The Starbucks logo. Photo: Glenn Hunt
After 15 years of sitting in Starbucks coffee shops in Australia and America, I have only just noticed that the company's logo is a long-haired woman with a mermaid bottom half and party hat. Things in plain sight are the hardest to see.
Now, in one of their New York state outlets, I can see an out-of-work Santa Claus with a walking stick holding court on a tan leather couch. A man in a peaked cap and a Ralph Lauren lounge uniform - blue pullover and brown corduroy trousers - bids him Merry Christmas. Starbucks are big mothering trees in the forest, nurturing and sheltering nearby ferns and little trees until they can see sunlight for themselves. Starbucks are like Darlinghurst's Rough Edges for people with homes and bad coffee and company there.
I can't believe it's been a year since the world ended. Did the Mayan calendar allow a margin of error? The sun falls through the window on to Santa's furrowed, well-ploughed brow, the bottom of his beard bristles like a circular straw broom. He rises on his stick, turns to a nearby baby in a pram, stands back and daintily touches his beard like a painter. It's his grandchild. There's always a Santa at this baby's home. It's Christmas all year round.
I can't believe I've come from Starbucks on the corner of Elizabeth and Park streets in Sydney, where I wrote last week's column, to Starbucks in East Hampton, 12,000 miles away, to write this one.
The menu is the same, except biscuits are called cookies. In East Hampton they serve Minty Chocolaty Magic, a Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop. It may not translate across the Pacific.
Ralph Lauren man comes back to inform Santa that his wife is still on IV, he doesn't take her to the beach any more, but otherwise life is good. ''She looks good.'' Santa smiles like a priest hearing confession.
The people in East Hampton come super-sized, with folds of skin enveloping the nails of one woman ordering a Skinny Peppermint Mocha with Triple Cream. She orders a taxi with a phone held flat in her palm, against her ear, in constant danger of toppling into it. A man in a grey felt hat carries a large pink leopard-skin shopping bag labelled Juicy Couture. He wears a natty green tartan scarf with a perfect knot. A fluoro-vested parking ranger chats up a woman waiting for her Decaf Chai. The man with the Juicy Couture bag eats chips with the fingers from his fingerless leather gloves. His glasses are tinted purple like a Hollywood studio titan. He may be; this chain welcomes both Santas and stars.
Children are the centre of all worlds with parents in these coffee shops. They are attended with the care of beached dolphins.
Snowflakes are still very popular patents on pullovers for young women. They gaze into smartphones and tablets like Narcissus at his reflection, their fingers as delicate as a surgeon's, moving the world around without leaving their seats. Travel broadens the mind, which is why web browsers and search engines were invented. A real traveller with black plastic pegs in his earlobes and a Cyclehawk riding cap, Brendon, tells how he goes around the world two months at a time, nearly, but not ever overstaying his welcome as he gestures with his right hand like a garlic chopper on the table. He travels on skateboards in LA and Seattle, he competes and couch-surfs across America. He dresses like a Swiss Army knife. He can hit the road as he is and arrive fully equipped in another country. He is uncluttered in any way. His zippered side pouch is all he needs. He never pays excess on planes. No one under 25 does. Only dinosaurs like me, with books to read, books to write, clothes unwashed, and enough pharmaceuticals to cure North Africa of leprosy, who weigh down the jumbos.
Imperfect travellers dine at Starbucks because they know who the people are, they know who they are and nothing changes, except the minty chocolatey magic of the Peppermint Brownie Cake Pop.
Overheard conversations are the gold to shy, scared drifters like myself to live for and to live on.
Cyclehawk cap speaks of a company that is trying to purify water back to its double hydrogen and oxygen molecule. He criss-crosses the world on his skateboard, purifying himself and others. He is going to Jamaica with one of his buddies who has a jet.
A teacher corrects blue children's schoolbooks while sipping his huge latte. Cyclehawk speaks of going to Palm Springs with another buddy. Our children have a level of confidence we would have considered overconfidence. I hope we are wrong and that Cyclehawk never falls to the ground. The conversation drifts to great tattoo places near the beach at Malibu.
The summer never ends in East Hampton Starbucks, even in December.