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Lyrics and Life


By Caitlin Ward


Black Coffee
Peggy Lee

I’m feelin’ mighty lonesome, haven’t slept a wink
I walk the floor and watch the door
And in between I drink
Black coffee
Love’s a hand-me-down brew
I’ll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room

I’m talkin’ to the shadows one o’clock till four
And Lord, how slow the moments go
When all I do is pour
Black coffee
Since the blues caught my eye
I’m hangin’ out on Monday
My Sunday dreams to dry

Now man is born to go a lovin’
A woman’s born to weep and fret
To stay at home and tend her oven
And down her past regrets in coffee and cigarettes

I’m moonin’ all the mornin,’ mournin’ all the night
And in between it’s nicotine
And not much heart to fight —
Black coffee
Feelin’ low as the ground
It’s drivin’ me crazy this waiting for my baby
To maybe come around

Last week, without much notice, the coffee shop across from work closed. The manager had told me the week previously, though I’d heard from another employee the month before that the closure was imminent. It became public knowledge two days before they shut their doors. On their last day, a Friday, the place was overrun with track & field athletes coming over from the stadium to buy complicated iced drinks in the hot weather. I had to wait 20 minutes for my coffee and didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye to the baristas. I left work shortly after 4, shortly after they’d closed for good, and the sign was already down.

No one was happy.

No, really. I mean, I was more unhappy about it than most, I’ll admit, but the news was greeted almost universally with incredulity, irritation, and sadness. And also, a fair amount of concern for me. What was I going to do? Where was I going to go? HOW WAS I GOING TO COPE?

They were only partially kidding. My coffee consumption has been a running joke at work almost since I started, and a generally accepted fact for the people in my life. The first time my sister heard Black Coffee, a lesser-known standard from the Great American Songbook, she was convinced it was about me. Not the part with the mooning over a gentleman, mind you — the part with the coffee and cigarettes. That’s been a pastime for the women in my family for at least three generations.

Coffee, though, is relatively easy to come by, and there’s better coffee to be had than what they served at this particular shop. I wouldn’t even classify most of it as coffee, to be honest. But in the case of this shop, it’s not really about the drinks. I have spent a lot of the last few years there. Hours sitting at the counter marking papers while my favourite barista invented hot drinks to give me. Work meetings sitting cross-legged on the wide window sill because none of the tables were free. Walking there and back with friends, colleagues, sobbing students. For years, I had the routine down: light a cigarette as soon as I get out the door, stop at the crosswalk. Press the button. As long as the light doesn’t change immediately (which it never does), I’ll have finished smoking by the time we get to the door. It was clockwork. It didn’t have to be so precisely timed after I quit smoking, but it was no less frequent. I knew most of the people who worked there by name, and they knew mine. When two former employees, who’d met and fallen in love there, got pregnant, I got to see the sonogram. The manager asked one of the baristas to take out the contraband phone she knew was in the barista’s apron to show it to me.

The thing is, as a customer, I wasn’t unique. The people who worked at that shop were friends with just about everyone who came in regularly. It was an impromptu community, cobbled together from geographic proximity and general fellow feeling. The customer base was smaller than a lot of shops of its type, I was told, but we were awfully loyal, and I was loyal to that shop specifically — it was part of a chain that I rarely frequent otherwise. In the end, the reasons for the shop closing had more to do with the rental unit’s structural problems than with the viability of a coffee shop in that location. It was certainly wanted.

I’m not sure what I mean to say by any of this. I have a lot of thoughts about coffee — how people treat their affinity for it like some sort of heroin-like addiction, as if having a low-grade dependency somehow makes us more interesting; how we sometimes build our identity around our purchasing practices rather than the core of our character. I have a lot of thoughts about community — how it grows up in strange places; how I have mixed feelings about having built one around a tiny branch of a multinational corporation.

But these thoughts are bigger than what I’m really meditating on this evening. I’m thinking about this small thing that we’ve lost — this hole in the middle of our days. Not entirely irreplaceable, of course, but I’ll miss it.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at