August 17, 2003
The Day Starbucks Went Dark
a noir memoir

My name's Malone, but you can call me Abalone. I was in the middle of writing my wife a check for alimony, sending it by way of my lawyer Sam Maloney and eating a crow sandwich. Little did I know that in a few moments, we New Yorkers were going to be plunged into a hellish night darker than a double expresso, bitterer than Admiral John Poindexter, and more frightening than a night spent looking at Karen Hughes' family slides.

I knew something was up when the shrill hiss of the machine foaming the milk in my machiatto turned to a sad sputtering whimper and died. Then the sour-faced teen behind the counter nearly broke my heart, telling me that my other favorite coffee-based drink product, a spumanti mocha mocha latte, was unavailable. What was I going to do? The coffee grinders were out so I grabbed a couple of beans of the Sumatran roast (they're mild but full-bodied, with a slight acidity that gives them the perfect edge) and chomped on them as I strode out and paced the steaming asphalt of Madison Avenue. I broke a crown. And I swallowed it. It was Friday and all the dentists were in the Hamptons, hobnobbing with the porcelain inlays of big ticket celebrities.

People say New Yorkers are pampered wimps who can't take one day without a couple of megawatts, but I was just on the prowl looking for the necessities of life: a quick massage, a good movie, maybe a concert, a visit to a great museum, and a night spent browsing video-on-demand, MI-5, and 12 episodes of The Daily Show captured on my DVR. Forget the heat, forget that the natural fibers in my Calvin Klein triple-weave shirt, Armani suit, and pricey clogs were wilting in the 100-degree heat and 90% humidity like a man with a woman when the wife walks in. Things were about to get much worse. I was about to get . . . bored.

I walked past Madame Tussaud's Pools of Wax Museum. I thought about going to the Museum of Natural History, but I heard the heat had put the moves on the Chocolate exhibition and the assistants curators were trying vainly to resuscitate it, performing mouth-to-mouth on the Godivas. It wasn't a pretty picture.

At the Met, Van Gogh's Starry Starry Night looked like a picture of a black cow eating green grass in a meadow underneath a cloudless, black sky, except the cow had eaten the grass and hightailed it out of the canvas. It was like a bunch of zebras that were all stripe and no white playing hide and seek in an oil slick on a night with no moon 60 feet into a ebony cave. You figure it out.

New York. The city that never sleeps was out, out all over, looking blacker than Dick 's heart. I tried to go shopping at Eli's, or to pick up some of the good stuff at Caviarteria, but the darkness and the heat wave had left them emptier than the Federal Reserve.

Usually, Broadway is dark only on Mondays, but tonight you could see the cast of Long Day's Journey Into Night sweltering on the sidewalk in front of the Belasco Theater and cursing the day Eugene O'Neill was born. I leaned against a wall to catch my breath, but I realized, in the poorly lit street, that that was no wall -- it was Brian Dennehy. I didn't wait around for him to find out.

I won't bore you with the assorted details of my sordid tale. Suffice to say the next morning I woke up to my clock radio and through my hangover it was shriller than Ann Coulter's relentless TV talk show gibbering.

I heard President Bush on the radio saying that the blackout was a wake-up call. Didn't he say 9-11 was a wake-up call?

I guess, like me, he just keeps hitting the snooze alarm.

Posted by Tom Burka at 10:03 PM in News