I’m not addicted to this stuff. I appreciate it too much to do that. Young people who post about their morning coffee on the way to work? The hoochicappafrappadingie with two drops of kale syrup and the whipped cream on top? Those people are addicted.
My once-a-month donut. Don’t laugh! Once a month a guy deserves a treat, right? The way I figure it, I work out for three weeks and somewhere in that fourth week, I get a treat. So that’s what I got this morning: one glazed donut, one large cup of regular joe. That’s it. Didn’t want to spend any extra time there. Because as it turned out, this isn’t any sort of treat today.
One glazed donut. It’s a force of remembrance, if you will. It’s my mom taking me to the Bake-Rite Bakery down on Beach St. when I was a kid, after Sunday church, for one little treat. I mean, what eight-year old hasn’t earned a treat after attending a Chinese Baptist Church service? You haven’t heard hellfire and brimstone until you’ve heard it in Cantonese! That minister could tear me open six ways to Sunday and stuff me full of shaking and fear! The one speaker I remember most was a Chinese lady wearing a black dress, her hair pulled back in a very tight bun. Severe. I was seated at the end of the center aisle, and she came prowling down through the congregation, stalking her prey by the guilt in their faces, the sins in their hearts. She stared at me as she ate the microphone and assured us of a burning eternity if we so much as looked the wrong way. At the end of the service, my mom had to peel me off of the chair. So a visit to the Bake-Rite Bakery was my return to sweetness in life, the reassurance that I was, indeed, still a good boy.
These days I go to the D/C Station, donuts and coffee, and a little relaxation. It’s run by these Chinese Cambodian ladies who I consider the sisters that I never had. Yeah, sort of like sisters; I grew up with all brothers.
I couldn’t relax there this morning. It’s that damn Covid, and one other thing that I have to get off my chest. Because as much as I want to pretend that what I felt like doing wasn’t me, it was. It is. It’s tearing me open. And what’s coming from deep inside me might be truer than many things I’ve felt before.
Well. The D/C Station is the kind of donut shop where customers are fine with parking and letting their car engines run while they go in to get something. It’s got coffee and hot chocolate machines lined up all in a row like a stainless steel altar. There’s a counter with two windows full of donuts dripping sugar. They’ve got croissants, not at all like a good Parisian one, but you just don’t care when they fill it with bacon and eggs. There’s a regular clientele that shares newspapers so quickly that you don’t even know where page one is anymore. And there’s a bunch of old white guys sitting around who can tell me about actually seeing Sandy Koufax pitch a no-hitter against the Giants in 1963, and all I can say is: “Yeah, well, in 2014 I saw Madison Bumgarner win Game 7 on TV.” To which Charlie, the oldest, says, “He didn’t win it, hot shot; he got the save.”
I don’t know why it should be like this, but I think that coffee memorializes my life. I was watching a football game in high school when I had my first cup of joe. I was sitting in the stands after playing in the JV game, and I so wanted to impress the redhead whose hand I was holding, so I said, “Hey, I’m gonna go get some coffee. You want anything?” Hah. She’s been married a long time now, still looks good. Must be the red hair.
And then there was the pot of coffee that got me through the night in college, when I wanted that “A” in ECON 7-0-8 zillion. I was the only nonwhite in that graduate class and I had something to prove. That night before the final exam, the last study session with my classmates ran into the dark side of 1 a.m. We were talking these crazy formulas, writing them all out and solving scenarios, and someone up at the chalkboard made a mistake. A slight one, but I knew 100% that it was a mistake. We were supposed to be helping each other prepare for the final exam, which was graded on a strict curve, but I let everyone else think that the solution was correct. I didn’t say anything. Nothing.
My first cappuccino: The day my grandmother died in San Francisco.
My first espresso: My wedding day, the first one, and many more cups on the sleepless nights after I got divorced.
My first cup of hot joe from a vending machine: When the cop handed it to me while I was making a statement about getting jumped by a street gang. I can still feel my arms pulled back, still see the knife coming, still hear someone screaming. More than anything I feel my years of martial arts training, I feel the twists and turns and power that sent one of them to the hospital and the rest slithering off into the night.
But sometimes a particular happenstance shuts down our ability to not give a shit, when fear takes control and yet relinquishes its hold on our behavior at the same time; when the mind is uneasy and disturbed.
In this time, the “Time of Covid-19,” I’m worried. Age: 68. Health: bad asthma; I’m in the very at-risk category. And what happened today never should have happened.
This morning was foggy and colder than it should’ve been, given the time of year. When I parked my car at the D/C Station, I put my mask on and cleaned my hands with sanitizer before getting out, as usual. I got to the front door and I saw that there were several customers inside, too many for me to keep a safe physical distance. (I hate that term “social distancing.” I don’t want to get social with you; I want to stay the hell away from you!)
I’m standing there and through the front window I can see two young men at the counter, trying to decide on donuts. An older couple leaves the shop and now I’ve got room to enter, so I do. The first thing I notice is that one of the two young guys—a skater “dude” with his skateboard in hand—he’s not wearing his mask over his face, but rather on his chin. Every other face in there is covered.
I know three people who have died from Covid-19. I went to high school with two of them. The third was one of my uncles. I know six more who died who were related to my friends. There’s a dark and persistent hole inside me that desperately needs some relief from the heavy sense of loss and the fear of uncertainty. There’s none coming; no one can give that to me.
So there I am. I could leave. But I want some coffee and that precious glazed donut.
I’m fed up with maskless people inside buildings. I’m tired of people walking by so close they could pick my pocket after sneezing in my face. I hate the anti-science dumb fucks who think all of this is a hoax.
I call out to the young man: “Hey, cover your face with your mask!” In response, he says: “What?” He looks over, trying to decide who’s dictating to him, and he spots me staring. He sticks his jaw out and says, “You shut the fuck up!” But he slowly covers his face...partially. I say, “Hey, I’m in a vulnerable population, ok, so just cover up.” But he can’t stop himself: “Afraid of a little China virus, you fucking Asian? You don’t shut the fuck up, I’m going over there and smack you.” And then he laughs, nervously and loudly.
Lightning takes over my body. My muscles, my fists, my brain scream at me to go over and confront him right now! Three long steps, that’s all. Three steps to him and I can settle it. Because I know guys like this. He’s probably a senior in high school, at most a year or two out. I taught high school for 38 years. That’s a boatload of time trying to understand people, the best and the worst, and I know about punks like this guy; he loves this kind of intimidation.
I force myself to stay rooted, and silent. But my fists tighten, loosen, tighten. I hear myself: “Stay relaxed. You’ll punch faster that way.” What was that? My mind actually sees the whole thing: It happens on his way out. He pushes me or he tries to punch me, but I block it, and hit, hit, hit him. It’s an energy and intention thing. He wants to bully me, and I want to take him down.
My cognitive brain says: “Be the adult in the room, ok? He’s taller than you, too.” Hmm. Most bullies are, aren’t they? But I know enough to feel what I’m going to do.
And then they’re paying at the counter. The ladies say “Thank you!” My friends, the ladies—my Asian sisters. I can’t do this, I can’t do anything. They’d scream, “Chhob! Steve! Chhob! Banhchhob!”
I can’t, but I can.
And then the young guys turn. I breathe and think: “Touch me, dude. Go ahead. Push me, you asshole. You won’t like what happens. I will hurt you. You motherfucker, just push me. I’m standing right next to the door. You can’t leave without walking right by me. You can do it. Hit me, motherfucker.”
They walk by, staring straight ahead as if another rack of donuts is waiting for them in the parking lot. Not a touch, not a breeze, not a sound as they pass by. I know their world; the possibilities of what could have happened are already past them. Something else has already taken over. Perhaps, but gone at any rate, for them. But there’s still blood in my eyes.
My first sip of this coffee was L-O-U-S-Y, lousy. Somehow, too bitter. I don’t get it. That was the taste in my mouth, anyway, so I guess it’s real. I would’ve had what the shop calls a glazed cinnamon roll, but I didn’t want more sugar. I was shaking and my narrow vision swam inside a sea of vengeful waters.
I’m not a good boy; I want the satisfaction of violence.