Royal Mills — “Cafe Coconut”

by David Rutledge

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There is a can of coffee, Coca-Cola red with letters in white: “Cafe Coconut.” There is a small apostrophe between the f and the e in “cafe” (for some reason), and no accent on the e. At the top of the can there are the islands of Hawaii, also in white, and a statement, “Made in Hawaii.”

Below the title there is a vague figure which, though vague, still compels the eyes, being placed in the center of the can, framed by the name above and the words “All Natural/Iced Coffee” below.

Looking closer at the hazy profile, it seems to be a deformed male, oddly misshapen. He appears to be surfing, although very awkwardly balanced, on a murky version of Hawaiian waters. A coffee to benefit deformed surfers? His cousin surfs, with one hand stretched out, just to his right.

What is the source of this deformity? Why is it being used to sell coffee? In addition to odd lumps here and there (tumors?) both of his arms extend from the same side of his body. Unilateral armament. How American.

This deformed surfer seems to be measuring something with his vague gray hands. A size, warning anyone who might look … of what? Look closer, learn this message. Ah! I see! He is saying that the can is only 11 ounces. Caveat emptor.

Having solved the riddle of the deformed surfer, I study the rest of this can – 170 calories, 1% of your vitamin A, and a note, “Please recycle if facilities exist in your area.” Another conundrum. What if facilities do not exist “in my area”? What if the facilities are on the other side of the city? What if one does not exactly know where the facilities are located? Perhaps this note should continue, “… if not, please toss the can to the side of the road.” Or, better yet, “Please recycle if facilities exist in your area, if not, please lobby your local government to establish a recycling program.” I prefer activist cans.

The ingredients: Water, Coffee, the usual. Spray Dried Coconut Powder. Then, “Sucrose Fatty Acid Esters.” I once had an aunt called Fatty Acid Ester. She was a large woman with an acidic temper. She sat watching T.V., sipping coffee and eating donuts most of the day. Pink crumbs accumulating in her hefty lap. Her favorite program was “Walker, Texas Ranger.” She would consume Walker, coffee and donuts with a guttural “mmmm” sound. As children, we did not go near her.

I am somewhat anxious about discovering how Aunt Ester tastes combined with spray dried coconut and coffee.


Finally, “Natural Ingredients.” What poor, non-specific writing. There are plenty of “natural” ingredients that I would not want in my coffee. The reader is encouraged to make his/her own list. Please take this task seriously.

Irony is a defense mechanism, a barrier between oneself and reality. I am referring not to irony in an artistic sense, but to the tongue-in-cheek irony that pervades our culture and lends itself to a great deal of cynicism. This should be resisted.

In the last presidential election, I was only able to vote for John Kerry ironically. Only with great irony was I able to state, “Mr. Kerry, I would like you to be President of the United States.” Many Americans glide through life with this kind of irony: with a knowing smirk towards those who take life seriously. I would much rather cast my vote for someone I actually respected, even if that person had no chance to win.

There are people who have sex ironically. This sense distances a person from the raw, blunt truth that is sex, even at its most subtle. This irony protects one from the truth, from real experience, from other people. It is a psychological defense disguised as wisdom.

Much writing of the present day U.S. is touched by this ironic distance from the subject matter. David Foster Wallace wears a suit of ironic armor, keeping his content from any real connection with himself. Mr. Eggers begins his “Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” with irony right in the title. When he is able to overcome that distance, this novel can be quite poignant. One can almost see him grappling with his material, fighting off his inclination for ironic distance.

I refuse to be ironic about this canned Hawaiian coffee.

The can is open, and the smell is clearly coffee.

Now for the taste.

It … is … wait, sip again … yes! It’s good! A bit too much milk for my taste, and the coconut is barely perceptible. Overall, though, the taste is pretty good.

As I write this sentence, however, I find that the coffee has a slightly metallic aftertaste. The more I sip, the more this aftertaste is apparent. It is becoming somewhat thick on my tongue. With each word of this review, the coffee becomes less palatable. It must be all those natural ingredients.

When I am done and have put this writing away, I will probably taste Aunt Ester.

David Rutledge is an English literature professor at the University of New Orleans. He spends his summers editing for Chin Music Press in Seattle. He was co-editor and contributor to Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? and one of the editors on the press' latest book, Last of the Red Hot Poppas.

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