Camus at the Cafe Counter

Flash LelyAs part of our morning commute, Flash Lely and I take a daily stroll into Barking Dog Roasters on Sonoma Highway. We order coffee, are dispensed paper to-go cups and proceed to the self-serve pump pots. Without fail, whether he attempts to fill his cup with the house blend or the French roast, Lely selects the coffee dispenser that has just run out. He sighs, I chortle and within a beat, the pot is replaced with a fresh and full one. It should be noted that in the hustle-bustle that is mornings at Barking Dog (or the Darkling Bog, as we say, lending the café the sheen of the Shire), the staff is so diligent, so expert, that the dispensers are seldom left empty for more than a millisecond. Except when Flash is at the pump.

Apparently, I’m slow enough on the draw to routinely miss this window, or somehow I’m better aligned with the café’s syncopated rhythms, such that I avoid the sad gurgle and last splash that signify the beginning of my colleague’s day. I used to attribute this to the daft luck that wafts from my personage like cheap aftershave, but I’m coming to the realization that I may not be the lucky one.

Sometimes I worry that Flash will begin to ascribe meaning to what has become something of a ritual disappointment for him. What could the consistently empty container betoken? The hollowness of his soul, the darkly roasted echo of his spiritual vacuity? Certainly not – Flash is one of those characters to whom small birds flock and chirp gaily, a man whose very mode of being inspires a kind of practical envy seen in the aspirational poses of those who surround. As oft heard in the office, Flash is a gem, unlike me, who is more akin to a shard of Coke bottle polished smooth like a beach stone but ultimately foreign, greenish and bound in a sort of moribund cool (and this despite my new haircut). When Flash has kindly observed that I take care to be approachable to my public, I know secretly that they are actually his public, whose view I’ve obscured with my blokish form, but he is too kind to say so. All this is to say, that in most aspects of his experience, Flash is at one with it all. Except the coffee dispensers at Barking Dog.

Despite this karmic rift between he and caffeine, Flash persists. Perhaps this is a trait worthy of admiration, or as Camus would likely observe, such persistence is woven into the fabric of our nature. Flash, like Sisyphus – condemned to roll a stone up a hill only to have it eternally roll back down – somehow knows that the coffee pump will be empty. Yet he engages in his futile act, coaxing the final spill of French roast from this apparent portal to the dark vacuum of the universe, regardless of the disappointment it inevitably confers. Perhaps his process is a sort of existential confirmation; perhaps there is philosophical comfort in the consistency of this inconvenience. Or, perhaps just how the universe camouflages its preferential nature – an inconvenient carafe here, a dodged catastrophe elsewhere. Flash’s secret is this: Like Sisyphus, Flash knows that coffee will not pour, that the stone will not stay – but creatures of humanity cannot help but hope.

As Camus writes, “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.” A full heart bests a full cup any day and Flash’s seeming disconnect with the machinations of the universe, or at least the café, belie a deeper harmony, a more fluid truth beneath the surface. And the fact is, his coffee is always fresher than mine.