Three Versions of a Thing

Following the 2015 SCAA Event in Seattle, Sprudge contacted me about writing “something” to accompany some unique cartoons drawn by Thomas Putnam. I provided them with three sets of copy to go with the drawing. A set entitled ABCs of Coffee, “excerpts” from an imaginary book, is the version that they ultimately used and you can read it here. Another version, Albert, was written from the point of view of a coffee industry ghost making observations about the event and the industry. The third version was a poem to accompany each image. Both of the alternative versions appear her for the first time.

 

Albert

I am Albert. My name is Albert, I mean to say. If you might avoid calling me Al I would be grateful. Like all ghosts, and as you no doubt understand, I have a job to do. I am the ghost of coffee past. Wherever people gather in great numbers in the name of coffee, you can be certain I am there. At other times I freelance, haunting cupping tables all over the world where I whisper oddities into the ears of those tasting coffee. I murmur words such as, “wood shavings,” or “wax apple,” or “wet sand.” Yes, it is a delightful duty. You see, I died at a cupping table, many decades ago it has been now, back when all baristas were Italian. I planted my face into the spittoon, dying of a heart attack with Brazil on my spoon. But then, of course, Brazil was almost always the coffee on our spoons back then.

I share here images as best as I can conjure them up from my most recent assignment, in Seattle if you can imagine.

The living cannot, as a rule, see me but these two were an exception. I do not know who, or what was actually underneath the costumes, so who can say why. I have seen the giant coffee bean costume attempted many times over the years and it never works because no matter what artistry is brought to their making they always look like giant turds. The costumes reflect a tedious obsession with the bean so prevalent in recent generations of those who call their efforts “specialty.” In my day few people cared where the beans were from and if they did I would ask, “Where would you like them to be from?”

I am, I was, a machine-age man. One need look no further than the miracle of the airplane to understand what marvels I in my time beheld. Machines everywhere were making life easier for women and, in some cases, men as well. But coffee remained simple, outside of Italy of course. In my day, we could brew coffee in a shoe if necessary. These coffee children today require every sort of gadgetry. They remind me of bicycle tinkers who are never finished with their wrenches.  I have seen a submarine engine and to my eyes some of the coffee machines I see today were once part of a submarine engine.

Back in my day we also had competitions with prizes. Our competition was other coffee companies and our prize was PROFIT. I understand the innate need to compete in pursuit of excellence and its value as entertainment. My company had a baseball team. We also had great gatherings of coffee men and at times their wives, during the evening banquets. The great cost of travel and gathering created in us an urgency to discuss openly and with vigor only the most critical issues in our professional lives and facing our industry.  We too kept out eye on the clock counting the minutes to see what we might accomplish in our short time together.

Never in one million years could you have convinced me when I was alive that one day so many patents would be issued to accomplish the modest task of brewing coffee and so few for the complex process of roasting the beans. I suppose I understand. Roasting coffee suffers for lack of an audience. In my day, hardly a week went by without someone patenting a new coffee roasting machine. My company was the first in our city to acquire the Jabez Burns & Sons Jubilee roaster, which protected the beans from any direct contact with the flame. She was a beautiful machine that I miss almost as much as I miss my family.

Much has changed since my day, when by my estimation brewing was pure even if the coffee wasn’t always. After all is said and all is done, the coffee must still be sold. My career in coffee began as a delivery boy. I have delivered coffee on foot, on bikes, from a wagon and in an automobile. Then it became my job to sell coffee and in this I was unmatched. Things were simpler, it is true.


 


 

POEMS

Hot Drive                                                                                              (slayer booth)

Cistern, like something below the earth waiting for a wicked sun

water waiting in the birth canal giggling like tiny birds

under pressure to spook each other into blind flight

a stupid rush toward temporary freedom.

Belly, like something below the earth waiting for a wicked sun.

 

One                                                                                                                                              (wbc)

 

This moment this ever one moment travels first

through the eyes and second toward the stars

these so many one moments and namings

of a one they are our army these victors our

true message to the dark sky if you call us we will

send these solitary these singular and eternal

forever ones these conquers and you dare not test

us our champions untrembled

 

Dance                                                                                                                                          (steampunk booth)

 

Lazy beat poets ask

can you dig it?  and the coffee stain

always answers

Who am I now? Who am I now?

Where the fuck

do you think

I came from, man?

Water dance, too easy an answer but

who ignores the truth anymore when

low ball isn’t a negotiating tactic

it’s an anatomic descriptor and the emperor

believes it, man, believes he’s wearing

a goddamn ascot pinned to his ass

like a birthday donkey

It’s like a hard boiled orgy under glass

 

Choosing                                                                                                    (bus/bike/surfboard booth)

The options do not include failing to arrive

The options do not include failing to arrive

You choose a road

You choose the sea

You choose to fall through the air like windows on doors.

The moving forward is a mission from God almighty

The moving forward is a mission from God almighty

At times there is bread

At times there is light

At times there is a halo above you head that you burn

using water proof matches.

Pilgrims who speak of the journey are murdered

Pilgrims who speak of the journey are murdered

We wash their feet with wine

We wash their face with sand

We wash their hands with the tears of those who

turn back before their footsteps fade like invitations

fade with arriving.

 

Dress Code                                                                                                         (beans costumes)

If you have the gift if you

Have the gift and know how

You begin with the sash.  Always

You tell any who listens

Begin with the sash but nobody

Knows how.

The secret goes like this you say

Imagine you are an airplane or an old

Movie star opening a grocery store no

A car dealership.  Imagine you are out

Of feathers imagine ten thousand people

Without coffee until you die.