Chatting Coffee and Krugman

By David Lewis

So, I’m sitting in my neighborhood java house, with my latte, minding my own business and reading a favored book of poetry, Road-Side Dog, by Czeslaw Milosz; really do like how that guy’s pen works. We each attend our own ritual in this West L.A. shrine to the coffee life. Some read while others tap away on laptops, chat business or conduct job interviews; still others come in for bags of dry beans and leave straightaway.

I glance up and notice, sitting at a table next to mine, Julia Louis Dreyfus, the talented actress who played Elaine on nine seasons of Seinfeld. She appears to be having a business meeting. Part of me wants to gain her attention, just to compliment her body of work; but I follow the protocol de rigueur in Brentwood – no celebrity stands out in this neighborhood – we’re each quite special, thank you very much.

Once, however, I did take a moment to tell Will Ferrell that I enjoyed his work. This was several years ago, when he was transitioning from Saturday Night Live to the status of Hollywood movie star. It was just the two of us, in an elevator, in Beverly Hills. I would’ve felt silly pretending I didn’t recognize him, and so we nodded politely to each other.

“I really enjoy your work,” I said, smiling.

“Oh, thank you very much,” he replied, smiling back at me. “I appreciate you saying so.” Then the elevator doors opened and we parted company.

Back to java … so there I sit, and Paul Krugman – well-known economist, committed lefty, overly confident, you know the type – walks in and saunters up to the counter. The woman working there, sporting a lip ring, appears to know the Keynesian snoot, and they share some small talk, which I, of course, can overhear.

“How’s business?” Krugman asks.

“Sucks,” she replies. “Sales are way down. People seem to be watching their pennies. Even here. Got any advice?” And a smile curls across his previously pursed lips.

“What’s your monthly outlay on coffee beans?”

“Just enough to keep the bins full.”

“Double it.”

“What?”

“Better yet, triple it.”

“Even if I saw the sense in that, which I don’t, I don’t have the budget.”

“Borrow it.”

“But why?

“Look, you’re not going to grow yourself out of these doldrums unless you spend a lot of money that you don’t have on coffee that no one will buy.”

“Doesn’t sound very efficient.”

“What’s efficiency got to do with it? It’s about spurring economic activity. Just spend money you don’t have and borrow more than you could ever hope to pay back.”

“We could go out of business that way.”

“Your competitors won’t let that happen, you’re too big to fail. Spend like there’s no tomorrow, and you’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, sure. Thanks. Uh, here’s your change. Enjoy your tea.”

Nudge, wink … only seen Krugman on the telly.

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