By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series


I made a quick stop at 7-11 this morning to grab… what…? A Kind Bar, a Power Bar (oh, marketing, you’re so ridiculous), and a second cup of coffee, and at the counter I said, “This is a re-fill,” and the clerk said, “Use the app, honey, so it’s free,” and I said, “I don’t have a phone,” and she said sorry and rang me up the extra buck-fourteen. Not sorry that I don’t own a cell phone. It was way too early to get existential. She meant she was sorry that I had to pay for something free. I didn’t mind paying, but there are two things now that I’m wondering. First, do people really take spam and corporate tracking in exchange for a cup of coffee? And second, would my kid look over my shoulder at this and tell me, “That’s a lot of ands in that paragraph, Dad”? His teacher, I guess, has a rule against it.

The problem isn’t all the ands, though. It’s the word “app,” which isn’t actually a word so much as a half-ass abbreviation. And it isn’t alone. It’s got company—“Twitter,” “tweet,” and “hashtag,” for instance. Linguists would call them neologisms, but they suck, “hashtag” especially. Hashtag is the cartoon rake you step on so your face gets handle-smacked. Ever try uni (raw sea urchin)? That stuff is hashtag. It tastes like the tide flats, can’t be swallowed, doesn’t chew; it just amoebas around in your mouth and won’t go down, like a dog-slobbered racquetball. It’s got to be the dumbest word ever, and there isn’t an app to get rid of it. Our only recourse, I think, is to stay on the side of aesthetics and memory.

Since this all started with coffee, here are two coffee memories, the first one set in Spokane, and the other one in Ireland. The all-at-once-everywhere-espresso bug originated in Seattle, but it didn’t take long before it spread across the whole state, all the way east to Spokane. It crossed a mountain range, range lands, the Columbia River, miles and miles of wheat fields, and shazam!—cappuccino kiosks appeared overnight, one of them a hundred yards from where I lived (South 608 Stevens, the Altadena Apartments, just down the hill from St. John’s Cathedral). Two young women were running it, both of them mythically beautiful. I unplugged and shoved aside my coffee maker. It seemed like the right thing to do.

But it didn’t last. Each double latte cost more than a pint, and I could do the math. Pretty baristas have their upside, but beer is beer.

A year later, mid-summer, I was billeted in Dublin. That’s their word for it, “billeted”; meaning, something less than a boarder but more than passing through. Anyway, each night our host asked us (my friend Tod was there too; we were students.), “What would you like for breakfast tomorrow?” and I’d say, “Coffee, please, if you have it,” and each morning she’d bring out eggs, blood pudding, pots of tea. Good tea. Tea I could really get used to. In fact, I even got insistent about it one weekend out in Sligo. Tod and I had gone for a music festival, and maybe to check out Inisfree, but first—this was Tod’s idea—we needed to climb Queen Mab’s burial mound. It wasn’t even 6 a.m. yet, and I said no. Wouldn’t you? Hike for miles, climb a hill, then climb the mound itself, which wasn’t nothing… more like another hill stacked on top of the first one—forget it. Not until I’ve had some cups of tea.

Did I mention we were loud? That most of Europe was still sleeping? Well, this man must have been an early riser himself, must have heard our American racket, because as we passed his door, he was waiting to invite us in. Tea—he was on my side about it. He set the kettle on a hot plate, spitted some bread on a bent wire hanger, waved it over the gas range flames, and there was toast. Extremely nice.

As for aesthetics, that’s easy. Pick any good poem, and you’re bound to find some. E. E. Cummings, for instance, gave us “mudluscious” and “puddlewonderful” for spring. Or there’s Milton. This one’s from Paradise Lost. When he needed a word that didn’t exist yet, some way to make hell seem real on the page, he grabbed a prefix, a root, and a suffix and came up with “pandemonium.” In my favorite poem (“Vulture”) by Robinson Jeffers, he called the soul’s ascension “enskyment.” Of course! What else could the afterlife be, joined with those telescope eyes, that living wingspan? And don’t forget Anne Sexton; she’s an alchemist. Start with “Hurry Up, Please, It’s Time,” especially the part where she’s in her yard and celebrationally naked, saying,

Sun, you hammer of yellow,
you hat on fire,
you honeysuckle mama,
pour your blonde on me!
Let me laugh for an entire hour
at your supreme being, your Cadillac stuff.


Though that does stretch things a bit since those aren’t neologisms. Technically, they’re epithets but, man, do I like hearing them—phrases she lines up like shots of tequila….            

So much better than “Hit me on Twitter,” and “Send your tweets to #hashtag whatever,” and “Be sure to download the Free Coffee App @”



Rob Carney’s fourth book 88 Maps just came out from Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a radio interview with Rob Carney.

Photo of Sligo, Ireland by Anthony Hall, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.