I’ve never overslept for a bike ride.
“Wanna come over to the firehouse and have a cup of coffee?” Fireman texted me.
“Sure,” I texted him back.
Fireman now works around the corner from my apartment. Unlike the Inglewood station, where he made 20 runs in a 24-hour shift, up here on the Old Folks Peninsula he makes about one, and it’s usually to get a cat out of a tree or help someone find her bifocals.
I hopped on my bike and rode over but showed up at kind of the wrong time, which was dinnertime. The firemen were all seated around a big communal table eating the most delicious pot of Mexican meatball stew that one of the guys had made.
“Help yourself,” one of the firemen said, kindly shoving a big bowl over towards me.
“Thanks but I have dinner waiting at home and probably can’t go home full.”
One of the guys shrugged. “Have two dinners then.”
I looked at their broad shoulders, thick forearms, and powerful hands and realized that this wasn’t a manorexic dinnertime with cyclists munching a lettuce sandwich and half a glass of water. It was dinnertime with a bunch of men.
My buddy Fireman came to the rescue. “He was just swinging by for a cup of coffee.”
Everyone stopped eating and looked at me. One of the guys casually said, “There’s still a cup or two left.” Something was happening but I didn’t know what. “If you want it.”
“Sure,” I said before glancing over to the counter. The coffee, and there wasn’t much of it, was in a beaker with millimeter gradations. Everyone watched.
“It’s pretty strong,” said the guy.
I shrugged. “I like my coffee strong. Is this coffee special?” Stupid question. Of course it was. It was made in a fucking beaker. And what was the first thing they taught you in science class? Don’t ever, ever, ever drink anything out of a fucking beaker.
“It’s my firehouse espresso,” said the guy. “It might keep you up.”
A couple of the guys cracked slight smiles behind their concrete veneers. “Just a little,” one fireman said.
“Yeah,” said another. “You might be extra alert for a little bit.”
“What they’re saying,” said the captain, “is that you’ll be hearing hummingbird farts on the other side of the hill.”
Now it was a flat out dare. “Shoot,” I said. “I’ve had plenty of strong coffee. I can drink two or three espressos and go straight to sleep, no problem.”
“Well then, let me pour you a cup.” The blue-clad barista picked up the beaker, sloshed it once for a stir, and poured out two thimblefuls in a tiny, tiny cup, which he then microwaved for a few seconds.
“That’s a pretty small cup,” I said.
“There’s enough for seconds,” he said.
Everybody pretended to go back to dinner as I threw down my coffee in a gulp. “Man,” I said, “that’s good stuff.”
“Let me pour you another,” said the fireman, and he did, and I drank that, too.
“How do you make this?” I asked.
“Oh,” said the fireman, “I don’t really ‘make’ it. It’s more of a process.”
I nodded. After a while Fireman finished eating and we went outside. “Dude,” he said, “you won’t be sleeping tonight. Or tomorrow.”
“It does feel kind of strong.” I reflected for a moment that I’d just downed two of something that alert, professional, large dudes who do dangerous shit for a living and who stay up for days at a time drink in order to stay awake, and that when they drink it, they only drink single servings.
I went home feeling kind of antsy. Bedtime rolled around at ten and I still felt antsy. Everything seemed really loud. I opened my Chinese book and memorized fifty kanji in about ten minutes. Then I cleaned out Mrs. WM’s desk and my bike and wrote a blog. It was only 10:30.
By eleven, a time of day when I can’t stay awake under any circumstances, I crawled into bed. I could hear the neighbors talking three units over. At twelve I got up and worked for an hour, completing a day’s work in sixty minutes. At one I lay back down and listened to the sounds from another neighbor’s video game. At 1:30 I got back up and read two magazines cover to cover. At two I ate an apple and red fifty pages of Ulysses. At three I went to bed again, and at four I went to sleep.
Note to reader: I have stayed up an entire night only once in my life. Now, twice.
My alarm went off at five but I didn’t, and I missed the Thursday Flog Ride. First time for everything.
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