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It’s midday on a Monday, four days before Christmas.  In typical schizophrenic fashion, the weather has decided that today should be sixty-four degrees of perfect sunshine and brilliant blue.  We mock winter here in the South, so much so that I almost feel like I owe an apology to my friends in the North.  It seems unfair that you should be digging out of a record snowstorm while I wear a t-shirt and crank up my motorcycle.  Of course, I immediately think of the three digit temperatures and sweltering humidity of July and August in Texas and feel instantly less guilty.

It’s a coffee day for me.  I’m on my second pot.  For whatever vices I have or have had, this is the one I am least likely to let go of.  I’ve kicked cigarettes and virtually eliminated fast food from my diet (except for Chik-Fil-A when I’m on the road or the occasional 3:00 am Whataburger run).  There are arguments both for and against the health benefits of coffee and I ignore them all.  I drink it because I love it.

Black and full of sugar.  I’ll leave you to write your own joke there.

It’s almost a ritual for me.  It’s my legal crutch.  It makes me comfortable.  Smoking was always something I had to find a place to do, but not so with coffee.  It’s universal.  Stuck in an airport or wandering the streets of some foreign city or in the green room before a show, it’s always there.  It clears my head and centers me.  Certainly pumping caffeine into my veins every single day can’t be the best of ideas, but it’s definitely not the worst.

I mean I could always be doing crystal meth.

I hardly drank coffee at all a decade ago.  The habit kicked in when I picked up a morning radio gig.  5:00 am every morning, having to be upbeat and alert and aware… you don’t do that without help.  We would load a full brick of dark roast into our coffee pot, courtesy of one of our sponsors, and drink the most delicious caffeinated sludge you’ve ever poured into a cheap Styrofoam cup.  Four hours every morning.  The habit stuck long after the station fired me.

The problem now is that there are a million options when it comes to what you can have.  Starbucks has seen to that.  Coffee is not meant to be run by the massive corporations.  Coffee should remain unique.  Chains have pushed out the small coffee shops I had become so fond of.  Back in my hometown I used to frequent a locally owned place thirty seconds from my house.  Unlimited refills and a faux-Tuscan patio kept me huddled behind my keyboard comfortably enough to churn out pages of writing.  I miss it.  Today I am a half hour away from the closest non-Starbucks.  That’s the big city for you.

Every once in a while I meet a friend of mine for Vietnamese food and we order cà phê sữa đá.  If you’ve never had it, try it.  Clear your calendar for the next few hours though, as it jacks your system up in a way some chain store’s house blend could only dream of.  It has enough sugar and caffeine to get Chev Chelios through a busy day.

That’s a random occurrence however.  For the most part I have to get my fix when I travel, because globally, they haven’t lost what we have.  Coffee still means something in other countries.  There are a few spots I’ve become a fan of in Amsterdam, where I’ve sat sheltered from the cold, wet, winter streets, drinking cafe au lait out of a perfect white porcelain cup.  The Dutch don’t mess around.  That’s the French’s strong point as well.  It’s almost been eight years since I sat in some café whose name escapes me, somewhere between Metz and Paris.  It’s possible that it was the beauty of the French countryside and the perfect weather, but my memory has filed that experience away as an unbelievable shot of espresso that I have yet to be able to recreate here in the States.

It’s more than just coffee.  It’s the experience.

If that is true, then no one understands it better than Ethiopia.  I was in Addis Ababa with my friend Sam a little under two years ago.  It was the first trip for both of us into the Horn of Africa, the area made up of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.  It is third world to be sure, but they are the greatest caretakers of the tradition of coffee drinking.   After dinner I asked my friend Abrahim if he would order coffee for us and he obliged.  I’m used to having coffee brought to me, not the other way around.

We were led out of the restaurant and into a hut around back, lit by torchlight.  Confused, we sat around a little wooden table waiting for Abrahim to explain what we were doing.  Soon a young woman appeared with a bowl of green coffee beans which she presented us for our approval.  After getting the okay, she started a wood fire and roasted the beans as we talked.  They were shown to us again before she hand-ground them with mortar and pestle.  Three times we were poured tiny cups of jet black divinity.

Over the course of an hour, Abrahim told us stories of his family and his culture and his people’s history.  It’s what the coffee was supposed to do.   Rather than just wire you up and get you through your day, it was intended to bring people together, to get them to communicate, to enjoy each other’s company.   There’s beauty in any group of people that take their coffee as seriously as I do.  As they say in Ethiopia, “Buna dabo naw” – “coffee is bread”.

I couldn’t agree more.

Dear Life,

I hope this letter finds you well, happy, and infinitely less confusing and melodramatic than you were when I was writing it. Just to be on the safe side I think I’ll wait a few hours before sending this just to give you a chance to mellow out, you highly strung weirdo.

Yours, with infinite respect,

Zoë.

Dear People Who Keep Coming Into This Internet Cafe And Leaving The Door Open,

Are you, by any chance, made of some new kind of Nasa-manufactured, cold-resistant super-flesh? Does your meat not freeze? Can I get some? No? Well fuck you all over again then.

Later today, when you go back to your tent (for surely that is what you live in) and try to shower, I hope the hot water runs out. Standing there in the frigid water you will quickly realize that you have no towel to dry yourself with. In an ideal world a desperate and clever thief will take this opportunity to sneak into your tent (hey, you left the flaps open, you were clearly asking for it) and steal all your clothes and food, leaving nothing but a bag of frozen peas that you will be forced to hug close to your naked chest to defrost before you can ingest them, sobbing all the while and wondering what on earth you did to deserve this misery.

Sincerely, and with contented revenge,

The Shivering Girl In The Cornër.

Dear Black Tea,

Tea1

Wow! You really know how to get the party started in my heart, right!? Weeee!! My aorta is about to leap out of my chest and do the Lambada on the counter!! Exclamation point!! How strong are you, tea?! What do you mean FOUR CUPS IS TOO MUCH?! What do you mean DON’T ADD SO MUCH SUGAR???!! Are you crazy?!! What are you trying to say anyway?! Are you saying I have a problem?! Are you calling me a wimp?! Lets take this outside.

Bitch.

Yours, with jitters, Zoë.

Dear Internal Organs,

The next time I try to overload you with tea please feel free to speak up and say something about my complete and utter lack of self-control.

Don’t be afraid. I can only punish you further by changing my intake of liquids to something stronger like, say, tequila.

Love,

Zoë.

Dear Craigslist,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for providing me with a solid eight hours of alternating boredom and fun today. You’ve inspired me, broken my heart, annoyed me, uplifted me and generally made me want to smash my laptop into the innocent face of the next person who comes in here and leaves the fucking door open. You’ve also given me three job leads, five potential apartments and a damn good laugh.

All in all I’d say our relationship is on the up and up.

So…. when do we get to have sex?

*Saucy wink*,

Zoë.

Craigslist


Dear Boyfriend,

I’m really sorry you don’t like the word c**t. I’m also really sorry that I occasionally use it. If you knew how often I wanted to say it and didn’t then you’d be really proud of me. I am trying really hard to be the delicate little flower you have somehow convinced yourself into believing I am. I have been meaning to ask you, are you on crack? Anyway, I’m sorry, but you were absolutely right when you said that I should not bow to your Republican censorship. Especially considering you are not a Republican, which is one of the reasons why we get on so well. You’re quite conservative for a hippie.

Yum, Z

P.S. That green t-shirt gives me the flutters.

Dear Hello Darkness My Old Friend,

Where did the fecking day go????

“Craigslist”?

Oh.

Cheers for clearing that up, Z.

Dear Guy Behind The Counter,

Is it too late for another tea?

Maniacally, Your Biggest Fan.