January 24, 2011


I came to the computer today, intending to write something about the trenta. If you've not been paying attention, the trenta is Starbucks Co's new size -- 31oz -- to be used for iced drinks. As people have noted, the human stomach is not quite that voluminous. And so, even were we discussing water, that size might be a bit much. But coffee? That's a lot of caffeine; and, if we're talking about iced mochas or frappuccinos, that's a metric ton of calories.

But frankly, I'm at something of a loss as to what I might add to the discussion. Yes, the drink is huge. Yes, the concept seems a bit absurd. But yes, people will buy it, and the decision will most likely end up being justified via sales. It is, after all, the dollar that speaks the loudest, not some internet consensus. Perhaps my wit has run dry, but I can't find it in me to mock the concept, and certainly I've no motivation to damn it. To trot out a popular phrase in athletics: It is what it is.

What moved me to write today was not some new innovation, but rather something that is certainly quite old. I walked in to Wescoe Hall today, ankles feeling a bit stiff, head a bit cloudy, wondering if I might have stayed in bed after all. Certainly, morning coffee and all, the idea had crossed my mind. But it was just that, an idea, and one I could not afford to entertain with any seriousness. Showing up to the first genuine day of classes is something of a requirement, if you want to do well. And I do want to do well -- at least, well enough.

First up was a class on technical writing, which was as interesting as you might expect. To practice, we were tasked with writing a basic recipe; my group was assigned a grilled cheese sandwich, something I have actually never made. Even still, I think I know the basics. What's more, I've read far too much food related literature, and cookbooks too; thus I was already quite familiar with how one should phrase things. We whittled down the wording, and ended up with something satisfactory. So did every other group. The class ended, and I left, feeling slightly less than inspired.

I walked down the hall, looking ahead to the gym, wondering if I should change out of the race t-shirt I was wearing. Somehow I thought it could seem arrogant, advertising the fact that I had run a 15k, to those who barely drag themselves to an elliptical. And to those who do better, I though I might look somehow less like a runner, or perhaps less fit than I seemed to think I was. The neurosis was too much, though not abnormal for me.

I decided that it was okay if I wore my race shirt, and that people might be concerned with other things besides the aesthetic I presented at the gym. That conclusion comforted me, but not so much as the gurgling that caught me ear. It was a hissing bubble, then a pitter of liquid. I looked to my right, and saw a ten cup Mr. Coffee, toiling away, seated on a table of some office. The room was small and windowless, like a cell, only smaller and less homey. There were books too, but no person. I stopped for a moment, took in the sound. Though I didn't catch a whiff of the brew, and though it was Folger's anyway, I felt a substantial perk in my mood.

This was a happy marriage, coffee and academia, the sort of comforting sameness that one expects, and yet never tires of. It's a marriage that dates back to the penny universities, to intellectuals spouting whatever their rapid firing neurons prompt them too, revelations coming at the expense of any reservations. And though enlightenment era Europe this was not, the hearkening back brought a sense of tradition, and of comfort too.

I sat in my next class then, looking around the room, feeling very much like an English student embedded in all the trappings of academia. There was an enthusiasm amidst that monotony, an interest that persisted and overshadowed slumped shoulders and drooping eyes. The third class was better yet, everything coming together to paint a familiar picture, a cast of characters one might find in a script. There was more enthusiasm here, the sort of jeans, haircuts and sweaters one expects too. I didn't look the part, but I felt in nonetheless.

It would not be hyperbole to say that my interest, my general satisfaction with my surroundings, was derived largely from that 15$ Mr. Coffee, bubbling, hissing, dripping, soothing. In that, coffee has stimulatory effects beyond caffeine. It has, as I've written before, the power of context, of invocation. And that is a power not to be underestimated; it can, after all, make me enjoy school.

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