After covering the Tour de France years ago, while wandering around Paris, we discovered a Starbucks. We were not drawn in by the coffee, but by other attractions – air conditioning, a clean restroom for patrons, and the very visible signs: Défense de Fumer.
Not only was the sign posted, the rule was enforced.
The male barista also spoke English – not that we needed it – but it was the lingua franca, you might say, for communicating with visitors who spoke Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese. Tout le monde parle Starbucks.
Starbucks had previously made good (if expensive) coffee available in the deprived United States, and more recently it has made comfort available to people walking the streets of great cities in the world. It’s good business: in a chaotic and messy world, Starbucks offers comfort.
Since our first trip, a couple of kids in our 20s, we have delighted in all corners of France – the food, the language, the antiquities, the art, the people. We have also had hundreds of meals ruined by strong Gallic cigarettes.
Long ago, I learned to ask the proprietor, in French, if there was some little corner where there would be no smoking. The response was generally a Gallic shrug, to go with the Gallic cigarettes. At a nearby table, gallant men would hold their Gauloises far away from their own lady, thereby putting the smoke a foot from my lady.
However, in Starbucks, owned and operated by Howard Schultz, American, you could go to the bathroom, you could breathe, you could sip your coffee. Half the patrons of that Parisian Starbucks were French. They, too, loved the ambiance, the comfort.
I bring up my little epiphany about Starbucks because Howard Schultz is now making rounds of every television studio in the United States, exploring a run for president in 2020. He is not considering the hurly-burly of the Democrat stampede but is considering running as an independent.
With the same rigidity that causes Starbucks to employ nonsense words for “small, medium or large,” Schultz is seeking voters who are sick of the two political parties – well, who isn’t?
What is there about extremely rich people that makes them think they know how to govern the clumsy entity called a democracy? I pick up the same arrogance from Michael Bloomberg, who at least has condescended to be a Democrat for the moment.
How does Bloomberg govern? The city where he was mayor for three terms currently has mass transit and public housing falling apart. Extremely rich people generally hate to see money distributed differently; they are not exactly Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.
Schultz made his name in Seattle but sold his basketball team to rich people in Oklahoma City. That fact is not lost on the inhabitants of Coffee City, who might prefer to vote for the current governor, Jay Inslee.
As for third parties, Americans remember that in 2016 somebody named Jill Stein attracted enough gadflies to help sink Hillary Clinton and elect a fraudulent and illiterate sociopath who claimed to be fabulously rich.
Ross Perot. Ralph Nader. John Anderson. George Wallace -- enough to give “independent” a bad name.
While Howard Schultz is “exploring,” I just want to tell him: “Pour l'air frais, les toilettes, et moins important, le café: Merci, mec.”
More and More, I Talk to the Dead--Margaret Renkl
NASHVILLE — After my mother died so suddenly — laughing at a rerun of “JAG” at 10 p.m., dying of a hemorrhagic stroke by dawn — I dreamed about her night after night. In every dream she was willfully, outrageously alive, unaware of the grief her death had caused. In every dream relief poured through me like a flash flood. Oh, thank God!
Then I would wake into keening grief all over again.
Years earlier, when my father learned he had advanced esophageal cancer, his doctor told him he had perhaps six months to live. He lived far longer than that, though I never thought of it as “living” once I learned how little time he really had. For six months my father was dying, and then he kept dying for two years more. I was still working and raising a family, but running beneath the thin soil of my own life was a river of death. My father’s dying governed my days.
After he died, I wept and kept weeping, but I rarely dreamed about my father the way I would dream about my mother nearly a decade later. Even in the midst of calamitous grief, I understood the difference: My father’s long illness had given me time to work death into the daily patterns of my life. My mother’s sudden death had obliterated any illusion that daily patterns are trustworthy.
Years have passed now, and it’s the ordinariness of grief itself that governs my days. The very air around me thrums with absence. I grieve the beloved high-school teacher I lost the summer after graduation and the beloved college professor who was my friend for more than two decades. I grieve the father I lost nearly 20 years ago and the father-in-law I lost during the pandemic. I grieve the great-grandmother who died my junior year of college and the grandmother who lived until I was deep into my 40s.
Some of those I grieve are people I didn’t even know. How can John Prine be gone? I hear his haunting last song, “I Remember Everything,” and I still can’t quite believe that John Prine is gone.
Jan. 30, 2023