Wednesday, March 29, 2006


They come at night, the secret agents in their green aprons. They scour the city for unused spaces; vacant storefronts, empty corners of parking lots, odd-shaped plots wedged between light-industrial complexes. And of course, empty lots on busy streets in upscaling neighborhoods.

Under the glare of the sodium lamps, they dig holes in the ground. What goes in the holes? A canister of used coffee grounds, for certain. A napkin with the company's logo. Crumbs of pastry or sandwiches. One of those recycled-paper sleeves. Other things.... it would not be wise to mention.

The agent fills in the hole and speaks certain words over it. The smell of espresso roasting wafts through the night, disturbing the sleep of residents both old and new. Dogs howl nearby.

In a few days it starts to rise from the ground. The walls paint themselves flat post-industrial colors. Comfortable armchairs and steel-frame tables sprout like mushrooms from the concrete floor. In some cities, the windows mask themselves so that passers-by won't be shocked by this unnatural inorganic growth. In others, the whole process is out in the open.

Soon enough it's in business. You really can't do anything to stop it. People have tried firebombing the buildings in their larval phase; they're far too sturdy to be damaged that way. People have tried lawsuits, but none have ever succeeded. And actually, as parasites go, they're fairly benign. You only have to look around downtown to see how many of them can cluster on a healthy host.

You're not likely to ever see a Stirbucks agent. But if you do, throw a net over him and hold him fast. He'll babble incomprehensibly about urban renewal and franchise entrepeneurship. He'll promise you coupons for free drinks, complementary bags of the Blend of the Month. Turn down every offer. In the end he'll come round, because he has to; he'll give you the one thing you need to free yourself and your family from his corporation's evil grasp. Your very own espresso maker.

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