Boss — "Americano"

by Dan Chaon

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I am a little unnerved.

I didn’t understand what they meant by “a can of coffee” until the package arrived from David Cady at Chin Music Press, who I actually don’t know. I had imagined that it would be a canister containing coffee grounds for me to brew with my French press, rather than a can containing actual liquid, already-made coffee.

This is the kind of thing that gets my natural xenophobia and paranoia pumping. Growing up in Nebraska, we were afraid of foreign countries, and I still haven’t quite gotten over it. Not far from the rural house where I was raised was an MX missile silo, pointed, no doubt, at Russia or Cuba or some other peril. There was a constant, sub-audible hum of dread, and I guess it’s with me still.

The coffee, Suntory Boss Americano, is in a small can, approximately 6 ounces, similar to the individual cans of grapefruit juice that bartenders use. Also, the vegetable juice product known as V8 famously comes in a little can like this.

I check for an expiration date and on the bottom I find the numbers 070324, which I think might mean: 2007, March 24. Is this the way dates are written in Japan?

Yes, I’m stalling. I’m still uncomfortable about this product. Suspicious. Do people in Japan just drink it like this — lukewarm, straight from the can? That doesn’t sound very delicious to me.

Downstairs in the kitchen, I heat the coffee up in a sauce pan and it causes quite a stir amongst the members of my family.

“What is it?” says my younger son, with interest, as I open the can and pour it into the pan. The liquid has the color of a bar of Hershey’s milk chocolate. There must be some kind of dairy in it, it seems — it’s a little thicker than water. “Gross,” my younger son says, backing away.

“It smells like cigarette ashes,” my wife says, flaring her nose above the sauce pan. “Are you sure it’s safe to drink that?”

My older son, the sixteen-year-old, lifts his head from the computer in the breakfast nook, where he is IMing his girlfriend. “Dad’s probably going to be hallucinating all afternoon.”

“Who sent this to you, again?” my wife says, and I shrug uncertainly.

“Just some guy I met on the Internet,” I explain.

“Dad, don’t drink it,” says my younger son, who has always been the most soft-hearted. He looks back into the pan and the stuff is beginning to simmer around the edges.


“You must be out of your mind,” my wife says.

None of these comments are at all comforting. OK, it’s hot now, and I pour it into one of those Arsenic & Old Lace teacups that my mother-in-law left us.

I take a sip; I do not immediately collapse to the floor, clutching my throat, though I’m prepared to do so.

It’s got a chalky, heavy sweetness, not unlike a Yoo Hoo chocolate drink. There is a bitter aftertaste — Mexican cocoa? Sort of a mole poblano flavor, maybe? Whatever it is isn’t quite recognizable to me as “coffee,” let alone “Americano.”

I drink about half a cup before I need something to clear my palate. My tongue feels hairy. Thrushy. I know this is hypochondria, but I also feel kind of light headed. I imagine a scenario in which this David Cady and others — Stephen Elliott, certainly, perhaps Aimee Bender, too — have collaborated on a plot to kill me.

How about some Minute Maid Lemonade with a couple of ounces of vodka in it? That will help, I think.

Yes, the vodka makes me calmer, and I spend some time even feeling a little guilty about my provincialism. My distrustful nature. How will I ever be a good novelist if I don’t grow more international in my vision, if I don’t broaden my scope of understanding? What if I’m just a little, pointless man trapped in my tiny suburban Cleveland life?

“Are you still alive?” my wife says, appearing in the doorway of my study while I am still in mid-throe of shame. “Good God! What are you drinking now?”

“Vodka and Lemonade,” I tell her, and she considers this. Approves. After a moment, she gets herself a glass too.

“What Not to Wear is on,” she says, and we sit there for a time in the den watching television companionably. There is a kind of lumpy feeling beneath my ribcage, like a marble or something moving along the edge of my esophagus, but I am pretty sure this has absolutely nothing to do with Suntory Boss Americano.

Dan Chaon is the author of Fitting Ends, You Remind Me of Me and Among the Missing, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He is a professor at Oberlin College.

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