coffee klatch. (kŏf′ē-klăch’) A casual social gathering for coffee and conversation.
A long time ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth (just ever-so-slightly pre-dating Real Housewives and miniature superhero lip balms), human adults gathered at a place called a coffee shop and they talked…to each other…using words they generated with the use of tongues, uvulae and lips; nary a clacking thumb in the mix. For real. People made eye contact and words came out of their mouths.
Some of these groups can still be found today in the coffee “roastery,” “café” or “house.” (Along with the proud tradition of verbal communication, the pedantic “shop” has apparently lost its appeal in favor of more shicky-Mickey words.) I personally know of two such groups, although rather than an espresso emporium, one of them convenes at a Greek restaurant that serves Italian, Japanese, German, Laotian and Texas BBQ 24/7.
My dad is part of a group of men who worked in advertising, who have gathered once a month for the past 35 years. The group had no nickname when they began getting together to talk about trends in the business, their own personal art (each was an artist outside of his professional work in the ad trade), scrappy clients and award-winning work. Now, as the gang has dwindled from 20 or so to six, over plates of lasagna and sauerbraten, they continue to discuss art and trends in advertising, but they have added medicine, healthcare and funerals to the mix. My dad and a couple of the fellas fondly call the meeting “old farts.”
The youngest old fart is 86. They all have smart phones, but as my pops points out, the guys are so old that no one takes his phone out at the table. What does that even look like, I wonder. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I decided to leave our phones at home when we went to dinner. In the middle of a controversy over crustaceans (we can debate absolutely anything), we did what any reasonable persons embroiled in such an analytical enterprise would do and we reached for our devices, sure we’d each unearth scientific evidence of our correctness. But no. We sat there like dummies; me, certain that the woodlouse is not in fact a crustacean, and he, equally certain that it is. (I should have known he was right. Who the hell makes a pronouncement about woodlice unless he totally knows the woodlouse is a frickin’ crustacean?)
I began to wonder whether the very shape and architecture of conversation had changed due to the accessibility of data. In olden times people might discuss the happenings of their day, leaving little room for research and all the room in the world for…talking.
“Pendelworth was fired today for embezzling from the employee picnic fund,” one’s partner might say, which sparked theories of intrigue and speculation on the amount of eggnog Pendelworth imbibed at the office holiday party. Today, we’d both whip out our phones to see whether Pendelworth had any priors, as though it would matter, until August, when the employees gathered around a splintered picnic table in a public park found themselves eating generic wieners instead of Monte Cristo sandwiches on brioche at a country club.
My boyfriend has been part of a coffee group for over 40 years. The venues have changed. Faces come and go, but a few of the stalwart remain. Occasionally I will join them on a Saturday morning at a local roastery; mostly, to observe. The reason for this is because the philosophical and intellectual nature of most of the discussions, pathetically, gives me the giggles and an overwhelming urge, when Marx, Chomsky and Normal Mailer are mentioned in the same breath, to ask whether anyone has seen the week’s cover of People Magazine. “I find Princess Markle to be both brilliant and contradictory, magnetic and dangerous,” I say with highbrow assuredness. (I hope they know I mean the English definition of brilliant, as in “those stilettos are brilliant on you, darling.”)
Back in the day, when the bf’s coffee group met at a coffee counter within the confines of a family-owned drugstore (paleontologists will eventually unearth such sites once Walmart and Starbucks have crumbled), someone could tuck away behind the New York Times until a juicy tidbit caught his ear at which time the paper would be lowered slowly, revealing the face—eyes in particular—of the person about to enter the conversation with a well-formed opinion. Imagine the cinematic charm of the scene. Now picture a person with crepey Google neck, furtively glancing up from his iPhone.
Also lacking in charm, thanks to technology, is the manner in which ideas are volleyed. Instead of relying on wits, intuition, education and memory, we scan a bottomless pit of electronic data until we find items here and there to shore up an argument, and like a machine playing an unemotional game of chess we state our case with conviction, but no heart.
A couple times a week I find myself in a coffee place. While waiting for my order I look at the people all around me, of every age, and I notice small groups here and there—people who obviously elect to meet at a specific time and place so they can…ignore one another. The person whose nose isn’t buried in a laptop, tablet or cell phone stands out like a burka at a Trump rally. My cousin in Croatia, where “have coffee” refers to any gathering of two or more people for the express purpose of verbal communication, assures me the love affair with electronic devices hasn’t poisoned their culture…yet.
My cuz and her dad visited for a week last summer and while we enjoyed sightseeing, family gatherings and evenings out, not once did she or her pops pull out their cellphones for any reason other than to take a picture, then the devices were returned to the dark recesses of a pocket or purse. At no time was a comment fact-checked. They didn’t consult Google Earth to learn exactly where we were at any given moment. We were together, and that was enough.
I can’t watch a film with my boyfriend without the annoying flare of his iPhone as he researches the director, the box office, who the stars studied with and the cinematographer’s philosophy of visual storytelling. He glances at the movie in a perfunctory way, glimpsing only enough to be sure it is still playing, and then to see whether there are any bare breasts on the screen, in which case he Googles whether they are real or store-bought.
I liked it better when we sat in the dark, eyes glued to the screen in a semi-somnambulistic state, riding the waves the filmmakers created; the spell of which goes poof with the light of a cellphone. I think looking someone in the eye when having a conversation is more important than quoting chapter and verse about arthropods, criminal records or saline v silicone.
In baby steps to beating my internet addiction, I’m off of Facebook now, which has freed up screen time for more important pursuits. I’ll let you know when I figure out what they are.
Night terrors have morphed into day terrors, which have metastasized into all-the-fucking-time-now terrors brought on by the solid possibility that I will be blown up, shot, poisoned and/or beaten to death and raped by an incel wearing a red baseball cap. I am not alone in my anxiety. Millions of people, not only in the United States but all over the world, are on edge, grasping their mental health like a flimsy vine as they dangle thousands of feet over a valley of obese fake-tan doom.
According to an article in The Week, naps are the answer. Whew, ‘cause I was pretty sure being submerged in a bubble bath for the duration of the foreseeable future would be as detrimental to my skin and overall health as crawling into a bottle of Grey Goose. A combination of the two, however, still strikes me as somewhat sublime. But I digress.
Naps are good, if somewhat impractical for many of us. One employer I spoke with said she didn’t think it was unreasonable to dock the pay of any employee who crept off for 40 winks during the workday, and I personally would find it alarming to walk into a grocery store, for example, only to find the produce person asleep in the kale.
If it ain’t nap mats and graham crackers after recess, then what is to be done about our astronomical case of the willies, recently coined by psychologists, believe it or not, as Trump Anxiety Disorder:
“Although ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder’ is not an official diagnosis, the symptoms include a lack of sleep, a feeling of losing of control and helplessness in an unpredictable sociopolitical climate, along with endless negative headlines, and excessive time spent on social media.”
This has also been theorized in the 2017 book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, which contains sciencey essays from 27 psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals to the “clear and present danger” that US President Donald Trump’s mental health poses to the “nation and individual well-being.”
In other words, the wing nut is making us crazy.
My pops turned 90 in December, and his dying wish (although his doctors have told him he stands a very good chance of living another 10-15 years) is to introduce a word he invented into the common English lexicon, and if ever a word summed up the kind of wackadoo that the current president has infected us with, it is this: lunacidal. Allow me to use it in a sentence:
After reading Trump’s 3AM tweet, in which he threatened to rain nukes on California if Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t stop saying mean things about him, I tore off my bedclothes and ran around in the snow like a lunacidal maniac.
Running naked in the snow isn’t as crazy as it sounds, btw. For someone with hot flashes and who has been driven lunacidal by an orange madman with the nuclear codes, flinging one’s pyretic body into a snowbank with a sizzle is actually quite refreshing.
Other than that, I only have a small handful of suggestions as to how we might survive the next weeks, months and (bite-my-tongue-shoot-me-in-the-head) years:
1. Get off Facebook. (Read a book.)
Nothing will mercurize your blood pressure more readily than reading the posts and comments of bots and trolls. It is their goal, their entire reason for living to cause you pain of the mental variety. Take away their power! Delete your FB account. There are such lovely pieces of writing out there that will set your imaginations free and perhaps even spark a bit of happiness in the process. Called “books,” these marvelous little inventions allow us to escape the false reality that social media feeds us and give us a better, more literary fake reality. (May I suggest Feng Shui and Charlotte Nightingale to start?)
2. Pet your dog.
Studies have proven that spending time with Fido is good for our well-being. Ever notice how when you cry your dog tries to lick away the tears in an act we anthropomorphize as compassion? If you are stressed about North Korea, for example, or because the Tetons are slated to be leveled for use as a Walmart parking lot, Fido does in fact understand where you are coming from because even a dog knows batshit crazy when he sees it. Just be careful not to rub his fur completely off in a moment of lunacidal self-soothing.
Research (not sayin’ whose) has shown that this activity can improve your mental outlook and increase blood circulation to your skin. The resulting rosy glow easily masks the inner turmoil and angst that returns within a nanosecond of “the therapy” (yes, that’s what we’re calling it). It could be the most productive three minutes of the day.
And what of my friends and family who support the current president, and do not believe him to be incompetent, unstable and crazy as a bed bug? I guess we’re gonna have to agree to covfefe.
Loves ya. Always.
Please share on Facebook because I deleted my account so as to avoid lunacidal actions. Thanks!