Saturday, March 3, 2007

Let's Do Coffee!

The other day I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while. He had moved away and now he was back—or so he told me. My suspicion lies in the following remark he made after I suggested that we try to get together: “Yeah, we should do coffee.” Now, in and of themselves, I’ve always found such expressions a bit strange, “let’s do coffee,” “let’s do lunch.” Of course I know what they mean; but whenever I hear them I always wander off on a mental tangent wondering how it is that they came to mean what they mean in the first place. Unfortunately, once in a while this is mistaken for hesitation and I’m afraid that here and there this might have cost me a friendship or two. But really, the question is just too tantalizing. How can one not pause to try to imagine what exactly it was that the very first coiners of the phrase were actually doing to their meals and beverages at the time of the idiom’s inception? For example, no one in America says “let’s do tea,” but if they did, I could at least have invented a fictional etymology originating in colonial New England, pictured the Boston Tea Party, put the question to rest and moved on once and for all.

The suspicion about whether or not the real reason I hadn’t seen my friend in so long was that he had moved away had come from my end, not his. So let me come back to “yeah, we should do coffee” in its more interpersonal implications. First, why coffee, not lunch, or, if I even dare be so presumptuous as to think it, dinner? Now, from a pragmatic standpoint it is true that people who are really interested in catching up and in lively conversation with their interlocutors should favor coffee over a meal. It sure is a lot easier to quickly swallow your sip and jump in with your witty repartee than it is to swallow that huge bite of steak you had just crammed into your mouth—especially since the bites tend to get bigger and bigger as you get more and more frustrated with the seemingly endless and progressively rigorous sawing away at the beast. (How easy it is to mistake gluttony for sloth!) As a rule, it is always of course at the moment when your oral cavity has been packed to maximum capacity that you are asked news of your Aunt Millie or your Cousin Fred. (Those two have always had a knack for annoying you even from 800 miles away. It almost forces you to admire them for it which just makes them all the more annoying.) At any rate, you are now forced into a bovine comedy where you put your hand in front of your mouth and try to joyously imitate “happy chewing,” head lilting side to side with a little shrug of the shoulders as you try to speed chew, only to gulp down an insufficiently masticated lump that you will no doubt feel lodged in your chest for the rest of the day or night as the case may be.

Pragmatism aside, everyone knows that an invitation for coffee indicates a lesser desire for social engagement than dinner, lunch, brunch or “lunar,” for those who, like me, sleep in until ludicrously late hours on the weekend. I’ve always been curious about my friend’s East Asian heritage but too politically correct to ask. Too bad his beverage of choice was caffeinated rather than alcoholic since loose lips drink such sips and I might have mustered up the courage to ask. I wanted to imagine that he was inviting me to participate in some exotic dance ritual or martial art that I had never before heard of: “Yeah! We should do ka fi! ” But allowing myself to indulge in such delusions is only tai chi-ting myself, setting myself up for an even greater fall; and I’ve learned the hard way that judon’t want to do this because in the end, you only wind up feeling all the more kung fulish.

1 comment:

Robert said...

You don't say if you will accept, or foil his attempt with "I only drink cups of tea". Come off the fenc ing and tell us if you drink a gin and tonic or a glass of gin and tonic?

Just to make a point, if it is only for a daytime cup of coffee he isn't worth it, Lunch is the minimum, a vegie one or a bun fight.