Even a satisfying life is full of little compromises. It’s great that my hotel room has a coffee maker. It’s not great that I have to use a palm oil-based powder to cream up my coffee.
Once in a while, I can endure such a travesty. Wouldn’t think of it at home, though. The fact that I have consented to 2% milk as the household standard for coffee lightening is enough of an effort from my end.
Taste is always an issue. But authenticity is a bigger one. And lest you think that I’m nothing more than a foodie with overly rigid standards, let me tell you the real origins of my non-dairy angst.
I have outsize expectations of reality. As a little kid, playing cowboys and Indians was O.K., but the whole time I had the nagging notion that being the courageous rancher or the fierce Cochise would have been better. Halloween was especially hard. Costumes were great, but I had a deep need to be supernatural. Flutter your vampire cape all you want; it’s just not the same when your nine-year-old feet still touch the ground. I needed to be able to fly so I could silently alight on the balustrade outside the window of little Suzy down the street, who I had plans to terrify.
The word “reproduction” on placards explaining museum exhibits made me feel cheated. To this day, if I can find a history museum with original artifacts — the Smithsonian, for example — I jump. I can stare at Abraham Lincoln’s hat for ages, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the man himself wore it. This frame, this fabric, bridging centuries. If I could touch it, I could touch him. There must be understanding in there somewhere.
I walked the battlefield at Gettysburg one summer day, wondering what was beneath my feet, in the air, in the spirit layer we can’t see. I was in authenticity heaven, straining and bumping a determined but ultimately ineffectual shoulder against the locked door of time. On Little Round Top, I saw a man dressed in Union artillery uniform and regalia, perfect in every detail. I asked if my son could pose for a photo with him; he took position in wordless consent. Later, remembering that he had not spoken, I chased the possibility that he, a ghost, had not been endowed with anything beyond the ability to appear…yes, my craving for authenticity was so complete and overarching that I was making up stories like a little boy.
Should all this blossom into disappointment with non-dairy creamer? Probably not. But every nick at authenticity is, for me, a paper cut in time. In the end, if that’s what it takes to have coffee in the hotel…well, no thanks. — Adam Barr
Copyright 2012 Adam Barr