Back in the day, I worked at a place called The Coffee Connection. CC was an institution in Harvard Square, a progenitor of fine blended coffees that was eventually swallowed up by Starbucks.
CC had great coffee and by great I mean actual Jamaican Blue Mountain at some $28.00 a pound. Also they carried Celebes, Moca Java and other terrific coffees from all over the world. Columbian, which most of us these days consider good, was cheap, along with French Roast, which was relegated to the touristy café au laits. It was a place of rather hip and somewhat jovial snobbery.
The place attracted an interesting mix of workers, as interesting as Harvard Square itself. It was managed by students, band members and various other young people. All were hangers on to a certain degree, people at the early stages of development who had yet to make the big choices in their lives as to what they were really going to do and how they would do it.
It was here that I began to see some interesting behaviors relating to mental health. Now, I’d seen interesting behaviors in college; I have an entire entry coming up about a man from Maine who wore wool suits because he felt mixed fabric was a sin, but here the stakes were starker. Here people were running their own lives without the fall back of parents (largely) or a university. Here decisions were potentially serious.
One day I met a friend of one of my fellow employees, a man of rather sparkling personality. My first reaction was “Wow! What a fascinating guy!” In him I saw a symbol if you will of all the fascinating people I was meeting: the political, the passionate, the funny and the wise. I was seeing, so I thought, all the possibilities adult life offered. What deep richness I was discovering!
Sometime later I saw that same gentleman late at night at CC engaged in a hyperbolic conversation. He then stormed out. I heard soon after that he was homeless and was “off his meds” He was in fact being treated for schizophrenia. I was dumbstruck. In an instant my understanding of the man and really where I was in the world did a 180. My concepts of fascinating richness were suddenly replaced by scattered fear and danger. The concept of fascinating personality suddenly began to veer into uncomfortable excess.
Which leads to my point: a lot of what we consider happiness has to do with the ability to express ourselves, and to be free. At that moment back then, I felt a cautionary slam at that notion. I felt one should be careful about how free one is with themselves and their choices, even their words.
Since that time I have come to see that an awareness of how “free” you are being or acting is something that can be thought of nearly moment by moment. It is something we are more careful with as we age.
I don’t know what happened to that gentleman at CC. I don’t know what happened to most of the people there. I haven’t sought them out generally because I still feel the unsettling randomness of the lesson I learned that night.
And I haven’t had any really good coffee in years.