Roots — "Inspiration!"

by Stephen Elliott

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My can of Roots Inspiration! arrives from Tokyo on the 20th of April at a time when I'm touring Florida with former Secretary of State Katherine Harris. I took pictures of her flirting with a twenty-year-old student from the school newspaper. We spoke about tax relief, fear, and the election of 2000 which she delivered to George W. Bush like a dead baby pig with an apple in its mouth. "I sleep so well at night," she said to me sitting across a small table in a rented mobile home barreling into Gainesville.

It's Sunday when I open the can. I had it sent to McSweeney's. I can't let anybody know where I actually live. It came in a box filled with strange presents like the Nippon Working Glove which can be used to:

*Dig the soil
*Plant flowers
*Grab the heart of chicks on the street!

The gloves are black with fancy white lettering. But that's not really the point. The blue bodysuit isn't the point. Kuhaku & Other Accounts From Japan, published by Chin Music Press, isn't the point.1 But all of these things came in the box with the can of coffee. Also a card bound in wire set in a bow which I cut violently with a butter knife while Eli Horowitz hides beneath his desk screaming. There's a vinyl EP from a band called Loverboy. A plastic kit featuring the anatomy of a butterfly. Actually, there are so many things in the box. The box is bottomless, like a dollar store located in a nuclear bunker six miles underground.

The point is to write a review of this can of coffee: Roots Inspiration! I pour it over ice in my roommate's cup. The cup is sticky. The coffee tastes fine, cold, milky and sweet, exactly the opposite of how I usually take my coffee, hot and black. Or how my friend Peter Alton takes his coffee, by force. Halfway through the can I'm trying to think of something original to say. Is this really a product I want to recommend to people? Then I start to feel funny, twitchy.2 I hear helicopters, see clouds shuffling past the windows. The end of the sun, like a car chase sliding to a halt in front of a police barricade late at night. Like a child, limp from abuse and years behind bars, struggling for freedom in the light between blows from the policeman's baton.

Wait, no, none of that. Still, the helicopters, always the helicopters. And the headaches. And it's not even three o'clock. What have I been doing all these years? Why is my writing desk so close to the windows? I consider rearranging my room, or walking to the park. There's a music festival there today. I heard bongos earlier, walking my package home. There were giant crowds, all of those people. Probably protesting something. My head feels so tight sometimes. If I could only pull at my skin near the top of my jawline, loosen things up a bit.

Where I live there's always a car alarm, always something to steal. Always a house-for-sale sign in the meridian with a red arrow pointed straight down the block. It's hard not to take it personal. If the alarm would stop I could review this can of coffee. But it doesn't. It gets louder, quicker. More motorcycles, the constant buzz of the rotor blades. And then silence. The cup is empty. Three pieces of ice colored a light tan. What was in that stuff?


I realize I need to stop. But I don't stop. Why did they only send me one can? What kind of cruel joke has been played here? I throw it in the bin with the rest of the recycling. Except it's not even a bin, it's just a cardboard box. I remember there was a wheatgrass stand across from my apartment, and then a housing project. The projects are being rebuilt but the wheatgrass stand is gone forever.

I let the tears come. I'm never more than a moment away from a deep sadness. When I was twenty-one a manager of the club I danced at asked if I would be interested in doing a bisexual porn movie. He kept a picture of me in the top of his desk. I've had so many opportunities, left so many threads undone, started down so many unfinished paths. I brew a cup of my own coffee, pour half a cup of boiling water into a one quart french press, watch the condensation run down the sides. I try to weigh my hand on the postal scale on top of my Bose alarm clock.

It's almost twenty minutes now since I opened that can of Roots Inspiration!. Now it lays next to a postcard someone sent me. The postcard was from a man who thought I might like a book of poetry he had written and he would be happy to send it to me if I would only send him a check for six dollars. There's so many people like that in this world. Hard working, churchgoers, rapists, pedophiles. They read books by James Dobson and send me postcards and then wait at home for me to respond while they smear butter along the walls of their den and surf the internet while the kids are at school. Like everyone else they're just trying to connect. But some of us are meant to be lonely. Some of us wouldn't know how to make it any other way.

I stopped asking Why me? years ago. When I'm in a shoe store I never allow a salesman to measure my foot. I know my shoe size, I know what waits for me at the end of the road. I know that the years are like windows, shut tight and locked to keep out the cold. It's so long out there; long and endless, dreamy, colorful, surreal.

Here's my review of Roots Inspiration!. It's not coffee, not in the real sense, and it poses more questions than it answers. Like, is the high is worth the low? If you could see clearly for a moment, all the knowledge in the world, if you could name the sky, would you? Is there anything sadder and more remote than realizing your full potential? And if you were to be perfect for just a while only to return to your former self, would it be worth it? Would you even take the first step?

1. Or maybe Kuhaku is exactly the point. Maybe it's the only point. But who would be so sly?
2. I've always twitched.

Stephen Elliott is the author of the novels Jones Inn, A Life Without Consequences, What It Means To Love You and Happy Baby. He is also the author of Looking Forward To It: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The American Political Process and the editor of the Politically Inspired anthologies, of which there are currently two. He fights for the forces of good through LitPAC.

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