Periscope Depth

sit beside the breakfast table, think about your troubles

The Arsenal Mall disintegrates slowly. Two of the larger but older stores – FYE and B.Dalton – are in the midst of a 50% off everything, clean out the store sale. Browsing through marked-down and ignored books, I could almost hear the regretful managers’ conferences on January 5th – “it was a good holiday season, but not as good as we would have liked” – in the back of my mind. I don’t know if the era of the small outlet store has come to a close, but I do know that a retailer’s business model should hinge on providing something that Amazon can’t.

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I have this conversation every few weeks – mostly recently with Liz over a beer earlier this week. Here’s the gist of it:

I don’t drink coffee. I’ve spent my mornings in places where coffee has been readily available to me for the last ten years – colleges, offices – but I’ve never started drinking it. I don’t drink much caffeine as a rule: more than one Diet Coke in a day is excessive for me. Only recently have I started using that five-hour energy stuff, which contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee but not as much sugar. It’s mostly niacin and B-12. Mostly.

Having made a searching and fearless moral inventory, I suspect that my refusal to drink coffee comes from two pieces of art:

  1. Heat. At some point I made a conscious choice to minimize the number of addictions I have to deal with. Contact lenses already make my life somewhat inconvenient. Add to that the battery of allergy meds I take between April and May and I feel like I’m dragging a hand truck behind me. I can’t change that, but I can reduce the number of morning rituals I add on to it. Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.

    (“That’s the discipline.”
    “That’s pretty vacant.”)

  2. Memoir from Antproof Case. I first got turned on to Mark Helprin in high school, when my dad lent me Memoir after he’d finished reading it. It’s a charming novel about the varied adventures of a man who’s lived for most of the 20th century. He’s robbed banks, had affairs with heiresses, befriended piano tuners and killed a couple of people. And he detests the smell of coffee.

    [T]he former commandante took me aside years ago and told me that if I ever brought up the subject again or threatened cadets or instructors who drink coffee, I would be dismissed. I wouldn’t have to drink coffee, he said, but I hadn’t the right to prevent others from doing so. After all, this was Brazil, and who was I to prohibit the Brazilian navy from partaking of so innocent a pleasure as coffee drinking?

    “It isn’t a pleasure,” I snapped. “It’s a sin. It’s the devil’s nectar. It’s filthy and unhealthy and it enslaves half the world.”

    The protagonist holds to this belief partly out of sense – caffeine’s an addictive, weird little drug – and partly out of idiosyncrasy. As a teenager, a tenuous mixture of sense and idiosyncrasy fit me right down to my socks. “Here’s something I could do to be different,” I thought, and from that point on I was lost.