Comfort, reassurance, respite…all of those lovely words represent the very best things. These much sought-after states assume that many, many things are ok. But does that assumption hold? How about the dynamic minute-to-minute quality that life can have? Life can be simultaneously dynamic and restful. Things can be ok, even when they are not. No where is that tension as evident as when people are sitting down together over a cup of coffee.
Coffee is the common creature comfort that unites everyone across all divides. Two examples: a scene from the New Yorker and a small snippet of dialogue from an episode of E.R., a long-windy program that is finally wrapping up after 10 years (or is it 11) of relentless, hospital-based drama on NBC.
Writing in the 12/08/08 issue of the New Yorker, Jenny Allen fixates on coffee during her trip to someone's country house as a guest. Her Shouts & Murmurs piece entitled "I Have to Go Now" captures the panic of being in someone's home and not knowing important things. In this case, it's where to find the coffee and how to make it in someone else's kitchen while they're still sleeping. She says gamely, "I should be able to come in here and find the things I need to make coffee all in one place , and within a few minutes gurgling, coffeemaking sounds and that exciting coffee smell will start coming out of the coffeemaker..."
Finally, she finds the coffeemaker, that is, as she writes, not like a coffeemaker at all. But then there's the problem of findng the filters and deciding whether the coffee she finds--- a can of Cafe du Monde from New Orleans--- is the day-to-day coffee or special coffee that the host is saving for some private, special occasion. In the end, it's not clear whether our hapless heroine gets her coffee. It seems that she does not, as she continues to ruminate on why "this being a weekend guest, this protracted socializing" is not for her.
She contemplates whether she and her hosts will go into town, and whether once in town, there will be coffee. She is overcome by anticipatory fatigue of her visit and finally she ends up leaving. As she leaves, she is full of polite niceties: "please forgive me, thank you very much for having me, I'm sorry, I really am. Goodbye." She leaves, and though it is not written, we know that she immediately finds her coffee and steadies herself.
And then there is the E.R. scene.
Setting: The back entrance of a Chicago hospital where emergency-room physicians run out to meet passengers coming in via ambulance. A brisk clear winter night. Light snow swirls under the haze of city streetlights. During a temporary lull, a handsome youngish doctor ventures out and sees a hobo-like, yet also handsome man, hanging out with a dog.
Handsome doctor: “Hey Joe, what are you doing here? Aren’t you cold?”
Joe the Hobo: “No, but Viggo (his dog) doesn’t like the snow.”
HD: “Why don’t you come inside? I told you that you are welcome here.”
Joe the Hobo’s face twists into a somewhat attractive grimace and then morphs into a smirk, before softening into a wide open question mark.
JTH: “Oh, I don’t know.”
HD: “OK, come on in now. Let’s have a cup of coffee.”
JTH: “Coffee…OK. Coffee sounds good.”
They turn towards the light of the hospital entrance and head inside. The scene fades to black, but the idea of coffee-drinking lingers as the sign-off music evokes instant nostalgia.
And now, brief reflections on coffee-drinking from a real-time, unmediated perspective:
This week I have enjoyed the coffee that friends brought home from a recent trip to Peru, Dunkin' Donuts to bring to my writing workshop downtown, lots of Starbucks (can't wait to try the new Christmas blend), and a healthy dose of a bold Peete's blend, mercifully brewed in my Barista coffee pot while I listened to NPR and waited for the fog to lift.
Here's to coffee comfort all around.