Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Open Letter to Starbucks on Christmas Day

Dear Starbucks,

This is in regards to Christmas Day, 2012. 10:07 a.m., receipt #686823.

I woke up at 6:30 a.m. after a stiff night of tossing and turning. Maybe it's arthritis, or bone cancer, or the crater in my 30-year-old mattress. I don't know, and I've given up caring. Anyway, I padded out to my messy kitchen, creaky bones and all,  to put the water on to boil. Once that was done, I made a pour-over cup of Starbucks espresso -- but it totally sucked, likely because I used the same grounds I used yesterday, and the same paper filter I’ve used for about a week.

Poverty, in case you don't know, sucks — particularly in this season during which everyone seemingly has pictures of food on the internet. It makes a heart bitter. At various times, I’ve found myself perusing Facebook and sneering, fuck you, turkey. Fuck you, sweet potatoes and marshmallows. And cookies? Well, you can take your cute little Santa faces and go straight to hell. I know. I endear no one with this confession, least of all myself. I am a depressed asshole. People like me don’t deserve the internet.

Do we even deserve coffee? I don’t know, but by 6:45 a.m., I began planning my trip to Starbucks. I received three gifts this year — all of them from barely known acquaintances — and all of them gift cards to your store. Apparently, people think that coffee will imbue chronically penniless and depressed assholes with the holiday spirit.

(Holiday spirit? Screw that. And screw the pictures of obliviously spoiled six-year-olds squealing over their shiny new iPhones and Kindle Fires. I mean, WTF? I sold my plasma a couple of weeks — I saved countless lives — and all I got was enough to buy a donut and a bag of dog food. I hate kids with parents. It’s so damn unfair.

Anyway, at around 7:00 a.m., I began the self-talk that would allow me to unwrap the static-filled blanket from around my nutritionally deprived but still lumpy body. It’s Christmas Day, I said to my pessimistic self. Surely the $2 of gas I bought for the ’94 Honda two weeks ago isn’t all gone. Surely, there’s some fucking miracle that will make my ugly little car run on sunshine and wishes.

I considered my clothes. Baggy, red plaid flannel pants and a military t-shirt that, ironically, said “Pride.” Fuck you, military; fuck you, pride. I decided that if I added a contrasting green hoodie from my college days (Go Spartans), it would be a perfect outfit to have to walk the three miles home, in case the Honda ran out of gas. It would be, quite deservedly, humiliating. Cars full of holiday cheer, bratty children, and Tupperware containers full of more food than I've eaten all month would whoosh by me, their occupants likely laughing at the exaggerated size of my ass. They’d feel sorry for the stoic dog at the end of the homemade rope leash, and talk about how some people shouldn’t own pets. They’d shake their heads and say, “Oh, that poor thing. I hope it at least got a decent meal today.” Never mind that the little prince eats better than I do. I’m an asshole, but do the math: Big brown eyes. Soul-sucking guilt. Plasma. Dog Food.

At 7:15, I’ve got the hoodie on and start looking at shoes. I want to wear sandals, but opt for boots in case I have to walk. I can’t find socks, but who cares. Count your fucking blessings, I remind myself. There’s people all over the world who would kill for a ten year-old pair of Mukaluks, or whatever the hell they’re called. Fuck you for not being grateful, you bastard.

Exhausted by all the decisions, I slump onto the couch with my beat-up laptop. Twitter is alight with Instagram photos of diamond bangles and Jesus memes. I get lost in the stories of other people, with their matching family PJ’s and quiche breakfasts. I fight the urge to play “whose life sucks harder” with the two or three other depressives online, one who’s battling a public case of gout. Oh yeah, gout? Big effing deal. At least you have health insurance and food. If I had a smart phone or camera — or proximity to one of those spoiled-ass six year olds who have both — I’d take a picture of my empty refrigerator and I think the whole damn internet would agree that I WIN — even before I show you the bottle of Dawn dish soap that's in my shower stall, BECAUSE I CAN’T AFFORD A FUCKING BAR OF IRISH SPRING.

After winning the loser game on Twitter, at least in my head, I went to Facebook where one of my “friends” got a $600 espresso machine from her husband for Christmas. I want that machine and that kind of partner. I wallow in self-pity for a few moments, but then realize that I’m alone only because I’m hideously ugly. It makes me feel better to understand that it’s not just a myriad of character flaws that keeps me single, but a horrifically deformed appearance, and that people are too shallow to see the beauty inside. Fuck you, shallow people. Also, fuck you, fake Stuart Smalley self-esteem.

Also? Fuck you, pictures of French toast breakfasts and prime rib lunches. I’m hungry, I’m starving. I want something warm. I want some love, too, but that’s not on the Starbucks menu and even if L-O-V-E were to show up at my door right now, bearing gifts of comfort, sex, and a lifetime of “no, it was great, really” I’d be too embarrassed to let it in. I haven’t cleaned this place for weeks. My hair is static-ky and sticking out in 20 directions, and I’m a fucking depressed mess whose head is firmly lodged up an oversized ass that just happens to smell like clean dishes.

By 9:54 a.m., I have finally screwed up the courage to leave my apartment. The dog is excited. I’m sure he thinks we’re going to the dog park, but I don’t have enough gas for that. I try to explain the situation to him, but it’s like he’s deaf. He runs between my legs and out the door, and then sits by the car door, wagging his tail like a total fucking dork. I love my dog. He’s an idiopathically happy idiot. Opposites attract, and it’s like we were made for each other — I disappoint him continuously, he keeps me from becoming a total agoraphobic.

I drive the three miles with my hands tight on the wheel, praying to the gods of empty fuel tanks, and devising a plan. I have a few old coffee beans at home that I’ve been saving up for a special occasion just like this, probably enough for one cup of fresh coffee, and a barely-used a paper towel that can act as a new filter. Starbucks is closing early, I can only make this one trip, and since this is the extent of my dietary intake today, I need get my order just right.

When I arrive to the speaker, I call out my order quickly — a Venti latte, a Grande latte (to microwave later), and a side of cream of sugar (to make those old, stale beans more palatable.)

There are two cars ahead of me. I shut off my engine to save gas. The going is slow, my stomach is rumbling, and my stupidly happy dog has finally gotten the message. He’s slumped in the back seat, looking like But it’s Christmas, you asshole. You could at least take me to the dog park. You’d have had enough money for gas if you didn’t have that burrito at Taco Bell a couple of days ago, you selfish bastard.

Fuck you, dog. I love you, but fuck you.

The cars finally pull ahead and I start the engine. It roars to life like a poor person’s miracle.

A girl dressed in red takes my gift card. “And here’s your Venti,” she says with a smile.

I am impatient as she rings up my order. I watch the barista, who’s not yet done with the Grande. In my head, I am panicking over gas, lamenting my life, and feeling bad about my dog, who surely deserves a better companion. One minute, then two goes by.

Finally, the Grande is in my hand and the barista is wishing me a happy holiday. 

“Cream and sugar?” I remind her.

“Oh yes, I forgot.”

She grabs sugar packets and asks the person behind her to get some cream. I watch another employee pour some 2% milk in a cup, which she hands to the cashier, who hands it to me.

“That’s milk,” I tell her, as my car sputters.

“No, it’s cream,” she insists.

“I watched her pour it,” I reply, but suddenly it feels like the whole world is about to crash down around my shoulders. I am convinced that she’s looking at me — this ugly person with the freakish hair, dirty car, and sad-ass dog — and thinking, fuck you and your cream. I’m working on Christmas, and you’re a cheap bastard who won’t even leave a tip.

I pulled off suddenly then, leaving her holding the cup in her hand. I hate milk, you see, and I hate being lied to. I hate milk in my coffee, almost as much as I hate decaf. I hate that feeling of wanting to cry for stupid, unmanly reasons. I hate that I’m running on empty, and my next paycheck is seven days away. I hate that I’m hungry. I hate Christmas puppies, i-Everything, and everything-I don’t have. I hate roast beef and pies and scalloped potatoes. I hate happy families and people in love. 

I also hate that my Starbucks order didn’t hold me past noon. I drank those tasty suckers down, one right after another. Fuck you, tears. 

All of this to say, Starbucks, that I am sorry. 

I am sorry that I was an asshole to your fresh-faced, smiling, festive barista. I shouldn’t have been. I should have polite, even if it meant running out of gas and walking home. I should have sucked it up enough to just take the fucking milk.

Instead, I let that milk represent everything else. I let that milk say, “No, you’re not worthy of cream even on this hallowed day. I hope you run out of gas waiting. I hope you walk home as the disgrace you are. Why don’t you clean your kitchen? Do some laundry? WHY DON’T YOU QUIT BEING DEPRESSED AND DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE?”

That’s quite a lot to put on an ounce of milk and a smiling (even if she was lying) face, but there you have it. I’m an asshole.

I don’t deserve you (and/or you deserve better.) I will punish myself next week with some off-brand decaf, which I'll drink without the benefit of whiskey or half-and-half.



Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hunting Buffalo

Like so many others indigent writers with dubious talents, I've started a blog. Unlike most of my questionable peers, I have no fans and no following. I also have no family. The few friends I have are more likely to catch a seven foot gator barehanded than they are to ever read anything I write. Most of them only use the internet to watch free porn clips and none of them have read a book since high school, or in Junior's case, since 4th grade.

My friends call me Professor not because they think I'm any smarter than they are, but solely because I don't speak in double negatives or with a Cajun drawl. They find that kind of arrogance as amusing as my refusal to throw cigarette butts out of my truck window, or to eat swamp fish fried in three-year-old oil. Or oi-rrroll, as it's called in these parts.

Still, I might occasionally talk about Harley Junior, Mitch, and Bugs — whose real name has never been spoken aloud by anyone except his mother. We tend to keep our secrets here, only dragging them out when people are dead and gone, or in need of a little community humbling.

In another life, I might have gone to college, or even graduated high school. Instead, I took a GED at 16, went on a few adventures, and then returned home to take my place on the old plaid couch left on someone's ramshackle porch. There, surrounded by friends who will never understand why I bought a MacBook instead of a used ATV, I drink warm beer, swat away flies, and soak in the stories. When the fistfights start (and there's always a fistfight), I steal away to my fifteen-year-old Chevy and pass out in the front seat until I'm sober enough to make it back to the place I rent from my former foster parents, neither of whom care much for me (or anyone else for that matter), but who consider $250 a month rent a small fortune for what used to be an old henhouse. Me, I just like continuity. Unless I'm on a purposeful adventure, I like my feet hitting the same ground every morning. I like the same smell of fried eggs and manure wafting in through my windows when I wake up, and the heady scent of warm wood smoke in the evenings.

Whenever I can afford it, I buy myself a steak, usually a good T-bone or ribeye, which I grill on an ancient, wobbly, three-legged Coleman that somebody once had the good fortune to throw away. Propped up by a brick and an old fence post, it serves its purpose of making me feel like a manly-man, one who can imagine that the meat didn't come from Piggly Wiggly, but from an exhausting buffalo hunt in grueling weather conditions, over rough terrain. The fact that I've never even seen a buffalo doesn't stop me from imagining myself a rugged man, a well-muscled and fiercely independent man who can hunt for his own damn meat.

Truth is overrated, especially when genes have given you thin arms, moobs, and a soft belly that no amount of starving or hard work seems to harden. I'm a short, pudgy, hairy man with a prematurely receding hairline. There's no good story in that, and there's certainly no Cadence Caldwell — the fictitious name I've given to a girl with the horrible real-life name of Brent — who betrayed me by way of never recognizing how true and deep my love for her was. She was the one who got away before she was ever caught. A long, lean beauty — one of the very few girls I knew who maintained visible bones past the age of puberty — and I loved her for her skinny wrists and twig-like ankles. I loved her for her gold hair and blue eyes, and for the way she crept into my brain and stayed there, turning me into a young man that was crazed with passion, and willing to do anything it took to win her favor. At 14, 15 years-old I chopped wood with a vengeance and lifted heavy logs, one right after another, in the hopes of developing the kind of biceps that Cadence would notice and see fit to marry. I let the soft hairs on my upper lip grow, so that she would see I was no boy, but a man in the making.

At 16, I cursed my regressive redneck genes and did what any self-respecting almost-man would do when the love of his life — the one he had sweat over, dreamt about, and sent glittery, anonymous Valentines to — started wearing the jacket of some well-to-do boy with two, real parents and a blinding smile that had never seen an infant-sized bottle of Coke or a cheap, backwoods dentist. I ran away.

Bugs was the one that saw me off. He and the boys had gathered up $16 and an old army jacket that promised to make me look older. My friends may be assholes, but they're good-hearted assholes. And even though it's against the redneck brotherhood code to say such things, I love them and I know they love me; moobs, MacBook, arrogance, and all.

There are a lot of stories in between then and now. Some of them are made-up and some are real, but that's not how I care to judge their merits. The world is full of lies that are vigorously defended and truths that are as unwelcome and ominous as a nest of snakes under the bed. People spend far too much of themselves in arguments, defending this or that point of view, but the thing is — it's hardly ever the clinical definition of real or false that propels us forward or motivates us — but about how we feel.

Tonight, I feel like a buffalo hunter whose got hides instead of faded boxer shorts and flannel shirts drying on the line outside. Inside a warm and woodsy cabin, the love of my life is preparing side dishes to go along with the meat I have prepared for us. We'll eat by the glow of fire, and sometime afterwards her twig ankles will wrap around my muscular back. When she is asleep, I will get up and move to a wooden table, where I will write stories that have nothing to do with henhouses, factories, and fistfights, but about all that lies beneath, from bitter seeds and sweet memories, to unrequited love and the kind of love that makes a man plead to God for some sort of transformation.