Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Stain On My Notebook (Where Your Coffee Cup Was)

© David Hartman
I'm not the same guy I used to be.

Don't get me wrong. This isn't an "I ain't as good as I once was" admission. I'm every bit as good as I once was. Maybe better. Snark and cynicism age like wine. But I am different.

Twenty years ago, I was one of them. A coffee snob. A Java Dave's groupie. Java Dave's was as gourmet as you got in these parts before Starbucks invaded, blighting the landscape like locusts in Pharoah's garden. Three times a day, five days a week, at least once on Saturday. I was so groupie that I starred in one of their local television ads. Somewhere in the bookcase in the guest bedroom is an old VHS recording of that commercial. Anyone remember VHS? Then you remember back to when I had hair. No, really. The commercial proves it.

Back in the day, you could put 10 different cups of black coffee on the table in front of me, and after one sip, I could tell you what country the beans came from and get it right at least eight times out of 10. But it wasn't just the coffee. Before they got too big for their britches, Java Dave's was Oklahoma City's Cheers. It was a place where the Norms and the Cliffs and the Davids of the world could waltz in, sit down and get a little attention before going back to work, to home, or whatever else we had to endure between visits to Java Dave's.

Over time, things changed. The price of coffee went up; the buying power of my paycheck went down. Fifteen to 20 cups of coffee a week at $2 a pop didn't make financial sense. And then Sam sold the bar. Java Dave's franchised. Shelley Long was out; Kirstie Alley was in. It just wasn't the same anymore.

That background led to one of those "I can't believe what I just heard myself say" moments tonight after a random conversation with the Geezer. She was watching TV as I was passing through the living room. Starbucks was advertising coffee. The word "blonde" caught my attention. That's not the unbelievable part. Apparently, Starbucks is selling sissy coffee now. I didn't see the whole commercial, but I'm assuming from what I saw that "blonde" is coffee that isn't quite roasted all the way. So you can, you know, technically drink coffee without the coffee taste. Or something like that.

Geezer: "Is that Starbucks?"
Me: "Looks like it."
Geezer: "Do you like Starbucks?"
Me. "They're pretty proud of their coffee these days. I'll have to be awful thirsty before I'll pay four bucks for a cup of coffee."
Geezer: "But is it good coffee?"
Me: "Eh. Coffee's coffee."

Coffee's coffee. Wow. I actually said that.

But it's true. Sure, some people make it too strong. Some people make it too weak. Sometimes it sits on the warmer too long and tastes burnt. Other times not. At the end of the day, it's still just coffee.

Coffee is an institution, not a gourmet experience. Fathers and sons sit down and talk over coffee, whether it's "the talk" or just about cars or jobs or football. Young college boys and young college girls dream and giggle and flirt for hours on end over cups of coffee at Denny's, breaking the sickening gaze only long enough for the occasional, inevitable potty break. Don't forget to tip the waitress on your way out, loverboy. She's got kids to feed. Business deals are consummated over coffee. One man gives his word, another man takes it with a handshake over a cup of coffee. And it doesn't really matter where the beans are from, how it's brewed, or whether it's tree-hugger organic.

That doesn't mean I don't still have strong feelings about coffee. I still wanna go all drill sergeant on the "double froth, extra chocolate, one shot vanilla, two shots raspberry with some nonfat whipped cream and sprinkles" dessert drinkers who try to pass that off as "drinking coffee." They remind me of the "that's why yellow makes me sad, I think," jackwagon in the Geico commercial. (Find it here: http://youtu.be/XfmVBmDKLZI) You want chocolate cake? Nothing wrong with that. Just go to a bakery and get you some. But this is a coffee shop.

Through all my coffee evolution, one truth hasn't changed. Friends still don't let friends drink decaf. Ever. When your doctor says you need to switch to decaf, you need to switch your doctor.

Now if I could just get Mavis to come by with a warm-up.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Where have you gone, Norman Rockwell?

I struggled with whether to write this or just let it pass. I've so many friends who are passionate in the effort to keep stores locked up tight on Thanksgiving. They're good people. God-fearing, God-loving people. I love them dearly. I just don't agree with the premise that stores being open on Thanksgiving is a sign of the end of times. And the neat thing is, we can disagree and still be friends. Given the season, I'm thankful for that.


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. And I'm choosing to work six hours of overtime in my service-industry job instead of taking the whole day off as part of the company holiday. Friday also is a company holiday. Another day off with pay if I wanted it. And I'm working 12 hours of overtime that day. Eighteen hours of time-and-a-half in addition to the regular pay I get for working those days.


And that apparently makes me part of the problem. I must be one of those who has commercialized the holidays instead of embracing peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Money, money, money. That's all we're about. I must not care about the desecration of Thanksgiving by choosing to work rather than staying home to watch "It's a Wonderful Life"  while trimming the Christmas tree.

You might even be thinking: "I bet he's one of those 'Happy Holidays' folks, too."

Given those conclusions, here's a little secret you'd never believe. I'm actually -- wait for it -- thankful for the opportunity to make the extra money tomorrow. Strange, isn't it, being thankful on and for Thanksgiving? Because of my chance and my choice to work a few on Thanksgiving, my family will have a Christmas. Not the kind you're thinking. There will be no big-screen TVs, no computers or flashing-light gizmos waiting to be opened. Baby, Santa's not going to slip a Sable under the tree. For me.

In fact, retailers are going to be pretty ticked at our family this year. Between the Geezer and I, we'll probably not spend more than $80 total exchanging gifts. Without some holiday overtime, even that might be hard to come by. Several hundred unplanned dollars in doctor bills for the never-ending, no-cure illness called bronchitis and other life surprises will do that to you. Don't feel sorry for us. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We'll have a nice Christmas with what we have. Always do. Christmas, like Thanksgiving, is what you make of it.

Here's the thing. I'm not alone. Times are hard for a lot of folks. Those kids ringing up junk tomorrow at Widgets-R-Us make several dollars an hour less than I. You don't think that the lion's share of those folks aren't thankful for some time-and-a-half? Sure, there will be some who are upset about having to work a few hours if it means they have to leave Aunt Bea's right after lunch in order to get to work on time. The vocal minority always screams the loudest, in all matters. Theirs is the story that always gets told, even if it doesn't represent the whole.

Look, I like Norman Rockwell as much as the next guy. But stores being open on Thanksgiving isn't what's killing your Norman Rockwell holiday. In fact, for the majority of people, that holiday has been dead for years already. You really think if there wasn't shopping for the women to do the whole family would sit around the cleaned-off dinner table after supper swapping yarns about the good old days, sipping cocoa and playing Canasta until grandpa falls asleep and drools on his cards?

Nope. In most households the dirty dishes are still on the table when the TV comes on, if it wasn't already on throughout the meal. There are, after all, important football games to be played. The womenfolk just have to understand that family reconnecting and all the associated warm fuzzies are one thing. Football is something else entirely, particularly with the playoffs looming. Where's the righteous indignation directed at the NFL, the NCAA and the networks for having the audacity to spit on Norman Rockwell with a football game or 12?

In some parts of the country, Thanksgiving is synonymous with deer hunting. Let's hurry up with lunch so we can go out and kill something! Hunting isn't exactly a family-bonding experience, either. Having the entire family traipsing through the woods together chatting about how good the giblet gravy was while looking for a trophy rack tends to keep those racks beyond the rifle scope. It's a solitary sport on a "family" holiday. But we don't dare criticize hunting during Thanksgiving. If we did, we'd draw the ire of and get a generous dose of condescension from the NRA. You know them. They're that Order-of-the-Levites society that God on Sinai ordained to zealously guard and protect His Second Amendment, immediately after etching the sacred document in stone and handing it to Moses along with the tablet containing the far-less-important Ten Suggestions. So like football, hunting gets a free pass, too.

Families and family-oriented traditions have been eroding for decades. Shopping on Thanksgiving isn't the beginning of the end, nor is it the end of the end. You want Norman Rockwell back? Re-instill Norman Rockwell values back into American families.

In the meantime, I'll still have a good Thanksgiving tomorrow, in spite of working a few hours to help make ends meet. I'll still have the big meal, pray over it longer than usual and wish I'd had one less slice of pie when I push away from the table. Then I'll go to my office and punch the clock for a few hours. When I'm done, I'll crawl in bed and be thankful all over again.

I'll be thankful for your sake, that you didn't have or need to work on Thanksgiving, if in fact you don't. I'll be thankful that God saw my need and made a way to meet it. I'll be thankful that He likewise made a way for that single mom with a high school diploma and a minimum-wage paycheck who rings up all that crap at Cheap-O-Rama tomorrow to make a little extra so her needs could be met, as well. I'll be thankful that I have a job to work and money to pay the bills at a time when so many around me need work and can't find it.

It might not make a great painting, but I think Norman would understand.