Containing reflections on the indispensable institution of the coffee break and a certain amount of confusion.






Diana was humming beneath her breath as she measured out the coffee. She was in a good mood again. She had already found a guitar player for her all-female band, and a couple of bass players had contacted her. A drummer would be a problem, though. Only the most daring of unconventional females took to the sticks: drums were still a pretty gender-specific instrument.

Either the tune or the aroma attracted company. Soon Marty was standing on the other side of the less than official looking counter which served the purpose of separating public and staff. The coffee machine was on the public side--the chairs there were more comfortable. "Sounds nice," Marty said, leaning his elbows on the counter and peering over at her. "What is it?"

"I wrote it. As you must have known or you wouldn't have said that," Diana replied with a grin.

"I never say anything I don't mean," Marty stated categorically in his low voice. If he had looked different, it might have been possible to refer to it a bedroom voice, but his vague resemblance to Groucho Marx did in any sexy effect it might have had. And then there was his giggle.

"Never say never," Diana said.

"Unless it's true."

"We all say things we don't mean now and then."

"Not me," Marty insisted, shaking his head of curls at her. "What's the name of the song?"

"The Web. I got the idea from that poem of Mercy's."

Marty came around the counter and went over to the shelves to get out cups and cream and sugar as the sputtering of the coffee machine ended. "Wasn't that poem rather depressing?" he asked, one bushy eyebrow raised.

"Now what's that supposed to mean?" Diana said, laughing and giving an exaggerated toss of her head.

"Well, for some reason it surprises me," Marty said, watching Diana curiously behind his round glasses. "It doesn't seem like your subject matter."

"What kind of songs did you think I would write?" Diana asked. Despite the laugh always lurking there, Marty's eyes seemed to see right through her. Diana wasn't sure she liked that.

"I don't know. Critical, political, funny," Marty replied, head cocked slightly to one side. They took their mugs and sat down in the comfortable chairs.

"Nobody seems to think I'm capable of feeling," Diana complained. "If that shouldn't make me stop and think?"

"You certainly don't impress people as the sensitive type."

"Maybe not sensitive, exactly, but just because I'm such a klutz, that doesn't mean I don't have my emotional injuries like everyone else." Diana took a sip of coffee. "Hey, we all have some kind of romantic tragedy in our lives, don't we?"

"I don't know if tragedy is quite the word for it," Marty said sardonically and giggled briefly--or rather, chuckled, since men don't giggle.

"More like 'dirty mess', right?"

"That describes it a little better. So you have one too?" Marty asked.

"Oh yeah. I was living with this guy for ages, and then I went and fell in love with another guy, and it was all secret and dishonest and, well, messy."

"What happened?"

"My lover felt guilty and I felt guilty and my boyfriend was broken-hearted and I finally left. We may be sexually liberated, but these things don't seem to have gotten much easier."

"And now there's AIDS," Marty added, "just in case we might be tempted to imagine that sex has become less complicated."

"To remind us that sex can be deadly," Diana agreed, putting her feet on the table and resting her coffee cup on her knee.

"Hey, we have to eat and drink off this table," Marty protested with humor and obvious lack of conviction.

"I only drink out of my cup," Diana said. "But what about you, Marty?"

"I drink out of my cup too."

Diana laughed louder than the joke deserved. "I meant your `dirty mess'."

"I experienced the triangle from a different angle."


"I was the broken-hearted one. Oh, hello Lyssa," he added to their boss, who had just made an appearance on the other side of the nominal counter. "We're squandering office time on a coffee break and exchanging notes on our experience of triangles. Have anything to add?"

"No comment," Lyssa replied. "No experience to draw on. I didn't know triangles were that common." She expended a fearful amount of concentration on getting herself a cup of coffee. To her surprise and consternation, it had given her a decided jolt when she saw Marty join Diana at the coffee machine. She had tried to distract herself with work, but the sound of voices and laughter on the other side of the counter had drawn her like the proverbial and overworked magnet. And the intimate conversation of love and triangles just made the situation worse. Her emotional state was less than stable at the moment anyway; she hadn't heard from Hannah in over a week. Either she wasn't answering her phone or she had fled town. Perhaps that was the reason for the storm brewing in her stomach.

"Isn't Roxana done yet?" Lyssa asked casually to get the conversation on to more harmless subjects.

"Not that I've noticed," Marty replied. Roxana was downstairs in the lobby of the building arranging a display of photographs and articles from the statue issue. Harry'd had his way: they had attempted a journalistic deconstruction of the euphoria surrounding Portlandia and had succeeded in outraging thousands. But the issue had sold out.

"We're not going to repeat that success soon," Diana said regretfully.

"When was the last time you sold out, Lyssa?" Marty asked.

"I never sell out," Lyssa replied with a decent attempt at humor, considering the churning in her stomach.

"Never say never," Diana said, and Marty laughed loudly. Barked might have been a better word for it.

"Is this an inside joke?" Lyssa asked, and took a sip of her coffee, her mood about as black as the muck in her cup. A child of the seventies, Diana made her coffee strong.

"You're getting repetitive," Marty admonished Diana.

"I just said the same thing to Marty five minutes ago," Diana explained to Lyssa, who was looking puzzled. "I really shouldn't drink that much of this stuff," she added, as she proceeded to do just that, pouring herself another cup. "Want any more, Marty?"

"Sure, since you need to drink less anyway." He extended his cup for Diana to divide the dregs between them. "As opposed to many Oregonians, I don't have a guilty conscience about how much coffee I drink. I'll keep it up until my doctor forbids it."

"I really should add herbal teas to the inventory," Lyssa said.

"It's just not the same, Lyssa," Marty insisted. "The blubbering of a coffee machine acts like the ringing of a bell, calling the congregation together."

"Any left for me?" Harry asked from the other side of the counter.

"See what I mean?" Marty said, punctuating his question with a charming wink in Lyssa's direction.

"Too late, Harry," Diana said and raised her coffee cup to him in a one-sided toast.

"No fair," Harry complained. "I was on the telephone."

"We can always make more," Lyssa said in her diplomatic way.

"Naw," Harry said. "I'm not a big coffee drinker. It just smelled good." Harry was more of a true Oregonian than Marty, despite his clean-cut good looks. He made up for those with his alternative apparel, including the mandatory Birkenstocks.

"Yes, a coffee machine is definitely a draw," Marty insisted.

"But just now, only the two of you were gathered around the coffee machine," Lyssa pointed out.

"True enough. But it was the coffee that drew us together," Marty said with melodramatic flair.

"I bet you say that to all the girls," Diana replied in the same tone.

"It's only habit," Lyssa insisted, sticking to the subject of coffee breaks. She couldn't stand to watch her colleagues flirting, however jokingly. "The whistle of a tea kettle could be just as effective, if not more so."

"Tea is a good idea," Harry contributed.

"I still refuse to give up my coffee," Marty said.

"No one's asking you to," Diana said.

"And I will defend the coffee break to the last."

"You don't have to."

Marty waved Diana's objections away. He needed some opponents, even if they were non-existent, in order to have the opportunity to philosophize. "After all, it's called `coffee break' and not `rose hip tea break.' The coffee machine is an irreplaceable instrument of social integration. The adhesive effect of coffee is imperative for a pleasant office atmosphere."

"The atmosphere is great, but the coffee is gone. I guess under those circumstances I'll get back to work," Harry said, and deserted them again.

"Well, I don't know about the adhesive effect," Diana said, getting up, "but it certainly does have a loosening effect on the bowels."

Marty chuckled as Diana headed for the bathroom. "There you have an example of the kind who will tell her whole life story when she gets the chance," he said, watching her go.

"Really?" Lyssa asked. She wondered what Diana had been telling him. "I hadn't noticed."

"Maybe you haven't spent enough coffee breaks with her," Marty said, eyebrows arching above his glasses.

"Maybe not."

"You're not making use of your journalistic training. All those years of interviewing people--don't you apply that to your personal life?"

"If you heard my daughter, you'd think that's all I ever do."

"How so?"

"She's of the opinion that I always interview her boyfriends," Lyssa said.

"Definitely not wise, Lyssa," Marty said, one corner of his mouth under the bushy mustache raised in a lopsided smile. Lyssa couldn't help herself--she thought he looked charming. She liked the way her name sounded when he said it in his rough voice. And she felt ridiculous. After the last couple of catastrophes, Lyssa had more or less written off romance, and for a long time she had been very happy with the situation as it was; she was an ideally independent woman. But now the conclusion was unavoidable--she was falling in love.

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