “angry white man”.  It was a busy day at the airport (the day after Christmas), so tensions were already a bit high, and the seating areas at the gates quite full.  The woman found an empty seat and set her backpack on the ground in front of it.  She then walked across to the other side of the terminal to throw something away.  When she walked back thirty seconds later, an “angry white man” accosted her saying, “Is this your bag?!  You should know better given this environment that people dressed like you can’t just leave things laying around like this at an airport.  You should be more careful!”  Thankfully, this incident happened near the check-in desk, so an airline employee quickly put an end to the verbal assult, and put the “angry white man” squarely in his place.  The Muslim woman gathered her things quietly and quickly, and moved to a far corner of the seating area.

I felt nothing short of mortified.  I was embarrassed both for her in that terribly awkward situation, and for myself to witness such bigotry.  I was repulsed that this is how people that look like me (i.e., white men) think they can treat a complete stranger at the airport for doing absolutely nothing wrong.  I wanted to stop the poor woman as she walked by to reassure her that, “We’re not ALL assholes, I promise.”  I didn’t go that far, but I thought about it.  All I could muster was a scathing stare towards the “angry white man” as I smoldered in my seat. Continue reading “Day 4 – Fear, Faith, Fundamentalism, and Doubt (part 1 of 2)”