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  • Alan is an entrepreneur of great appeal in my eyes. When I met him over three decades ago, he was reorganizing his barber shop business to adjust to the loss of what amounted to half the rent payment on his salon space. The tattoo artist who had worked behind the partition had gotten crossways of the laws setting age limits on who might be clients for his services. In plain fact, nobody in Idaho is old enough to trade sex for tattoos. Even if they were, the client in question wouldn't have made the cut. The State of Idaho conferred rent-free lodging on the tattooist for a period of longer than Alan could afford to pay full rent. Since he disapproved of the needle man's business model anyway, the barber shop was to be, from then on, a solo operation.

    His business card said everything that Alan reckoned needed saying. There was his name, above a slightly smaller typeface identifying him as a "High School Graduate". He used a different card for the business because another barber was needed in the shop when Alan wanted to be free to pursue his several other interests and activities.

    When he wasn't cutting hair or managing his investments, Alan was never idle. Weekends, some weekdays and evenings, he might be found enjoying any one of his several chosen artistic pursuits. Sometimes he played pickup violin in one or another small groups of bluegrass enthusiasts, usually members that of the Idaho Folklore Society. Good enough to be invited to join public performances, his fiddle was a welcome tuneful strain. Among the small gifts I got from Alan over the years, my first Stephane Grappelli tape ranks high. He handed it to me without comment when I stepped across the threshold of his studio coffee roasting operation the first time.

    Coffee roasting and large color photo printmaking were two crafts he pursued with equal and impressive attention to detail. Inevitably, he mastered both. Two of his 16" X 20" prints from deep in the Grand Canyon hang on my dining room wall, where they have been for more than a decade. Each is flawless, with no perceptible loss of quality over that time. He started in it by taking a local master's special courses at the university. He pursued it doggedly, which meant a combination of hiking, climbing and/or kayaking into the middle of seldom-visited places of wild beauty. There he would set up camp and wait, sometimes for hours, for just the right combination of angularity and shadow in the condition of the light before exposing a single frame. I didn't see him do this, nor did he tell me this was the way he did it, but I know we read the same books, and I know you can't get the same quality of results any lesser way. If you could, everyone would.

    I go to Alan for a haircut whenever I go back to that root, to listen to his stories while he makes my last few dozen grey hairs presentable, even though both of us accept that people over a certain age are invisible to all but those who depend on us, which, for the unluckiest, is nobody. He takes his time, and I'm never in a hurry. When he's done, I pay him for the first-rate trim, and a pound of his special brand of hand-roasted coffee.

    I know it's hand-roasted, because I've watched him do it, and with more than casual interest. Here, the reader must understand that coffee is considered a food item by public health authorities whose brief it is to keep us safe from food terrorists, dread diseases or fake products. One thing these "regulators" enforce by inspection is to require that facilities where food products are produced for sale, a minimum standard of sanitation is met. To make a long story short, you can't roast coffee in your garage and sell it to clients of your barber shop, however avidly the clients may seek it.

    Coffee, retailed, must be roasted to strict specifications, in a state-certified environment. Never mind that coffee roasting requires only that you heat up a quantity of raw beans until it gives off a proper shade of magic smoke. It becomes a color that signals A) the beans are optimally roasted, and B) they will burst into flames soon if you don't remove the fire. At this point, the presence of micro-organisms or other unhygienic conditions isn't likely. Sounds boring, but Alan's way is anything but, probably because his only reason for roasting coffee beans in the first place was to assure himself the best possible start for the day. Economics, imagination, ingenuity, opportunity and art take care of the rest.

    Alan roasts several hundredweight of choice raw coffee beans a year in the garage, using only a large stainless steel bowl and a couple of hot air popcorn poppers of a brand now long extinct. Would-be imitators, perhaps trying to outdo the master, have investigated other, more recent lines of poppers, but all are wanting in one way or another. Yet Alan's "brand" has stayed strong. That's right, I said "brand". Here, the gentle reader may want to chide me for giving away too much, and possibly incriminating information on my friend, so great is my admiration of his accomplishments. I have already acknowledged his potential liability under existing regulations. Still, allow me to continue.

    Once the coffee has roasted and cooled for just the right period of time, it's ready to package. For this, the plain brown 16 oz. size bags used everywhere can't be improved on. Before he fills the bags with a carefully-measured pound of coffee, each is imprinted with his "logo". A special rubber stamp was made for this purpose. Using an appealing shade of dark burgundy ink, rakishly applied on a slight diagonal cant, three imprints per side, appear the words "Pet Grade-Not for Human Consumption".

    As Juan Valdez, the TV Colombian might say, "Tu perro va a encantar."
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