Dunkin Donuts

I swear I am not picking a fight with people who like Dunkin Donuts coffee, but Dunkin Donuts coffee generally sucks. It wakes you up, but an alarm clock will do the same thing. That irritating mechanical buzz? This is Dunkin Donuts coffee in your brain.

Granted, they have different kinds, like ‘french vanilla’ and also something that smells like almonds. But the truck stop ethos is fake. It’s the truck stop without the actual truck stop. It is poseur country music, which is to say, like most every kind of pop country music. It is George W. Bush pretending to be stupid or Mitt Romney pretending to be an Everyman.

Instead of getting into further cultural meta-analysis of Dunkin Donuts coffee, however, it will be more interesting to discuss the donuts.

Please hit reverse on the cassette tape of life and join me as I come home from high school to see a chatty gaggle of women in the basement slamming away at chunks of marble and granite.

My mother was an artist. Sometimes she taught art to the women in the neighborhood. One week stone, and on another, I’d see women painting canvases. The air in the basement would be thick with talk and turpentine. When my mother switched to welding steel there was no place to do that in the basement. She went to a town nearby called Mt. Vernon to wear her welding mask and clang together large pieces of steel. She would have car body shops paint them with spray guns fizzing orange and red.

Decades later, when she was on her way to dying of emphysema and lung cancer, the doctors blamed it on lots of things: the paints and chemicals she used or the stone dust in the basement. For years, she smoked cigarettes. She and my father heard the planes fly over on 9/11 and breathed the charged air of the aftermath. So, there were factors. One spring morning, I considered them as I walked into a Dunkin Donuts on upper Madison Avenue.

She was in the hospital following heart surgery. My job was to buy the donuts. The hospital nursing staff had been working hard to take care of her. At one point she had been given prednisone, which caused her to become manic. She accused a night nurse of being the Angel of Death, which was awkward. That wore off when they took her off the prednisone, but the thought was that if I brought in a dozen or two donuts to the nurses, it might take the edge off things.

I ordered two dozen, assorted. They were cheery, with colorful sprinkles and shiny chocolate glaze. I learned when you carry big pink and orange donut boxes into a hospital, you get a lot of smiles.

The nursing staff was grateful when I presented them with the boxes. Their gratefulness at my gesture had little to do with donuts, just as this story has little to do with coffee, and everything to do with small gestures that make hard times a little easier.