So it was my birthday yesterday, and a bunch of people were crammed into my coffee shop to celebrate me being born. Not only were my good friends from the neighborhood there, but Rich was there, bearing belated gifts from the jam in Easton, PA, Brad and Drew from the Vault came down and gave me an Inkspots record (“The Incomparable Inkspots”, if you wanted to know), Luke and Alexis stopped by and gave me some of the finest coffee available in the country world, the folks from Beaver Falls C&T stopped in and would have brought me some triple roasted Kenya blend (!!!) if it weren’t for the now-notoriously finicky Anfim. People made some drinks, many records were played, including some of my alltime faves. And a bean-bag toss? And vegan mini-cupcakes with beer in the cake and coffee in the frosting? My friends are great.

People asked me to make a speech after they presented me with my half-eaten birthday cake, and I said something like “I’m really glad you’re all here; it’s great to imagine what we can all do and are doing, so thanks for coming to my birthday party.”

So everybody out there who came to my birthday and who wished me well-wishes on the telephone and internet, thanks a whole heap of a ton.

It’s good to know that when one is uncertain of one’s utility, direction, purpose, or any other thing associated with mid-twenties self-definition nonsense, one’s friends are around to emphasize the importance of one’s self. That sentence is terrible. All I want to say is a thank you to this community for thinking I’m pretty OK at doing stuff. It means a lot.

More posts later this week? If you’re lucky. But I promise pictures next time.

One or two thingers.

December 3, 2007

Hey kids! Did you ever feel crazy? Me too. If anybody has some suggestions on positive ways to utilize their very own madness, please contact me at this here blog.

IN OTHER NEWS: Aldo Coffee hosted Pittsburgh’s first ever Barista Jam (“Merry Baristmas”) and it turned out to be, in my opinion, a smashing good time. People from all over the city and from neighboring counties made it to Mt. Lebanon for many kinds of espresso, several different machines, a drink-making/pressure-inducing gauntlet, the ubiquitous latte art smackdown, silent auction, beers, wines, smokables, and many other things that escape me. This bodes well for specialty coffee in Pittsburgh. I met some new people, saw some old friends. Good time. Highlights? All the yelling, and some delicious beers that I don’t remember what they were.

Thanks Aldo; you throw a hell of a party.

The ant

September 19, 2007

I was walking to the bus stop at 21st and Liberty this afternoon to catch the 54C to the Northside, and just as I walked up to Liberty, the bus blew right past. I swore, loudly, because that’s the kind of guy I am. So I sat down, cleared my thoughts, and realized I wasn’t the most important person in the world. So about ten minutes later, here comes another 54C, stopping to take me back home. I get on, pull out my Wendell Berry poems and think about my place in the world again, how I am small and transient in the world. It feels good.

And then, on East Ohio, an ant climbs onto my hand from the book. Whether it came from the book or from the bus, I’m not sure, but in either case, I let it walk around on my hands for the remaining ten minutes of the bus ride home. I thought about the Buddhist vow to save all sentient creatures, and as I got off the bus in West Park, I gave him into the care of the world, which will take much better care of him than I ever could.

In every way, my day was improved.

Waiting, musing, nonsense

September 6, 2007

For the weather to break. Years ago I told myself to stop waiting to do things I really wanted to do, but I’m not sure it really took. Hopefully this will be the last week of 80+ degree weather. One, I miss wearing jeans and jackets and hats and long-sleeved shirts. Two, I’m anxious to see if I can find my right mind again, anxious to see if I can think straight after having my noodle baked for four months in the summer heat. Maybe I’ll be able to see a little more clearly come fall. But probably not. I mean, I’m not sure I’ve ever really “thought straight” before. Makes me think of a Wendell Berry poem (“Breaking”).

Did I believe I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark.

Just another reason to consistently second-guess yourself. People have been telling me to do any number of things (farming, moving, opening my own business) and none of them seem like just the right thing to do. All the more reason to eagerly await the arrival of autumn, hoping that I’ll be able to sit comfortably with a friend or myself, sort out some thoughts, maybe, with a beer and some popcorn at the Park House, or maybe on the roof. Quiet and cool. To give my mind some space.

Does it boggle your mind how many people are involved in anything? And each person has a vast mind, preoccupied with each of their own issues, some of which overlap and intersect, some of which may be purely internal. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a business model where these issues and minds and souls are able to interact, or at least be acknowledged? Ray Oldenburg promotes it with his work and calls this model a Great Good Place, or a third space.

That and more. All that and more is what we need. A more transparent economic model, maybe to get more people aware of all the issues involved in the thing that they’re doing, seeing the barista as an individual person and not just as coffee’s delivery person, seeing coffee as more than a drink or a drug.

Seeing everything for everything.

He asked me to write it. This is a good thing.

Three things that make me go weak in the knees.shortofbreath:
1) Honey balls from the Greek Food Festival down the street.
2) Austin, Texas’ Stars of the Lid. Latter era.
3) A Softer World. Because he says things like this:

“But I love writing notes to strangers: ‘You have the best laugh I have ever heard. The only thing I know about you is that you work with maps and you always take the second straw from the dispenser – I do that too!'”

That kind of talk makes me wonder why I’m so cold to strangers sometimes. “I never imagined myself this way,” everyone says, but here we are, all being cold to one another more often than not. Knowingly leaving each other outside, and nobody’s knocking because being rejected is worse than standing by yourself, hoping someone will open the door. Two people came into work today, two! And I wasn’t very friendly, and I didn’t ask them how they liked the coffee and I didn’t ask how they were, what they really, really deep down wanted to do. Or what they wanted to do most of all while drinking this coffee. Did they want to be in a cabin, with their cat on their knees? Did they want to be making coffee for their grandmother? It’s like during the day I forget how to dream beyond my social role. Seems like night time, when I’m alone, listening to records, that’s when I remember I’m supposed to bring that magic insanity into the day.

Moving on.

Was e-dialoguing with an industry compatriot (compatriot? we met through this modern wonder called “intar-webs”) about several things, and he mentioned something that I’ve been sort of obsessed with lately: making sure you’re doing all you can where you are. Because it’s so easy to just assume that people aren’t helping you be full or pushing you to fullness, but in reality, we all know 73.6% of the problem is that we are not doing enough for God knows why. Not to say that leaving where you are is not a viable option, even if only for a time, but let’s all be sure to give our lives and what we are doing more than the old college try, eh? Isn’t life’s viscera about odd coincidences and things that are juxtaposed and pushing yourself and pushing your friends and being a little crazy? I once wrote something in which I declared myself in opposition to the world’s sanity, because that sanity seemed false and hollow. When I find it, I will post it.

How to remind ourselves to live even just a little bit more fully? How to embrace paradoxes without losing our minds? Is losing one’s mind really all that bad?

Thinking about life changes and being 25 and not being married or owning a home. Thinking about Portland and Minnesota, coffee and farming, guitar loops and drums and nap parties where I will be DJ Lullaby. Thinking about work and flexibility, commitment and freedom. These are things I need help with.

Moving toward best.

August 3, 2007

The other day I was over at 21st Street Coffee and Tea;, congratulating them on their relocation and their new machines. Lucas invited me to bring over some coffee sometime to try out in their new Clover, so yesterday I took over some of our Tanzanian PB Southern Highlands. It’s one of our lightest roasts, coming out a few seconds before the second crack starts, see, so I expected something a bit more aromatic than what came out of the clover. To be fair to my coffee, there hadn’t been any clover parameters set for this particular coffee, so maybe it would do better with a slightly lower temperature (lighter roast means a more delicate coffee?) or with a slightly coarser grind (to ease up on the mild bitterness I had on the back of my tongue). In any case, this was the same coffee that reduced me to blubbering coffee evangelism when I used it as an SO espresso. It was like somebody had punched me inside the mouth with a raspberry lemonade concentrate. And that’s what I was looking for again from the clover.

All that to say I’ve been thinking about whether or not I wish I had the time to really do my best at coffee. If I was doing my best, I’d be working late hours, charting more roasts, cupping daily, and generally keeping better records while at the same time developing an exhaustive concordance of the coffee knowledge in my brain for the next person who takes my job and has to learn everything from scratch like I did. I compare myself to the most recent World Barista Champion, or to any number of others who seem to be “doing things in coffee,” and I tell myself I’m really not entirely unique in the world of coffee, let alone the world itself. I’m not pushing any envelope because I’m hardly in the envelope to begin with.

Before you think I’m just beating myself up here, let me go a bit further. I’m not sure many people at all do their best at anything. Doing your best means knowing your limits and then conscientiously stretching yourself to those very limits. At least I think it does. What’s more, doing your best requires an environment in which such efforts are rewarded or appreciated. It seems like people thrive and push towards their bestwhen goals exist in a supportive atmosphere. Like it’s easier to do your best when those things are around you.

I’m not making excuses, understand. I’m simply attempting to discover how I can be better at the work I do and the things I’m passionate about. Because I think that being alive is worth more than drifting along. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that my best includes sitting on stoops and drinking beers in the summer. But that shouldn’t be everything.

You’re also lucky my train of thought escaped me; I was about to ramble on about something sociological and there would have been absolutely no stopping that.