But there are people who take salt with their coffee. They say it gives a tang, a savour, which is peculiar and fascinating. In the same way there are certain places, surrounded by a halo of romance, to which the inevitable disillusionment you experience on seeing them gives a singular spice. You had expected something wholly beautiful and you get an impression which is infinitely more complicated than any that beauty can give you. It is the weakness in the character of a great man which may make him less admirable but certainly more interesting. Nothing had prepared me for Honolulu...
I cleaned the shit off my pink high-tops and drove home, stopping for an espresso at the coffeehouse across from the college. Men and women were hunched over copies of Jean Paul Sartre and writing in their journals. Most wore the thin-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses favored by intellectuals. Their clothes were faded to a precisely fashionable degree; you can buy them that way from catalogs now, new clothes processed to look old. The intellectuals looked at me in my overalls the way such people inevitably look at farmers. I dumped a lot of sugar in my espresso and sipped it delicately at a corner table near the door. I looked at them the way farmers look at intellectuals.
Nick drank the coffee, the coffee according to Hopkins. The coffee was bitter. Nick laughed. It made a good ending to the story. His mind was starting to work. He knew he could choke it because he was tired enough. He spilled the coffee out of the pot and shook the grounds loose into the fire. He lit a cigarette and went inside the tent. He took off his shoes and trousers, sitting on the blankets, rolled the shoes up inside the trousers for a pillow and got in between the blankets.Out through the front of the tent he watched the glow of the fire when the night wind blew on it. It was a quiet night. The swamp was perfectly quiet. Nick stretched under the blanket comfortably. A mosquito hummed close to his ear. Nick sat up and lit a match. The mosquito was on the canvas, over his head. Nick moved the match quickly up to it. The mosquito made a satisfactory hiss in the flame. The match went out. Nick lay down again under the blankets. He turned on his side and shut his eyes. He was sleepy. He felt sleep coming. He curled up under the blanket and went to sleep.
The challenge lies in knowing how to bring this sort of day to a close. His mind has been wound to a pitch of concentration by the interactions of the office. Now there are only silence and the flashing of the unset clock on the microwave. He feels as if he had been playing a computer game which remorselessly tested his reflexes, only to have its plug suddenly pulled from the wall. He is impatient and restless, but simultaneously exhausted and fragile. He is in no state to engage with anything significant. It is of course impossible to read, for a sincere book would demand not only time, but also a clear emotional lawn around the text in which associations and anxieties could emerge and be disentangled. He will perhaps only ever do one thing well in his life.For this particular combination of tiredness and nervous energy, the sole workable solution is wine. Office civilisation could not be feasible without the hard take-offs and landings effected by coffee and alcohol.
For more than three decades, coffee has captured my imagination because it is a beverage about individuals as well as community. A Rwandan farmer. Eighty roast masters at six Starbucks plants on two continents. Thousands of baristas in 54 countries. Like a symphony, coffee's power rests in the hands of a few individuals who orchestrate its appeal. So much can go wrong during the journey from soil to cup that when everything goes right, it is nothing short of brilliant! After all, coffee doesn't lie. It can't. Every sip is proof of the artistry -- technical as well as human -- that went into its creation.
Pretty quickly, I stopped seeing the company as an engine of community. Instead, I saw it as a mythmaker offering only an illusion of belonging and meeting its customers' desire for connections in form, maybe, but surely not in substance. Once I came to this conclusion, I started to dig deeper into the company's other promises--great working conditions, musical discovery, fair treatment of farmer, and concern for the environment. Every time I went excavating, the stories turned out to be more complex, more heavily edited, and more ambiguous than I had first thought. Each time, it became clear that Starbucks fulfilled its many promises only in the thinnest, most transitory of ways and that people's desires went largely unfulfilled.
It's just like when you've got some coffee that's too black, which means it's too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won't even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.