This is a tribute to a coffeeshop, a paean and a love-letter to a place that exists as a staple and sanctuary in the Taos community. By turns, this is also a tribute to the man who owned that coffee shop, the man whose spirit and ethics defined that coffeeshop for the past two decades.
The coffeeshop is the World Cup—referred to by regulars as “The Cup”—and the man is Patrick Larkin, whose life was tragically ended about a week ago. While a homicide investigation is in full swing, no “concrete” details have yet been released, though the town’s teeming grapevine is awash with rumors and speculation. Outside the scope of the rumor-mill, there is purely and simply this: a small town is grieving, and mourning the loss of one its key “characters” (those who intimately know Taos also know that it is a surrealist stage-play of a town with a wide-ranging panoply of characters), and a coffeeshop, whose terms of definition are as varied as its patrons—nexus, hub, crossroads, living room—has also become a shrine, bedecked with flowers, cards, poems, and other tokens of elegy.
I moved to Taos from New York in 2001, and it wasn’t long before the Cup had snared me as one of its regulars. Eighteen years later, my relationship with the Cup still intact and thriving, and I think of all the versions and variations of me that have walked through that door over the years, with an equally changeable cast of baristas having been behind the counter, yet one thing that has remained constant is the Cup itself: its iconoclastic spirit and unflagging dedication to making damned good Americanos. And that had a hell of a lot to do with the flinty proprietor with exacting standards and blatantly aired progressive politics, Patrick Larkin.
I had written about the Cup in my Taos-based novel, Raking the Dust, with the coffeeshop having been fictionally rechristened Global Joe’s, a flagless oasis exhibiting the democracy of a New York City subway car. Over the past week, reading people’s tributes to Patrick, listening to their heart-cries about the tragedy, and their warmed-over reminiscences about having worked at the Cup, or hung out there, having been a living stitch in its fabric, has given me even deeper perspective on the importance of what urban sociologist and author, Gary Oldenburg, calls “third places.” These ritually essential public places (cafes, coffeeshops, bookshops, pubs, barber shops) exist as rendezvous points “where people can gather, put aside the concerns of work and home, and hang out simply for the pleasures of good company and lively conversation…(and)…are the heart of a community’s social vitality and the grassroots of democracy.”
The Cup is a quintessential “third place,” with a rogue and time-scabbed character all its own. Situated on a street-corner, just outside the Plaza, its stone front porch with weathered wooden benches, looks out onto the four-way traffic of the Paseo. It is a people-watching hotspot, a Southwestern “stoop,” with mayoral views of the mutable feast of colors, tones and styles that pass before your eyes with syncopated regularity. I have spent countless hours daydreaming there, or scribbling notes, or sometimes silently enjoying the audio-collage of voices and opinions and impressions coming from the rotating carousel of porch-dwellers.
The Cup is a joyfully merciless time-slayer of a place, where a five-minute pit-stop can turn into several hours of idling, where tender morsels of small-talk humanize and ground you. It is a place where political opinions are batted back and forth, where feuds are started (and ended), where acquaintanceships graduate to friendships, where personas are shed and collected. The Cup is a pulpit for off-the-cuff sermons, an arterial pipeline for conspiracy theories and alternative perspectives. There are “peak hour” times when the eddying crosscurrents of patter can leave you dizzy, exhilarated, exhausted. There are quiet times, when you have the porch to yourself, and the world within takes precedence. There are days when, whether you liked it or not, a tattered group of bench-perched vagabonds might just bust out into an impromptu concert with out-of-tune guitars, and you’d swear their sun-worn German Shepherd was smiling.
The Cup is Craig’s List meets Cheers, a place where deals are brokered, jobs found, dates made, projects conceived, crosswords confronted, gossip circulated, accomplishments shared.
We, as humans, crave and need ritual. It helps us to pool and gather who we are within a sense of adopted margins, it abets the corralling and cycling of vital energy. I don’t think I am overstating when I say that the Cup is so much more than just a coffeeshop, it is a necessary harbor where ritual can be consecrated, where a deeply intimate need is met through public means.
I didn’t know Patrick well. We had had some brief conversations and exchanges, many handshakes and simple moments of recognition. Through my interactions, through shared impressions and anecdotes (specifically from baristas who had worked there, affectionately referred to as “Cup Girls”), a profile of Patrick Larkin might have included the following terms: stoical, generous, uncompromising, ethical, dour, righteous, stalwart, self-sufficient, outspoken, kind, loyal, grumpy, brave… The list could go on and on, but these are just threadbare labels and flimsy approximations in trying to measure and gauge one man’s character, his spirit. Like the Cup itself, with its vacillating conglomeration of moods, attitudes, desires, shortcomings and ideals, its wonderfully messy and schizoid strains of democracy, Patrick Larkin’s complex humanness was something he radiated, and unapologetically so.
One of the crown-jewel quotes posted at the Cup’s counter, comes from Helen Keller: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
Patrick Larkin wore his politics, activism, and social ethics on his sleeve. In this sense, he dared to live his life on his terms, with consideration for something more than just himself. Incidentally, he cared, he fiercely cared, about the quality of the cup of coffee you were being served. And the integrity of the environment in which it was served.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, spoken word performer, and playwright, John Biscello now lives in Taos, New Mexico. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. His blog--Notes of an Urban Stray--can be read at johnbiscello.blogspot.com. Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year.