Love and bad coffee

Date: 2007-02-11 15:23

When I was in service council in my dingy jr high school in the 8th grade i dished salads on the plates of other children. This was before fast food crept onto campus, and the food was profoundly institutional. It was cans of veggies, and iceberg lettuce, and cherry tomatoes, with italian or ranch dressing. I remember feeling confused and nearly betrayed by the kids that asked for garbanzo beans. Garbanzos were grown up food, unpleasant and good for you. No one was watching these kids, forcing them to eat garbanzo beans, they were doing it themselves. For some reason I could understand salad, but not garbanzo beans. Those could have no purpose but obligation and health, to my mind. I stared at the kids that got them, and tried to suss out why they would eat them. I think I asked once or twice, and confused kids told me they liked them.

I just didn't believe them. Garbanzo beans were institutional, damnit.

Today for lunch I had institutional salad with garbanzo beans. I have grown up tastes now, and I like garbanzos. But as I sat there thinking about my life since then, I thought, I was right- these are grown up food. They are still institutionalized, nominally healthy, unchanged from 20 years ago. I like the taste now, but the 8th grade me was right too; I do eat with obligations about eating healthy, and financially responsibly. It's always there now, and I've put away the eating I did as a child.

I drank the coffee, which I had opted for over the Peet's stand one floor above. Ostensibly that was because this coffee was much cheaper. but K, J's husband said something yesterday while visiting Artur that was simply, profoundly true: bad coffee in a place like this is comforting. The bad coffee and the garbanzo beans and the linoleum and the easy wipe walls are all comforting. It's not all here to accommodate me, it's not about me. It's here to get the work done. It is sallow and tepid and full of the pained energy of getting the work of living done.

This place is full of love. It's not the fiery take your breath away passions of Isolde and Tristram, the star crossed high feelings of Romeo and Juliet, it's the love of little old ladies who talk of nothing at all. Women who come say hi to you as gestures of kindness, and look as though they've never thought a day in their lives. I keep seeing little women who have watched their men grow old, and their hearts grow older. I see them carrying water, quietly, building something and easing something, often into death. I am growing less patient with Tristram and Isolde these days, and more enamoured with linoleum and institutions.

I am glad people have painted stunning pictures of courtly love and fiery passions, heartbreak and myth, because they've inspired me and uplifted me all my life. But as i've grown older I've come to appreciate that great and beautiful things are generally made by the toil of obscure, ugly people.

I watched a lot of pretty people behave in very ugly ways recently, and I remember telling a friend that he must understand that the flaw wasn't in the situation, it was in the person who commits the act. When someone lies, I explained, the lie lives in the person that told it, not the one who received it.

Looking around this ugly place, and drinking this bad coffee, I am seeing that the reverse is true as well. Very unimpressive people around me are behaving in beautiful ways. The virtue lies inside them, not in the receivers if the virtue. Time peels away the glamours, and leaves the work, whether it's of love or selfishness or both, behind. Time makes the fiery passions faint, and terrible pain unreal. All time really leaves you with is what you build, rather than what you feel.