For want of a circuit the coffee pot was lost
For want of a coffee pot the coffee was lost
For want of coffee the temper was lost
For want of a temper the argument was lost
For want of an argument the contract was lost
For want of a contract the firm was lost
For want of a firm the jobs were lost
For want of a job the livlihoods were lost
For want of a livlihood the economy was lost
For want of an economy the country was lost
For want of a country the thermonuclear arsenal was lost
For want of a thermonuclear arsenal, the world descended into a period of anarchy and nuclear winter from which there was no return until the sun expanded in its red giant phase and swallowed the broiling Earth
All for want of a coffee

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They call it the third place.

Neither work nor home, a third place comes without the marionette strings and strong negative associations that come along with a workplace. It’s free of the endless distraction, chores, and laundry that swirl about the home. A third place is a sanctum apart, a place of peace and productivity.

For many, their third place is a library. Ample seating, books leeching the musty odor of delectable knowledge, and–most importantly–free internet access. But for a librarian like me, libraries ARE work, which means that relaxation and creativity and free internet access without dirty laundry must happen elsewhere.

What better place than a coffee shop? Life-giving, elixir-of-the-morning coffee (iced, of course, even in the dead of wintry mix February) plus wireless that usually works when you don’t have anything important to do plus a generous supply of tables and comfy chairs. Plus, for a hermit like me, the constant comings and goings of people jonesing for java can lend an air of sociability to a solor witing session.

Starting in 2010 or so, my third place was High Point Coffee just off West Jackson Ave. It wasn’t ideally placed, being in a strip mall perpendicular from the main college causeway and not easily visble unless you knew it was there. For the first few years I lived in town, in fact, I had no idea it existed. But for National Novel Writing Month 2010, I was invited to a write-in there by a fellow scribe.

They never showed up, but I kept coming. It wasn’t even for the coffee at first; I fell in love with the armchairs that let you sink in deep and nest, the titanic ottoman that could hold an entire disseration or novel revision, the crackling gas fireplace. With a double-bank of windows there was always plenty of sunlight, and an airy open layout allowed for maximum customization of tables, chairs, and snaking cords seeking the four precious outlets.

In time, once I realized that the caramel frappuccino I’d been drinking was a little too cold and a little too sweet, I fell in love with High Point’s iced mocha and iced vanilla (without whipped cream, of course, since I’m watching my figure). The large size of each was enough to fuel an entire session of third place noveling or blogging, augmented on occasion by a delectable $1 jumbo chocolate chunk cookie (but not the raisin cookies, since those imposters are disappointment made real and set loose upon a sinful world). It was to the point where, when I approached, the baristas sometimes had my favorite already started.

I only threw them a curveball by asking for the pumpkin spice a few times.

It’s kind of funny, and maybe a little embarrassing, how much someone can get wrapped up in their third place. Half of the pop songs on my iPod were yanked from the very air of High Point by SoundHound fur purchase. The baristas often became my friends as they came and went; I think half of the stylish people in my local circle worked there at one time or another. I took out-of-town visitors there, took dates there, even glued foam heads to their wooden coffee stirrers in one memorable art session. When I became a National Novel Writing Month honcho in my own right, our most informal and celebratory meetings were always advertised on Facebook with a coffee bean motif.

A Starbucks opened up just down the road on the site of a bulldozed Burger King the other year, and another indie coffee shop–much narrower and less well-lit, with uncomfortable wooden hipster furniture–not long before that. Both places fronted the main drag, meaning they were more easily visible. And though there were certainly busy times, especially near exams or after football games, the great draw of High Point as a third place was that you could always find a place to sit and spread out.

I had long feared that my third place would close, and gave them plenty of business to try and forestall such a horror. Every NaNoWriMo write-in had a table tent admonishing attendees to buy all the java they could. And yet, when they announced with less than two weeks’ notice that they’d be closed forever by Valentine’s Day, it hit like a sledgehammer. I’d built so much of my routine as a writer and as an (attempted) leader of writers to that one place. All but a few of my friends were out of a job. Generous tips in the last few weeks and a souvenir keep cup were all I could manage.

If that sounds a little silly, getting all busted up over a java joint closing, consider this: of my 2200 blog entries, perhaps 20% were written there in the grip of a chair deeper than a philosophy course. Every novel I tried to write from 2010-2015 was attempted there as much as it was at home; I owe three finished drafts and four unfinished ones to my third place. When I had mind-numbing chores to do at work and an open schedule, I’d sometimes retire there to work in peace and rate undergraduates or read faculty applications.

Worse, no other place is as close or as bright or as comfortable; ever since the library where I work installed a Starbucks above my office they’ve lost whatever luster they might once have had (their coffee is awful too). The other indie shops in town are either too far away or too uncomfortable. There’s one other High Point location, the last survivor, but it’s downtown where the parking is meager and the drunks run thick. It’s always packed to the gills and overrun with weirdos, like that creepy dude who takes surreptitious pictures of ladies’ lower limbs.

I’ll live. I’ll find another third place. But you never forget your first, whether it’s your first third place or your first indie java joint. Farewell, HPC West; we’ll always have the writing.

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One day, Edna Lloyd woke up and found that she didn’t exist.

It was a little strange for her, as she was quite used to existing. In fact, she had existed a whole lot; as one of the few Ednas who were younger than 60, her name alone got her a good deal of recognition. Her job as a barista with an art history degree, though not uncommon, also gave her a good deal of existence. People tended to recognize her on the street after buying only a single cup of coffee from her years ago.

And yet, when she woke up, no one remembered her.

“Hi, Ms. Callahan!” Edna said to her next-door neighbor that morning, a divorced mother of two who was always smiley despite screamy babes in arms.

“Do I know you?” Callahan said. “What are you doing in that apartment? Nobody lives there.”

Edna nervously laughed it off. Ms. Callahan did have a warped sense of humor from a steady diet of Boomerang and Cartoon Network after all.

At the back door to Stubb’s Coffee, though, Edna began to get a little worried. Harry, the manager and barista-in-chief, wouldn’t let her in. “I’m sorry, this entrance is for employees only,” he said firmly..

“But I am an employee! I’ve worked here for five years!” Edna cried. “Look, I’m wearing the uniform and name tag! I work the eight to three with Sharise!”

Harry did not budge. “Sharise works the eight to eleven alone,” he said. “I really need to hire someone for it, but not someone who obviously works for another Stubb’s.”

“But…but…”

“I’m sorry,” Harry said. “Much as I need the help, this is kind of creeping me out. You need to go.”

Edna wound up sitting on the curb in her Stubb’s uniform, vainly crying out to people she recognized. She had a good memory for faces, one that had served her well for barista tips and art history statuary exams alike.

Only one person responded. Dressed in a chic suit, he nevertheless had every visible part of his body covered in menacing-looking gangland tattoos. “You having a problem, miss?” he said. “Everybody forgetting that you exist today?”

Though his appearance was menacing, his voice was soft-spoken and kind. And, on closer inspection, Edna could see that the tattoos were done in a gangland style they read “Enlightenment,” “Information,” “Culture,” instead of “Neva Die,” “Thug Lyfe” or “Blips 4 Eva.”

“Yeah,” said Edna.

“It happens,” he said. “It’s not common, the memory prion, but it’s voracious. You’ll be seeing a lot of selective amnesia before the day’s out.”

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One of the enduring mysteries surrounding Quantum Coffee LLC GmbH of Dimension X has been its lack of an alkaline beverage counterpart to its famous low-pH molecular acid CaustiCoffee™. Its use by the Hegemony to degrime hyperspace engines of dark matter residue aside, CaustiCoffee™ has been elevated to the status of a cultural touchstone by the Rypl and the 4Ploq. Sales have been strong despite the fact that it eats through most life forms like a starving man through a buffet.

But the multiverse is just as full of creatures with a strongly alkaline or basic biochemistry. The $%^& of $%^&lith, for example, require an environment with a 14 pH to survive; they slip into a coma and die at 13.999. The hyperspace-native merchant race known as the Squibbians require strongly alkaline food, and their 17-foot-tall lopsided and betentacled forms are a common sight on hyperspace-aware worlds and trading stations. One might also single out the Northuos, a race unfairly maligned as interdimensional crime lords when only 87% of them practice that vocation, who find a high-pH soak-and-rub to be invigorating.

And yet Quantum Coffee LLC GmbH only produced BaseBrew™ Coffee for a few years, from Multiversal Standard Interval 1337 to MSI 1340. Their marketing efforts, including free magnetic containment cups to keep the alkaline beverage from corroding away ordinary mugs, slick TV commercials featuring L47-P the WisecrackBot, and sponsorship of the HyperBowl, all came to naught. Sales remained in the septic tank, so much so that some Quantum affiliates had dropped it within two weeks of “B-Day,” its much-heralded rollout.

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Javaman was created by Reggie O’Donald (art) and Nate Grimaldi (writing) as part of IC Comics Group’s “New Consumers” lineup. The New Consumers were originally intended as a group of foodstuff-related heroes that could provide IC with another revenue source through distribution to local restaurants and eateries. Most of the heroes from that lineup, like Pastaman or the Burger Avengers, were unpopular and quickly canned. Javaman alone survived the cut.

As with many of the IC heroes, Javaman has several origin stories. In the Golden and Silver Age continuity IC used through 1987, he was born Jan Van Aman, an American-Dutch wealthy playboy and heir to the Van Aman coffee fortune. While overseeing a plantation in Malaya that was run like a slave-labor camp, Jan was kidnapped by native laborers and held prisoner. Moved by their plight, he agreed to be infused with the Sacred Coffee Beans of Fuol Gerre, which granted him the power to control coffee-based substances, super-speed, and super strength at the cost of having to constantly drink potent coffee to maintain his powers.

In the rebooted continuity promulgated by IC starting in 1988, Javaman was John Avaman, the owner of an independent Seattle coffee. Upset with his popularity and scruples, agents of the local Stubb’s Coffee empire (changed to the fictional Queequeg’s Coffee after a lawsuit) attempted to assassinate him by puncturing vats full of an experimental super-potent coffee and drowning him. Instead, John Avaman’s cells were hyper-saturated with caffeine, granting him more or less the same powers. Some later limited series and one-shots (like Javaman #391) tried to establish a link between the Golden Age Javaman and the Modern Age one, positing that Jan Van Aman was variously John Avaman’s uncle, surrogate father, wealthy benefactor, or inspiration.

For all the changes in his continuity, Javaman’s rogues’ gallery has been relatively consistent. His most persistent foe has been Unfair Trade, since Javaman #1 an unscrupulous plutocrat with designs on the worldwide coffee market and armies of hired goons and technology at his disposal. The ambiguous Decaffinatrix, a burglar waging a one-woman war on caffeine after a traumatic accident left her unable to enjoy coffee, has been both friend and foe ever since her first appearance in Javaman #55. And the Expressonator, introduced in Javaman #271, has been a perennial favorite as well.

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Earth was prepared for a conventional attack, with a network of early warning satellites and nuclear weapons on a hair-trigger alert. It was prepared for an all-out alien invasion the likes of which had long been discussed in Earth literature.

Only the Xanthic didn’t attack that way.

Instead, their agents carefully snuck nanogenetically modified caffeine molecules into the Earth’s supply. Everything from coffee to soda pop to energy drinks was targeted and infiltrated. Then, at the touch of a button, anyone with an iota of caffeine in their system fell instantly unconscious.

In one swift masterstroke, the Xanthic had decapitated Earth’s command and control by incapacitating two-thirds of the adult population in the First World. The non-drinkers were not numerous enough to run the planetary defenses by themselves, and the Second and Third World countries without a critical mass of coffee drinkers were not invested enough in the defense network (thanks to their suspicious neighbors).

Every province and state of NATO and the UN Security Council was swiftly occupied, except for Utah. The rest of the world, starved of imports, swiftly capitulated with only local resistance.

The Xanthic celebrated their victory by buying every human being on Earth a nanogenetically engineered latté and by using their new force of slave laborers to build a massive Cola and Coffee Monument out of gratitude to the humble nonsentient plants which had allowed such a swift takeover.

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However, the most successful interdimensional coffee franchise was, by far, Quantum Coffee LLC GmbH. Headquartered in Dimension X, they operated many coffee companies (or the equivalents brewing things like Kjrdrn beans) on uncounted worlds. Some, like Stubb’s Coffee, did not explicitly acknowledge their parent company but regularly sent checks and received shipments anyway (this explains the otherworldly taste of the “holiday coffee” Stubb’s serves from September to February, incidentally, the drink originating in the Jjjrrnk’Blgmf Festival on Ixl IX).

Despite the fact that Quantum Coffee was founded by carbon-based lifeforms, its bestselling product is and will likely continue to be Causticoffee, which is off the pH scale and has to be served in special magnetic containment cups. A form of molecular acid, it will eat through anything from steel to the fragile innards of any lifeform whose biochemistry is not based on a specific silicon atom.

Quantum refuses to comment on its sales figures, leading many to speculate why Causticoffee, which is toxic to 90% of the chain’s clientele across every dimension, is such a strong seller. It’s the clear favorite of some lifeforms, it’s true; among some like the Rypl Causticoffee has become a cultural staple, and the 4Ploq have been known to use it for ritual purposes.

Others note the large corporate purchases in bulk and speculate that entities like the Hegemony use Causticoffee to degrease dark matter engines or to dispose of used interdimensional drive cores that are strongly basic (off the other end of the pH scale). Some rumors are conflated, placing the Unseen Emperor as a secret silicon-based being that harbors a strong fondness for the stuff and stockpiles it in his infinite paranoia.

Whatever the case, the really remarkable thing about Causticoffee is that occasionally carbon-based lifeforms order it by mistake. Most wind up with smoking holes in them; only one is known to have survived. And, oddly enough, that occurred when a load of Causticoffee beans and magnetic containment mugs were delivered to Hopewell on Earth by mistake…

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As with all the foes Javaman (not to be confused with Java Man, who fights crime through internet coding) faces, Expressonator is coffee themed. Despite being newer than foes like The Decaffinatrix or Unfair Trade, Expressonator remains a reader favorite.

His origin is detailed in Javaman #271. As Karl Sprecht he was the unscrupulous owner of a Stubb’s Coffee franchise (Stubb’s sued over this, and later reprints and retcons substitute the fictitious Queequeg’s Coffee, making the original print run a minor collectable). When he wasn’t fleecing customers with cheap Sav-Mart coffee in expensive packages, Sprecht was tinkering on a machine to create a more efficient expresso, one that would use a minimum of expensive beans and a maximum of cheap water and pressure.

His homemeade machine exploded, leveling the shop but imbuing Sprecht with the ability to generate and control impossibly potent expresso at will. In addition to being able to use boiling streams of expresso as weapons and expresso steam to fly, the newly christened Expressonator was able to manipulate those who had been exposed to his highly addictive product, demanding service in exchange for continued ultraconcentrated expresso.

While the Expressonator appeared to perish in a thermonuclear blast at the end of his first story arc (Javaman #271-288), he was brought back by subsequent creative teams and survived the company-wide reboot that reset Javaman to issue #1 after issue #498. Later writers and artists tweaked Expressonator’s origins, introducing darker innovations like his pre-transformation addiction to narcotics (#2), dalliances with the rebooted Decaffinatrix (#12), and a new look in which he hid a hideously scarred quadrant of his face behind a mask (#27) or combed-over hair.

In the Javaman movie, Expressonator wore no costume and was never referred to by his villain name but rather called Sprecht at all times. As played by Kevin Bacon, Expressonator had no innate powers, relying on a combination of cocaine hidden in coffee and an arsenal of steam-powered weapons (and machine guns) to dominate the city. Fans had a mixed reaction to these and other changes to the character; when the Javaman film series was rebooted two years later, Expressonator was revamped once again. As essayed by Danny DeVito, the villain’s superpowers and outfit were returned but he served as a campy comedic foil to the film’s major villain, a re-imagined Unfair Trade played by Sean Penn.

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It was inevitable, really. The proliferation of cheap, powerful, highly caffeinated coffee drinks in the late 1990s and 2000s led to an arms race in which major corporations and minor mom and pop beaneries competed to perfect their products. Eventually, through the addition of liberal amounts of real or artificial sweeteners, incredibly strong coffees were made palatable to even the most wretched dilettantes and hipsters. Through habitual use and the gradual buildup of tolerance, it became possible for devotees to safely attain caffeine concentrations once thought impossible or toxic.

At higher tolerances and with supersized portions of powerful new coffee drinks (often full of sugar as well), java hounds were able to perceive the world at a fraction of its true speed thanks to massively overstimulated hearts, endocrine systems, and so on. At first, this talent was largely used for party tricks or in emergencies, such as rescuing people from rapidly spreading fires. But it quickly became apparent that there were far greater applications possible, and the martial art of 咖啡拳 (Kafei Quan, literally “Coffee Fist”) was born.

Recognizing that the jitters that accompanied heavy coffee use, to say nothing of the speed of Kafei Quan movments,made using traditional weapons very difficult. Practitioners soon seized on steel and aluminum coffee mugs as ideal weapons, being readily available in cafes and by design suitable for use by the ridiculously overcaffeinated. Use of coasters as (albeit wildly inaccurate) throwing weapons and ornate metal coffee stirrers coated not with poison but with decaf spread as well. By 20XX, every cafe of respectable size included an adjacent Kafei Quan dojo. Enthusiasts practiced the popular Topless Mermaid style favored by global conglomerate Stubb’s Coffee, the Everlasting Miasma style employed by rival Tacoma’s Best Coffee, or one of hundreds of smaller cafe-specific styles.

Of course, a careful rereading of the prophetic Wan Nian Ke and Cang Tou texts of ancient China and the so-called “cafe quatrains” of Nostradamus indicated a far more sinister outcome of the Kafei Quan craze. They told of a fallen barista who would unleash the Darkest of the Dark Roasts, corrupting the Kafei Quan into a tool with which to subjugate all humanity and not just dilettantes and hipsters.

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“The thing is, people expect the kind of efficiency they get at Stubb’s Coffee here,” Maria said. Nevermind that we have a quarter of the staff and none of their fancy custom gizmos.”

“So, how do we compete exactly?” Bob said, suddenly fearful for his nascent job. “There’s a Stubb’s right down the street and two on the SMU campus.”

“There are enough people who make it a point to ‘buy local’ that we have a little bit of an edge,” Maria said. “We also have nicer furniture which Steve–the boss–was able to pick up for a song when Southern Michigan renovated their law school.”

“Oh, okay.”

“It is your job to maintain this image. Do not under any circumstances let the customers find out that we buy from the same suppliers as Stubb’s. Always offer to sell them fair trade coffee, which costs three times as much. And if someone comes in here asking to hang a flier, you hang it unless it’s advertising a personal appearance by the Grand Wizard of the triple-K. You got me?”