Rated PG (language)
Chapter 35—Coffee Break
There’s a very specific ritual about making coffee. First and foremost, you must start with a good bean. I prefer the dark roasts; Italian and French, for example, make a good mix. Ideally, coffee beans should be stored in the freezer. When grinding, care must be taken to achieve the perfect granule for drip-brewing, or powder for espresso. As a rule, powder unleashes the most flavor; however this is problematic for the drip-brew drinker at the bottom of the cup, where much of it settles. That shit will quickly turn your teeth a gritty shade of gray.
While I may appreciate the subtle nuances between drip-brewing or French-pressing my coffee, I am an espresso with steamed milk maker. That means I grind for powder. If you turn an Indonesian bean to dust and pack a full espresso basket, it still easily drips espresso. Try that with a French or Italian bean and you will require more than a small, home-style espresso maker to drip the dark roasts. To affect the perfect balance of a well-ground bean with slightly less than two-thirds of a twelve ounce mug of milk, the optimum time to grind dark roasts in a small, stainless nut grinder is twenty-five to thirty seconds. Go beyond that, and you’re espresso basket is impacted to constipation by the dust-powder, resulting in an interminably slow espresso drip. Impossibly slow. It’s the oiliness of the bean which clogs up the works. To remedy this, the powder must instead be a granule. This sacrifices some flavor, but at least I can get a cuppa joe in under twenty minutes.
Twenty-five or thirty seconds is a long time for a coffee bean to be hacked by two stainless steel blades. I counted out the ‘mississippi’s’ and carefully lifted off the top to the grinder. There, sitting in the center of finely chopped, brown dust, sat one lone bean covered in powder. It was whole — unsullied and untouched.
What’s this? Why hello, little feller! I took it out, held it up, and dusted it off. How the hell did you escape the blades of final dissolution? How could you possibly not be powder by now, crushed and disseminated throughout my grinder with the rest of the beans? Did you balance your tightrope act in the dead center of those blades, twirling like a dirvish on knives of steel? You, little bean, have passed through the flames of consumption and emerged unscathed! You are a survivor, much like myself. You are anti-centrifugal, and refused to lie down. You are an inspiration, to be commended! Where have you bean all my life?
Off you go, little survivor… I tossed it back in the bag with the others. I’ll get you next time… Ah, it is the ‘morning’ version of the Wonder Child. That is, the early afternoon version. Her hair is early day-bed, her face Sleepy the Dwarf as she wipes her hand across Snow White eyes. Her pajamas talk to me slowly, “Who are you talking to? Can I have a cup of coffee?”
Flannel pajamas and a t-shirt with a dancer on it. She is at an age when her father had already conceived and subsequently aborted a child. She wants to be in love. Her father was in love by twelve, and again at thirteen, and fourteen, and seventeen… then once more. Her father never wore pajamas… “Did I say that out loud? Sure, I’ll make you a cup,” and I start making our coffee. Her father was drinking coffee by her age, having developed an early jones for café con leche in Spain. Her father was drinking a lot of wine and beer too, at her age, and trying to give up being addicted to getting high on pot and acid and heroin and pills and… Her father had lived a life of crime already, by her age. She is unlike her father in all the right ways. She’s going to love coffee.
When I picked Katy up from school on her seventeenth birthday she was covered in balloons, flowers, and small, pink stuffed animals. Everyone was nice to her that day. She told me her French teacher had cornered her at lunchtime and started speaking to her in French.
Katy told me, “I just nodded and said: ‘Uh, sure! Thanks!’ In class they all tried to sing to me, but nobody knew the song and it was all out of tune. Sounded terrible…”
I wanted to know what her French teacher said to her, but Katy had no idea. “Didn’t you ask her what she meant?”
“Because I’m supposed to know!” Then she picked up my wine glass and took a sip.
“How do you like the wine?”
“Yuck, not good with gum…” This is something we have in common. Seventeen… out of the severe misnomer that is Sweet Sixteen and into another grand teen year of life as they know it at that age. For her birthday we gave her a gift certificate at a good book store, two chocolate bars, a fine dinner at an Italian Restaurant of her choosing and six lottery scratch-off tickets she won sixteen bucks with. The next day I received a letter from our bank stating that they covered five transactions of hers she didn’t have the money for, and she must now remit $105 in penalties. They didn’t know the half of it, as she had recently been fired from her part-time Juice Jockey Job and had no income other than what I gave her for lunch money, when she asked. I forked over the sixteen bucks lottery winnings and the non-existant money was floating out of my hands at every turn. “Do I have to use this for lunch?” I handed her three more bucks. Her father was stealing drugs for money, breaking into drugstores and doctors offices for more drugs… When he ate, he ate lobster at The Stratton. At seventeen, her father and his friend skipped out the side door of a swank Hollywood Boulevard hotel on a lobster tab. This is something we don’t have in common.
“Please don’t tell me you woke up with gum in your mouth,” I mutter almost to myself.
Katy goes to the bathroom while I finish the coffee. When she comes out, I hand her her cuppa joe. She takes a sip and some foam lingers on her upper lip area. “Mmm-m-m…” Her eyes close a little. She starts in immediately:
“On tuesday we have to perform at…” (time and place which I immediately forget to remember) “…and on Wednesday there’s a party…” (at some o’clock) “…for the dance team and we’re doing a gift exchange…” (sly hint for money) “…and don’t forget my haircut on Monday and OH MY GAWD I have to tell you… Missy and I were practicing…” (some dance step) “…and she fell right on her face! HA-HA-HA! We were laughing so hard! She was sitting on her butt and she pushed back and said ‘Oh my gawd, I just peed!’ Then she showed me the little puddle…” (on the gym floor) “…and we started laughing even harder! Missy had to get up and run to the boys bathroom and left little drops of pee all the way…! Oh my gawd I couldn’t stop laughing! First it was Amanda, then Kelly at camp and now Missy, HA-HA-HA!”
I’m thinking: I don’t really need to know this, it gives me the eeky-jeebies. Quickly man, change the subject… Still, I’m laughing. It’s potty humor and her father still laughs when anyone says ‘tushy.’ Her father looked his own fart in the eye of the mirror.
Deftly, I change the subject. “Coffee starting to kick in?”
“Uh-huh,” she nods eagerly. Her father’s cup only succeeds in warding off a headache, until the next one comes in the late afternoon. There is a silent moment.
“Your Aunt Jessica would have had a birthday this month.”
Katy nods. “I wonder how Beverly is doing?” She is referring to her Aunt Jessica’s cat, who we all tried to take care of while Jessica was in and out of the hospital with an incredible array of vast diseases, slamming her relentlessly. The cat clearly flipped its poor lid, attacking anything at any given time, with or without a possessed-sounding warning. When I went there I wore long pants, boots, a heavy jacket, thick leather gloves and carried an umbrella, which I used to back her away from the door when I entered — popping it out like a belligerant peacock when she went for my feet, where she once drew blood. To feed the cat and shovel her shit, I dressed like a bomb squad worker. Later I realized a much easier way to keep Beverly at bay. I smoked. When I smoked, I could go inside wearing a Speedo and she wouldn’t come near me. Shortly after that, Aunt Jessica passed away. Beverly was taken in by a family with two other cats and, I was told, they all get along famously well.
“I’m sure Beverly’s living life on her own terms,” I tell my daughter as she sips her latte.
Katy chuckles, thinking of Beverly. “That cat was insane.”
I agree, fondling my mug. Last night Katy went to ‘Teen Zone,’ which is a gymnasium at a local school that hosts an occasional dance for the kids. She also knows a member of two of the bands who performed, a drummer and a bass guitar player. They play ‘rock,’ I was told. I ask her how they were.
“Oh, pretty good.” Then she immediately downgrades them to, “Not too bad.”
“How was the turnout?” I ask.
“Only about twenty people.”
I’m surprised there were so few. When her father went to rock concerts at the The Fillmore East he had to negotiate millions just to get there. His Pop taught him to slice through Lexington Avenue at five o’clock like Emerson Boozer after taking the handoff from Broadway Joe. Her father took the subway to get to concerts, but much preferred the elevated line that took him to see Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, and others he could no longer remember.
“Did you know many people there?” I ask, sniffing around for the boy’s name I think might be behind this. She doesn’t go there, which could mean that she’s seriously more picky now than she used to be. I like to think she’s taken my advice and isn’t trusting anybody with her feelings. I don’t really know if this is right or wrong, but I’m pretty sure it’s the safest stance to take. I want her to hold out a while longer before committing her heart to anyone, at least until the hormones slow from raging to just monthly. Then, she’ll have at least three weeks a month to stay open-minded and clear-headed. (The other week, if she stays athletic, I can hope she’s at least clear-headed.)
“Yeah, I knew a few people. Most of the rest were from…” and she names the rival school. “They’re weird…”
Oh god, not more weirdness. That assessment always puts me on edge. Her father had weird friends once upon a time, when he was her age. They were weird enough to wield guns and knives, and commit acts of armed robbery, breaking and entering, grand theft, petty theft, any theft no matter how trivial, no matter from whom. They were really weird on acid, and glue, and too much booze, and barbituates, and morphine, and worse.
“How so?” I always have to ask.
“Well, the way they dress… I mean, in girls clothes… It’s the hard coursing.” She knows I’m going to take this a little strangely, so she pauses enough to let it sink in, warming both hands on her cup.
“They what? I…” didn’t quite understand. I didn’t even know what question to ask first. “What’s hard coursing?”
“Hard coursing..! It’s the hard coursing.”
“What?” Like I knew what she was talking about. “Hard coursing..?”
“Hard, core, scene!”
“Oh-h-h, it’s the hard core scene…”
“Yeah, you know…” (I didn’t) “…short jackets and frilly shirts…”
“You have to e-nun-ciate around me, especially with slang.” I’m trying to get a sense of how much of this is gay and how much of it is just campy. “You mean like Prince?” (The talented musician with the damned annoying Insignia.)
“Yeah, more like Prince, but they wear girl’s pants.”
“What’s the difference?” I want to know. She tells me in specific, no-uncertain terms that it’s the cut, and the low waist that makes them different than men’s pants. And the cost, I think. So I’m seeing pimply-faced teen Prince impersonators from Tyrol dressed like Twiggy, in my mind. This doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Katy’s father wondered if the boys were transvestites. He wondered if it was fair to ask that about someone their age. He wondered if anyone could know at that age whether or not they were a transvestite. But he knew it didn’t matter.
“So are they gay?” She doesn’t know for sure and I believe her — that she’s not sure. “What about eye liner?” I ask her.
Then I ask her the telltale question: “Anyone hit on you?”
“That’s it, they’re gay.” I tell her.
She laughs, “Probably.” I don’t even ask her if they can dance, I don’t need to. Anyone who cross dresses even a little can dance. These boys could just be theatrical, or they could be gay. Katy’s already told me that she won’t take the Drama classes in school because the people are all gay and lesbian pot smokers. Katy is hetero and doesn’t get high; what would they have in common? Again, I didn’t pass any judgements. She did that for herself and decided it wasn’t worth the risk. As usual, she just wants the Easy way out of school. The path of least resistance. In this case it probably works in her favor.
We don’t care about the gay and lesbian part of working within the drama group. It’s the pot smoking I’m glad she’s avoiding. I don’t want her to start having too much fun yet; it’s distracting from actually finding an interest she can be passionate about. Her father found that passion, but it took many years of experimentation.
“What about the lesbians, do they buy men’s clothes?” I wonder.
“Only the butch ones. Oh…” she laughs, “…and then, Apryle pokes me and says: ‘Do you see those guys wearing chickens on their heads?’ It’s true! Some guys were wearing chicken heads! I said…” (to Apryle) “‘…Yeah.’ And she said: ‘Good, I didn’t want to be the only one!’ Ha-ha!”
Ha-ha, I think. Very funny? Cross dressing juniors with frilly shirts, low-waisted pants, eye liner, and chickens on their heads… that is funny, isn’t it? Her father’s time pre-dated punk. When spikes and mohawks showed up, he was freaked! How much more outlandish will teens be willing to take this show of independence? Now they are piercing holy places all over their bodies like they were pin cushions and spray painting their hair Rustoleum orange. While I’m trying to decide what’s next, Katy’s still talking.
“…he felt really bad because the lead singer started throwing up all over the stage and…”
“Wait, wait!” I interrupt. “Start that over again?”
“Yeah, he felt really bad (her friend in the band) because he convinced him (his friend, the lead singer) to go (perform) even though he was sick. Then he (the lead singer) threw up all over…”
“Oh… That sucks,” I commiserate.
“Yeah,” she says, studying the foam left in her cup and swiping at it with her pinky. “Can I put more chocolate on this?”
“Sure…” I’m lost in my own foam. When handled properly, foam can be nursed like a bar beer — pacing it all the way to the last, true gulp. After it’s gone, it signifies one thing only: You are done with your coffee. Oh sure, there’s that last little dribble to coax out, but that’s only a tease for the next cup. My second cup of this warm, autumn day is half empty already, this early in the afternoon. I’ve been gulping. I should slow down. I toy with the idea of speeding up and making another but I knew I wouldn’t. I have to pace myself, or the experience will diminish. Katy sits back down at the kitchen table. She’s still talking.
“And Missy, she wouldn’t shut up! She kept shhh-shhh’ing in the back…” I’m lost. “She and Lisa have been hanging out together because they both have boyfriends and I don’t. They have something to talk about…”
“Mm-hmm,” I offer sympathetically. “How about Kelly, has she got a boyfriend?”
“So hang out with her,” I say. Then, after a pause, “So, no boy troubles then?”
“No,” she tells me a little dejectedly. “I’ve given up on boys.”
“Good,” I reiterate, like I have before on the subject. “Best to wait until you’re thirty.”
She seems truly depressed that I might be right, after all. “I know.”
I don’t want to squash her hopes completely, so I soften up a little. “It’s possible you can find someone in your twenties… if you’re careful.”
“Yeah, sure.” She changed the subject, “I was with Apryle. We were trying to shut Missy up. Oh, it was so funny, because we couldn’t laugh, you know?”
Of course I knew. The resistence to laughing is always in direct opposition to the seriousness of the moment. “Remind me again, where were you?”
“I told you, at the City Council meeting,” where the girls try to get money from the city for their Dance Squad. She’s talking about a few nights ago.
“So this guy comes over and takes her arm…” (Missy’s) “…and tells her to be quiet..! And Apryle started laughing, and…” (I think I know what’s coming) “…blew a giant snot bubble! Aha-ha-ha!”
Naturally… “Did you call her on it?”
“Of course!” Katy laughs. That’s my girl.
“What’d she do?” I wanted details.
“She covered it up with her hand.” I laughed. I mean, what else are you going to do when you blow snot at a City Council meeting? It was a stupid question. I think I should change the subject, move on to tonight’s plans.
“So, you guys are planning to go to the movies tonight?”
“What are you going to see?”
Briefly I wonder why, but not for long. She loves love stories. She thrives on movies that make her cry and scream. “Why?” I ask her anyway, knowing already.
She tells me in no uncertain terms: “Because I hear it’s good!” She’ll want money, of course. Her father rarely paid to see movies. He crawled in on his hands and knees, under the ticket seller and through the door, past the candy counter, then ran up the stairs to the loge, where he and his friends could smoke and throw garbage down on the seats below — occasionally knocking a drink over the side before running out the door. Or he walked backwards in the side door as people were leaving, even lighting a cigarette so he’d look like he was egressing with the rest of the crowd. His daughter would never do that.
“Can I get my driver’s permit next week?”
I gulp more coffee. My foam is on its last gasp, the final lump will hit my mouth and bubble a little bit before going down. Then I’ll be left with only the dribble, and the recurring question, Should I have another? The answer will be No, as usual. I’ll nurse the dribble twice, squeezing a littler dribble out of the first, until the smallest, tiniest, last hope of a drip dries on the cup before it can make its way onto my tongue. Her father was learning how to drive when he was seventeen…
Why does this father hold up his past to her present? He compares, wondering what he can possibly offer her. Her chemistry homework is math to him and she’s talking about college, a place he has never once set foot. HOW WILL SNEAKING INTO MOVIES AND MOUNTAINS OF DRUGS AND WANTON SEX AND HAVING TWO ABORTIONS HELP HER? his conscience blatantly queries. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR HER LATELY EXCEPT POKE STAR TREK IN THE ASS? WILL YOU TEACH HER TO LAUGH AT THE LESS FORTUNATE, TWIST THE CLASSICS INTO SOMETHING POTTY-MOUTHED, AND TO PLAY WITH FISH AS WORDS? WHERE WAS YOUR DAUGHTER WHEN YOU WERE BUSY STARING AT YOUR FART LIKE IT WAS A BULLSEYE TO AN EPIPHANY? DO YOU TALK TO HER AS MUCH AS YOU DO YOUR CATS? WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WATCHED THE SIMPSONS TOGETHER..?
What did his father before him, the Painter, teach him besides how to negotiate the sidewalk? He didn’t… he just was. He was himself, and no one else to anyone. He was there, invoking his passion for his son to see. Oh, his son said, fifty years later, licking the dry foam from the inside of his mug.
“Sure… we can do that.”
“Yay!” she said to her father, fully upright in her chair with eyes the size of hockey pucks.
Scraping the last bit of foam with her finger and sticking it in her mouth, “Mmmm…” she said. “When?”