This week's subject in the Better Know a Commenter series is a man who is always doing the Lord's work, converting non-believers to coffee, one mug at a time: royalcoffee.
While we're all much more than just being Royals fans, it is the tie that binds us. What brought you to the Royals' front stoop knocking on the door to be let in? Perhaps more importantly, why did you stay?
My grandfather had season tickets to the Omaha Royals, so I spent quite a bit of my summers at Rosenblatt Stadium as a kid. My father was and still is a fan of the big league team, always regaling me with stories of listening to Denny on the radio during the '70s and '80s. I fell out of love with baseball when I got into high school, focusing on the more juvenile pleasures of life, but my love was rekindled after moving to the Pacific Northwest and being gifted a MLB.tv account. It was really nice to come home after work with the game starting at 5 and ending around 8, leaving a good chunk of the evening open to be a 21-year-old kid in Portland. What really sealed the deal was when I was working one morning with some square from just south of Portland who didn't know there was a baseball team in Kansas City--he also claimed to be a big fan of baseball. My fandom began burning ever so brightly after realizing his ignorance just to spite the fucker.
Standard dating profile questions: Age? Sex? Height? Hair color? Marital status? Kids?
Early 20s, male, average, brown, single, none.
While many choose not to define themselves by their job, what do you do to make ends meet? For how long have you been plying that trade?
I sell my soul for 40 hours a week to earn a paycheck and pay the rent. I've had a lot of jobs. Some odd, some not.
Are you chained to a desk job, or do you slave away at a job freed from those particular restraints? What's the worst job you've ever had? What was your favorite?
Chained to a desk, slaving away under fluorescent lighting. I worked for Gallup for 3 weeks when I was 17 and made outbound calls asking anyone in America if they believed in angels or if they possessed ESP and only got paid for surveys I completed. Needless to say, it was miserable. The best job I've ever had was working on the grounds crew at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha - home of the College World Series. I started working there when the park first opened and have worked every series since - I was lucky enough to have a boss in Portland who was an Oregon State alum and was more than happy to let me escape for a month in June.
Where do you live now, and where did you grow up?
Somewhere in America, grew up in Omaha.
Is your plan to stay "somewhere in America," or will your coffee-driven desires drive you elsewhere, perhaps closer to the source of what you need?
Ideally I'd be able to head to Ethiopia or Kenya and see how the coffee growing communities are fueled by the world's most powerful hot beverage. If you guys could wire me a few thousand bucks to make this dream come true I'd greatly appreciate it.
As someone who nearly moved to Portland after college myself, how was Portland? Was it to your liking, or did you feel the need to leave eventually?
Portland was wonderful, there were a lot of artists and writers that I was able to connect with to share brain space and talk about weird shit. Everyone was very open minded and creative which gave me reason to continue my craft in some fashion. Omaha seemed like a place where neither open-mindedness or creativity was in a great deal of supply so Portland was like paradise for me. Unfortunately, Portland is experiencing a great deal of gentrification and a whole lot of new money is pouring in so it's starting to price out the starving artist appeal that it had when I initially moved there. If you've never been to Portland you must take a visit and check out Powell's Bookstore - it's magnificent.
I've actually spent more than $200 on one trip there and then got stuck carrying all those books back in luggage. What is your educational background/area of study?
I studied English for a couple years before I bailed and wailed out of college to pursue other life goals. I'll finish someday I guess, just to accomplish something and become a bit better suited for the job market.
What other life goals did you pursue in lieu of finishing college?
In retrospect, it was to get to know myself. I wanted to put myself in situations I had no experience in and see how I did, see if I could do it, to learn the depths of my potential. I tried to make as many mistakes as possible, just to see the outcome and build off of it. I learned how to get rejected. I burned out on college pretty quickly because I was surrounded by the same people, the same culture, I grew up with. I wanted to get to know my father and spend a great deal of time with him since we were never too close when I was younger, and we eventually bonded over baseball. In fact, he introduced me to Royals Review. He's definitely reading this.
I joined writers workshops and put my work out in a somewhat literary sphere and received criticism from other writers for the first time in my life. I wanted to grow as a human being in a more human environment. I felt it was necessary.
Do you know what you'll go back to study? Do you have any schools in mind for if and when you do return to college?
I'll probably finish getting my English degree and work as a barista for the rest of my life. As far as schools in mind I have no idea, perhaps the University of Iowa.
As a fellow longtime barista, I've often toyed with the idea of opening my own shop. Am I alone in this, or have you as well? If you have, how would you style yours?
Of course I have. I'd imagine it to have cherry-stained wood pillars, bookcases, everything. Classy shit all the the way. A couple muted TVs that play nothing but baseball. Blues and jazz playing constantly. Leather chairs, couches. Warmly lit. A nice covered porch out back for those that indulge in burning tobacco products. As far as coffee is concerned, just the hardline basics. None of this fancy coffee art bullshit that's infiltrated coffee shops. Just a place to have a conversation over a good cup of coffee. No phonies. As elitist and pretentious as possible.
With the understanding that obviously baseball and the Royals are an area of interest for you, what other hobbies and interests do you have?
I enjoy reading and writing, riding my bicycle, and drinking a lot of coffee.
Is the bicycle your method of transportation? What do you ride?
When the weather is nice, yes. I have a red 1970's era Motobecane Mirage. It doesn't do too well on icy streets, so it usually stays inside over the winter.
What do you drink when you're at home? What's your preferred method of coffee delivery to your system? If you are at the coffee shop, do your patterns change?
I really enjoy light roasts, so I'm a big fan of South American coffees. I use an 8-cup french press, freshly ground beans, filtered water. After pouring my grounds into the french press, I usually fill the glass halfway with boiling water and let the grounds soak for a minute or so. Then I fill to the top, put the plunger on, set a timer for three minutes, wait, then depress the plunger. You're technically not supposed to let the coffee sit in the french press after this and are suggested to pour the coffee into a different vessel, so the coffee cannot brew any longer, but I've become rather lazy and just let it sit - though I do drink it quickly.
I rarely go to coffee shops anymore, but if I do I usually ask to see what they've got brewed and typically pick a roast I've never had before. If they don't have anything new I just choose the lightest roast available. I avoid lattes and espresso and all that solely because I'm a purist douchebag who thinks the only way to truly enjoy coffee is by drinking it as it was intended to be made.
Maybe you don't possess the same impulse-control issues that I have, but there have been times in my life where I was drink eight to ten mugs of coffee every day. Have you ever gotten to the point where you get withdrawal symptoms if you've not had coffee by a certain point in the day? Have you ever had issues finding a decent cup of coffee and not known what to do with yourself in that worst case of scenarios? Can I assume your consumption habits never necessitated a temporary switch to the Americano to try to cut back on your caffeine intake?
There were certainly moments in my life where I went too far. I used to have a coffee maker on my desk at home and for a while I'd consume at least two-to-three pots of coffee a day, spending a good bulk of my grocery money on coffee. I learned quickly that this process would destroy my ability to sleep regularly and eat somewhat healthy, so I cut it back a bit, and I've been able to monitor it a bit better. I definitely still get withdrawals if I don't consume at least one cup to get me over the edge in the morning, leaving me very irritable and short-fused, which I'm sure a lot of people can relate with.
I struggle with finding good coffee nowadays. I'm in the land of OK coffee now, but the stuff at the grocery store that I can get out of the dispenser is good enough. I think I have 4lbs sitting in a cupboard now, each with a different blend, and I tend to get some more whenever I go to the store. My family was nice enough to enable my addiction by buying me a heck of a lot of gourmet coffee for the holidays, which I'm still working through. Bless their hearts.
I haven't made that switch yet. There were times in the PNW where I lived less than a mile away from three really good coffee shops, two of which were my roommate's primary employer. There were days where I'd walk in and order the strongest beverage they could put together, and I'd immediately go home and hammer out some nonsense on my keyboard. It was heaven. I never indulged any further in espresso, though.
Do you have a favorite mug by which you deliver coffee to your person?
I do. I have a 'The Best Teacher of the World' coffee mug that I try to use daily. I used to have a Royals travel mug before it fell off the shelf to its doom.
What's the best thing you've read in recent memory? Describe it as though you were trying to convince someone else that they should read it.
I'm working on Don DeLillo's White Noise at the moment, but finished up While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut and absolutely loved it--it's a collection of short stories he wrote early on in his career. It's perfect to pick at while highly caffeinated and on a lunch break. I absolutely adore Vonnegut and his style of writing, so to read some of his previously unpublished work from when he was in his early 20's was very enticing to me.
I loved White Noise. Have you read Underworld, DeLillo's magnum opus with baseball playing a central role? Other than Vonnegut (and possibly DeLillo), who are your favorite authors? Whose writing makes you want to brew another pot of coffee and keep reading till you run out of pages?
I have not. I was introduced to DeLillo recently, and I have yet to venture any futher, but I'll most certainly check it out. A buddy of mine let me borrow his copy of Dennis Cooper's The Marbled Swarm, which is another great read when heavily caffeinated. I loved Chuck Palahniuk and Jack Kerouac when I was younger, both of which played a big part in my journey to the west coast. I got Donald Barthelme's The Teachings of Don B. on the docket next, which I'm very excited to crack into.
We all have a long list of stupid shit that we've done. What's the dumbest thing you've done?
I've done a lot of stupid shit, mostly when I was a stoned teenager, but I once went on a hike with a group of friends in the great prairies of Nebraska only to stumble upon an active railroad bridge that crossed over the Platte River. It was an ideal spot to smoke a joint and feel the vibrations of a train passing overhead. Then we decided to jump off this bridge into a flooded river. It's amazing how quickly I realized that I made a huge mistake and had all the adrenaline in my body pumping through my veins before I even hit the water. I knew I didn't have a lot of time so I got to shore as quickly as humanly possible. Luckily the people I was with did as well.
Given your having studied English, can we assume your writing veers into the creative, or do you not have the time for that? Do you have anything you're working on?
You indeed can assume this. I dabble here and there, usually writing short stories that I can pump out in a couple hours. I'm not all that interesting in writing novels as I've found I'm more of a sprinter than a long distance runner.
Have you ventured down the path to trying to get any of your short stories published, or have they been for your own edification and growth thus far? Is this ideally how you'd make a living outside of the coffee world?
All for my own edification at this point. Ideally I'd make money doing it, but it seems like a fool's errand. I wrote my first short story when I was 11 years old for a class project and received a bit of praise from my teacher for it, who up until that point thought I was a lazy shithead with limited scholastic abilities. He suddenly became very supportive of me and gave me a collection of short stories by various authors and told me to study up. So I did. I remember sitting in the back of class, not really giving a doodle about the goings on around me, and writing stories about anything that popped into my mind. I proceeded to do this same exercise almost daily. Until I was in my first workshop, I had no idea if whatever I was doing was worth a damn.
There are so many writers that are quite excellent, and I feel like it'd be impossible to even get on the same plane of existence. It's weird because my whole family is extremely supportive of my endeavors, sort of a reverse of what's the norm for someone who is seeking a profession in the artistic realm where the money isn't great. My mother especially, she's always been supportive of me following my dream. I've got two older sisters who are both very creative and were integral to teaching me how to be weird, how to create nonsense. Growing up as the youngest child and only dude in the house I tried to get them to laugh, because if I was successful they wouldn't give me shit. My dad got me into sports and reading Bradbury and Vonnegut, forcing me to watch Dr. Strangelove, Pulp Fiction, and Casablanca as a kid. For the limited time we had together when I was younger, he certainly introduced me to a lot of phenomenal pieces of art.
As for my future in this, I don't know. It's like an existential pillow fight constantly running through my mind. I tell myself, "Keep doing what you're doing, you'll make it eventually. Keep growing, keep pumping out shit and eventually you'll create something worthwhile," which is then followed with, "You're an idiot. Cut this shit out and get your degree and settle down with something real, something tangible, a career you can rest on." It's tough. Like many people in my generation, I'm met with this grandiose idea that I am something and I can be something, sort of a pursuit of naivete until you realize that it wasn't worth it. Then, I wake up and have a cup of coffee and just say, "Fuck it. It's going to work out. Fuck it."
Describe yourself in three sentences or less.
I love drinking coffee. I love talking about coffee. I love thinking about coffee.
What Royals Reviewer would you be most interested to meet in person? Why?
1040X, I believe we're kindred spirits. I should also say Scott McKinney because I've been trying to woo him into drinking coffee for a couple years now.
If you could tell McKinney just five benefits to drinking coffee, what would they be?
It brings clarity, makes you look sexy, tastes great, improves one's overall sense of self, and it will allow you to live an extra 100+ years.*
*most of these are true