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Archive for October, 2009

The City Within

The first rays of morning sun warmed the walker’s goose-pimpled back. The man with freckles across his nose and cheeks smiled slightly as a shadow of his old-inner self slipped down a sewage drain on Tillary Street and reappeared on the sparkling cement walkway leading along Brooklyn Bridge Boulevard. In his thoughts, the world had blossomed, for in his soul, ungodly depression was easing.

 

Glancing through the squint of shameful eyes and half-closed reddened lids, he began once again to drop his invisible load. He sensed the sun approach the imaginary line wrapped around the world known as the Tropic of Capricorn and knew there were just a few warm walking days left. Lost in a maze of random thoughts and a need to figure out what life was all about, he was pulled from calm contemplation again; his soul driven from that place so sacred, and lured to the tranquility found up above while walking on water. He was dreaming of what peace of mind was, yet awake in broad daylight, and only here, at this magnificent temple of the modern world, did his soul unite as one with the universe.

 

An invisible current guided his steps; his feet swatted at the pavement, his arms moved as fins, as if indeed, like he had imagined, he was a tiny sperm again.

 

Would his mind ever remain still again? he asked, with the unspoken voice of thought that everyone uses in contemplation. His was chattering inside again.

 

Would ever there be a moment in life when dread would not tap him on the back, only to stab him the moment his concentration slipped from a carefully rehearsed inner trance?  One thought; that was how Buddhists reached Nirvana. Hell no, this was not Nirvana, this place was somewhere else. Too simple a path for most to understand, he thought, this absolute shedding of oneself and throwing one’s soul to the wind is sweeter than hardly anyone knows. Yes this is the way. No more fear of death. My God, he thinks, I could just jump today. This place of pure inner tranquility is paradise.

 

He was walking again to clear his mind from dreams he had while still awake, meditating for hours, motionless, telling even God to be still. He was beginning to comprehend the beauty of the way of the divine and had a need to throw everything, except his own soul away. That was what he was thinking as he strutted along. He could focus on just one word or phrase as soon as the theories started churning in his mind again and he did just that the moment he crossed the heavy bridge traffic.

 

 

On the bridge, meditation was easier. Pedestrians on the wooden walkway seemed to tune themselves out easily too. The all seemed walk so fast on the bridge, trying to prove perhaps that they had somewhere to be and were not headed up there to jump off. Not his intention either, but he was the only man walking slowly– smelling the carbon dioxide from the thousands of tiny cars that passed on the bridge, yards below from the footpath and the walkers on the bridge. They were walking so fast– like Ruth Madoffs in the grocery store on the Upper West Side. They seemed to the man walking slowly as if they perhaps were making plans– plans perhaps to jump if things soon didn’t get better.

 

Up here, above the city, just one thought at a time could pass through his mind, that of controlled meditation.

 

A bridge with gushing water beneath was ahead– a means to sooth worries that were all around. Such hopelessness flooded the city since the Muslims won the war. If one was not from a certain stock of people, well then, it seemed to make sense just to jump– if only he could sleep up here, it all would pass, surely it would.

 

The waters below were only a few degrees above freezing, deep and flew by with the ferocity of a jew seeking organs to buy. An iceberg clamminess surrounded Manhattan as fresh water from the Catskills merged with currents from the sea just under the bridge. Fresh flows of Hudson’s twin sibling stream, the East River, confronted warmer waves of the great gulf stream below and seemed to boil in a watery splash of frigid lava that made the morning seem dead.

 

To the left, the expanse of channels that separate Staten Island from the mainland laughed at the gentile walking to find peace. Under rapidly moving patent-leather, high-top sneakers, he saw the river squirming below. He had not spotted translucent, emerald currents on the first of several hikes across the giant loom that weaves the two most important boroughs of the city together because it felt so good to just get away from so much sewing of thought and look out, towards the Atlantic, towards the still demolished and scattered Holy Land. The water appeared thirst quenching and it lured him to tie the knot once and for all and go on and get another body– perhaps a black one this time for that’s what was in now. He was breathless with cotton-mouth walking up the boardwalk on the Brooklyn Bridge. He was high on God.

 

The man, burning with terrible sadness and despair within, searched for hope in the Verizon skyscraper straight ahead– a seemingly windowless building from afar, but there was no mistaking the trademark of the godly corporation– that big red, glowing checkmark on the far side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Verizon on the horizon.

 

Downstream where the sun was not shining and warming the backs of bridge-walkers, patchy clouds cast shadows on the bay which remained unilluminated under partial cloudiness. The water on all sides of the bridge seemed dull and brown, but below, under his footsteps, the currents were glowing like the corroded skin of Lady Liberty perched far away in the sea, for the sun was still to his back and setting the soul of the river under the bridge on fire.

 

Glances made through spaces between wooden slats on the pedestrian walkway permitted slight observation of the emerald green river that appeared as boiling below. The East River was like the thick, heavy syrup of sadness pouring through and over the pensive pedestrian walker.

 

 

Through crisscrossed braided strands of steel rope, where suspension cables are secured from way above, where there appears an optical illusion of diamond shapes from overlapping stands of suspension wires, there appeared to the walker an illusion of wide-screen, high definition televisions on the sides of the bridge. He concludes that reality is not as real as high-definition tv. The city through this looking glass is no so clear.

 

The searcher ignored the thought of climbing to the top of the stone towers of the Brooklyn Bridge immediately. He was  not going to tempt himself on this trip with deadly inclinations of immortality. He dared not again convince himself that it was fine to climb to the top. It was after all, a simple stroll to the top of the stone support structures that give the Brooklyn Bridge its charm.

 

Only a small gate would prevent one from going to the top. Such a low, little gate it is. Strings of metal to swing upon as a Tarzan of the concrete jungle on one’s way to perfection, he thinks. What prevents one from walking up there or out one of those steel beams to fight with God? So easy. Be still, he thought again. Just be still. Those were the words he stole and made his– Plagiarism from Psalms. “Be still and know…”

 

This walkway keeps calling him to return here and make it to the other side even though physically, there is really no place in reality to go. Take a walk up to where the wild things are to where American flags wave atop that bridge– two flags of glory up there above all that stacked stone– what better place to pray–one flag on each tower of stone. Over the emerald river he presses onward– up there atop those stone towers, one does not stand a chance of humbling one’s self, he realizes. Stick to the narrow path that leads within, he remembers as he tilts his head down again.

.

The man, looking up only when he senses the presence of another soul sharing the same space on the wooden walkway next to steel beams meditates happily with absolutely no internal dialogue consuming what was once a racing mind as his tired feet somehow trod on. Did the bridge just sway, or is he dizzy? It was only when the morning sun kissed his neck that he remembered his destination– perfection.

 

The tender kiss of the warmness from above and behind sucked him from a still inner-silence that he first had on the sparkly sidewalk leading over water– now somehow, his thoughts had raced in a million directions. Beeping car horns of stalled traffic below was a small part of a terrible delusion of what is invisible, noisy evil everywhere. An acute awareness rushed to the walker’s toes as his skin turned radiant like the roof of city hall in the distance. He suddenly remembered what he had discovered through constant meditation atop the Brooklyn Bridge and hoped that today the secret joy would once again flood his mind.

 

His thoughts froze for a moment and imagination was carried away by the loud hum of passing aircraft moving up the river–a police helicopter or maybe that of a news station was directly overhead. At first, a slight hum from a far away propeller tickled the drums of ears that had been turned to cotton during moments of perfect inner-stillness. There were days that he meditated from six am to six pm, never stopping to eat, for food alone causes one to think inside.

 

 

As the chopper rounded the tip of the city, its cry grew louder and now right overhead– it seemed to hover above just to distract the saint.  The peace that passes understanding seemed to surround the bridge and the effects were heaven sent, at least when there was no aircraft overhead. Soon the helicopter was gone and he was back inside– thinking again of nothing but the mantra from Psalms– as he a trained himself to focus on so efficiently– ‘Be still and know…’.

 

His feet seemed to move of their own free will to a destination that his mind had somehow forgotten. Being outside before the sun ran its course across the city that never sleeps permitted the guru to sooth his wakening soul from the pangs of thought intrusion. He found relief high above the city– a desert of sorts it seemed to him, a place to go deep down within.

 

On his way into Manhattan, the saint passed through the first of four grand arches formed by the bridge’s waterway support towers and imagined that the inspiration behind the monolith was faith itself. Behind him, on the Brooklyn side of the waterway, Jehovah Witness watchtowers and green lettering across the buildings remind those entering the city, either by car or on foot, to ‘Read God’s word the Holy Bible Daily’– a horrific billboard if ever there was one in this town! Not the typical New York City Calvin Klein ad.

 

He saw the lettering on the riverside buildings next to the bridge every day on his walks and he read it over and over as he passed here each day. “Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily” was all that was really noticeable or worth looking at for the first ten minutes of the walk– at least until the city came into view. Eventually the Verizon skyscraper would appear with the big red checkmark logo on the side of that building. The logo is nearly as large as the cargo ships passing underfoot.

 

A digital clock is mounted atop one of the brown Jehovah buildings and faces Brooklyn. What terrible pressure we are all under as we start to cross the bridge. It is all that one has to look at when first making the hike or drive across the suspension masterpiece– that Jehovah Witness watchtower clock. Suddenly time vanishes and the temperature is displayed– Read God’s Word the Holy Bible Daily. It’s still cold outside. Be still and know. Be still and know…

 

Up the wooden boardwalk, he marches on, where a hill is formed under pressure of expansion. There are benches along the way where very few stop to rest. The walkway is too narrow to stretch one’s legs out while sitting on that bridge. When the man sits and rests with his size eleven patent leather tennis shoes taking up most of the space, he tries not to trip the runners or disrupt women pushing baby carriages without licenses.

 

He stops, sits on a park bench planted along the walkway and curls his legs under his buttocks, unzips a black Polo plastic coat, reaches inside a secret compartment in his coat lining, and lights a marijuana cigarette within the shelter of his down-filled windbreaker. Be still and know, he thinks. They’ll never catch you. With needle sharp precision, the guru manages to light a single match in the rush of wind that just burrowed through Wall Street. The tiny blue flame ignites the tight tip of white parchment and with one hurried inhale, the entire pencil- thin joint is consumed before police cameras mounted high above on the steel structure of the bridge catch the action. A woman running while pushing a baby carriage glances at him but he knows it’s not a contact high– she like so many are mesmerized by his hair. He returns to reality outside of his coat, having lit a real cigarette for the sake of cameras. He blends right in with the joggers.

 

 

Unwinding now sleepy legs, he marches on, stopping near the bridge summit to rub his pointer finger along the crease of hardened cement that holds the large, pyramid-like stones of the Brooklyn Bridge together. He makes a loop around the center of the stone tower which the walkway winds around, walking  through the first of two sets of grand arches. With no emotion whatsoever, he looks up with a hardened face, and presses harder until his finger nearly bleeds from friction– wanting to leave his mark. He is brought back again to reality with a sore fingertip and a good high and quickly vanishes into the thought of being still and knowing again.

 

The man without a hat and fiery red hair faces Brooklyn, without having to physically turn around to look back. Far behind as the morning sun slaps his face, he notices that the parking lots near the river are jammed packed– so much cheaper to park in Brooklyn. The brail from the stone is still fresh in his mind. The writing is on the bridge: “Be still and know…”

 

Inside, the walker is warm again. He knows the change is coming and can’t wait to see it. He is back again from his loop around the stone tower and emerges at the exact point on the very brick from whence the tracing began. He moves ahead slowly towards Manhattan, sidestepping a bicyclist he feels approaching from behind.

 

Far in the distance, ships and tugboats appear to float motionless near the little island upon which the Statue of Liberty slightly turns her back on the city. There is so little business and commerce moving around her, in and out of the world’s greatest port. It is straight ahead inside the grand Verizon building where the world trades wireless lies and free nights and weekends, he remembers. Lady Liberty’s cold copper skin is corroded gangrene. He has walked this route so many times before, sickened and saddened at each passing by the grace of modern architecture and the lie that is true liberty all around. With the teeth of the city still missing from the World Trade Center and the arm of the great Statue rotten so far as to prevent much needed tourism to the island, the walker smiles and waves, not at the lady, but to the past.

 

With the morning sun still soothing his back, he senses the time has come to enter the fallopian tubes of reincarnation. To most, the bridge is merely a toll free- entry into the great temple, but to the sperm of man, this is heaven and a way out of the madness that we all convince ourselves is normal, urban life.

 

Few know how to walk and untangle worry with their minds in a noisy city or how with stone hope is preserved for generations of tomorrow. Be still and know, he whispers, looking overhead in wonder as to how the tall stone archways of the Brooklyn Bridge are pointed and not round and they lack visible keystones.

 

He hangs on by an invisible thread of sadness still unwinding as he goes, never stopping to glance at the temptation below or behind him. He just keeps on walking ahead, never turning his body to look back at the bobbins of despair. We are all mere buttons on the coat of what is rationality he realizes, as he carefully snips the passing thought of suicide and plunges headfirst into the silence of what is the stilled mind.

 

 

He pierces the pain in his soul with a prick from needle of knowledge deep down inside– soon, they’ll be up here too, walking with him next to the beautiful Verizon building that outshines the glory of Lady Liberty, he senses. The thought of the true meaning of his favorite passage of Psalms returns– “Be still and know that I am God” he prays for the masses who still don’t believe.

 

The rattles and roars of the city grow louder as he approaches land. He can almost hear the Nasdaq falling again, or was that the A train surfacing from the tunnel below the river? He zips up his black Polo coat, does an about-face, turns his back to the city and heads back to Brooklyn where there is true peace within.

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Food Stamp Secrets

One hundred and seven dollars was credited to my New York State welfare card this morning. Finally, I can stop rolling my own Top brand, joint-like cigarettes and buy a pack of American Spirit menthols. I must have throat cancer by now!

I call the shiny, blue and white Medicaid card my ‘New York Express Card’ because it works just the same as an American Express—as long as one still has money left on it—and one can withdrawal cash from these cards using a four digit pin at any Chase location without facing outrageous ATM fees.

If it were not for my new friend, Ronald Whittaker, who I met in Goodwill Industry’s ‘Back-to-Work Program’, I would not have known how to access the cash that the state gives to those suffering most from the current recession. Ronald Whittaker—what a wealth of information the guy with the missing front tooth has been, although now, I fear for my life and regret leaving a copy of my resume lay out near one of the computers at Goodwill when he was around. Whittaker has my home address and phone number! How could I let that happen? What if he shows up one day and finds out I already got a thug lover?

The short, skinny thug with missing du rag tried to make me the class clown the day I was leaving the classroom on my way to Taylor-Hudson Personnel and accidently left some of my paperwork behind in the class at Goodwill. I nearly had to read him in front of all those Black people:–

“Mr. Taylor!” Ms. Taylor, the job developer yelled above the chatter of the room. “You left something here!”

“You better come back and get it,” Whittaker said in front of everyone as I re-entered the room—“Someone might show up at ya house, tie ya down and take all you got.”

 

The welfare people laughed. Yes, it was funny at the time, but I replied—“Ya can’t rape the willing!” I bet that shocked his ass. Only the women in the classroom laughed at my remark. The men didn’t seem to get it.

 

I should have never engaged Whittaker in conversation on my first day at Goodwill—perhaps he felt he knew me already and could say such a thing—trying to make me uncomfortable there. I needed to find out from one who knows how the welfare system works, and Whittaker appeared to have lived his entire life on the New York Express, so I took this chatty stranger up on his offer for casual conversation, never knowing that eventually I would find myself trying to bow out of his sweet, sincere offer for me to give him a blow job.

“Oh! You live right around the corner from the welfare office on DeKalb don’t ya?”

 

“How’d you know that?” I asked the day following my public humiliation by Whittaker.

 

“Yes—I’ve lived in that hood for more than seven years,” he said, ignoring my concern. “I’m surprised I never seen ya,” he noted.

 

“Why? You live there too?”

 

“Nah, but am always ‘round the way. Cool fade ya got.”

 

“Are you serious?” I asked. “I cut my own hair now—got a pair of those clippers. I like to keep the grays off the sides. It’s been this way ever since I was in the Army. It is even in the back, ain’t it?” I was shocked when he casually rubbed the back of my head—feeling the fuzziness—crackheads are so bold.

 

“I figured that,” Whittaker said. His eyes were as glossy like my New York Express Card. “I was in the Marines,” he claimed.

 

“Ain’t it something how we service men always spot one another out in a crowd? It’s like we are all connected or something. How long was ya in?”

“Four years.”

“Cool,” I said.

 

Sure, Ronald Whittaker’s a crack head if I’ve ever seen one, but I’ve never been threatened by such substance users as most New Yorker’s are. They are somewhat high strung, and seem to tweak over the littlest of things, but Who am I to judge his habits and who else is there to talk to every morning sitting in the classroom at Goodwill, awaiting the call of one of three ‘job developers’ who give guys like Ronnie and me referrals to job leads or job fairs—our only way out of that dungeon classroom at 25 Elm Place.

 

Whittaker was the only one to explain to me that in addition to $200 in monthly food stamps, the state also hands out $75.50 to single men in Brooklyn—for ‘basic necessities’ according to Whittaker, but for guys like me and him, the stipend serves as addiction money.

He bummed a smoke from me one morning outside of Goodwill. That’s how we became familiar and the moment, I suppose, served as an opening for him—to invite himself into my business, as many crack heads are known to do.

Although I could not afford to give expensive cigarettes away, I gave Ronald one, for it is true that we should give to anyone who asks of us.

“Thank you for telling me how to access my cash,” I said to Whittaker. “Honest to God, they don’t tell ya anything when it comes to welfare in New York City. I thought this card was just for food.”

“Oh—there’s lots ya can do with it. Hey—I know a dentist that will pay ya $10 bucks if you stop by for an exam.”

“Do you mean we have dental insurance with these cards?”

“Boy—you don’t know noffin’ do ya. I’ll show ya the place when we get out of here. Can you do me a favor, Taylor? Find me another one of dem dare temp agencies on the computer so that I can get out of here. It don’t seem like they have a job fair to send us to today.”

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Having proven to be a parasite in Michael Bloomberg’s new Jerusalem, the city of New York has offered me redemption from blood-sucking Goodwill Industry’s ‘Back-to-Work Program’ and assigned me to work for eleven hours every week at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. If I do not work, the city will cut off my food stamp benefits.

Two-hundred dollars a month is not enough to fill my hunger or justify what is in reality government induced slavery—no different than what Jews suffered in ancient Egypt and Blacks, the dirty South. Do the math—forty-four hours a month for $200—that’s less than the minimum wage.

As thousands if not millions flock to welfare rolls, unmarried people without children are persecuted by our government. If one has children to take care of, he or she does not have to work food. I imagine what those who create rules relating to working for welfare benefits must say when they enforce such guidelines—

“They must not need the food stamps if they are not willing to work for it!”

If I had a vagina, I would get pregnant right away just to avoid having to work as a slave for the Department of Housing and Development any longer!

There is a possibility, however, that the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will hire me as a full or part time, government paid employee—that is according to my supervisor at DHP— Oscar Sharpton. He said that even tough there is currently a hiring freeze at all city agencies I should work hard anyway—one never knows.

Oscar is a jolly, highly professional city employee—African American, or Black as he probably prefers to be color coded– who wears enough aftershave lotion to set-off anti-shoplifting alarms inside of the many drug stores in town.

“Here are the time sheets you must sign if you wish to be credited for your welfare hours, and this is a bulletin board over here lists individuals in Housing Preservation and Development’s work-experience program who have actually found work. That is your intention, is it not, Mr. Taylor?” Oscar asked.

“Oh yes, that is my intention,” I replied, holding my hands in the small of my back as if I were trying to be polite and a good, well behaved employee.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is under the Brooklyn Bridge. The large complex rests on the same plot of claimed land from the East River that Pace University is housed. The building must cover the same land area as a city block and is at least twenty stories tall. There are layers of metal detectors and security personnel to pass through. I was issued my own electronic identification card for the third floor—for Oscar’s Department—“Customer Service”.

Such a large building, I realized as I made my way down highly-polished floors, on my way to locate room. 3YZ…must remember not to wear my new dressy Timberland boots to work—I would disrupt the unbearable silence inside this monstrosity of city government buildings—hardly anyone in all those cubicals in the middle of the building—those work stations separate from the offices with windows to which I, with my rapid typing skills have been assigned to serve. I walk on by down the mirror-like floor wondering if anyone had ever worked behind those desks or if perhaps they have always been for show. I pass many bullet proof, glass doors with big names and degrees written in black letters—to keep dumb city employees from bumping into, I imagine. Those powerful people behind these electronically controlled glass doors spy at me from the corner of their eyes over their computer screens—they probably think I’m one of the new welfare people assigned to work up here.

“Do some fucking work for a change and preserve housing you lazy fuckers,” I think loudly, wishing they could read minds— they probably can—who knows what really goes on inside these government offices?

I smile at Oscar, my boss, as he continues to give me instructions for my new position. I had been pretending to be listening intently to him—not even blinking as he discussed equal opportunity. I snap out of my thoughts and daydreaming as he closely describes what is expected of me here as it relates to the city’s goal of finding more affordable housing for the millions who flock here:-

“Ours is a department that must always smile. We deal directly with the public as a go-between and buffer that cushions the blows of big egos on both sides,” Oscar explained, sipping coffee from a plastic travel mug stained worse than his teeth. “Do you have experience in dealing with lawyers, Mr. Taylor?” He asked, as if this were a real interview for a job that really pays. ‘Funny’, I thought as I started to tune out Oscar again, “Funny how it is that government offices are so expansive in such a crowded city, yet so very few people work inside them—not enough to justify the millions in real estate value they consume. They are like churches that no one attends anymore.

“Yes, I do have experience in dealing with New York City attorneys,” I replied, snapping not only myself from a trance, but also shaking Oscar awake with my assured baritone voice—“My first job in New York City, just after my discharge from the Army was with a legal service publisher—Prentice Hall—I’m sure you’ve heard of it…”

Oscar smiled at me and cut me off by explaining, “Mr. Taylor, I need you to inventory a large file full of unclaimed tax rebate checks for me. These checks were issued to housing developers and home owners who applied for the city’s ten year, tax-free, land development ownership clause under sections 421a and 421b of the new tax code. These people, for some reason not came in to pick up these checks. Can you enter them into an Excel spreadsheet for me?”

“Why sure, and if you’d like, I’ll call them and remind them that they have checks waiting for them here.”

“Oh, that will not be necessary—just a list of them— I’m mostly concerned… I should say, people high-up in government are more interested in knowing… the total amounts of all the checks?”

“It would be an hour,” I replied, “I’m a really fast typists and hopefully there is another Charles Taylor in New York who has a tax rebate that they are not aware of.”

Sharpton looked at me and smiled again before taking another sip from his plastic coffee cup—“Damn that shit’s cold, but it tastes good. I’ll see you this afternoon, Mr. Taylor…”

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I took the Starbucks challenge this morning and failed to identify which was the new instant brand of coffee and which was the freshly brewed. Having purchased Starbucks coffee beans by the pound for the last decade, I was excited when I saw a commercial on television announcing an instant brand of my favorite joe and an invitation for New Yorkers to take the “Starbucks Challenge” this weekend.

I was already awake before sunrise today because I am required by the City of New York’s Human Resources Administration to report to Goodwill Industries sharply at 9 a.m. for participation in the ‘back to work’ program. If I fail to show up, Mayor Bloomberg logs onto a laptop computer, accesses public assistance records, and cuts-off my $200 monthly stipend in food stamps.

There is a Starbucks in Downtown Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the Goodwill thrift shop, so I left the house early, wanting to get two free cups of coffee. I haven’t purchased Starbucks coffee beans since March when my lifesavings ran out, nor have I been foolish enough to spend upwards of three dollars for a cup for good strong coffee. I’ve survived on the Puerto Rican coffee Café Bustello since then. I forgot just how potent and eye-opening Starbucks coffee was until I took the challenge this morning.

“Oh my God this is good coffee,” I said after gulping down two Dixie cups of piping hot syrup-coffee. I felt my balls swell the minute it went down. “I bet this is the instant and this is the brewed.”

“Wrong!” The woman in the green apron proclaimed.

“How much is it?”

“Ten dollars for a dozen.”

“My heavens! That’s a steal,” I replied, pretending to be sold. I walked away towards the rear of the café and finished the second shot glass of what was the new instant coffee and wished that I had some more.

I chuckled watching an old, well-dressed white lady sitting near a side window next to the table where the Starbucks challenge was being offered. It seemed that she too couldn’t get enough of the free coffee. She took the challenge numerous times until eventually, the employee in the green apron offering the taste test got sick of her and offered just a tiny drop to refill her little Dixie cups, but she returned at least three times.

I waited for the silver canisters, similar to the ones in which Starbucks offers cream and milk, to empty. The employee vanished behind the bar for a refill of the fresh brewed coffee. Moments later, I found myself in an arm wrestling match with an old Jewish woman.

“You go first,” I said.

“Well thank you young man,” she said. “I do like this instant coffee.”

“I bet you do,” I proclaimed, quickly taking one last shot before refilling my little paper cup and heading out the door before being noticed by the official referee of the Starbucks challenge.

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