Friday, August 19, 2005

Leaving the Apartment is Performance Art

Any coffee is too much coffee. And too little.

See, I'm sometimes a tea person. And sometimes I avoid caffeine altogether. Sometimes, though, nothing but black coffee will do. It's an acquired taste, I suppose, like beer, heavy metal, Samuel Beckett. But it's a taste I've managed to acquire, for whatever reason and through whatever channel; and try as I might, I can't seem to give it up for good.

Sometimes I abandon coffee for tea. Tea seems more British/Asian in character, so I feel like I'm declaring solidarity with the people who make so much great pop music (those limeys) and those who provided the earliest seeds for my physical and spiritual self-cultivation (the Chinese, Japanese and Indian). Still, there's something so patently blue-collar about coffee that I can't resist: I keep imagining Depression-era cab drivers in New York, wrapping their frost-bitten hands around a cup of hot joe for the warmth, or Western plains drifters cooking bitter, black general store coffee--ancestor to the truck-stop sludge I used to down by the pot back in Utah. If tea seems like the short-cut to Zen because of its association with the East, its association, in this country, with the sort of Zen sought and practiced by upper-middle-class liberal intellectuals gives coffee a level of credibility as the drink of the true "Zen lunatic" of Kerouac's obsession: The worker, the drifter, the self-taught ascetic.

Not only that, but the association of coffee with beatniks, hippies (the "hippie-speedball", a staple of my diet, is simply the chemical combination of THC and black coffee), and bohemians--a leftover from the boisterously political and intellectual coffeehouse scene from the Enlightenment--lends it a sort of credibility one who sets himself outside the walls of the norm. Ironically, though, the norm is as coffee-powered as anything else: I never consumed so much coffee--nor saw so much consumed--as when I worked at a bankruptcy trustee's office, where the coffee was free, and sucked down by various type-A personalities (or type-A personality wannabes) to power the soul-sucking machine that is the Protestant work ethic.

The real question I imagine you're asking is, "Lyamhound, you nut, why are you even thinking about it this much?"

The short answer is that I'm avoiding more important matters by turning my attention to trivia. Really, though, I tend to filter everything I do through how such actions might seem to the casual (or not so casual) observer. What do the things I do, wear, say, drink, eat represent? Because let's face it: For the homeopathically medicated manic-depressive with a messianic complex, getting out of bed and going out to face the world is a performance. The idea of pure function is anathema: It reeks of effort without reward, a daily endurance of the maddeningly prosaic without reason to hope that one's presence outside the walls of the apartment may actually affect the people he encounters. When one's effect on the world is abstract--as it is necessarily to the office lackey, the retail clerk, even the artist (only doctors, policemen, soldiers, possibly teachers and certainly professional killers can measure their effects in number and matter)--the significance, real or imagined, of tiny gestures is magnified.

My own tastes, with regards to foods and flavors are hard to discern: Circumstances in my upbringing left me afraid by my adolescence to indulge any preferences one way or the other. The plus side is that I like the taste of pretty nearly everything that's considered food in Western culture. The downside is that, in order to narrow my field of the desirable, I have to imbue everything with some pesky meaning or other.

So bear with me when I analyze something as mundane as coffee for its broader spiritual and cultural implications. Think of it as the obsessive-compulsive loop of a neurotic gnostic: If one is to know God through the world, the world through the daily environment and the environment through the self, it goes to follow that the quirks with which I experience my environment--chemical veils, cultural associations and all--will color the analysis which drives and accompanies my search. Or, if nothing else, I'll be awake enough to notice the more important stuff.

So no cream, thanks. I've got an epiphany to chase.


Blogger Missuz J said...

Read every word--and loved every word. Strange--but since the advent of "the Sophinator" I spend more time worrying about how people percieve me through her (what she wears, eats, how she acts, what she says, if she sleeps at night, is she potty trained, is her face dirty)--i.e., what kind of a mother I am, than how they just see me as a person.

Utah, as you well know, takes the coffee--tea question (is it a question?) to a whole new, and twisted level, by vilifying (oh that my spelling were on par with my vocabulary) caffene that is hot, and swigging down Cokes with abandon. I remember the first time I ordered a coffee in front of my mom. Isn't that ridiculous?

1:39 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

The coke/coffee contradiction has always struck me as one of the more maddening paradoxes of Mormon culture.

Yeah, I feel you on the "Sophinator" thing. People like me--and I think we can say that for the purposes and subject of this discussion, you're one of those--who spend a lot of time cultivating ourselves will inevitably cultivate ourselves as parents or teachers when faced with that task; and how we accomplish that task, as reflected in the behaviour, character or happiness of the child, becomes the source of worry. Presumably, though, you worry because you feel that how you do as a mother relflects who you are as a person, don't you think?

At the end of the day, it's all bunk. We are who we are, our children are who they are, and we do our best to share our gifts, offer our guidance and extend our compassion to and for those who will have it and those who require it.

I'm sure you're a magnificent mother, BTW.

2:03 PM  
Blogger amandak said...

"hippie speedball"

Want. One. Now.

Does it still count if you like it light and sweet? Or must it be black only. Can't seem to acquire a taste for that one.

3:53 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Light and sweet is fine, I'm sure. I always think of it as black 'cause that's how I drink it.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Stine said...

Me, I go for the light and creamy.

9:49 AM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Well, you married light and creamy, even if he does drink his coffee black.

10:32 AM  

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