Desiring Decaf (Or, WTF, Coffee Snobs?)

balanced breakfast
                                                                                  balanced breakfast

Today I started my morning with part of a Cupcake Royale raspberry pavlova cupcake (vanilla cake, raspberry sauce, lemon buttercream, meringue, delicious) that I’d saved from the night before, and a cup of hot black coffee. In bed. It felt so right.

The coffee, incidentally, was decaffeinated: not because I’m 36 week pregnant (it’s generally accepted that moderate caffeine consumption is just fine during pregnancy), but because I’m extremely sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Anything more than a single cup of black tea makes my heart pound unpleasantly and turns me into a jittery, anxious mess.

It’s a cliché for mainstream coffee drinkers to sniff “what’s the point?” when reminded of decaf’s existence. My partner once mistook this for acceptable banter when I ordered a decaf Americano, resulting in a fight during which I called him a dick in front of the mortified barista (we laughed about it later). Recently, I remarked to a veteran barista friend that I liked a certain coffee shop because I didn’t feel like they were judging me for ordering decaf. “Oh,” she assured me, “they’re judging you.”

But why? Caffeine is a drug, the effects of which don’t agree with some people. I’ve been a caffeine drinker in the past, but after I quit cold-turkey in an effort to address my night bruxism (aka tooth grinding/jaw clenching; it helped, somewhat), my tolerance plummeted. To this day, I reserve anything more than the relatively tiny amounts found in tea, chocolate, or decaf coffee for emergency situations (solo road trips, deadlines that require all-nighters – of which there are mercifully few these days). There are simply those of us who want to enjoy the taste of coffee without corresponding ill-effects.

I’ve heard it said on many occasions that people like me should just avoid coffee, because, you see, no one could possibly enjoy the taste of decaf. That’s news to me: I happen to like it. Admittedly, my taste in coffee is not very sophisticated. I’ve worked as a barista and received training that enabled me to understand the nuances of coffee roasted with restraint. I can appreciate the floral, citrusy, or herbaceous complexity of a single-origin shade-grown light-roast pour-over. But I still prefer the robust, earthy, pedestrian (okay, haters, burnt) flavor of a good dark roast. And, let’s face it – when you’re roasting coffee beans to a charred crisp anyway, the flavor differences between regular and decaf are negligible. There are even some roasters who do a pretty good job with their decaf beans.

Why should anyone care whether I have shit taste in coffee? Does that make me less of a person? I like what I like – why is that a problem for you? The only conclusion that makes sense is insecurity. Why else would anyone be in the business of policing someone else’s preferences?

As a server, I always liked it when someone had the chutzpah to ask for ice cubes with their wine. And if someone wants their steak cooked well-done, or wants to put ketchup on said steak, what business of it is mine?

An apparent lack of sophistication in others stirs up anxieties about the parts of ourselves that may be underdeveloped, unformed, or simply out of step with what the culture considers “cool.” A truly secure person (I’m not necessarily claiming this designation for myself!) has no need to pass judgment on the aesthetic preferences of others. A truly secure person doesn’t waste time scrutinizing someone else’s taste. A truly secure person says (and means) “right on: you do you.”

So, even when I’m no longer pregnant, I’ll still enjoy my decaf, listen to corny 90’s country music, wear brown and black together, and dip my fries in my milkshake. Snobs be damned.

I Will Do My Best to be Who She Thinks I Am

She was sitting on a huge concrete block in the wide gravel no-man’s-land that constitutes a parking lot for shipyard employees, as well as a micro-neighborhood of people who live in old RV’s. I was thinking about where I would shelter if The Big One hit right then. There was a reasonable amount of open space, free from hazards like utility poles and power lines; but the soil in the area, as I’d just learned from a color-coded map, is highly susceptible to liquefication, and I was beneath a slope that would surely collapse into a tree-and-building-laden landslide in the event of magnitude 9.0 earthquake. Bad news.

(I’ve been anxiously fixating on the danger our region faces from a massive earthquake since I read this New Yorker article yesterday. As much as I like to think that I have a deep acceptance of impermanence and the inevitability of death, the thought of being in immediate peril from a natural disaster is horrifying. Strangely, even before reading about the Cascadia subduction zone, I’d been experiencing a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of those who, like me, exist in the complacent ease of relative peace and prosperity. The truth is, it could shatter at any moment. I’d been having vivid fantasies of what it would be like to be involved in a large-scale catastrophe—like the mega-quake we’ve been promised.)

She was sucking on a vaporizer, and Ayla bounded up to greet her.

“You’re such a nice person. Wow. You’re gorgeous. I mean, gorgeous, wow.” She traced the contours of an imaginary pregnant belly.

“Thanks,” I replied. “You’re very sweet.”

“No, I’m not sweet! It’s true! You’re gorgeous. I am so happy for you. You’re going to be amazing.”

I smiled and thanked her, a little bemused, but flattered. As I walked away, she exclaimed,

“Yes. Yes, thank God!” I wondered what she meant, and surmised that she was glad someone as great as she clearly assumed I was was having a child.

When I was about 100 yards distant, she called out, “What’s your name?”

I yelled a reply, but she couldn’t hear, and started running towards me on sock feet. Ayla turned around and raced towards her, and I followed.

I repeated my name, and she launched into an impromptu paean to my beauty, kind-heartedness, loving nature, and overall greatness.

“Your energy is so beautiful! Look at the sunset. Look at it! That’s the energy I see inside you. You have so much love in your heart. You’re going to have a beautiful baby son. Can I give you a big hug? Or just a little hug?”

I assented. She smelled strongly of booze and there was a dampness of sweat between her shoulder blades. A small red bruise showed on her slender arm, and she had a Chinese character that may have been a tattoo but looked like a pen drawing in the center of her chest.

As I walked away, she began to weep.

“You’re going to be a great mother! I’m SO glad I met you. Namaste. What’s your sign?”

“Aries,” I said.

“I’m a Capricorn,” she said, and bowed, forearms drawn together in front of her face. “I love you. I love you. I love you so much!” She sobbed.

Needless to say, it was an affecting encounter. One could as easily dismiss her words as the illogical, and entirely unfounded, ramblings of a drunk. After all, I’m in the habit of dismissing (okay, attempting to dismiss) the nastiness directed my way by strangers who know nothing of me: the guy whose road rage prompted him to label me a “dumbass,” for instance. The screwed up thing is that his entirely unreasonable assessment precipitated a full-fledged emotional melt-down: Whereas the casual cruelty of strangers confirms what I suspect about myself (that I am bad, unworthy, stupid, etc.), the (often far more intense) avowals of my goodness that random people occasionally heap upon me make less of an impact. I don’t really believe them.

“She doesn’t know me,” I thought. “Where is she getting all of this?” Also: “She’s drunk.”

I’ve been feeling great guilt about bringing a child into a world that seems more frightening and unstable by the day. I feel selfish and foolhardy; even though I know that I did my due diligence in trying to prevent my pregnancy, I sometimes question whether it was morally correct to continue it. I question my ability to parent, my fitness to steward a vulnerable life, and even my capacity for love, on a daily basis.

But this evening’s encounter was a ray of hope. The total belief of a complete stranger in my essential goodness, her fulsome praise of my very being, her jubilation at my fruitfulness, buoyed my belief in myself. It made me think that maybe I can be a good, even a great, parent. That perhaps my existence is not a net loss for the world, and that, rather than hastening its demise, I might actually be contributing to society by raising a wonderfully compassionate and effective human.

And it took my mind off the Earthquake.

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