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Friday, September 10, 2010

No Coffee

I had my first cup of coffee when I was... eight, I think. It was regular, high-test, as they say in BP-parlance. Israelis don't wait around for silly things like, say, adolescence. Why wait, when your precious world and your precious family could be blown up tomorrow?

Coffee has become customary at my parents' home. It follows every meal, and it doesn't matter if it's 103 degrees out and the truculent sun is blazing through the imitation shoji window screens in the dining room-- there. will. be. coffee.

I expect it. My oldest sister demands it. Since her epiglottis or whatever got all fucked up a few years ago, she eats very, um, particularly, and coffee is her one real pleasure in life. Her vice. Her sanctity. Her holy water. And she laps it up as if she were crawling on the desert floor of the Kalahari for weeks and in that ceramic cup were the last drops of moisture in the world. She licks the mug. It's actually quite disgusting. They're not dainty little mint julip licks either. They're lusty, rye bourbon licks, tongue flat against the mug's interior. It's a bit like pornography, and watching your sister behave like that, at the dinner table no less, is a bit disconcerting.

But, hey-- it's coffee. Liquid gold.

A while ago, my wife alerted me to the fact that I don't actually like coffee. She evinced this by pointing out that I put enough sugar in my coffee to send the air molecules around the mug into a diabetic coma. "You like coffee-flavored candy-water," she said.

"Ah. You're probably onto something there," I said, re-filling the banana-yellow Fiestaware sugar bowl for the third time this week.

When dining at my parents' house, I don't always want coffee after the meal, but I always take it, because it's always offered, and a meal there just doesn't feel.... right without it. You know when something just doesn't feel right, don't you? A handshake, or a kiss-- a hello or a goodbye. Walking down an unfamiliar alley after the sun's set or buying a used mattress. Well, dinner at my parents' house without coffee sort of feels like that. It's foreign, or absurd. Maybe incomplete is more of what I'm looking for. A bit... off.

It's Rosh Hashanah today. We were all together at my parents' house-- me, my wife, my two sisters, my sister's husband, their beautiful baby boy, my father-in-law and, of course, my parents. A much bigger gathering than usual. There was chicken, Israeli-style sauteed vegetables and rice, pecan and apple pie and ice cream-- but no coffee. It just... didn't happen. The baby was uncustomarily cranky, with diaper rash on his tussie as we call it, and there was a flurry of activity to alternately quiet him and entertain him. There was hide-and-seek and chasing and the calming water of the bathtub and a quick jaunt to CVS by my father to get Desitin or Chèvre or whatever you rub on a baby's ass to get it to stop crying, and I had to leave to drive my father-in-law back to his car so he could get back to his job, and, when I came back, well, the opportunity had been missed.

It's funny how everything changes. My oldest sister mused, as there was jubilant banshee-like screaming (my mother) from the living room, what family dinners were like, you know, before.

"They couldn't have been this loud," she declared, her hand to her forehead.

"No, they were-- they just weren't cute loud," I replied, sinking into my old seat like a slice of bologna on bread. "This is what we always were, just more fucked up now."

Of course, there was always coffee-- to take the edge off.

Now there are new family members, both young and not quite so young, and sometimes they sit at our dining room table and sometimes, just sometimes, I can't quite always believe I'm staring at who's staring back at me, and sometimes, just sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised at whom I'm staring, and sometimes I'm stunned or appalled or frightened or horribly pissed. And sometimes I actually catch myself staring, and remember that, if I'm very, very good, maybe-- just maybe, there'll be coffee again.


  1. This was great. We recently had a big family get together and as we were gathered I also was amazed by all the new faces around me. And as the volume seemed particularly loud I joked with my cousin's fiance that its always loud, but now we have little ones to make it cute, and fun, even if its just a little louder. Welcome Back!

  2. Maybe a baby that young shouldn't be given coffee?


    And coffee is gross. Unless it's a coffee-flavoured hard sweet, in which case I make an exception.

  4. Love the writing, glad you're back. My three year old likes his coffee with two sugars and a dash of cream. ;) Also, tell your mom to try Burt's Bees Baby Bee skin creme for your nephew - it worked better than any diaper cream I ever used, and it doesn't smell/feel gross. Also works on wind-chapped cheeks, etc, and since it doesn't smell like butt cream, it's not awful to use.
    And again, SO glad you're back. Really, really missed reading.


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