Saturday, December 29, 2012

Perfect Friendship

Perfect friendship requires time, familiarity, mutual good will, and mutual sacrifice. Each friend has a genuine concern for the well-being of the other, and cares for the other because of his or her good character. Each assists the other in living a good life, a life of virtue and happiness. Since we are often prone to self-deception, or at least inaccurate assessments of our own characters, we need good friends who can help us see ourselves as we really are, and then help us make progress towards virtue and happiness.

- from "Chasing Happiness Together," by Michael W. Austin, in Running and Philosophy: a marathon for the mind, edited by Michael W. Austin.

Friday, December 28, 2012

"This Life Is My Only Life"

Suffering and adversity, instead of being avoided, should be crafted for practical advantage. Abundantly healthy spirits respect the order of rank based on merit, cherish opportunities for self-transformation through struggle and rich exertion, seek personal challenges from motives of joy and love of life, and scorn cowardly hopes for transcendental salvation. This life is my only life and if I confront it with aesthetic creativity and a full heart it will be quite enough.

- from "Long-Distance Running and the Will to Power," by Raymond Angelo Belliotti, in Running and Philosophy: a marathon for the mind, edited by Michael W. Austin.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Today's Visit From Mother

(For some context on this story, read "Update: My Mother Is Still A Witch" from last month.)

So, my mother drops by the coffee shop today, and her first words to me are, "I know what I am fighting."

"What are you talking about?" I ask her.

"The bad luck that's chasing me. That made me break those candles when I was making your good-luck oil," she replies. "I know what it is."

My first thought when I'd seen her walking in the door was that we were going to talk about our Christmas plans, so this has completely thrown me. But I'm used to this kind of thing, so I recover quickly.

"What is it?" I ask.

"The doctor found another tumor on my bladder," my mother tells me.

"Your bad luck is a tumor?" I stammer.

My mother shakes her head, giving me an exasperated look.

"No, the bad luck is from someone cursing me," she explains, clearly irritated that she has to mention something so obvious. "But the curse has turned into a tumor."

Given my mother's medical history, this is horrible news, and the implications of what I've just been told must show on my face, because my mother pats my cheek and says, "Don't worry. Now that the bad luck is a tumor, I know how to fight it."

"What does the doctor say?" I ask, hoping to keep the conversation grounded in reality.

My mom shrugs.

"He says it's a very small tumor, almost too small to see," she answers. "Whoever is cursing me is not very good at it."

"Did your doctor recommend surgery?" I follow up.

Again, I get the exasperated look, as if I'm focusing on some minor detail, instead of what's really important.

"I have another appointment in two weeks," my mom tells me. "He'll tell me then."

"How do you feel?"

"I'm fine, J.J.," my mother says. "I'll be fine. I know how to take care of myself. I came here to warn you. You should be alert. Whoever is cursing me might give up and go after you."

"What should I do?" I ask, surrendering. I'm clearly not getting any more medical news out of her.

"You should pay attention," my mother tells me. "If they want to curse you instead of me, they have to meet you in person. So if they come to you, get their name and give it to me. Then I can protect you."

Suddenly, we're back on familiar ground. As long as I've known her, my mom has asked me for the names of my enemies. And, as long as I've known her, I've reassured my mom that I have none.

"That's what you think," my mother says after I once again repeat that no one, as I far as I can tell, is trying to curse me.

And, just like that, her visit is over. She mumbles something about needing to go to the store and starts shuffling towards the door.

I walk her to her car and hold the driver's side open for her, waiting for some last-second twist or revelation, but it never comes. She just wants to leave. She gives me a peck on the cheek and pulls the car door shut, giving me another quick wave as she drives away.

It's only then that I realize that I still don't know what we're doing on Christmas.

== UPDATE: January 21st, 2013 ==

(My mother had surgery last week to address her bladder cancer. According to her doctor, it went well, and my mother came home the same day as the operation.)

So I call my mother today to see how she's recovering, and the first words out of her mouth (after hello) are, "Who's been asking about me?"

Her tone is accusatory. I suddenly feel like I've been caught in some kind of lie.

"Um," I say. "Just the family. Everyone just wants to know how you're doing."

"No one else?" my mother asks.

"Who would be asking about you, Mom?" I ask.

"The people who follow me," she replies. "They're probably wondering why I haven't left the house in a while."

I already know where this is going, but I ask anyway.

"Who, Mom?" I ask. "Who is wondering this?"

"Probably the detectives trying to take my disability," she says. "Or the people trying to curse me. They probably think I am working on my psychic abilities. If they find out I'm just recovering from surgery, they might try something."

My mother is convinced that a task force has been assembled by the government to find ways to take away her Social Security payments and that detectives in unmarked cars follow her around, waiting for the moment she breaks some arcane federal regulation that will disqualify her from further payments. In fact, on her last visit to the coffee shop, she became very disturbed when I couldn't identify every car in the parking lot. She was sure at least one of them was a member of the task force.

My mother is also convinced that someone is summoning supernatural forces in order to do her some kind of harm. Whenever I try to find out why she would have such shadowy enemies, she always scoffs, as if such nemeses are a fact of everyone's life.

"Don't worry, Mom," I tell her. "The only people asking about you are family."

"Oh, that's good," she says. "You can tell them. But let me know if anyone else asks. They might be trying to find out something."

"Will do," I say.

"And be sure to get their name," my mother adds. "So I can put it on my list."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Links I Like For The Week Of December 9, 2012

This week is the 40th anniversary of the "Blue Marble" photo taken by the astronauts of Apollo 17. It's a shame we haven't been back to the Moon, isn't it?

Tabatas are an integral part of my daily exercise regimen, and they're a big part of why I've been able to lose 80 lbs and 8 inches off my waist in the last year. This article gives a great comprehensive view of them.

RIP Dave Brubeck whose "Time Out" is an essential album of American music.

"Triumph" is a wonderful poem by Alan Shapiro.

This week, my personal earworms were provided by Everything But The Girl and their 1995 album "Amplified Heart," which contains 3 tracks that are always on my personal playlist: "Rollercoaster," "Troubled Mind," and the worldwide hit, "Missing." Tracey Thorn's voice just does something for me.

We'll see what next week brings. I hope we all make it...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Update: My Mother is STILL a Witch

(For a little background on this post, check out "My Mother Is A Witch" from a while back...)

So, a couple of days ago, my mother popped into the coffee shop.

She's been doing this more & more lately, which is how I got an impromptu "psychic check-up" on her last visit, when my mom put her hand on my chest, closed her eyes for what felt like a full minute, and then opened them to pronounce that I was healthy.

I got no such treatment this visit.

"Listen," she said. "I can't bring you any more good-luck oil yet. I need to pray over it more. Maybe 7 more days. Then it will be strong enough for you."

"Oh, okay," I replied, playing along.

Then she asked if I was still eating a handful of nuts daily "for my prostate" and if I was making sure I wasn't being followed home from the shop. Of course, I told her I was. What kind of son doesn't follow his mother's advice?

We visited a little. She told me her diabetes was under control, and she'd never felt better. I told her how business was and filled her in on the family news she was missing out on since she won't get on Facebook. ("People find out what's in your house with that Facebook!" she has warned me more than once.)

As I was walking her out to her car, my mother once again promised to bring me some good-luck oil as soon as it was ready. I nodded and thanked her in advance for it.

Then, as I was helping her into the driver's seat of her car, she said to me, "Oh, I almost forgot. I made a new spell for you."

Once again, I played along, as if she had always made spells for me.

"Listen," she continued. "Whenever someone wants to hurt you or has evil in their heart towards you, you just look them in both eyes and say, 'SAH-MAH-ELL,' just like that."

She was serious, as she always is about these matters. Still, I felt like I needed to dial things back a notch.

"Well, you know," I said. "I don't think there's anyone out there looking to do me any harm."

My mother clucked and shook her head as if to say that I was being naive.

"Just remember it so you have it when you need it," she said. "And I made it only for you. It won't work for anybody else."

I was afraid to ask what the spell was supposed to do to whomever I cast it on, so I just thanked her again and watched as she slowly drove away.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eff The Weather, Man

Often, when I go running in my neighborhood late at night, I run into the same old man going for a walk.

He's tall & very distinguished-looking, and he moves at a pretty good clip considering his pronounced limp. We always seem to be coming towards each other down the street.

And we pretty much have the same conversation every time we see each other.

First, we give each other that nod that men do when they make eye contact.

Then I'll say, "How you doing?"

And he'll answer, "I'm doing well, thank you very much."

His voice is a deep, rich baritone and his enunciation is perfect, which only makes the next part of this conversation all the more jarring.

Because this is when I say, "Nice night, isn't it?"

The old man always chuckles at this, and then he says, "Hey, man, like I like to say, fuck the weather, man. I'm still breathing, know what I mean?"

"I certainly do," I say, giving him a little laugh of my own.

Then the old man waves at me and continues on his way as I go mine.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Actual Conversation I Just Had With An Employee

"Oh, wow!"
"Sorry about that. It came out a little fast."
"It was a gusher!"
"Just give me a second. Then we can start over."
"Oh, okay. I think we're good."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

There It Is Again...

There it is again, that quality of evening light that seems to sharpen the details while bathing everything in a cool, cleansing mist.

Makes me pensive, grateful to have made it through the day, yet hopeful for tomorrow.

Be well, everyone!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Today's Eye-Opener at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop - The Iced Caramel Macchiato with Foam

An Iced Caramel Macchiato with Foam


Today's eye-opener is pure sugary goodness!

An iced caramel macchiato topped with a thin layer of foam to hold up a generous cross-hatching of caramel drizzle, this drink is guaranteed to get your blood-sugar & caffeine levels pumped up for stomping out those Monday morning brushfires!

Come get one. The Grouchy John's Coffee Shop drive-thru opens at 5am every weekday.

Stay caffeinated, friends!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Happened At Grouchy John's Community Drive Event Last Night

Whew! We're still recovering from last night's Community Drive Event here at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop, but we wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who helped make it a real success.

First, a summation: While the raffle tickets are still being tallied, it's clear we raised several hundred dollars & numerous crates of supplies for the Clark County School District's School/Community Partnership Program. Also, we overflowed the Threesquare barrels with groceries & non-perishable goods. And the United Blood Services Bloodmobile was swamped with donors, even having to stay an hour-and-a-half late to try to take everyone's precious gift of life!

Second, a thanks: Our participating vendors really stepped up, from Great Bao's wonderful pork tacos to Tuff Cookie Bakeshops delectable cookies
 to Nosh Bar's wholesome & nutritious samples to 702 Salon's funky face-paints & hair-stencils, we could not have asked for better partners for our Community Drive. Oh, and special thanks to Mr. Miyagi for providing the music!

And we can't forget all of our generous friends & customers who contributed both donations & prizes, including Metro Pizza, Bread & Butter, Crepe Shack, Nevada Repertory Dance Theater, Tommy Rocker's, Black Mountain Grill, Madame Tussaud's office staff,, artist Tommy Vinci, DC Auto Tinting, and Colorado River Coffee Roasters.

Finally, to all of you who showed up, our heartfelt thanks & appreciation. We apologize that our air-conditioning couldn't keep up with the crowd, but you were all so generous & supportive that it turned our humble coffee-shop into a community home.

Thanks again, and we look forward to doing it again next year!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Mantra (a work in progress)

I've tried religion. I've tried philosophy. I've tried politics.

All have failed me. Each is rife with imperfect systems that inevitably organize people into rivals.

But I need something. I need organizing principles. Without them, I'm a tangled mass of arbitrary impulses.

And so, I've come to making my own mantra.

It has changed over the years. I'm constantly tinkering with it.

It gets longer, and then I cut it down. I read it to myself every morning and at random times throughout the day. It really does help.

So, without further ado, here's the current version: 
  • Be grateful for this day. You do not deserve it. But you're here. Enjoy it.
  • Whatever happens today, greet it with gratitude and wonder. This day shall never come again.
  • Whatever you did yesterday is done. Hopefully, it prepared you for today. But, even if it didn't, you're here. Do your best.
  • You don't have to have a reason for what you do. But it helps. The better the reason, the more it helps.
  • Love is all that matters. Express it. Accept it. Love is what makes life worth the struggle. Love much. Love well.
  • Beware of selfishness. It will lead you to the wrong choices. Your appetites can drive people away. Selflessness is the proper expression of love. Helping others is the best way to help yourself.
  • People matter more than experiences, which matter more than things. Let this be the way you prioritize your choices and actions.
  • And have some fun.
Let me know what you think of it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Birthday Wrapup

Me, blowing out my birthday candles...
(Note: I want to thank everyone who observed my birthday. The generosity & grace shown to me was both inspirational & humbling. I really don't deserve such attention, but, believe me, I'm happy to get it!)

Nowadays, I don't really celebrate my birthday, so much as survive it.

See, every year, on the anniversary of my birth, I use the occasion to reflect. I try to remember where & who I was the year before, in order to kind of gauge my progress. Some years have been good. Others, not so much. (Curious thing: the good years always come from the generosity of others, but the bad years are always entirely my fault.)

In more bureaucratic terms, my birthday becomes a kind of annual personal performance review.

So how do I rate this past year? Well, on a traditional academic grading scale, I think I'd give myself a nice, solid B. Maybe even a B+.

A year ago, things were frantic. The business that my partner and I started (Grouchy John's Coffee) was eating up every available hour of the day, as well as every potential erg of energy I had, and the financial returns were slim at best. In other words, the business was slowly growing, but we were killing ourselves in the process.

Also, I was planning & preparing my November wedding to the long-suffering Princess.

And, finally, my health was not so good, mainly from all the stress, as well as the fact that I was being lazy about taking care of myself. My weight was approaching an all-time high, and my strength and stamina were at personal worsts. And my normally-occasional insomnia? It was spiraling out of control.

Still, I was motoring along. I was even doing a little writing.

Man, was I ever feeling my age!

Then I got married, and I started to turn things around.

Not only did Grouchy John's Coffee Shop successfully open, but I began to really focus on my own personal development. It sounds self-centered to constantly blather about self-improvement, but, the truth is, I wasn't just doing do it all for myself. I was also doing it to become a better partner, friend, and husband to the people I care about.

After all, if the people who love you don't deserve you at your best, then who does?

So, I began to watch what I ate, and I started to run. And I became even more militant than ever about reading & writing daily. (The details of this process are even more boring than this blog post, so I'll spare you.)

As of the last several months, I've achieved a kind of balance between the various demands on my time & energy, and, with the help & advice of friends & family, I feel more capable & productive than ever. Besides growing Grouchy John's Coffee, I hope to put out more of my writing. Maybe this year, I'll even have time to take a vacation!

But life isn't about what you can buy or where you can go; it's about relationships, and, in these terms, this has been a banner year for me. I've made lots of new friends, and I've been able to maintain and/or rekindle some old ones. I'm especially gratified when someone I care about reaches out to me in a time of need. To be trusted is always an honor.

I could've done better. I should've done more. But, all in all, I'm happy with the way this past year played out. And I can't wait to see how things will be when my next birthday rolls around. Provided I'm still breathing when it does...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds

Available from Amazon

What really did it were my wedding pictures.

On what was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, my gut was enormous, and it showed. And when had I picked up that extra chin?

Of course, I didn't see myself that way. In my head, I was still the skinny kid I was in college. But those pictures, which began to show up in my inbox almost as soon as the ceremony was over, said otherwise.

So, without much fanfare (mainly because I doubted my own 'stick-to-it-iveness'), I started to focus on getting healthier. Which, of course, meant dropping the extra weight and getting stronger. I cut the snacks & sugary drinks from my diet. I started to run. And I dusted off the weights in the garage and began to use them.

Also, given my own bookish nature, I began to read up on fitness.

When The First 20 Minutes came out near the beginning of this year, I dutifully gobbled it up. But I must have been in a workout-induced fog, because it wasn't until a couple of months later, when I read the book again, that its revelations really sank in.

Written by New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds, The First 20 Minutes offers a comprehensive tour of the current state of fitness & health research, ranging across a variety of disciplines, and the book's conclusions were, for me, revelatory.

Among the things I learned: 
  • Inactivity is as deadly as tobacco use.
  • Stretching is overrated, but superstitions aren't.
  • Vitamins & supplements can do more damage than good.
  • The more you exercise, the smarter you get.
  • Chocolate milk is a better recovery drink than Gatorade.
  • Most of the health benefits of exercise can be gained just by going for a brisk 20-minute walk every day. (Hence the title of the book!)
Arranged in neat chapters, each of which is concluded with a nice, numbered encapsulation that offers practical advice on how to implement its lessons into your life, The First 20 Minutes is a book that I cannot recommend enough.

Since reading it and integrating its insights into my own daily routine, I have greatly increased the efficiency & effectiveness of my exercise routines, doing more good in less time. If any of you know what a Tabata or a Fartlek is, then you'll know what it is I do every day.

The result: I've lost 65 pounds since the beginning of this year and my energy levels and moods have never been better.

I'm not saying The First 20 Minutes was instrumental in my weight-loss & improved health. I am saying that reading this book gave me the intellectual ammunition to stay the course. In other words, it's a book that helped me keep talking myself into working out.

Do yourself a favor: Read this book, and then get up, get moving, and keep moving.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today's Anecdote: Cops For Snacks

Some cops come into the shop for coffee, and they hang out for a while.

As they leave, I say, "Stay cool out there," at which one of the cops stops and says, "You know, the thing is, people know it's gonna be hot, but they still lose their minds!"

"I had to respond to a call yesterday where this woman's car overheated and died," he continued. "I get there and get her car over to the side of the road, and she says, 'Did you bring me some water? I told the operator to make sure you bring some.' I go, 'No, ma'am, but there's a store right over there.' Then she asks me to take a look at her car to see what's wrong with it. I tell her I'm a cop, not a mechanic! That's why they gave me this (pointing to his weapon), not a wrench. Then she goes, 'You're not very helpful! Why do they even have 911 service!' So I had to tell her, 'Ma'am, I'm here to help you with emergencies and make sure you're safe, not repair your vehicle or provide you with snacks. Have a nice day.'"

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Frank Warren at TED

Below is a video of the presentation that Frank Warren, the founder of the PostSecret project, gave at TED.

Frank is an example of someone whose crazy idea basically blew up in his face and turned into a cottage industry that benefits not only himself & his family but does countless good for others, if only to bring people together in a way that fosters sympathy and communal feeling.

I believe in the PostSecret project. I visit the website every week. It's the kind of thing that encourages connections between strangers. In that way, it is, I feel, sacred. And fun.

Below is one of current personal favorite PostSecrets:


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Last Night's Dream: My Mansion Housewarming Party

So last night I had this dream that I was throwing a housewarming party after moving into this giant mansion.

The place really was gigantic and kind of mazelike, with many levels surrounded by a big expanse of land that was walled-off into little gardens. I don't know what I did to get the money to buy it, but it seemed like the mansion was on some kind of ridgetop overlooking a city and the ocean. Maybe it was Los Angeles. Maybe it was no place on Earth.

Anyway, I'm just walking around the grounds of my new home. There are white-smocked caterers everywhere, tending to long tables festooned with food & drink, as well as black-suited security guards wearing dark glasses & talking into their sleeves like Secret Service agents. There are even a couple of stages where some bands are doing sound-checks.

I'm dressed very casually, in jeans and a white long-sleeved shirt & comfortable shoes, and as the sun starts to set, I find myself at the front door of the mansion, standing and waving as limos pull up the long driveway, circle around a big fountain, and stop to let their passengers out onto a red carpet that leads inside.

The people getting out of the limos are all dressed very formally, in tuxedos and long gowns, which makes me very self-conscious, and they're everyone I know. Old friends, members of my family, people I used to work with and people I work with now -- they're all there, including acquaintances and people whose names I can't remember but whose faces I kind of recognize. And they all just kind of wave at me without saying anything before heading into the party, making me feel kind of foolish.

But somehow it feels like it's my job to welcome everyone, so I stay until the last guest has arrived and the last limo has pulled away. By then, it's well after dark, and I can hear the party going full-bore from where I stand out front. There's music and laughter and the buzz of excited conversation.

And so I enter my own house to join my own party.

I start saying hello to my many guests as I move through the crush of people, and, at first, whoever I talk to responds politely, with a quick nod or a wink or that thing guys do with their eyebrows and a little jerk of their heads.

But as I get further into the mansion, something changes, and people stop noticing me. I say hello, and it's like they don't even hear me, even though we're standing right next to each other. It's not that I'm invisible or anything like that. I can reach out and touch people, and when I do, they acknowledge my presence. But then they just go back to whatever conversation or activity they were previously engaged in.

And suddenly I'm too self-conscious to assert myself. It's like I'm afraid to interrupt my guests, even though it's my party.

And so I find myself outside the mansion, wandering the grounds like before, only this time every garden is packed with partiers and I just weave my way through them like a ghost.

The only people who speak to me are the staff -- waiters who say, "Sir?" and offer me a glass of champagne or an hors d'oeuvre, or a security guard who nods at me and asks, "Sir, is everything alright?"

I just wave them all off and keep wandering.

I pass through a gate into the large garden that is farthest from my mansion. It's a big meadow, bigger than a football field, and the near end has a bandstand where a swing orchestra is playing in front a crowd of dancing, swaying couples.

Right next to the bandstand, on another raised platform, is a giant, round banquet table where my entire family is sitting -- my parents, my wife, all of my siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles.

I make my way onto this platform, and I realize that they're all engaged in the same conversation, with everyone telling some family story that everyone knows so that each person contributes a sentence or two. And I feel like I should know this story, with the way everyone is laughing and nodding and participating.

But I don't, because I can't understand a word anyone is saying. It's not that they're speaking in a foreign language; it's more like the music is so loud that I can't really follow what's being said, even though everyone else can. They're even laughing at punchlines in unison as the narration moves from person to person.

And, of course, no one even acknowledges me when I come up. They're too engaged in getting their story told.

This is when I notice, at the far end of the meadow, a helipad, complete with a helicopter on it.

So I hop off the platform, make my way through the throngs of dancing couples, and head over to the gleaming helicopter that I know must surely be mine.

As I step onto the helipad, one of the black-suited security guards nods at me and opens the side-door of the helicopter. As I crawl in and take a seat, the pilot powers up the machine. The side-door gets closed and latched, and as I look out the window at the lights and movements of my housewarming party, the helicopter begins to lift off the ground.

Straight up we go, and I look down at my lit-up estate as we rise. I can see all of it -- the sprawling mansion, the terraced grounds, the frenetic crowd of partygoers -- getting smaller and smaller beneath me as the helicopter gains altitude.

"Where to, sir?" the helmeted pilot asks.

I turn away from the window.

"Take me out over the ocean," I tell him. "I think I'd like to be alone for a while."

(Comments & interpretations welcome.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

From Grouchy John's Coffee Shop - The Caramel Mocha Frappe

Almost everyone loves chocolate, and almost everyone loves caramel. But when you put them together?

There are very few people who can resist this powerfully decadent combo of flavors.

Super-sweet and super-cold, this is the perfect way to beat the heat this summer!

Come get one. They're always available at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop. (And the trailer, too.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

New Art at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop - Peace Too! by Tommy Vinci

Local artist Tommy Vinci has hung another piece in Grouchy John's Coffee Shop!

It's entitled "Peace Too!" and features the same whimsical energy & bright colors that characterize all of Tommy's work.

This 11" by 14" work isn't a print; it's ink-and-paint on canvas, a unique original.

Come on down, get some caffeinated happiness, and check out "Peace Too!" as well as other work by Tommy Vinci, including his popular minis for only $10. Tommy makes frequent visits to our shop, so, who knows, you might even get to meet the artist himself!

See you soon!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"How Are You Doing?"

You ever look at someone and just know that they're going through something awful? You don't know what it is, but, whatever it is, it's killing them. You can just tell.

Since you don't really know them, all you can do is say, with all sincerity, "How are you doing?" -- which sounds so inadequate since it's what we all say to each other every day without really meaning it.

But you say it. You say, "How are you doing?" And this other person puts on a brave face and says, "I'm okay. How are you?" But you can tell they're just being polite. They're dying inside.

"I'm good, thanks," is what you say next, even though what you should be saying is, "Hey, you seem troubled, friend. Is there anything I can do?" But that would be sheer madness, because of the risks involved (being misunderstood or taken advantage of or laughed at or whatever).

But what if you made a real connection instead? What if, instead of just being polite, you reached out and thereby saved someone from what was killing them? Just by asking, "How are you doing?" and meaning it and then listening to them tell you what they're going through?

Almost none of us does this. But we should, don't you think?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Re-reading Savages by Don Winslow

So, I re-read Don Winslow's novel, Savages, today.

Yeah, that's how long it took. I started this morning at about 5. It's now 3pm and I'm done. Plus, I took a lot of breaks. That's how quick Savages goes down.

I did this because I'd heard about Oliver Stone's adaptation coming out soon, and I wanted to revisit this wicked little piece of entertainment.

As I've mentioned, Savages moves fast. Constructed of about 290 little cut-scenes that, as often as not, sort of meld into one another, the book reads like a ready-made screenplay. No wonder Stone was all over it.

Savages tells the story of a threesome who live a kind of idyllic SoCal lifestyle until their particular business (growing & distributing a kind of super-marijuana) garners the unwanted & predatory attentions of a Mexican cartel.

Things spiral pretty quickly out of control, sparking (of course) a big showdown.

It's all pretty standard crime-thriller stuff, but Winslow carries it off with a certain panache. He's an efficient storyteller, and even his most precious stylistic excesses come off as harmless. The narrative has a relentless, gas-pedal-to-the-floor pacing that's really fun.

While I recommend Winslow's book, I can't wait to see Oliver Stone's adaptation of it. Even when Stone makes a bad movie, it's still interesting, and Savages provides substantive grist for the mill of Stone's imagination.

NOW SERVING at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop: Milk Cookies from Tuff Cookie Bakeshop

These shapely cookies come to us from Tuff Cookie Bakeshop, and they're both delicious & cute.

Get them while you can!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Bit Of Wisdom From Fiction

Available from Amazon
From one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors:

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you're anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you're with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception. And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another's interior workings and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It's getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That's how we know we're alive: we're wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that -- well, lucky you.

- from American Pastoral, by Philip Roth.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Occupies My Thoughts Today

This is the tidbit that has occupied my thoughts today:

Art, though, is mortal. It breaks, burns, decays; it's thrown out in the trash, blown up in wars, and buried never to be found again. Ancient Greek literature contains mention of thousands of sculptures and paintings, yet none of the paintings survive, and only twenty-four sculptures from a seven-hundred-year period are clearly attributed to individual sculptors. When the Moghuls invaded Persia during the thirteenth century, the first six centuries of Islamic painting disappeared. More than 90 percent of medieval manuscripts have been lost. Even such a popular and recent genre as eighteenth-century Dutch painting had suffered a loss in excess of 90 percent by the end of that one-hundred-year period. Art can outlast humans and is sometimes the only evidence left of entire civilizations, but it is hardly immortal.

What lasts is the desire itself to leave some trace of ourselves indelibly in the world, and we keep looking for new ways to fulfill it.

- from In The Desert Of Desire: Las Vegas and the Culture of Spectacle, by William L. Fox.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

New at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop: Behold Darth Puffy!

Despite his soft, huggable appearance, the force is strong with this one...

Anyone who has spent any time with GJ himself knows of his affinity with the Dark Lord of the Sith, so anything Darth is always welcome around here, even when it's cute and small and bound to bring a smile to a small child's face.

And special thanks to Melissa for this 3-month anniversary gift to Grouchy John's Coffee Shop!

Friday, June 1, 2012

MORE NEW ITEMS: Alien Cookies at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

Aliens have invaded the pastry case at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop!

Made by Tuff Cookie Bakeshop, these sugar cookies are both cute & delicious and provide some sweet accompaniment to your caffeinated happiness.

Help defend the planet! Get these cookies before they take over the world!

New Items: Bacon Buns and PB & J Brioche at Grouchy John's Coffee

The Bacon Bun from Bread & Butter Bakery

The PB&J Brioche from Bread & Butter Bakery
We're always trying new things at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop, and Bread & Butter Bakery has been kind enough to give us these new items for our pastry case.

The Bacon Bun is big, tasty & decadent, mixing the sweetness of a sticky bun with the hearty goodness of BACON!

And the PB & J Brioche is a delicate construction of peanut butter-infused bread filled with fresh strawberry jam.

Both of these items pair beautifully with a hot coffee or latte, and are a great way to start your day.

By the way, supplies are limited, so get here fast!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Gotta Run!

Yep, that's me...

After reading Christopher McDougall's Born To Run (which I reviewed here), and Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I have been harboring a hankering to run more regularly.

Now, I'm finally getting around to making it a regular part of my weekly routine, with a couple of personal twists.

First, I run in flat-soled Converse All-Stars, not the heavily-padded, shock-absorbing running shoes that most people wear. Second, I run at a quite leisurely pace, often slowing to a brisk walk as I get tired, focusing more on the amount of time I spend running rather than on distance or speed.

This way of running is inspired both by Born to Run and by the recognition that I'm at an age where the stress of training can lead to lasting damage to my body. After all, the only real race I'm in is with myself, right? I'm doing all this to both feel better and enjoy myself, and I want to minimize the risk of injury.

This Discovery Channel segment provides some compelling evidence for why I'm running the way I'm running:

So, what do you think? Am I on to something, or is this just a wild goose chase?

In the meantime, I'll just keep doing what I'm doing until I know better.

Today's Eye-Opener: KD Donuts at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

In these health-conscious, anti-sugary times, I know it's gauche to advocate decadent treats, but sometimes you just need a donut.

And these donuts, from KD Donuts & Kolaches, are amazing, particularly those dark, luscious blueberry cake donuts on the right. Rich with flavor, with a moist, succulent texture, these blueberry cake donuts even outshine the maple glazed donuts that are always a crowd favorite. And what better way to accompany a cup of coffee?

These donuts are available daily at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop, but supplies are limited. Come early for the best selection!

Stay caffeinated, friends.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Today's Eye-Opener: a Double-Shot of Espresso from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

Using the Redwall espresso blend from Colorado River Coffee Roasters, we did a 40-second pull for an ounce-and-a-half of liquid extracted from 21 grams of ground beans.

It got my heart started. I might make it through the day!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

While Supplies Last: the El Jefe Burrito by TastyBunz at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

We just received a batch of El Jefe burritos from TastyBunz!

A giant food missile filled with chorizo, cheese, bacon, onion, potato, and spicy ranch sauce, this thing is hearty, delicious, and in limited supply.

Get it while you can at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop!

Today's Eye-Opener: A Mug of El Salvadoran from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

Sometimes, especially on a cool, blustery morning in the Las Vegas valley, it's best to go with the basics.

So, instead of a latte or a cappuccino, I poured myself a mug of freshly-brewed El Salvadoran El Toreador coffee.

Imported & roasted by Colorado River Coffee Roasters, this coffee is medium-bodied, with a bright flavor that needs no sweetener or cream.

We have a limited supply of this coffee at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop after having carried it since we opened. Once we're out, we'll be switching to other American coffees like Brazilian or Guatamalan.

In the meantime, come enjoy a cup of El Salvadoran with me this morning. You won't regret it!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Today's Refreshment: The Colada Smoothie from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

Featuring coconut syrup and pineapple chunks blended with a colada base, this smoothie is one shot of rum away from the perfect boat drink.

It's hot outside, and you need some cold, sweet refreshment.

Come get this.

Available now from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop.

The Game Shelf at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

At Grouchy John's Coffee Shop, we encourage you to make yourself comfortable and enjoy your time with us.

To this end, we provide a wide selection of games for you to play as you sip (or guzzle) your caffeinated happiness.

Popular selections include Scrabble & Scattergories, although we've hosted some cutthroat bouts of Monopoly and Chess. One epic game of Trivial Pursuit last an entire afternoon and ended only because we had to close for the night!

So come on down, get a drink, and, in the immortal words of WOPR, "Shall we play a game?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

OFF-MENU GOODNESS: The Vincent Vega from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

Behold (though it's hard because of the crappy camera on my Iphone) the newest off-menu goodness available at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop: the Vincent Vega!

Suggested by a customer of our trailer and then blatantly stolen from the Mission Coffee Cup in La Jolla, this beverage (whose relationship to John Travolta's character in Pulp Fiction is obliquely thematic at best) has a unique flavor profile that frankly isn't for everyone.

We begin with a cup full of ice, add shots of vanilla syrup and half-and-half, and then pour in a shot of espresso. A can of Coca-Cola is opened and gently decanted into this conglomeration, and we must take care not to allow the volatile meeting of soda & espresso to erupt into a foam-over. Instead, by controlling the rate of introduction of the cola, we create a nice layer of root-beer-float-like foam atop the drink, roughly the consistency of sea-foam.

Once the cup is full, a single stir of the beverage allows the constituent fluids to mix so that each sip (either by straw or not) embodies the essential paradox at the heart of the Vincent Vega: that the espresso & the cola never fully integrate. Instead, on the tongue, the dark heaviness of the espresso sits alongside syrupy sweetness of the cola, creating an at-first bewildering sensation that soon coalesces into a taste that is not altogether unpleasant.

It's not for everyone, and we won't always have it available, so get it while you can to find out if you're someone who wants it.


Monday, May 21, 2012

The Humble Beginnings of Grouchy John's Coffee

That's right: this is how it all started, with a table under a canopy by the side of the road at First Friday in downtown Las Vegas.

We didn't even have a name!

Notice the hand-painted sign and the tiny espresso machine. All we offered were cups of coffee and lattes. No smoothies or frappes. Also, our flavor selection was rather limited. And check out the Mr. Coffee coffeemaker!

We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way already.

Today's Eye-Opener: nonfat Iced Mocha with foam from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

This drink was suggested by Graham, who swears by it.

Smooth, sweet & cool, with a nice layer of foam that adds a pleasing texture to every sip, this is a civilized -- but not too decadent -- way to start the week.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

NEW ART: "Wanted" by Tommy Vinci on display at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

This painting, entitled "Wanted," is by local artist Tommy Vinci, and it replaces a painting he just sold right off the walls of Grouchy John's Coffee Shop.

See, even with art, you can GO LOCAL!

Look What Kyle Made for Grouchy John's Coffee Shop!

Kyle & Ilene are so cool. We just aren't worthy of their esteem & generosity, though we're very grateful for the gift! Expect to see it hanging prominently in Grouchy John's Coffee Shop. There's nothing sweeter than when people return the love...

Drinks of the Day: Mocha & Caramel Frappes from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

What better way to refresh yourself on a hot day than with a drink that combines coldness, sweetness, and caffeine?

And at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop, our 2 most popular frappes are the Mocha & the Caramel, each of which packs enough flavor to stop an elephant.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Coolness of the Day: Almond Cookie Iced Tea from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

On a hot day, nothing picks you up like a cold drink.

And the drink above, in the frosted cup, is an Almond Cookie iced tea, which owes its remarkable color to the inclusion of beetroot in the tea blend (which we get from Joy's Teaspoon). Other ingredients include pieces of almond & apple, as well as cinnamon.

It's cool, naturally-sweet, and decaffeinated, and it's just one of the teas we offer -- iced or hot -- at Grouchy John's Coffee Shop.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Today's Eye-Opener: The Mint Mocha Frappe from Grouchy John's Coffee Shop

On days like today, when it's going to hit triple-digits in the Las Vegas valley, you'll want something cold, sweet & caffeinated to keep your spirits up and your temperature down.

This mint mocha frappe is just the thing!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

This Story Totally Happened

Last night, during our regular crimefighting spree across the western U.S., I watched my man Ray (AKA "The Ubiquity") save the world from not one, but TWO alien invasions (although the second one doesn't really count since it was just a virus-infected meteor that he sprayed with Lysol). He also stopped a suicide bomber from blowing up the Staples Center by talking him into unstrapping the bomb and joining the Salvation Army. Then he single-handedly broke up a turf battle in Arizona between heavily-armed rival motorcycle gangs with the Mentos-in-Diet-Coke trick and a few classic stand-up jokes. The only real fight he got into was with an overweight security guard, who, after stumbling upon us performing an ancient incantation in order to pacify the spirits who were haunting a no-kill animal shelter in Utah, tried to detain The Ubiquity for trespassing. You just haven't lived until you've seen Ray shake off a Taser burst to deliver a flying sternum kick to a rent-a-cop who won't listen to reason! Though the rent-a-cop wouldn't go down easy (by dint of his sheer girth), Ray eventually dropped him with a 3-Stooges dope-slap and a Vulcan nerve-pinch.

We finished the night off with breakfast burritos at this all-night taco place over on Charleston, after which The Ubiquity dropped me off at my coffee-shop and zoomed off in his cold-fusion-powered jet-dirigible to his regular life in Oregon.

And who am I?

I am Ray's proud, steadfast sidekick: The Insomniac!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Snapshot of the Day: "Tiki" by Tommy Vinci

Tommy Vinci has hung another masterpiece in Grouchy John's Coffee Shop! Come check it out, as well as all the other art we have for sale!

And, remember, for both your caffeine & aesthetic needs, GO LOCAL!