There are eight million artist stories in the city. This one is mine. This one is called “Coffee and Me”.
(An early morning parable of how one young man fell into the clutches of addiction.)
“Hi, my name is Buddy and I drink coffee.”
Hmmm. Strolling into some strange fantasy realm so early in the morning, my mind allegedly bright and chipper and awake after many hours of sleep and – “Hi, I’m Buddy” – two cups of coffee. That slight delightful buzzing in my blood, the sense that brain cells are randomly shooting out beams of the brightest light hither and thither, alive, awake, ready to go, let me rush out of the house, here, let me begin a 10 mile run, wait, I can go to my room and throw paint all over a canvas like Jackson, no, I have to, no, yes, what if, oh my god…..
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, a long time ago, when I did not drink coffee. When I didn’t think about coffee, barely registered other people drinking coffee, when if I said the words “Hey brother, can you lend me a dime?”, I would use that gifted money for something good, and important, like a Snicker’s bar, or a down payment on a birthday present for my mother, or a 16 ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon. Not on coffee.
Here’s my story, it’s true, hand to Juan Valdez. I didn’t pick up my first cup of coffee until I was 34 years old. I did not drink coffee in high school. Who would do that, even consider that? Well , if you ever saw “Uncle Buck” you know that our lovely, if somewhat snooty and nasty heroine Tia begins with a cup of joe soon after her entrance, comments back and forth with Buck throughout about coffee, and as the movie fades with all it’s joy and hope, Buck suggests getting together another time and “maybe have a coffee.”
A coffee. Now that’s a nice thought, as if anyone could drink just one cup of coffee. In fact, have you ever sat in a Dunkin Donuts and watched someone getting ready to leave without finishing their cup of coffee and had the urge to run over and knock the cup out of their hands? Well, anyway, the point is that Tia was all of 15 and was drinking coffee so I take that to mean that people have started drinking coffee while in high school. Maybe some of you readers. But not me. I wasn’t holding out. I just wasn’t thinking about. And it stayed that way though my two years at Cape Cod Community College (yoo hoo Mabel, Black Label) and through the next seven or so years it took me to complete my Bachelor’s degree after transfering to Salem State College in the Witch City north of Boston. Never mind that when I got to Salem State and began my long life hanging out with those far away from the maddingly normal crowd, I found myself in the dark corners of “Scarborough Faire”, the Salem State coffee house, me with a coke and a cigarette, maybe a 7Up. Go figure. They even had the words to the Simon and Garfunkle song painted on the coffee shop walls. But not a drop of the brown stuff passed my left wing lips.
Now we flash forward to the year 1983. I’m crashing on my younger sister’s couch in a third-floor apartment in Somerville, Mass, I have two trashbags of “stuff” in my friend’s cellar in Medford representing the entire collection of accumulated things to that point in my life, and I have just begun a job as an outreach worker for a brand new youth education and counseling program focusing on drugs and alcohol. At the time I thought I had been hired for my wit and charm and vast knowledge of all things young people and their angst, but I realized later that I had been hired so they could point to me and say, “If you continue to drink, this will happen to you”. It’s good serving a purpose. Anyway, a month or so into that job I hear someone say something and a few nights later I’m in a big room with a bunch of people talking and listening and, because when I walked in someone put out their hand and shook mine and said “welcome” and said the coffee’s free, I now have a 12 ounce styrofoam cup of – you guessed it – coffee in my hands. At age 34.
It’s 8:30 at night, I have my “this could happen to you” job early the next morning, and I am drinking a cup of coffee. Oh death, where is thy sting. And I notice that not only are the other people drinking cups of coffee – the obvious elite having cups from Dunkin Donuts – but they keep going back to the big urn to get more coffee. A lot. And me, wanting so badly to fit in, go back for another. And then another. “Thank you sir, may I have another?” And, you won’t believe this, people actually stay listening and talking until 10 p.m. – at night – and then clean up, and then they GO OUT FOR COFFEE! And sooner or later, after using up every excuse I can think of to just say no, I give in to one of their invitations and say yes and now it is 11:15 p.m. – at night – and I am in a Howard Johnson’s on Wellington Circle in Medford with a cup of coffee in my hand. On a Wednesday.
That’s how it began. Just before midnight. No Uncle Buck. No Paul Simon or Art Garfunkle. Just Frenchie and Eddie and Jack and Dennis. And me, with a cup of coffee in my hand, staring out the rain-drizzled windows at the cars circling on the rotary, wondering how I ever came to be here.
Did I mention that I live in Portland, Oregon? Is that an accident? In the most recent issue of ‘The Willamette Week’, one of two alternative newspapers here, a story titled “26 Reasons To Love Portland Right Now” stated as reason number 22: “We are now the official arbiters of good coffee.” The first sentence read, “Portland has long claimed to be the nation’s best coffee city.” To think, I once imagined that I got in my car ansd drove across the country to an unknown place to begin a remarkable new adventure in life, and to get married, and to become an artist. I even wrote that in a previous blog. “When I got in my car I chose to be an artist.” Who was I kidding? Me? Now I spend most of my time in places called “Papaccino’s Coffee”; “Coffee Time”; The Rockin’ Frog”; “The Bipartisan”; “Costello’s Travel Shop”; “Starbucks”; “First Cup”. Do I go to those places so I can have a Pabst Blue Ribbon? Or a Black Label? Or a Snickers? Oh no, not if I’m honest with myself.
Hello. My name is Buddy, and I drink coffee.
Coffee and me.