I remember my first espresso, the first time I had a real espresso. I was in Madrid walking through town, mid-afternoon, while much of the retail and common fare markets were like tired clocks unwound, resting, waiting for someone to restore the key to the screw and release the lively energy of the evening. I was thirsty, I was hungry, and I walked block after block past closed, darkened shop fronts. Siesta. I kept walking through weird little streets, keeping an eye out for landmarks, walking a mile across the city back to the room and my gear. I wanted nothing more than a shower, a hot shower.
I saw two guys sitting at the bar of a little café. I went in and saw the first guy had two fish the size of Sharpie pens upon a plate drizzled with oil and some flashes of green herbs. The other dude was gobbling up a big crusty pastry. Thems shits looked good.
I walked up to the bar, grabbed the menu, and ordered something fish, something cheese and bread something, with fruit, and…an espresso. I felt weary and cold. The barista stood before a huge brass machine with ornamental brass corkscrew tubing, shiny and bulbous pressurized riveted tanks, big knobs, and forced a blast of hot water through a little dish of finely ground coffee he had tightened upon the machine like a spigot, like a wake-up wrench.
The little dribble of black fragrant liquid dribbled into a cup. The barista transferred the contents into an even smaller, little baby cup. He took a lemon, carefully cut a precise Julienne strip of peel from the fruit, then rubber the outer side of the peel around the rim of the demitasse. Then he pulled the swatch of cut peel along a knife blade, making it corkscrew like a pig’s tail. He threw it in the cup. It hung on the side. With the cup placed upon a tiny napkin upon the saucer, accompanied by a tiny spoon, he pushed the drink to me. He also slid a small dish of sugar cubes to me.
In the corner of the room, like an apparition inviolate and menacing, stood a magnificent object I felt myself unworthy to even look at, let alone touch, or use. An antique pinball game with wooden parts, an old KISS pinball game, sat idle. No lights blinking. I slurped down the piping hot espresso in a single swallow, amazed at just how bitter the coffee was, made even more sharply flavored by the lemon oil dressing the cup. I walked over to the machine, marveled at this silly pinball game tucked away in the corner of a tiny café not bigger than an airport shuttle bus, admired its faded wooden board and crude design. My food came. I ate it in about three greedy mouthfuls, ordered another espresso, and walked back to the machine. The barista said something to me, seemed to be asking about my interest in the game. I pantomimed like I was pushing the button flippers and shrugged my shoulders. He went behind the bar, reached under it and with a click of an unseen switch, power went to the machine. The game cycled through its start-up routine and, like a birthday for my inner child, pushed a dull ball up into the launch alley. It rolled an inch or two down and rested upon the cracked and dented launch pad. The barista said, “El juego es gratis.” Wow. I replied, ” mucho gracias”. So, I played a game of pinball.
Kiss was my first favorite band. I used to rock the KISS albums in first grade back in 1977. I was supercharged with delirious reveries from my childhood. I felt transported to a very excited and super-charged time in my life, full of magic and danger, rocking out in my bedroom to KISS albums. I drank the second one, paid for it, then strode out the door, abandoning the game in the middle of play, feeling like I was about to be shot out of a cannon, blasted out of my skin.
Jacked up on the stimulant, I walked with exaggerated strides for another fifteen minutes or so back to my room, went inside and was doubled over with stomach pains. I drank water and shivered. My heart was racing.
That was a really nice cup of espresso and cup of espresso. I lay on my bed with the window open and dissolved into a writhing fist of eels.
Lemon kiss of metal dynamite face. I kept thinking wtf is espresso doing in Spain. I drank a glass of water and felt a bit more human after a few minutes.
Flash forward 21 years.
Today I ordered an espresso and the girl with the pink hair who’d been crouching outside against the wall with a can of Red Bull was the one who followed me in, went behind the bar and took my seemingly bizarre request of an “espresso”. She couldn’t believe I wanted a plain espresso. She asked me twice if I wanted a macchiato or caramel something espresso. I declined the offers. I really savored the idea that a plain espresso could be considered a novelty.
“You must be really desperate for coffee.” I was thinking of that little café’, the sound of goofy accordion music that warbled from the speaker of the cheap radio in the Spanish cafe, the smell of cigarettes the sound of two people having an animated, seemingly fascinating conversation. I spanked my arm and told her to just pour it into my track marks.
And she was drinking, from a clear plastic sample cup the size of a liquor shot glass, a miniature white chocolate peppermint iced espresso. It was the same color as her hair. I asked her what it was and she told me. That sounded pretty weird to me. I told her so. She slid the espresso over to me in a matter of seconds, steaming in a waxed cup. No lemon, no saucer, hobo style. I put it in my belly, tossed the cup in the trash on the way out the door. The cold wind swirled around me and slapped the windbreaker hood against the side of my face, slapping me like an unwanted child. Rock and roll.
This story brought to you by Oldness.