THE SHEPCAT CHRONICLES

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Requiem for a Chair: A Maow Story #7

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“We’ve made a decision,” my mother announced one evening in late July as I FaceTimed with her and Dad during a Royals game, as is our routine.

“We’re sick of looking at you in that beat-up chair. We want to buy you a nice new chair for your birthday. We’re sending you some money now so maybe you can celebrate your birthday in your new chair.”

Their check arrived in my birthday card a few days later and was more than generous. My birthday came and went, because I wasn’t going to replace my battered old friend with just any chair. I visited numerous furniture stores and searched many websites. I conducted a serious online flirtation with a deep red chair with diamond stitching, broad sloping arms and matching ottoman, similar to my old chair in its construction. But for all its grandiloquent potential as a focal point of my living room, it was upholstered in vinyl, and though I sampled some vinyl seating in my travels, I was never able to test-drive that specific chair in person to determine whether I’d want to spend hours and years lounging in it.

In the end, I settled on a wide, inviting, languorous elephant-gray chair (without matching ottoman), upholstered in real leather, in which I had actually sat during my investigations and which presented itself at a price that accommodated my parents’ largesse.

But this isn’t about my new chair.

Tipped off by a friend from work who had recently bought the same chair at a discount furniture outlet, I purchased my broad-shouldered, coffee-brown, bonded-leather command post in late May 2004. I remember the date because one of our first breaking-in engagements was Bravo’s Memorial Day airing of a West Wing marathon. I watched for 13 straight hours and left the chair maybe twice.

It hasn’t exactly encouraged better posture over the years, and while it’s not by any measure built for sleep, no number of muscle spasms or neck cricks have dissuaded me from slumping, snaking and wedging my frame into the meager space provided to do so. I have sought comfort there in ways that it denied being designed for, whether implicitly or expressly, too lazy or exhausted or obstinate to get up and move three steps to stretch out on the couch.

Since January 2006 the chair has weathered moves from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Sacramento to Seattle (and moves within those cities), with only minor wear and tear. Its slow-motion deterioration began in earnest sometime after we moved into the house we called The Silent J. Eventually the leather became unbonded, so to speak, and began to crack and flake off a little at a time, first along the arms, then the seat back, then the seat itself. Much vacuuming of the carpet would follow, but the chair and ottoman remained.

(Since the move to the apartment two years ago, small tears became larger — note the obliterated left arm in particular — and while I did shop for covers, I found none that would stretch to fit the chair’s especially wide, rounded arms, nor any small enough to conform to the ottoman. Meanwhile, every time I rose from the chair, little flakes of brown polyurethane would be stuck to my arms and calves like prosthetically applied birthmarks.)

A rearrangement of the living room furniture put the chair in a more desirable location from which to view the TV, and despite its ongoing dishevelment, I found myself spending more time in it, my shoulders thrown back against its own, the curvature of my spine tempting fate, my legs stretched out before me on the ottoman.

It is in this disposition of my semisupine form that Maow found her own preferred resting place, and the chair, she and I became one. As I have said before, one of the greatest capacities in which I shall ever serve is that of soft stationary object.


Among my favorite memories are our Sundays spent in the chair, my coffee close at hand, my computer and tablet situated for the week’s proofreading, and Maow insinuating herself atop me against the front edge of my lap desk, rendering the wrist pad moot and finding comfort where none seemed evident (or willing it through her sheer stubbornness, not unlike my own aforementioned attempts to sleep in the chair). Once my work was complete, her patience would be rewarded by the unobstructed expanse of my lap, and hours of intoxicating torpor would ensue. Baseball or football games, movies, immobility. Bliss.

Before our final car trip, en route to our last terrible appointment, we spent most of that long last day together in the chair, in the dim, cool, quiet apartment. She was smaller and weaker than she had been only a month before, and I made a cushion out of a folded bath towel to make her as comfortable as possible before lifting her onto my lap. Had I not determined that morning that letting her go was the most loving, humane thing I could do for her, I could have sat there with her forever.

So I will confess to a brief pang of defiance in the moments following my parents’ generous offer (how dare they?), precisely because this was Maow’s and my chair. The suggestion that I part with it after all we had been through together was a momentary affront, like being slapped with a gauntlet or having a glass of water thrown in my face. Had Mom and Dad not announced their gift when they did, there’s no telling how long I would have continued whiling away my downtime in the dilapidated, slowly eroding wreckage of the chair.

On delivery day I sank into its embrace for one last, lingering cup of coffee as I began writing this chronicle, before upending it and pushing it toward the exit to make room for its successor, before dragging it downstairs, pushing it across the parking lot and behind my building’s dumpster, where oversize items go to await their final journeys to the landfill. I will no doubt see it there several times in the intervening days or weeks and feel sadness and longing for the past. If you’ve read these chronicles at all, you know by now that this is who I am.

I carry Maow everywhere in my heart and still have physical reminders of her close at hand, but that chair was an island that we alone inhabited (I Crusoe, she Friday), and even though a fairly magnificent piece of furniture now occupies the space where it once stood, where we spent that last day together, it may be a while before it stops feeling like an absence, a hole in the room where something is missing.

Sometimes when I entertain thoughts of an afterlife, I imagine that a suitably perfect one might be spent in that old chair, restored to its former glory — whether situated in a meticulously re-created living room or suspended in an endless void; it doesn’t really matter — stroking Maow’s fur as she naps and purrs on my lap for eternity, like one perfect never-ending Sunday.

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Written by Shepcat

August 25, 2019 at 10:21 am

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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A Madeleine 2.5

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As long as I’m on the subject of The Untouchables

My sophomore year at KU I was a desk assistant at Oliver Hall, where I lived, and in addition to working a few three-hour desk shifts each week, I worked one or two half-shifts a week sorting the morning mail, working alongside whoever was manning the front desk.

There was one girl — let’s call her Angie — whom I found especially grating to work with, particularly in the morning when I’m more people-averse to begin with. She was flighty and chatty and prone to insipid conversation, and I usually tried to power through the mail as quickly as possible so I could be done with her and get on with my day.

One spring morning the hall’s daily mail arrived — two or three big canvas drawstring bags that we’d dive into and separate before filing it in the residents’ mail slots. I happened to first open a bag full of magazines and catalogs, near the top of which was the May issue of Gentleman’s Quarterly, as it was still commonly referred to back then.

costner gq

“Hey, Kevin’s on the cover of GQ!” I exclaimed.

I have always been an avid follower of the movies, even when I didn’t yet live in an industry town, but Angie didn’t know that. And while it was certainly not unlike me to say such things, I was immediately struck by how overly familiar I must have sounded to her, so I just ran with it.

“I know him!”

Kevin Costner had appeared in a dozen movies in five years — and had semi-famously not appeared in one — but to date the only role in which he had made a strong impression was as the high-spirited gunslinger Jake in Lawrence Kasdan’s Silverado. If that had been his breakout role, then The Untouchables, coming in June of that year, would be the film that made him a star.

Angie was into hair bands and would ramble ad nauseam about Jon Bon Jovi and David Coverdale and David Lee Roth and whose ass looked best in spandex, so I was sure she wouldn’t know any of this, and I decided to have some fun with her ignorance and gullibility.

On the fly I spun a magnificent tale about a friend in L.A. whose father was an entertainment lawyer. I had visited a few summers back, and while I was there we had hung around a party his parents had thrown at their house in the Hollywood Hills. Mingling among assorted industry types, I had met Kevin — really nice, engaging, down-to-earth guy — and in the course of our conversation he mentioned that he’d found out the day before that his entire role in a movie he had wrapped was going to end up on the cutting-room floor. This was Kasdan’s The Big Chill — Costner would have appeared in flashbacks as Alex, whose funeral had brought his college friends back together — which surely Angie was familiar with, if only for the popularity of its soundtrack album.

“Worked out OK for him, though. Kasdan felt bad and cast him in Silverado. Now look at him,” I said, referring back to the magazine cover.

I marveled at my own audacity but knew that I’d soon run out of plausible details to keep the lie going. I was trying to think ahead and wondering about cutting bait and confessing, when Angie interjected.

“Hey, wait a minute,” she drawled, her suspicion evident in the way her words hung there in the air. “You’ve never been to L.A.”

Of all the details for her to get hung up on …

But then: “No, wait, that’s right — you told me one other time about a trip to California. Was it this one?”

At which point any compunction I had about lying to Angie evaporated. “Possibly. I mean, I’ve been out there to visit more than once.”

I have no idea what became of Angie after KU, but maybe once or twice over the last 32 years the subject of Kevin Costner has come up among friends, at which point she may have said, “Hey, did I ever tell you? I went to school with a guy who met him before he was famous.”

Written by Shepcat

July 14, 2019 at 2:29 pm

A Madeleine — #2 in a Series

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My friend Colleen traveled to Chicago this week, and Thursday she posted a picture of the façade of Union Station on Facebook. Which took me back in time.

In the summer of 1987 or ’88, my best friend, Andre, and I made our second weekend trip to Chicago together (our first having occurred in the summer of ’86, after our freshman year at KU). This time we crashed on the floor of a friend’s family home in Wilmette or Winnetka — one of the W’s, very confusing, as they’re both northern suburbs, right next to each other along the same rail line — and took the commuter train into the city each day.

Our first day, after we hopped off the train, we made the short walk to Union Station, which recently had figured prominently in The Untouchables — most notably in the shootout in which director Brian De Palma shamelessly but masterfully cribs from Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin.

I am virtually certain Andre and I entered on the Canal Street side, at the entrance nearest Jackson Boulevard, and once inside we might have walked around a bit surveying the other entrances as we tried to single out the actual staircase on which the shootout took place.

We found it. Or thought we did, anyway. Certainly the layout looked correct, even if all the contemporary touches like advertising and modern signage clashed with spare, elegant period setting of the movie playing back in our heads.

U Master

So I went into director mode, and began blocking the scene.

“Costner’s standing here …” after he clunkily drags the baby stroller up the steps one-handed, refusing to relinquish his hold on the shotgun under his trench coat, spotting the bookkeeper and several Capone henchmen as they enter the station.

U Three-shot

“He recognizes the henchman at the entrance, pushes the mother out of the way as he raises his shotgun to fire. He lets go of the stroller …”

U Costner

I went down the steps, tracing the stroller’s downward trajectory as bystanders fall amid the crossfire. Costner follows it down, having first thrown down his shotgun and drawn his sidearm, which he quickly empties.

U Mid-Stairs

I’m at the foot of the staircase now. “Enter Garcia. He crosses into frame, tosses Costner his spare pistol, and slides in right here to catch the stroller before it pitches off the bottom step …” (For the record, I did not slide, notwithstanding my enthusiasm. … Enthusiasm. … Enthusiasm.) “… and he trains his gun on the henchman holding the bookkeeper …”

U Garcia

I aim my finger gun upward and to the right before crossing back up the steps to the third point of the triangle.

Here. … Garcia shoots.”

U Accountant

And this is the point in the story when I cross my heart and hope to die. Because as I looked at the wall there under the balustrade, that’s when it caught my eye.

Blood spatter.

Not much. Nothing like what you see in the photo above. So little, in fact, that you’d miss it altogether if you weren’t on that staircase at that time for that very purpose. But spots of pinkish red, many no bigger than the head of a pin, that could plausibly — in my mind, could only — be squib blood that didn’t get completely cleaned off the wall after filming. Filming that the Internet Movie Database informs me took place in August 1986 — not long after our first Chicago trip, as it happens — meaning that spatter had persisted a year, maybe two (again, my memory) waiting for us to discover it there.

Coincidence, you say. Some kid could have knocked his cherry Slurpee off the top of the balustrade the day before, you say.

Suspension of disbelief, I say. The magic of motion pictures.

You could never convince me otherwise.

Here endeth the lesson.

Written by Shepcat

July 13, 2019 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Movies

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Pay It Forward: A Maow Story — #6 in a Series

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A little after 10 a.m. Friday I received the sad news that Burns had passed away that morning, and right there in the breakroom at work, with a dozen or so co-workers milling about nearby, I became teary-eyed. Not crying exactly but just lachrymose enough that if someone glanced my way, they might have asked whether I was OK.

I pushed a tear away with my thumb and a moment later another arrived in its place. It persisted, and on my way back to work I had to will myself not to think of Burns so I could hold it together in front of customers and co-workers and get on with my day.

Burns was a 15-year-old orange tabby I followed on Twitter.

One of four, to be exact, whose human is a political writer I follow. A world-class journalist whose fine work is somehow overshadowed by the four (now three) orange tabbies with whom he and his wife share their lives. The Garfields, he calls them.

There’s a well-known science-fiction writer I follow primarily because of his four cats, the youngest of whom was a stray tuxedo kitten his family took in a year ago, who has blossomed into as charismatic a troublemaker as you would hope to find on social media.

Yet another cat I follow, on both Twitter and Instagram, this one a tortoiseshell — one of two rescue floofs who belong to a writer and criminologist in New England — is about to have surgery next week, and I have nervously awaited news of her health as her sad saga has unfolded. The surgery will cost her humans about $3,500, and they are rallying to raise the money however they can. And I feel that, because we’ve been there.

When Adriane’s Big Cat (aka B.C., whom I referred to affectionately as Suitcase) was ailing during our year in Sacramento, I was in no position to tell Adriane not to spend $1,200 or so on the surgery we hoped would save this creature who had been her companion for a decade or more. Sadly, the surgery revealed a larger underlying issue that would have required another surgery to correct, but ultimately we couldn’t justify the additional trauma that second surgery would cause him, with no promise that it would improve his quality of life. That second decision wasn’t about the money at all — though again, I couldn’t have said no — which is how you want it to be, if only for your own peace of mind.

When Maow became weaker and began to fail in the fall of 2017, I was fortunately in a position to throw money at the crisis — about $1,700 all told, after I took her to the emergency veterinary hospital. All it bought me was a few more days with her and the peace of mind that her regular vet had denied me, but it was worth it. And I would do it again. I can’t imagine not doing it.

That Friday night, when Maow was taken from me to have her vital stats collected and to be assigned her kennel, I stood at reception as other humans checked in their pets — I remember a bulldog and a golden retriever, though I can’t recall their names or illnesses now, but in particular I remember an older gray tabby who experienced so much pain when he pooped that he would leap straight up into the air. Which is hilarious for about three seconds, until you look into that poor cat’s eyes and see the concern etched into its human’s face, which was exactly as troubled as my own. And though my entire weekend was a sad, slow march toward letting go of Maow, I worried about all three of those pets and wondered about their care and progress all weekend.

That’s one of many final gifts Maow gave me: affection and concern for the pets of people I don’t even know.

Rest assured, then, that if I do know you — even if I’m unable to express it adequately at the time — I am standing beside you in spirit as you care for a sick or dying pet, and I’m very likely an emotional wreck about it. Because I’ve been there, and every minute of that harrowing last weekend still plays inside me on a loop.

Written by Shepcat

July 12, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Life, Love

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Things I Won’t Miss About My Old Job Now That I’ve Transitioned to a New Position

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People who say, “Wow, you’re really getting a workout today, huh?” when they’re part of the reason I’m getting a workout today.

People who tell me they’re sorry they can’t help me load their vehicle because they’ve got a bad back/recently had back surgery when they’re the reason I have a bad back/will someday require back surgery.

People who unbox/unpackage their purchase in the parking lot and leave the box/packaging behind for me to deal with.

People with no sense of spatial relations who buy items too large to fit in their cars.

People who buy large items or large quantities without first having removed all the shit they’ve been carting around in their trunk.

People whose cars would accommodate the large item or large quantities they purchased if they hadn’t brought every member of their family with them.

People who forget where they parked.

People who point out from a distance, “That’s me over there, the white Toyota van,” as though I can do anything for them until we both reach the vehicle and they open it for me.

People with no sense of their vehicle’s dimensions beyond the driver’s seat and steering column, as regards their inability to navigate it into/out of a parking space.

People too lazy to walk the 10 additional steps to the corral who just leave their shopping cart in an adjacent parking space or propped up on a landscaped median.

People too lazy to walk the three or fewer additional steps required to couple their shopping cart to the train of carts already in the corral.

People who just shove the second cart in the general direction of the corral, which encourages everyone who follows to do the same until there are 10 uncoupled carts in the corral pointing every which way.

People who peel the sticker off something they’ve purchased and wrap it around the handle of their shopping cart like they’re 5 or something.

People who dickishly wrap the child restraint around the handle of the shopping cart and click it in place.

People who use shopping carts as trash receptacles.

People who use the parking lot as a trash receptacle.

People who use the parking lot as an ashtray.

People who use shopping carts and/or the parking lot as diaper hampers.

People who bring their trash from home or feed their family of five then throw all their fast-food trash in our receptacles.

People who apparently drink a 12-pack of beer on our lot and leave behind their empties.

People who throw excessively heavy and/or sharp, jagged or otherwise pointy objects into the trash receptacles, threatening the integrity of the already-thin plastic can liners.

People who buy beverages too big for their bladders and throw the remainder in the trash so it can spill all over the place when their straw inevitably punctures the can liner.

People who are strangling our planet by drinking bottled water but can’t even finish off 16.9 ounces of water from the plastic bottles that are strangling our planet.

People.

Written by Shepcat

June 30, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Life, Work

A Madeleine — #1 in a Series

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Friday afternoon as I waited in the chair for my oral surgeon to arrive for my follow-up, U2 played over the sound system of the dental practice.

In that moment I was transported back nearly 31 years to the Uptown Theater in Kansas City, where I celebrated my 21st birthday with my brother, Dustan, and my friends Andre and Michele. The evening’s main attraction: Bobcat Goldthwait.

Bobcat was in his prime in 1988, at the height of his popularity and the peak of his distinctive and singular comedic prowess. On this night he is characteristically manic, his screeching, howling, wailing voice playing to the back of the house. (We’re at a table somewhere in the middle, on the main floor.) Bobcat is rabid and hilarious, and you can barely catch your breath from laughter before he ricochets off in another direction. Then more laughter, more struggling to breathe, glancing at your friends to confirm that they’re experiencing the same giddy disbelief.

After a wild hourlong set, Bobcat, sweat-soaked and seemingly exhausted, bellows a thank-you to the crowd and exits the stage. The lights dim.

Long, sustained applause, catcalls and whistles from the audience. As an encore some comics will come out and do a little crowd work or have another tight, self-contained 3 to 5 minutes of material to reel off before they say a final goodnight. But you can’t imagine a comic of Bobcat’s vocal intensity and erratic physicality having anything left in the tank after the set we’ve just witnessed. Still, the crowd roars.

A minute passes, maybe more. The crowd won’t relent. Then suddenly a blue spotlight faintly illuminates the mic stand at center stage.

The crowd roars louder.

The familiar strains of a song begin to play over the sound system.

Enter Bobcat, first in silhouette, then bathed in the blue glow. He has removed the shirt that he sweated through during his set, and above the waist he is wearing only a tight black leather vest, his bare arms exposed. His stringy shoulder-length hair is now slicked back into a tight, precise ponytail. The stage lights come up a bit. He begins to sing.

See the stone set in your eyes / See the thorn twist in your side / I’ll wait for you …

The crowd goes insane.

Sleight of hand and twist of fate / On a bed of nails she makes me wait / And I wait, without you …

He is no longer pudgy, sweaty, frenetic Bobcat, the guy from One Crazy Summer and Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol. Right there in front of our eyes, he has become Bono — brooding, magnetic, self-assured — performing a dead solid perfect “With or Without You.”

And you give / And you give / And you give yourself away …

And he’s not lip-synching, either. He is fucking nailing it, every note, his voice crying out, hitting every crescendo. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, an absolutely mesmerizing 4 minutes of performance art.

I can’t live / With or without you / With or without you …

And then the music fades out. And he’s gone. And just like that, the house lights come up, and a thousand or so people are left to disperse toward the exits, puzzling over the transcendence of what we just witnessed together.

Written by Shepcat

June 7, 2019 at 7:07 pm

Posted in Continuing Series, Kansas City, Life

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The Myth of Brand Loyalty

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“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” — Michael Corleone

I’m done with Starbucks.

For now, anyway. Unless and until they hire me to work at corporate HQ down in SoDo. Because I’m not above selling out if someone makes me a compelling offer.

But I’m done with throwing my money at the Siren. At least until the next time I need caffeine in an airport where she’s the only game in town.

And increasingly, Starbucks is the only game in this town. It’s a coffee town. It’s a company town. Their town.

Venti
But as I write this, I’m drinking my last venti latte for a while.

I just cleared the last 96 cents off the Starbucks app on my phone.

I’m out of reasons to need them anymore and looking for an alternative supplier in my general vicinity. (I had one, but they’re gone now. More on that shortly.)

I’ve been a faithful of patron of the Siren — and coffeehouse culture in general; I am equally if not more supportive of independent coffeehouses — since my first Starbucks latte at the Beverly Connection in West Hollywood roughly a quarter century ago. During that time I’ve poured untold thousands of dollars into the company coffers and whiled away countless hours in their stores and on their patios.

Is there better coffee to be had out there in the world? Almost certainly. And I’ve heard all the arguments about how it’s corporate and soulless and overpriced and “not even good coffee.” It’s actually better-than-average coffee, but perhaps its consistency is more important than its quality, because for 25 years I’ve been able to walk into any Starbucks from Los Angeles to Kansas City to Chicago to New York and points in between and get the same reassuringly familiar cup of coffee every single time. And that matters to someone like me, for whom the ritual of one’s daily cup is as necessary as the contents of that cup.

But over the past year, Starbucks has been slowly pushing me away. And yes, while the decisions they’ve made have been strictly for business reasons, it’s hard not to feel as though they’ve been passive-aggressively letting me know that my business isn’t as important to their bottom line anymore.

It began when I learned that they were discontinuing the single-origin Ethiopian coffee that had been my preferred home brew for several years. (Despite my otherwise unrefined palate, I have long been an ardent and discerning consumer of African coffees in general and Ethiopian coffees in particular. It’s said to be the birthplace of coffee, in fact.) The reason I was a gold card holder at all was because, working from home and drinking a pot of coffee a day, I bought so many pounds of whole-bean Ethiopia that I racked up reward stars right and left. And now they were discontinuing not only that mainstay but its reliable backup, their single-origin Kenya, as well. Meaning no African coffees at all except for their Premium Select or Passport Series or Starbucks Reserve offerings, sold in smaller bags at more exorbitant prices.

This Is Just to Say,png

And that’s fine. It’s not like I can’t find another purveyor or roaster to sell me Ethiopian coffee. It’s just that I had grown accustomed to the ubiquity and convenience of Starbucks. Which is how they get you. Until they decide they don’t need you anymore.

Then this past Christmas, my mom put a few $5 Starbucks gift cards in my stocking, whereupon I discovered that, since the last time I had handled a gift card, Starbucks had changed its app so that you could no longer add the value of a gift card to your own existing gold card. You could still reload your existing card with money but not with other gift cards. Which just seems petty as fuck. Why would you remove that particular convenience from an app that millions of people use? It’s not an improvement or enhancement, so they must not want to credit you with stars you didn’t pay for out of your own pocket.

So now I’ve got four separate cards with four separate balances loaded onto my phone, meaning that over the course of my last few visits I’ve had to cycle through a couple of them during a single transaction. That is, until today, when I burned the last 96 cents off the last card.

And truly, the gift cards were the only reason I had been dropping into Starbucks at all of late, because there was an indie coffeehouse nearby that I had patronized regularly since my move to this area — quiet, comfortable, with a courteous staff and a consistently delicious latte.

Until yesterday, when I drove past it for the first time in a couple of months — due to both my work schedule and the route I regularly drive to work — to discover that it had been bought out. By Starbucks.

Those motherfuckers.

This is why I can’t have nice things. (Well, this, and other extenuating circumstances, as it turns out.)

So Starbucks bought my indie oasis and turned it into a drive-thru/walk-in–only operation with no indoor seating. (I know this because it’s where I chose to close out that last gift card, for reasons having to do with both curiosity and a sense of narrative closure.) And I’m left to search for a new hangout and a new supplier if I intend to be a citizen of the world and a habitué of coffeehouse culture as I’ve been for the last quarter century.

Otherwise, there’s always my balcony and my books and my own company and my own coffee, brewed as I like it, right here in my own refuge, my own private oasis, far from the corporate interests who have made it clear that my loyalty isn’t that important to them anymore and that they were never loyal to me to begin with.

Written by Shepcat

May 24, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Posted in Life, The PNW

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