In her book "The Meme Machine", Susan Blackmore posits that the meme is as important to human evolution as the gene. Like the gene, the meme is a replicator of information. But rather than genetic code, the meme is a cultural replicator; transmitting ideas, belief systems, habits, philosophies, fashions, fads, and all of the other stuff that gets knocked around between our oversized monkey brains. Memes, like genes, thrive or perish based on natural selection. A caveman "infected" by the "how to light a fire" meme would have a better chance of getting some cro-mag nookie than his in-the-dark competitors; therefore, it would be his genes and memes that were transmitted to the next generation.
Also like genes, memes are "selfish" (not in the Janet Jackson, "what has he done for me late-ly?" sense, but in the unstoppable, Terminator robot on-a-mission sense); both genes and memes exist only to replecate themselves, whether or not doing so will be beneficial to their "hosts" (i.e. us... We of the oversized monkey brains). Genes compel humans to procreate in times of famine, memes compel you to order the "Windsor Pilates" 6 DVD set when you're channel surfing at 3 am, even though you're too lazy to ever actually use it.
A good example of memes in action is "The Lovely Latte Ladies Auxiliary". These are the women who visit coffee shops in small groups and try to out-do each other with increasingly complex drink orders. ("Double tall, non-fat, decaf vanilla latte") Their behavior is learned through mimicry, like monkeys at the zoo. Each successive order is placed more loudly than the last, so that any nearby women who are not part of the gaggle can return next time to spread the meme among their own group. ("SOY, NO FOAM ORANGE MOCHA!") There wouldn't appear to be any evolutionary benefit to this behavior, as it's extremely hard to believe that it's the kind of thing that would help them attract a mate. But the memes march on...
The simple reality is this... nobody is safe from the influence of memes. I myself got infected, just the other day. Sitting at Kaladi Brothers, I witnessed a half-caf, 2% milk caramel machiato get trumped by a "Mate Latte". ("THAT'S RIGHT! MATE LATTE, PLEASE! MMM, DELICIOUS! TAKE THAT, WHORE! POW!") Seeing as Kaladi's, with it's DU professors and it's marathon moms, is basically a scale model of the People's Republic of Boulder, I was pretty confident that Mate Latte would be made from rice milk (but only after they asked the rice real nice-like) and organic tree bark. But in the spirit of FAUX COFFEE WEEK, I decided to find out for myself.
Only one problem... when I rushed into Kaladi's this morning, toddler in tow, I was sympathetically informed "I'm sorry, we are out of Mate Latte... can I get you something else?"
So there I stood, a recovering addict in a crack-den, the aroma of the oily black beans firing my synapses to full attention. Didn't these people realize this is FAUX COFFEE WEEK? Doesn't anybody read this blog??
Arms pinned to my sides, I ran out of the building, Napoleon Dynamite-style. My canine-obsessed daughter wailed hysterically as we ran past the friendly-looking golden retriever parked on the patio. I knew just how she felt.
I stopped by Scooter Joe's, figuring that they would be just earth-y enough to carry the stuff. The barista whipped up the drink by brewing the leaves/bark/whatever through the espresso machine's portafilter and topping it off with steamed milk, just like you would a regular-old latte. But then, he put an extra tea-bag of the stuff directly into the cup because it "looked a little weak". I have to tell you, the only thing weaker than what I drank this morning would have been cup of evaporated tap-water. I mean, no disrespect to the barista, he probably made it exactly the right way. The thing is... it's tea. I hate tea. Tea tastes like soap; like a big gulp from a cup of "Bed Bath and B'nasty". Now, I don't hate people who like tea. Not all of them, anyway. Hate the drink, not the drinker, I always say.
(Except in the case of Lipton ice tea drinkers. That stuff tastes like obese-man bathwater, and is surely an abomination against... I don't know... something. )
But if I'm going to be one of the "Meme Machines" who's spreading the word about this stuff, giving throngs of rampant soccer moms one more excuse to raid their local coffee shops, like SUV driving zombies, the least I can do is affect my best Charlton Heston and scream "IT'S TEA! MATE LATTE IS TEA!" Even if you like tea... this is worse than Lipton. Step away from the hype machine... they're trying to brainwash you...
Waaaay back in 1991, Francis Ford Coppola predicted that the wide availability of inexpensive film and video equipment would mean film making would truly become an "art form", freed from the restraints of finance or committee. I'm paraphrasing, of course; Coppola's actual quote referenced a hypothetical "little fat girl in Ohio" becoming "the new Mozart", which offended my sensibilities as far as women who are, shall we say, rounded, are concerned. But the sentiment remains. Similarly, in the novel "Pattern Recognition", William Gibson gives us the "Garage Kubrick", a brilliant auteur operating outside the cult of personality.
As you can see, from the clip above, the future is NOW, dude. If you imagine the camera just a little more still, you can see Jim Jarmusch's sense of mis en scene. And that ever so brief, blink-and-you-miss-it cameo at the end? Can you say Hitchcock...?
Remember when you were a kid, and you would be "anxious"? Anxious for Christmas, anxious for summer vacation; anxious for it to finally be May 25th, 1983, so you could prove to your stupid brother once and for all that when Yoda said "there is Another", he was referring to Obi Wan Kenobi, who would have to come back from the dead to rescue Luke (who of course would be turned to the Dark Side) and not Lando-freaking-Calrissian, because that would just be lame. "Anxious" was a code word for sheer, depthless joy, unbridled and unbounded; a word your parents and teachers used to describe you, back before there were more technical terms like "ADHD".
In adulthood, we call it (along with ADHD) anxiety. Anxiety is the same vacuum, teaming with the same vibrating nervous energy, but now its filled to the brim with all of your grown up baggage. Work!Money!Kids!"Holy Crap, the north facing wall of my 100 year old house is sinking into the earth!!" that sort of thing.
Anxiety, if I'm not careful, becomes a sort of default setting for me, the fumes on which I conduct my busy day after the inevitable caffeine-crash happens. Mornings at Casa Del Caff are a tightly choreographed affair. Out of bed and into the shower to drag a razor over my melon. Get Princess Plucky (a morning person) out of her crib and feed her whatever she wants to eat(Usually "Ba-na-na-na-na!". And whatever her brother doesn't finish). Tend to my son (emphatically NOT a morning person) who stumbles out of bed every morning in his tight little underwear like an angry white Gandhi; force feed him the exact same breakfast he's been eating since he broke his first tooth (two Eggo waffles with butter and a glass of apple juice), then drive my daughter to daycare while the wife talks number one son off the ledge. I may have the better end of the deal, but the routine can still get a little stressful.
I was running late the other morning, so I stopped by Mile High Coffee for my morning jolt, avoiding the 3 Starbucks that are also within the same distance from my house. I want to support this place, I really do. But man, does their coffee have some problems. And it's not like it's consistently bad, It's just that, when I least expect it, after a couple of visits where I've actually gotten some good stuff... that's when they'll hit me with a cup that's as flavorful and aromatic as a can of motor oil. By the time I got to work, 100 proof, pure liquefied anxiety was coursing through my veins. Compound this with the fact that every 15 minutes, the radio on my co-worker's desk taunted me with the meandering pop-pabulum of "Had a Bad Day". This was not a "bad day", this was what the kids call a "bad trip". After gritting my teeth through the mind numbing Deejay banter, they follow up with the umpteenth playing of "How to Save a Life". Hey! Corporate radio overlords, wanna know how to save a life? TAKE "HAD A BAD DAY" OFF OF HEAVY ROTATION!!
I actually wasn't even having that bad of a day. I was just a little annoyed. Intense. Slowly, it dawned on me what was happening... this was the work of my old arch nemesis....
MR. COFFEE NERVES!
Just look at that smarmy, see-through bastard, torturing those poor people like that - with his clunky moniker right there on his shirt, and that stupid little handlebar mustache. You just know he twirls that thing between his thumb and index finger. What an asshole.
When Mister CN comes back into MY life, fraying my nerves until they're the limp consistency of the fringe on the back of a heavy metal chick's acid washed jean jacket, I know it's high time for a detox. A couple times a year, just to prove to myself that I'm not actually an addict, I go on a caffeine purge. I mean, whoa... not all caffeine, of course. Let's not get all crazy, now! Usually, I'll have some green tea in its place. And, you know, not necessarily a full week... we're supposed to be going out with some friends this weekend, and I certainly can't deny myself the traditional, post-club coffee and pie. But just a few days off the stuff will do me some good.
So, dear reader, welcome to my nightmare... this is 'FAUX COFFEE WEEK!" If I'm not my usual charming and clever self, I'm sure you'll understand. Just don't bug me when I'm shaving, like the picture above, or I'll cut you. I'm not kidding.
Rather than make you, the reader, suffer through the long, detailed account of my DT's, and to prevent this blog from being polluted with the sort of existential musings that come along when one faces the long, dark coffee break of the soul, I've decided to experiment with some popular "coffee alternatives". So you don't have to. You can thank me later. I started off this morning with a big, tasty cup'o POSTUM. Postum is a CAFFEINE-FREE coffee substitute that's been all the rage among the Big Love crowd since 1895. If I was the flavor of Mormon that could have a couple of sister wives to cavort with every night, I could actually see trading in my coffee for this stuff. Hell, if I could have a couple of sister-wives to cavort with, I would trade in my lungs for this stuff. Not that I'd actually ever drink it... I'm just all about the hot, sister-wife on sister-wife action. The drink itself tastes like a thirst quenching gulp from a glass of sand, flavored liberally with molasses. Is there anyone who can't be described by the term "mountain folk" who actually likes the taste of molasses? On the bright side, Postum is chock full of healthy, fiber-licious WHEAT GERM. Considering I drank it alongside a great big bowl of oatmeal, and chased it with a couple of prunes, there was one effect from my morning coffee that wasn't missing.
In the advertisements seen above, Postum was hailed as the bane of Mr. Coffee Nerves' existence, the liquid equivalent of the Scooby Doo gang, leaving the villain cursing it's amazing ability to bring families back from the very brink of distraction. Time will tell. But right now, Mr. CN is walking outside my house, sneering, mumbling "you'll be back, bitch." under his breath.
You know, here we are, on the very day of an attempted terrorist attack, and the President has helpfully taken time out of his busy day (he'll tell you himself... it's "hard work") to come on television and explain that "It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America". Even his ol' buddy Joe Lieberman has likewise explained how this attempt "should serve as the latest, most serious evidence that we are in a war against a brutal enemy that intends to attack us..."
Boy, I'm just beside myself! As a latte-drinking liberal, I did not realize that terrorism is dangerous. I'm gonna go change out of my "Terrorism - It's Not So Bad!" tee-shirt right now!
I mean, it's not like the president hasn't taken every single opportunity to explain how the world was changed on "September Theleventh" - even if he had to veer wildly off-topic in order to do so. How could I be so stupid? These terrorists, they hate freedom! They don't shop at Wal-mart! They blow stuff up!
Since we're all just a bunch of sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show elitists, the current administration is requiring me to display the JavAlert (TM), Terror Advisory System, utilizing, at long last, language we can understand.
GREEN - As in, "Korben m' man, we are green". There is no threat, citizen. Go forth, and enjoy your civil liberties (until told otherwise).
CINNAMON ROAST - general risk. I think. Wait, lemme check the polls...
CITY ROAST - Oooh, this is a tough one... which city? Like, say, Houston or Dallas, you're cool. Austin... not so much. Those folks are a little iffy.
FULL CITY ROAST - New York City or LA? Yeah, you guys are screwed. But you probably have it coming, what with all the gays, and stuff.
ESPRESSO- it's dark. That's how we know it's bad.
FRENCH ROAST- Well, this is clearly bad news. Hello? Are you paying attention? It reads "French" right there. French = Bad. Freedom Fries are not free, people.
And I'm adding my own, "situation immenent" level...
DEPRESSO - as in, sit back, and get used to the taste of this. It's a long time 'til 2008.
Maybe by then we can elect somebody with some real solutions to complex problems - not just a color-coded Rainbow of Fear.
You never know how far reaching your blog really is. There are days when I resolve myself to the idea that, despite my best intentions to turn "coffeecrush" into an internet phenomenon, on par with Dave's long box or Engrish, maybe I've just maxed out at seven readers - family and good friends all, humoring my usual delusions of grandeur. Then, out of nowhere -and during a particularly long period of blog-abstinence - I receive an email from a San Francisco-based artist named CW (follow that link... very cool stuff) about a post from nearly two months ago. He was questioning my translation of the Turkish proverb,"Coffee should be black as hell; strong as death, and sweet as love."
Sure enough, after a little Googling, I've discovered a plethora of variations on a theme (black as night/hot as hell/sweet as love; hot as Thora Birch/gayer than Paul Lynde/slightly less conniving than Joe Leiberman - and on and on and on) Lost in translation, I suddenly don't feel so bad for my befuddled take on the Middle East crisis, a world-view worthy of my altruistic grandmother - "Why can't they all just get along?"
But I digress. At long last, I've decided to find out for myself which version best applies to the brew at Habibi Hookah Cafe on South Broadway. Past the bars, past the train shop where Gary Coleman used to work, past the (ahem) "massage parlors" ("Innovative Therapy"... Like my dad says "yeah, that's not so innovative"), this place sits in the run down remains of a gas station, strobe lights around the parameter announcing it's presence to passers-by (and warning off epileptics). Inside, the espresso machine looks brand spanking new; a good sign, as the only kind of coffee I want in a place like this is Turkish, brewed directly in a metal ibrik, like campfire coffee on Mars.
I order my coffee and tell the proprietor that I may get something else later. Embarrassed, he quickly advises me that he can't serve any food inside. Apparently, as part of the city-wide smoking ban, not only can you not smoke after your meal, but if you are allowed to smoke, you don't get to eat. I, for one, think it's about time that the government step in to protect smokers from all that second-hand food. Little matter, as the main reason people come to a place like this is for the exotic, ornate hookahs. The proprietor asks me if I'd like to partake, and I decide for one night to lift my own personal smoking ban in the name of visceral experience.
Waiting for my order, I sat down and watched the other patrons; a mix of foreign men playing backgammon... and, as always, the "barely legal" crowd. I once made the mistake of going to a place called Marrakech Cafe on a weekend night, and I was shocked to find it packed with teenagers. I wondered if maybe, for "Generation Z", Sufism (the mystical arm of Islam) would become what faux-Zen was for Generation X. Are these kids enamored with the whirling dervishes, who get strung out on strong coffee and spin wildly around, all in an effort to become one with God? Are they embracing Middle Eastern culture as a slap in the face to their Bush-voting parents? Alas, eavesdropping on their conversations, it's apparent that it's all about the forbidden smoke.
My coffee and hookah arrive. In the tiny cup sits a substance somewhere between the states of "liquid" and "solid", which fits every variation of the proverb and more. Bean-remains float throughout the cup; when the drink finished, the grounds can be turned over onto a napkin and "read" by a fortune teller. Generally, they won't see sleep in your immediate future.
The server is tolerant of my ignorance regarding how to smoke - a hell of a lot nicer than I was as a barista. (Soy milk!? Heresy!) Once I get the hang of it - between the smoke, and the music, and the caffeine - I definitely start to feel a buzz. Nothing like the buzz you get from a certain OTHER substance smoked from a hookah (by which I mean unflavored tobacco. What did you think I was talking about?); but when I notice myself, hose hanging from my lips, saying "Haw Haw Haw! Jeeedy Jedi! JEEEDY JEDI!" under my breath, there's definitely something going on.
Then something strange happens. A man stands up from his table... and walks outside to light a cigarette. I wonder to myself just how far we've gone to demonize good ol' fashioned cancer sticks, when you can sit at a inside at a table and smoke "double apple" (one of the many sweeter-than-candy flavors) from something that looks like a hybrid of a sex toy and something you would administer an enema with.
When I left, I didn't head straight home. Rather, I rode my bike for a while to shake the buzz. The whole "hookah cafe" experience is an acquired taste. It fits with a very particular sense of aesthetics. But it's something every coffee lover should experience at least once, if for no other reason than to get a brief sample of a culture that we Americans know precious little about; even though it's fate is now so intricately entangled with our own.
The last couple of weeks have completely kicked my ass. Thrown me down, hammered me, and didn't even have the common courtesy to take me to breakfast afterwards.
dramatic re-creation. Note the stubble in that last panel - if I stop shaving, you know I'm having a nervous breakdown.
I haven't been blogging. I haven't been riding my bike. I haven't been working out, reading, writing, dancing, or doing any of the other things that keep me sane in my daily life. Even my cafe excursions are entirely utilitarian, like lightning is to Frankenstein's monster - fuel for an empty husk. Such is the level of the recent ass whooping delivered to me by my job.
My "day job" - that precious one-third of my life which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of "The Man". Every day it becomes increasingly more soul-crushing. The corporate machine continues to complexify, without ever actually becoming more efficient, like evolving entropy; an exercise in futility.
And the thing is, I've never really had a problem with Huge, Soulless, Multinational Corporations - in theory. "Per se", you know? I mean, yeah, yeah, "corporations suck" and all that. But sometimes, in a fit of conscience (and after a meeting of the board of directors, where all the appropriate forms and releases are signed in triplicate, then reviewed by the stockholders, etc. ad infintum) they can do some good. They'll offer domestic partner benefits, maybe donate some money to a good cause, or even pay a living wage to the workers who toil away, producing their wares. And for me... it's a paycheck. I've always thought there was some post-millenial slacker romance in working for a big, high tech company. Doing customer service for the Evil Empire, as it were. It's sorta funny to be a tiny, outmoded cog in the middle of a bunch of valiantly shining gears, all spinning too fast to realize that I don't actually serve any function.
But sometimes, stuffed into my cubicle like a experimental lab-monkey, cut off from any organic stimulus from the outside world and force-fed a steady diet of Orwellian corporate-speak, I just can't take it anymore. My emotions start to flare up and the thin veneer of my phyche begins to dissolve. Like Darkman. Remember Darkman? The deep fried dark avenger - master of disguise with the superhuman ability to pronounce the letter "p" with no lips? "The Man" would get him down, and his humanity would shatter in a flash of phychedelic psychosis and he'd start KICKING @$$!!
I always thought that Darkman's real motivation was the fact that "The Man" blew up his laboratory, sweet real estate located right above that awesome "Java Cafe". Even way back in 1990, when I first saw "Darkman", I imagined that the interior of "Java Cafe" would be just like Monkey Bean.
Ah, yes... th' Monkey. That archetypical Denver java joint. Never pretentious, just the perfect place to chill with the latest issue of The Onion while sipping an iced americano, while stealing sideways glances at the adorable red-headed barista behind the glass case of rice crispy squares...
The Monkey Bean... which just closed down on July 31st, due to a 400% (!) increase in rent by "The Man"!
This time, "The Man" has gone Too Far!
Screw that... the Monkey was cooler than any ol' "Java Cafe". The Monkey was as cool as Darkman's laboratory. It was my not-so-secret headquarters. If you're looking for Batman, you go to the Batcave; for the Superfriends, you go to the Hall of Justice. And if you're looking for Caff_X... you look in his bedroom, under the sheets, where he's curled up in a ball, weeping softly. You know why? BECAUSE "THE FRICKIN' MAN" KILLED THE MONKEY!
Over the last couple of weeks, in my state of depression, I haven't been taking care of myself. I haven't devoted time to the things that are important to me. I even broke my "no alcohol before the Weekend" policy, rather unceremoniously, on a Monday night, with a Gin and Blueberry Izze(when you see all the kids drinking this in a few weeks, remember; you heard it here first). But now it's time for full disclosure. Every superhero has their shadow, that dark part of themselves that makes them who they are. For Spiderman, it's the fact that he is partially responsible for the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. For Superman, it's the fact that he roofie-kisses the girls and leaves the planet after planting his seed. For me - for no other reason than laziness, I've been getting my coffee from Starbucks. I mean, it's not like my 2 bucks a day would have saved the Monkey (that's a "four", with two "zeroes" and a percent sign, people!) - but NO MORE! I won't contribute my money to the machine that makes the world more bland. "The Man" can keep me holed up in a cubicle all day, he can make me fear for my job... but I don't have to drink his coffee!
Unlike the many other Ted Campbells on the interwebs, I'm neither a minister, nor a professional motorcyclist, nor a gay realtor from Florida.
What I AM is an ass-kickin' father, a corporate schlep, and an occasional freelance writer.
If you've found your way here, why not give my awesome "Blog of Note" blog-novel a look-see?