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All Over Coffee By Paul Madonna

Updated: Dec 28, 2015 09:10
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paul chpt 13



I woke up to darkness and a headache. I could hear a man and a woman having a heated conversation and the air smelled heavily of incense and Patchouli.

I was lying on my side, but when I tried to sit up I discovered that my hands were bound behind my back and my feet were tied together.

“He’s awake,” I heard the woman say, and in a flash the cover was pulled from my head.

I winced at the sudden light. The man bent down and put his face close to mine. He had long scraggily hair and wore a candy necklace with most of the pieces chewed off. He wore round wire-rimmed glasses and his jowls were leathery, with deep creases that told me he’d suffered some hard years.

“The techies think you’re old,” he said. “And the rich think you’re liberal. Activists think you’re bourgeois, and the bourgeois think you’re just another weird artist.” He said all of this with no emotion, adding, “Who do you think you are?”

I looked around. I was more concerned with where I was. The room was small and Victorian. There was one bay but the windows were covered with batik-dyed sheets. The walls were awash with psychedelic posters and political slogans and the mantle was caked with years of colored candle wax.

“Your series,” jowls said. “All Over Coffee. It’s a mess, you know that? You used to be contemplative. Timeless. Now you’re doing satire, commentary, meta-fiction. You’re all over the place.”

“Maybe I should rename it,” I said.

He smiled. “That’s funny.” He seemed genuinely amused. “Too bad your work doesn’t have the same sense of humor.”

“I thought it did.”

“No,” the woman standing behind him said. She had long, straight grey hair and a black turtleneck that had clearly never known joy. “You’re much funnier in person.”

“Listen,” jowls said. “We know you’re not the enemy. And I’m sorry we had to tie you up. But man, you need to get your message straight.” His eyes implored me. “This city… It used to be a haven for freaks. But now I can’t even step onto my bathroom scale without my weight being reported to some database. My refrigerator wants to keep tabs on how many times I open it. There’s just no heart here anymore. It’s all watered down Americana. Emotion has become e-motion. Electronic everything.”

“I get it,” I said. “But I’m not actually anti-tech. I use tech all the time. And really, I think a lot of these people, they’re forward thinkers. Problem solvers and entrepreneurs. Which is exactly how I think of myself. It’s just—” And I tried to raise my hands to qualify my statement, but because they were tied, I had to resort to closing my eyes as expressively as I could. “—Tech is like every other profession. You have a handful of talented visionaries, and the rest are incompetent opportunists. Granted, their generation is a bit too group oriented for my taste, but they do like to create open public spaces and work at café tables. So I mean, come on, how can you complain about that? My entire life is based on hanging out at cafes. I think the real issue here is the age old problem of greed. Of entitlement and influence run amok.”

“Yes!” Jowls cried. “Which is why it’s time we do something about it! When a city is so overrun that you can’t find a place to live, what’s the point of living there? Culture? What exactly is the culture here these days? This place used to be beautiful, man. The Bay Area. But how do you separate a place from its people?”

Just then two cronies rolled a large object into the room. It looked like a cross between a jet engine and a giant lava lamp.

My heart froze in my chest. Up until this I had been weirded out, but not so much afraid. But now—well, I paid attention to the news. The world was infested with zealots. Used to be we feared religious and political terrorism, now it was the nature of radicalization. The question was no longer what cause was a person fighting for, but how that person fell prey to extremism, regardless the ideological root. And suddenly I realized I was witnessing the answer first hand.

“Just one earthquake,” leather jowls said. “That’s all we need to show these newcomers what it’s really like here. One quake to scare off the next wave of foreign investment and cool down the real estate market.” Then he grinned and shook a finger at me. “And we have you to thank for the idea.”


“The burns,” turtle neck said.

“The—?” Then I understood. My drawings of burns eating through the images. “No,” I said. “That’s not—” But before I could explain that they had me all wrong the cover was thrust over my head again. A sharp bitter smell stabbed my nose and the last thing I heard before the world went dark was jowls saying, “It’s history, man. San Francisco has been burning itself down—literally and figuratively—from the Gold Rush to the Summer of Love. This time, it’s Mother Nature that’s coming to kick some butt.”


Paul Madonna writes and draws All Over Coffee, the weekly series published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  His stories and drawings have been published internationally and exhibited in galleries and museums. He is the author of two books, All Over Coffee (City Lights 2007), and Everything is its own reward (City Lights 2011), which won the 2011 NCBR Recognition Award for Best Book. Find more of his work at  We are stoked to have his work on our site as well.

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