Thursday, January 25, 2007

Episode 02: Thank God It's Friday

What has gone before: Andrew Weazle is the owner of a coffee shop on the University of Alberta campus. The shop is not doing well financially, and Andrew is on his way to deliver what he believes to be his final Friday night deposit. He meets a homeless man who offers to trade Andrew's deposit for some coffee beans, which he claims are magic...

It was nothing short of intoxicating; the exchange with the homeless man, then the ascent to his car, a spring in his step for a good deed done, a strike against the wrongs of a consumerist society gone mad, followed by the utter fury of the vainly repeated turns of the key in the ignition, the growl of the starter growing progressively quieter, blink of the battery light fading like Andrew’s enthusiasm.

He got out of the car and slammed the door, hard, flinching for a moment. He’d done that once when the window was half rolled down and the glass had literally exploded. The air was cold enough to crack the glass all on its own, he didn’t need to go giving it assistance.

He opened his coat and shivered as the cold fingers of winter clawed their way through the breach in his defenses. Quickly digging his cell phone and wallet out, he quickly closed his jacket, hugging himself while he retrieved the roadside assistance membership card from his wallet and dialed the number on rapidly benumbed fingers.

The number rang twice, and then an automated message system picked up with a click.

“Welcome to AMA Roadside Assistance,” said an automated female voice. “Due to severe weather…”

The response time was going to be up to two to three hours, and they were sorry for any inconvenience.
Andrew swore and grabbed his backpack from the car, locked it and headed back to the coffee shop, to wait out his time on hold in warmth. During his descent back down the parkade stairwell he noticed the absence of Lump the Homeless at the landing on the ground level.

I guess he's off to spend his newly acquired treasure.

He smiled with the amusement of knowing that in a few minutes he'd have a chance to grind up the ‘magic’ coffee beans and see what they tasted like. For some, drinking coffee that had been in the pocket of a man whose clothing smelled like raw sewage would be off-putting, but for Andrew, who had actually tried Kopi Luwak, a coffee made from beans which had actually passed through the digestive system of a catlike animal (and fondly referred to as "poop coffee" as a direct result), these were just another exotic bean.

Who knows? he mused, perhaps I'll stumble upon some new culinary adventure.

And what would you call this new elixir? his self asked him, its mental voice rife with sarcasm. Bum coffee? That would go great with the Kopi Luwak. Would you like your bum coffee with a shot of poop?

Andrew laughed out loud at the thought, and quickened his pace. The cold was brutal now, the wind piercing. He reached the shop and fumbled his keys into the lock with fingers so cold they seemed to be on someone else's hands. He stumbled into the entryway where delicious warmth greeted him and returned blood flow to his extremities...the recorded voice for roadside assistance was repeating its mantra for the third time now.
He pushed the "speaker" button and the cheery pre-recorded voice once again gave way to tinny strains of hold music which struggled out of the phone's micro-speaker. Andrew kicked off his boots to preserve the pristine condition of his earlier mop job and crossed to the counter where he deposited the phone.

Since he wasn’t going anywhere fast, he decided French Press would be the way to go in making his Bum Coffee. He started some water boiling, took out the beans and put them on the counter. Dark roast, near as he could tell. Andrew removed his coat and wool hat and hung them in the back room out of habit, then returned to the beans.

Dropping them into the grinder, he wondered, what happens when you grind magic coffee beans? He grinned. “My name’s not Jack and my mother has never owned a cow,” he said and turned switched the grinder on.

Many things did not happen; the grinder did not explode in blue, ethereal light; it did not grow arms and legs, don a top hat and engage in soft-shoe; it did not, like some cappuccino culture Transformer morph into a robot.

The one thing that did happen was that the ‘magic’ coffee beans became coffee grounds smelling suspiciously like a French roast, without a hint of raw sewage. The water boiled, the grounds were soaked, and a bloom spread through the water like dark spreading branches. A chopstick from Edo was employed to stir the slurry, and then Andrew waited patiently while the coffee steeped.

The ritual of preparing the coffee had quieted his nerves. He looked around the shop, drinking in the vision. The motley arrangement of chairs and love seats, the formica topped tables, the trendy art on the walls…the staircase leading to the small second level that was likely some sort of violation of building code. The coffee bar itself, with the espresso machine, the bottles of flavor syrup, the antique cash register which he said gave character but really meant more work when you did the books, the mishmash of second hand mugs that said this shop was not only trendy but socially conscious, and finally, the dead bonsai tree in the deepest corner of the room, underneath the second floor.

It had been a gift from his grandfather, who had died from cancer the year before. The old man had loved gardening, and while he was in the hospital, Andrew had bought him the bonsai tree to take care of. His grandfather had returned the gift to Andrew, but the green thumb was not hereditary and the tree had died within a month of his grandfather’s passing. He’d been unable to bring himself to throw it away. But like the tree, the shop was dying too.

And you gave away over two hundred bucks to a homeless guy, his inner voice replied. Brilliant.

Lara, the girl he’d just hired, had been wearing a shirt that had “The Rule of Three” written on it overtop of a pentagram. When Andrew had asked what the Rule of Three was, Lara had told him that it basically was the Wiccan equivalent of “you reap what you sow”, except that in Wicca, whatever good or bad you did came back to you multiplied by three.

Which means we’re going to get a return of six hundred bucks on this?

“I don’t think it works like that,” Andrew told his Inner Voice. On cartoons, your inner voice was either a devil or an angel, or both engaged in a sort of shoulder-oriented presidential debate, but Andrew was pretty sure his had lost his halo a while back.

Deciding to savor the moment of still being the owner of the coffee shop, he returned to his ministrations on the French Press. “Even Steven,” he said as he deliberately, depressed the plunger rod, the smell of the coffee wafting up. Maybe he had discovered a new culinary experience.

Into the mug, and mixed with a bit of cream and a good deal of sugar. He caught a lot of flack for that; real connoisseurs of coffee said it had to be black. He said he didn’t give a shit, he needed the sugar.

He stopped a moment before raising it to his lips. Maybe the magic wasn’t released upon grinding…maybe the magic happened when it went inside you.

A whole month too late for a Christmas special you loser, his inner voice told him. Drink the damn coffee already.

So Andrew did.

And many things did not happen. He did not explode, for which he was eternally grateful; he did not drop to the floor, mug shattering into a thousand pieces while he writhed in pain and slowly with many bone cracking and latex stretching special effects transformed into a werewolf; and he did not turn into a frog or a prince.

The one thing that did happen from Andrew’s perspective at least, was that the hold music coming from his phone was interrupted by a human voice. Andrew put down the coffee and picked up the phone.

“Andrew Weazle. Account number 0002999221. 221. TWO. TWO. ONE. My car is dead. Dead. I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I turn the key and it doesn’t do what normally happens when I turn the key. I just want you to tow it. Yes I’ll pay extra if they have to tow it farther than…yes. Yes. Four to five hours? What the hell am I supposed to do…yes. No. Sorry. Leave the keys in the car? But what if someone…right. No one can steal it because it’s dead. Very good. Thank you.” He clicked the cell phone shut.

I guess we’re done savoring this moment then, said his inner voice. You gonna drink the rest of that coffee before we embark on another epic Shackletoneque trek to the car park?

Andrew looked down at the cup of coffee. This was no fairy tale. He’d given the last money he was likely to earn from this shop to a vagrant who was likely off to some pub to drink it away, his car was in need of mechanical repair, and the building he was standing in would no longer be his when the weekend was over. He looked at his watch.


“Thank God it’s Friday,” he said ruefully, then upended the cup of coffee into the pot the bonsai tree stood in, and then went to the back room to grab his coat and hat.

As he grabbed the garments from their hook, many things happened.

A sound like ice cracking filled Andrew’s ears.

A smell like coffee and stepping off the airplane in Cancun filled his nostrils.

The ground beneath his feet vibrated.

And as he turned to look out into the shop to see what was happening, something struck him hard in the face and he crumpled to the ground, blackness overtaking him before he reached it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Episode 01: How it all started

When he considered it later, Andrew Weezle could never come up with a satisfactory reason for why he traded the night deposit for the magic beans.

It could have been that he hadn't completely lost his religion; it was why he'd spent the first two years at university in the department of religious studies. He'd grown up, as many Caucasian Canadians do, attending church. His earliest recollection of church was Lutheran, when his family had lived in a community small enough to only offer 3 options - the Catholics, Lutherans, or Mennonite. His father had joked and Andrew had never understood what he'd meant by saying that he was waiting for someone to be drowned or burnt at the stake the entire time they'd lived there. Andrew had entertained thoughts of joining the clergy when he was a teenager, mostly because of the youth leader who volunteered at the Baptist church they attended after they moved to the city. But he'd spent four months working at the church's summer camp one year and had been completely put off the idea by a zealous blonde haired Pentecostal Adonis who'd tried to perform an exorcism on Andrew one night when he was down with a fever. Besides, he asked too many questions, and churches generally weren't fond of their pastors having crises of faith from the pulpit.

It could have been that he was a hopeless romantic. Not in the Jack and Rose in Titanic sort of way, but rather in the idealistic, head in the clouds sort of way. Which was why he'd switched from religious studies to literary studies in his third year. Once he'd concluded that the Bible, the Koran and the Torah were just a bunch of stories, he figured he ought to at least study stories that he enjoyed. He took courses on fairy tales and folklore, Norse myths and Science fiction; he rather preferred writing papers on Harry Potter than wicca, and discussing the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe instead of arguing over which redemptive paradigm was theologically correct. While he no longer believed that God was hard at work making the world a better place, he liked the idea that a better world could exist, even if it was only in the imagination.

It could have been that he was bitter at the people who he paid rent to for the space his coffee shop occupied. It stood on the corner of a busy intersection between a fashionable chain restaurant and one of the campus' many photocopy shops. The question of why he bought the beans at all was inextricably linked to why he'd bought the shop in the first place. The events which lead to that decision could hardly be called a series, let alone a chain, unless by chain we were referring to a sloppy pile of rusty links beside a railway track. It had involved the death of his grandfather, his portion of the inheritance, and the question of whether he wanted to go back to school to get a Master's. The aforementioned romanticism which had seized him at the time had ignored the lizard hind brain's warnings that Andrew knew nothing about running a coffee shop, except for how to grind, brew and drink coffee. The year since the purchase had been made could have been graphed very easily using a felt marker with a lead weight tied to it. The university had dogged him about the rent, and this month Andrew knew he wouldn't have it at all. So rather than pay the university, who were going to evict him anyhow, he'd decided to give the night's meager deposit money to the homeless man who smelled of alcohol and offered Andrew the beans in exchange.

Or it could have been that his heart was two sizes too small. Literally. He'd been born with a small heart, which had plagued him with vascular difficulties, his whole life, but had thankfully left him positively disposed towards Christmas. He had an appointment to have it checked in the morning, which had him worried, since he'd been suffering from slight murmurs and palpitations.

A heart condition at 24, he pondered as he trudged across the snowy campus. The day had been a long one; the temperature had dropped beneath -30 degrees Celsius once you factored in the wind chill, which bit all the way through Andrew's heavy wool jacket. He couldn't wait to get back to his apartment and jump in the shower, get it so hot that it nearly burned and return feeling to his fingers and toes.

This is the sort of night people freeze to death if they don't have a place to go.

His car was parked on the third level of the parkade. Entering the concrete stairwell, he noticed a man-shaped lump sitting in the corner of the first level landing. The lump was huddled as closely as it could, obviously trying to fend off the terrible cold.

"Hey buddy, you still alive?" Andrew ventured, not knowing what else to say. He hoped it sounded friendly and not condescending. He wasn't sure what the proper protocols for verbally inquiring about one's life signs were.

Later, as with the beans, Andrew would wonder why he'd said anything at all. He'd walked by countless bums and transients; as a big city dweller, you just got used to them. They were like visual white noise - you knew they were there but generally did your best to ignore them. Before he'd lost his religion, Andrew had been much more philanthropic, but the lack of divine retribution tended to make being selfish a hell of a lot easier.

The lump unfolded itself, and a wizened gaze peered out at him from underneath a very battered wide brimmed brown leather hat that looked like it was trying hard to revert to the animal hide it had originated from. The eyes were a bright and lively blue. Even if the guy was dead, his eyes sure as hell weren't.

"Still among the living," the lump said, raising his head so as to get a better look at Andrew.

The two of them contemplated each other. What the lump saw was a rangy, blonde haired male in his mid-twenties with the drawn, haunted look late nights in multiple chat rooms, followed by Protestant guilt, and the realization that you still have a final essay due by noon--repeated over several years--will fashion upon the human face. What Andrew saw was his idea of what mall-Santas look like in the off season, minus the fake stomach.

"Well, uh...good then," Andrew said.

"Spare some change?" the lump asked.

"None on me," Andrew said, which was true. He hardly ever used cash, and as a result rarely had change. He shifted uneasily and the coins in the deposit bag made a cold, chilling clink.

The lump raised his eyebrows.

"That's not my change," Andrew laughed. "That's the deposit shop." Now he'd established two things; one, that he owned, not simply worked at, a coffee shop, which translated to everyone who did not own a coffee shop that you went home to roll around in money like Scrooge McDuck, which was the furthest thing from the truth unless you owned a Tim Horton's or a Starbuck's. Second, he'd revealed what was in the nondescript plastic pouch he had in his outside pocket. And while the salt and pepper beard on the lump meant venerability, it didn't necessarily mean vulnerability.

The lump heard the uneasiness in Andrew's voice. "Easy son," he said reassuringly. "I'm not going to take your money. But I would give you something in trade for it."

"It's really not that much," Andrew said. He'd run a profit of only a couple hundred that day.

"Well, what I have to trade you for it isn't all that much either," the lump said, getting to his feet, and digging in his pockets. "But I think I could make that money go a lot further than you could...and what I have to give you is of little use to me."

"Is that so?" Andrew said, wanting nothing more than to run up the two flights of stairs to his car. His Protestant guilt kept him rooted to the spot. One too many sermons about "the least of these" he wagered.

"Ah, there they are."

The lump produced a closed fist from one pocket.

Andrew leaned in, squinting in the light of a flickering fluorescent bulb.

The lump's fingers uncurled, revealing...a handful of coffee beans.

The conversation Andrew had with himself in the security of his mind in those few seconds before he handed the deposit over to the lump went something like this:

ANDREW: Coffee beans?

SELF: Damn, it's cold. I wonder if we'll hook up with anyone online tonight. God, you're pathetic.

ANDREW: Coffee beans?

SELF: Did you hire that new girl just because she's hot?

ANDREW: What the hell am I going to do with coffee beans?

SELF: I mean, she's not model material, but she's got everything where it counts.

ANDREW: I do own a coffee shop, but I order all my beans from a supplier.

SELF: When was the last time we had sex?

ANDREW: Even the shipping guy who drops off the boxes of beans doesn't have hands this dirty.

SELF: I'm hungry.

ANDREW: Not as hungry as this guy, quite likely.

SELF: True. Just give him the money and take the beans. Then we can go home and look at porn on the Internet.

ANDREW: He could use it more than we could.

SELF: It's really cold out here. Just give him the money already, would you?

ANDREW: There's enough money in this bag for him to get a place to crash for the night.

SELF: There's enough money in that bag for him to get laid, dirty hands and all. Can we GO already?

And because his self had flustered him with its impatience, instead of just thinking it, Andrew said,

"So what's so special about these beans?"

The lump smiled, and replied, "They're magic."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Introduction to Magik Beans

Hi, my name is Mike Perschon, better known here in the Metaverse as Gotthammer of and its accompanying blog. I'm currently working on a Master's degree in Comparative Literature at the University of Alberta, where I also work part time as a teaching assistant. I'm a freelance writer, independent musician and all-around hyper-creative muse junkie.

This blog is the culmination of a few different strains of my creativity. The first element started about ten years ago when I wrote a play for a dinner-theater called "Caffienated Inc." (you need to pronounce the "incorporated" for it to sound right). About two years later I helped workshop it into a bi-weekly serialized production which ran for a year solid. The plot line was a sort of sitcom which incorporated a sort of Christian allegorical element. There was an angel who everyone thought was a street person in the cast for example, and the lead character got hints about the plot through dream sequences.

The second element is a web-comic I started five years ago called "Josh and Caleb" which still awaits its denoument and ultimate completion. I've loved comic books since I was a kid, and still find myself sketching whenever a meeting or class I'm in loses my attention. What I've been sketching more times than not in the past two years are the characters for a web-comic version of Caffienated Inc., which got a major face lift when I took a course in Norse mythology. I won't say anymore about that right now, as I hope the story will speak for itself.

The third element is my writing. I'd like to be a published writer, but I've got a family, so I'm working towards becoming a post-secondary educator so that I can have the 9-5 to pay the bills, and my summers to write. In the meantime, I need to keep up my chops, so this past Christmas I did a writing exercise at the Gotthammer blog to get back in the groove of writing daily. The result was "Chronicles of the Magi", a fantasy version of the nativity story in the Gospel of Matthew. The feedback I've gotten from that little exercise was positive enough that I decided to go ahead and launch Magik Beans...

But not as a webcomic. I just don't have the time or the skills. Sure, I can draw...and from time to time I'll post pics of the characters or scenes, but I can bash out 800-1000 words in a half an hour in contrast to the frame I'd get done. And while I know webcomics are all the rage, I'm hoping a serialized novel in the same vein as Christopher Moore's work will be something people will appreciate. All I know is that if I commit and follow through with this, I'll have (for better or worse) somewhere around 156,000 words (I'm betting I only average 3000 a week) of this story, which has been fermenting in my head for the past two years.

So. Onto our story, which will be updated weekly on Thursday afternoons; it's still about a coffee shop, Andrew Weezle, the postmodern philosophy major who manages the shop because he can't get on with his life, Lara the goth girl who dabbles in Wicca who is his only employee, Blackout, the ultimate skeptic and coffee addict by day/DJ by night, and the adventures that result from growing an axis mundi in a flower pot where the bonsai tree you got last Christmas died.

As for the flavor of the Magik Beans, the inspirations and influences abound, but could be narrowed down to Charles DeLint for the urban fantasy, Neil Gaiman for modern mythology, Terry Pratchett for the dry wit and Christopher Moore for the unabashed funny parts.

If you love what's going on here, don't hesitate to let me know. I thrive on ego-inflating praise.