'Fellow citizens: I have been
solicited by many friends to become a candidate for the Legislature. My
politics are short and sweet like the old woman's dance. I am in favor of the
national bank; I am in favor of the internal improvement system and a high protective
tariff. These are my sentiments and political principles. If elected I shall be
thankful; if not it will all be just the same.'
From “The Human Condition: A
User’s Manual,” by Arnold Kunst
Imagine this: there’s a
banquet to start soon in, say, Buckingham Palace. In attendance are the most
powerful leaders of the world, all standing around drinking cocktails in a
large reception area just outside the banquet room. Then someone who’s never
been elected dog catcher commands everyone’s attention. They all, like sheep,
quiet down and he tells them to come in because they’re ready to start.
Why are they like sheep?
Because at that moment this guy’s the only person in that whole group who’s
moving with a sense of purpose.
Maybe you and I - who have
not been elected dog catcher either - should move with a similar sense of
After relieving General George McClellan of command of the Army of the Potomac Lincoln was asked what he would reply to McClellan's earlier advice on how to carry on the affairs of the nation. And Lincoln answered: 'nothing - but it makes me think of the man whose horse kicked up and stuck his foot through the stirrup. The man said to the horse, 'if you're going to get on I'm going to get off.''’
From “The Human Condition: A User’s Manual,” by Arnold Kunst
One day Joe, my teacher supervisor where I worked in a
California state prison and one of my all-time greatest heroes, told me about
the fun he had on a road trip from Santa Barbara to San Diego a few years ago.
He was doing what he called manditory research for the Department of
Corrections, and was thinking at the outset, “this is going to be B-O-R-I-NG! –
freeways and plastic and smog stretching as far as the eye could see.” [If you
don’t believe me, think of the following square-circle type contradiction: the
sparkling architectural innovations awaiting discovery in a state prison
But Joe was going to see to it that this trip wasn’t going
to be boring for him! He said that when he got to Malibu he decided break his
trip and treat himself to a mocha. But he didn’t want to go to Starbucks – they
were ok, he said, but every Starbucks mocha was The Same – from New York to
Nirobi. They produced, he said, a kind of multinational corporate liquid
No, he wanted to try out a mocha from some offbeat place. So
after passing on a few places he eventually found a hanging-gardens-of-Babylon
coffee shop in Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, overlooking the Pacific,
and when he placed his order - “small extra hot no-whip 2% mocha” - the girl
asked him for his name in the usual way, but when he gave it to her she didn’t
write it down on the side of a paper cup the way other coffee shops did - even
Starbucks. No, she typed his name into the cash register!
Now, that sort of thing is fairly commonplace today, but it
was the first time he had ever seen it. Before he knew it, Joe said the
excitement of doing this grass roots scientific survey was really kicking in.
Before he know it he was looking for what he called the totality of the
coffee-shop experience, with the quality of the mocha the single most
important, but certainly not the only, consideration! Once he got his mocha he
picked up what he called an orphaned newspaper and headed toward a chair on the
small patio just beyond the completely exposed west wall of the place.
And just outside was a burgeoning sunset to die for over a
beach straight out of heaven. He pretended to read the paper and dawdled over
his drink while he watched a volleyball game out there.
It was beautiful scene: the sea breeze, the seagulls, the
distant sound of a soft Pacific surf, the subtle taste of salt on his lips, the
distinctive tang of the expresso/chocolate combination. For Joe time stood
still. Despite the caffeine jezz-up, he felt surprisingly relaxed, refreshed
when he got back on the road. Other than the fact that the mocha itself was
relatively tepid [so much for “extra hot!”] what he summarized as The Malibu
Mocha Experience would be tough to top.
The next day after Joe finished his bit of business in San
Diego, he headed out toward the zoo where he found another, different,
hanging-gardens-of-Babylon coffee shop. Before he placed his order Joe made
mention of his own bit of research; after all it had become a big deal for him!
“Can you guys top the Malibu mocha experience?” he asked.The place was kind of quiet at the time and
all three of the barristas heard what Joe said and, maybe because they were
bored themselves, were paying rapt attention.
Needless to say, they looked eager! “I’ll give you my final
verdict at the end, ok?” Joe said to them.True, the order didn’t get typed into
the cash register; instead, the guy actually wrote it out low-tech on a paper
cup, then handed it to the gal who actually made it. “Points lost here?”
thought Joe, then wisely decided, “the jury’s still out.” While he waited the
girl asked, “Did you say you wanted that with low fat milk or regular?”
“Regular’s fine,” Joe said, “just hold the cream. We’re talking heart-jolting
caffeine here, right? We don’t want to OD on the health thing.”
When the mocha arrived it was just right – neither
tongue-burning nor tepid, just the right caffeine kick, just the right
chocolate tang. As he went to sit down with another orphaned newspaper he
noticed a surfer dude with a pony-tail walk in. The guy had just stepped out of
a 10-year-old Mercedes and ordered a double caramel latte. Then he found a
table and chair where he plugged in his lap-top. Joe thought he looked a little
seedy - “a faded hippie,” Joe called him – too much sun, too little security,
too much weed, too little sleep.
The more Joe surreptitiously watched this guy the more he
seemed like one of the original Beach Boys – a somewhat flabby bronzed
California Adonis straight out of the 60’s. Once he started pecking away at
that laptop, he immediately seemed to lose all sense of time and space.
In Joe’s [feverish?] imagination the guy, on his last
emotional legs, was finishing up The Great American Screenplay. His imagination
drifted illogically to that actor in The Wrestler – down to his last reserves,
barely able to scrape together the bus fare to get to lunch with his good
friend Sean Penn.
After awhile the surfer dude left, and then so did Joe. But
first he gave his final verdict to three coffee drink-producing grunts who hung
on Joe’s every word.
The outside view in Malibu, he said, was more interesting
than the inside view in San Diego [the barristas looked like someone just
killed their cat]; the surfer dude partially balanced out the view thing; but
the deciding factor was the mocha itself: the Malibu mocha wasn’t as dead-on as
the San Diego mocha [the three lit up like Christmas trees]. So Joe left them a
$5 tip. Those three workers were elated – not so much by the $5 tip but by the
excitement that seemed to follow this distinctive customer.
What became clear to those barristas had long since been
clear to me: when Joe was involved, everybody won, and nobody won more than Joe
who turned a boring, concrete-laden road trip into the ultimate, timeless Pooh