Stopping Time

You can stop the flow of coffee or of time but sadly not both.

Attempting to Halt the March of Time at Starbuck’s in Framingham, Massachusettson March 20, 1997

or The night before the wedding

Here I sit.

The coffee cup is full. But I know it will be empty. This is the conundrum of time. The coffee cup conundrum. When I was a boy, the agonizing wait at the table after dinner was measured by coffee. “More coffee sir?” My father nods. Another eternity unrolled between me and the door. The conspiracy of my parents to drink from now until the end of time. The coffee cup conspiracy. Conspicuous consumption of caffeine.

And now this.

Here I sit.

Nothing ever changes, everything changes. Same boy, only the coffee is different. The hourglass cup, once too tall, is now too short, too short by far. Is the barometer half full or half empty? Empty or full, it’s falling fast.

It all drains into the same dark sea, this spent drunk drink. Like those second grade charts of the water cycle, the brown muse constantly recirculates through our collective body. My parents are far away, yet I see them here before me, letting the waitress refill their sturdy white cups. International House of Pancakes in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My small behind squirms on the vinyl seat. I wonder: does anyone ever eat the boysenberry syrup? It looks so old and unhappy. I want to escape.

But now, the years collapsing between here and there, I commune with them over a lukewarm cup of Zambian, Starbuck’s coffee of the day. This do in remembrance of me. Here’s to you mom. Here’s to you dad. Zambia and North Carolina shake hands in my belly. Here’s to you Zambia. God bless you, North Carolina.

Lukewarm liquid, cooling fast. The second law of thermodynamics methodically kicks the scrawny second hand downfield. A big-ass bully and a luckless geek. The second law of thermodynamics always wins; it hates to lose. And the end is near—is it better to drink the dregs while still warm, or to milk the moment till the till is cold? Lousy loser, the second law.

Dad’s old trick at stopping time doesn’t work anymore. The age of free refills is long past. At least at the Starbuck’s in Framingham, Massachusetts. Got to drive home anyway. No point asking caffeine to shake me off the road. That’s coffee’s dirty trick: take a break to stop the clock only to have your heart speed it up.

Will my own son, sipping, some day read this? Here’s to you, the unborn coffee drinkers of a thousand generations.

Savor the last mouthful.

Savor it as though the world will end tomorrow.

It won’t.

The last cold coffee slug slides down. Empty paper cup. Hold it to your ear and listen: you can hear the sloshing refill in dad’s chipped cup.

Try it!

It’s time to go.

It’s time.

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