Maybe it was last week's unusually bad karma -- taxes and the death of God just do not go well together -- but I found myself reflecting on the arbitrariness of opinion writing. Articles you think will outrage people grow stale and dry up quickly; dashed-off pieces and throw-away phrases are much more likely to stir the pot.
Case in point: the responses to my last column and to a review that appeared simultaneously in the Weekly Standard. The first argued for exporting American Christianity to Iraq. I called for the separation of mosque and state. I said Ann Coulter had a point (though not so much about the invading and killing bit). When the column was posted, I expected a deluge of letters, spontaneous protests and a few roasted effigies.
The overflowing mailbag ran to three letters. There were two pats on the back and one polite disagreement -- a collective yawn. Instead, readers chose to sound off on a much more important and lively issue: coffee.
The caffeinated standing head for this weekly meander drew all kinds of comments. The title was judged to be perfect, effeminate, cryptic and/or elitist. And the Standard review only added to the grist. I had ended the brief notice on the book Creed and Culture, by saying it would appeal to "readers who take their coffee black." I added, "even us two creams, two sugars and hold-the-foam types will find much to ponder."
It seemed a good metaphor at the time, but I didn't bank on the Standard copy elves changing a few words to fit it into the issue. "Black" became "strong" and "two creams, etc." turned into "decaf types." Readers understandably wondered why I'd write a column called "Latte Sipping" if I only take decaf.
Good question. Coffee without caffeine is like near beer or methadone. It's all bad taste, no buzz; vice parading as virtue in the most tedious possible way. Though the preferred delivery vehicle for my drug of choice is Coke, I'd sooner drink hemlock than decaf. (Hell, I'd sooner drink Pepsi than decaf.)
So why "Latte Sipping"?
Call it a regional thing. I come from Washington State, land of espresso stands and coffee shops on every corner. Starbucks, Seattle's Best and other franchises and imitators are slowly bringing this fresh-brewed buzz to the rest of the U.S., but not fast enough for select residents of the Emerald State. At airports or train depots, I can't count the number of times I've heard returning Washingtonians confess to friends that while they were in Denver or Cincinnati or some other locale, they had a devil of a time finding a double tall vanilla latte with cinnamon and a biscotti. The Philistines!
Perhaps we non-Seattle types should balk at this coffee colonialism. From one angle, it stands for everything we hate about pushy, trendy, faux sophisticate Seattleites. But we've decided not to mind. My own tiny northwest Washington town has two coffee shops and two espresso stands, in addition to a small espresso-bookstore combo. The farmers can get lattes or iced mochas before they go out to plow their fields.
I guess the idea is if you can't beat 'em, drink up.
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