Coffee, cultural shifts and sadness



COFFEE is what the cigarette used to be.

In 1963, if you asked a guy, “You want a cigarette?” he said, “Yes.”

Now, if you ask a fellow co-worker, “You want some coffee?” she says, “Yes.”

In fact, because it is a stimulant and comes from South America, coffee is pretty close to being what cocaine used to be.

If coffee is anything like what cocaine was, then I’m probably a crack smoker.

While the country blooms with coffee shops selling fair trade flavored coffee, I’m down at a convenience store where they sell the stuff for $1 a cup. I don’t buy coffee in a lot of nice neighborhoods, either. In some of the neighborhoods where I buy coffee, if they started putting crack in the coffee, half of the neighborhood’s small businesses would close.

I drink it black, too. I don’t do this because I think “real men” drink it black. I do it because black gets you out of the store the fastest.

These days, some of the convenience stores keep their coffee in an insulated container with a pump at the top, but a lot of them still have coffee in a pot, sitting on a kind of hot plate, grumbling to itself and waiting for me to show up.

If I hit a convenience store at 11 a.m., after the morning coffee rush is over, and the clerk hasn’t made a new pot, I sometimes get the last cup, so a lot of the coffee I drink tastes like barbecue sauce and No. 2 diesel.

And I come out of the store and the bad coffee smell curdles in the air, and the junkie standing out front asks me for a cigarette, and I give her one because coffee is what cigarettes used to be except among the very poor, most of whom still need plenty of both.

My wife, who believes that I should be given treats every now and then, like a cat, keeps an eye on the better local coffee shops because she knows I’ll drink flavored coffee at Christmas. I like the eggnog flavor, though gingerbread will do in an emergency.

She is also a newspaper reporter. Yesterday, she clacked into the newsroom where we both work, and looked at me sorrowfully.

“I was at the Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said. “They have brown sugar cinnamon and mocha mint for their holiday flavors. No eggnog. No gingerbread.”

I live in Massachusetts. Everyone goes to Dunkin’ Donuts all the time, except me and that junkie outside the convenience store. If Dunkin’ is serving mocha mint or brown sugar cinnamon, then that’s what people will drink. I am lost.

There’s a couple of boutique coffee shops near the newspaper, and they may have eggnog or gingerbread coffee, but what they can’t have is $4 of my money for a cup of coffee. I’ll get some of their flavored coffee during the next month, but only if my wife is buying. Somehow, after eight years of marriage, I still think there’s such a thing as “my money” and “her money.”

So, this morning, about 11, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the last cup of sludgy coffee in the pot. I gave the junkie out front a cigarette and a $1 bill.

It’s still Christmas.



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