How did it happen? One moment I’m a cool twenty-something, living large, partying, no responsibilities. Life is simple. When I order a coffee, it’s even simpler–‘flat white, please.’ No extravagant extras. Just cow’s milk and caffeine. Plus sugar of course.
Back then, offbeat or airy-fairy characters on TV or film had their eccentricity emphasised by ordering an outlandish or complicated concoction. The template for this was the decaf soy latte. Those three words would have audiences, and me, laughing and shaking our heads in disbelief.
Fast forward twenty years. With some trepidation, I meet the eye of the waitress and say the words I never thought I’d ever say.
‘Decaf soy latte, please.’
She doesn’t bat an eyelid. She doesn’t know that, inside, a part of me dies and another part of me shrinks. But you know what? That feeling only lasts for a second. That wasn’t so bad. As the Marquis de Sade once said, ‘If you repeat frequently enough those things which bring you remorse, you will finally extinguish it.’ This creed works equally well for decaf soy lattes as it does for debauchery.
So how did I arrive at this moment of irrational eccentricity? Well, by a series of perfectly rational decisions.
I’m a sugarholic going on ten years sober, so no sugar = rational decision.
I’ve never drunk coffee in the morning and I’m not going to start now. I’ve just started a new job, new peeps, and they’re all having coffees, so I have to keep the peace. First impressions and all that, so decaf it is = rational decision.
Latte and flat white are macroscopically the same so why use four words when three will do?
But what about the soy?
How did I transform from an omnivore who ate meat twice a day to eating no meat at all, and then cutting out dairy and egg products too? In short, why am I vegan? It wasn’t a sudden change or an awakening. It was more a series of gradual changes in behaviour, attitude and my relationship with the external world; my place as one small being in an intricately-interconnected community of billions of others. We can’t predict these changes. The germ may lie within us but the nutrients which give it life can come from a thousand sources–maturity, a new partner or job, a transformative or traumatic experience, even a meme. What is important is to understand that each of us is buffeted by fate and fortune. To us these change may occur slowly, but to someone who hasn’t seen us in twenty years, the differences are immediately evident.
I once wrote some lines which sought to capture this phenomenon. A short stanza to warn me that I should not look down upon the younger me as some sort of delinquent doofus.
The man of today has yesterday mastered;
Yesterday’s lame; he’s a fool and a bastard.
But the man of today laughs shadowed by sorrow:
He’s hated and jeered by the man of tomorrow.
What will my man of tomorrow say and do in twenty years’ time? Can future me be even more ridiculous and embarrassing? Is such a feat possible?
Speaking of ridiculous, at the moment I’m still laughing and shaking my head at the concept of deconstructed coffee which recently appeared in hipster-heaven Melbourne. Why the hell would you pay for something like that? The whole purpose of a barista is to combine the elements of milk, water and bean into a perfect brew. It’s like ordering a pizza and receiving a baked base with cheese and toppings in little bowls on the side. As consumers, we are paying for the act of creation as much as for the quality of the ingredients.
But I shouldn't judge it too harshly. For all I know, twenty years from now, after a long series of apparently rational decisions, I might find myself meeting the eye of a waitress with some trepidation and saying:
‘Deconstructed coffee, please.’