Best Worst Year: Episode 29 (The Air Conditioned Dream)

 Does it get any more American than Starbucks on the Fourth of July? The perfect blend of capitalism and liberal sensibilities–where else can you stare dully from the window of one Starbucks into the path of another Starbucks’ drive through? Where else can you get free WiFi while consuming your twice your daily caloric intake with a single drink? In the tender shadow of a SuperWal-Mart I find myself celebrating America’s birthday with a tall dark roast and basking in the central air while Central Illinois slowly roasts in the July sun. My first holiday from home and I’m doing my damnedest to fit in. Perhaps I’ll get a car wash once I wrap up here–there are two within earshot.

Flies collect at the nearest bay window. There are several flies. Big bastards. Picnic flies. There actually more flies than customers here–midday at Starbucks it makes sense. I have spent an hour or two just watching the morning rush ebb and evaporate. Lots of pre-picnic folks, SUV’s loaded up with grilled treats and pre-caffinated children already cranky before their day has begun. One thing I’ve noticed about the western side of Springfield is that it is very young–young professional. I fit in well with my new Chevy Sonic and my Warby Parker frames. The young couples getting their vente skinny soy chai are less NPR Morning edition and more Darius Rucker solo album–Hootie gone country without a trace of 90’s irony. The guys might as well have bar codes for tattoos, and the girls are straight out of Old Navy–maybe slightly classier but only as measured by the skewed rule of high end mall shopping only two plazas up from here. Flex fuel Impalas snicker at the new Dodge Darts; pick ups don’t even pretend to be Democratic.

I have a sharp stabbing pain in my thigh which has replaced the dull ache in my hip. It’s a punctuated warning rather than a persistent nag. I wish I knew what it meant. I don’t. For the sake of this piece it could be a symbol of my own internal conflict of being surrounded by capitalism that it has manifested into physical pain–or I should just mention it to my cardiologist when I see the doctor tomorrow. Sneaking a word like cardiologist suddenly shifts the tone of the narrative–suddenly I’m talking about heart health. A specific detail that should telegraph intent like a Camden mugger.

The table next to me is counting calories with stirrers and crumbs from a blueberry scone. They keep talking about sodium intake and fat intake. Their straws make a deep throated gurgle, forcing a bitter ending out of a Cool Lime Refresher. His eyes are a closed fist, each clench tightening as his wife does the caloric scratchwork out loud–like full disclosure of sins and shortcomings. It’s the kind of stress which pumps the room full of bad juju. The steamer drowns out the table pressure. Soon enough they’ll carry their dietary acrimony with them into Pontiac G6, the wife pouring the remainder of her caramel frap out next to her passenger door–attracting flies from seemingly nowhere in this concrete wheatfield.

There is a strawberry haired barista who has been hovering around my table for the last twenty minutes. She has cleaned and re-cleaned the table behind me. Last weekend she was working when I came in and made a comment about what I was reading. She had never read Henry Miller but had heard that he was “a bit crude.” I made a comment about the sacred and the profane which probably sounded much more interesting than I am but here we are anyway. After waiting for me to notice, she finally goes back behind the counter to put on a fresh Kati Kati roast. Dark roasts. I am big fan. There is something about a full bodied dark cup of java which just feels more alive. That first cup in the morning just pushes its way into your bloodstream and you’re truly awake–a spark, a flicker of light, all systems go. Most coffee gives me a jolt but the darker the bean, the better the pour. There are many vices and devices to those vices I have surrendered, coffee is violently yoked to me until the bitter end.

I feel that spark in my thigh again and begin to think about the rest of my day off. Downtown has a fireworks display which is supposed to be one of the largest around. I am curious how far it can be seen. Living in the flatlands, I wonder if I can’t see it from my patio. I think about wine glasses. I have no wine glasses. It’s amazing what you forget to pack when you are moving more than half a day away–I had to buy a shower curtain my first night here. I have a bottle of Chambourcin from Allegro Vineyards. I was looking at the grocery store wines this morning–still a novelty for someone from Scranton.

I went out the to neighborhood bar this weekend. It’s a carbon copy of your vaguely Irish, remotely sports bar, kinda TGIFridays as you can get. No soul, just late 90’s barb wire tattoos and girls who like Kid Rock’s “country phase.” After my second Makers Mark, I was ready to go home, even though I haven’t seen a full Phillies game in weeks. I’ve put off buying wine glasses for a little bit because I want to have a drink out–to have a reason to explore and be a little social butterfly. I don’t know if Friday happy hours and big screen sports options are for me. I don’t know if the big Fourth of July Fireworks display downtown is me either.

I am hoping I am more than my grande Kati Kati and free WiFi. My MacBook is almost out of juice. I haven’t opened my Miller novel since I’ve been here. Three hours. Happy Birthday, America, I’m going out for a pint.

_________________________

Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Drunken Boat, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. He lives in Springfield. 

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