What we talk about when we talk about the Starbucks Pistachio Latte
My new thing is pharmaceutical trials. I blame the algorithm— imagine Zucc running the numbers by hand, like an old timey horse bookie, cashing in when he calculates that my weaknesses are $400 diaphanous babydoll dresses and open calls for those afflicted by drowsiness and weird rashes. Most of the studies don’t even say what they’re researching. I apply anyway. I’m honoring a commitment to a sort of slutty dialectic where I’ll put anything in my body once, or I’m honoring whatever cagey impulse lives on the line between boredom and death drive, or the pay seems pretty good.
I’ll probably never know what my end game here is, because the trials never pick me. What’s the ideal body for experimentation? Am I suffering too much, or not enough? I asked my nurse what was wrong with me during a Zoom intake for an off-brand experimental COVID vaccine and he became guarded, unable to give me a straight answer. I didn’t get a callback.
Because I can’t mainline FDA-approval-pending medications, I decided to try the Starbucks Pistachio Latte instead. I had high hopes: it’s a beverage, and hot girls love beverages. This is a cultural truth, and perhaps a philosophical one—we love hydrating, we love having something to do with our hands. We love when the chemistry of complicated foam art is employed not for molecular gastronomy, but to caffeinate people who wear leggings.
Also, pistachio is the best nut. Delicately sweet with a whisper of citrus, the flavor is both distinct and versatile. It’s the manic pixie dream girl of the nuts and legumes cinematic universe. The Starbucks Pistachio Latte costs $5.25 ($5.75 with alt milk) and features “nutty pistachio sauce” and “salted brown butter topping.”
The voice behind my local Starbucks drive-thru talk box glittered with vocal fry. I pulled up to the little window and the kid held out his arm, stretched between his world and mine, and I took the cup from him.
I often feel like I’m living in an endless drive-thru, pulled forward by the insular vehicle of time, unable to stop and immerse myself in anything I see out the window. I forget what day it is. I get my news from hot takes. I tell my therapist for the third week in a row that my long-term goal is to get out of bed before noon.
I took my first sip of the Starbucks Pistachio Latte at a red light. I paused. I worried I’d burnt my tongue. No. The Starbucks Pistachio Latte tastes like nothing.
Starbucks develops its products in a Seattle-based lab, complete with tech bros and flavor chemists and, inexplicably, a 3D printer. I assume they host research studies filled with bored dummies who see their ads on Instagram. The Starbucks Pistachio Latte’s blandness isn’t a bug; it’s a feature. It’s been engineered and optimized— the perfect beverage for the slow decline of late capitalism.
Our generation was weaned on the taste of soft disappointment. First we chugged PBR, and then La Croix. In life, too, we’re accustomed to positioning ourselves at the sidelines of direct experience, embodying existential committmentphobia like we have a mass avoidant attachment disorder. It makes sense. We’re haunted by the fleetingness, the tenuousness, of both the digital sphere—the last two years alone produced 90% of our data, a speed and quantity at which we can’t hold onto anything— as well as the warming glaciers and oceans, the shifting of the literal earth beneath our feet. So here we are: loss of self without ego death.
The Starbucks Pistachio Latte is like someone reposted a flavor. It’s all aftertaste, so I’m never tasting it but I’m never not tasting it, either. It is somehow both isolating and stifling. The mouthfeel is terrycloth. Like a banal male protagonist manipulating his manic pixie dream girl into a flattened fantasy, Starbucks has contorted the pistachio into a saccharine ghost of its true form. When did pleasure stop being fun?
Drinking the latte was so dissociative it was almost mystical. It was like a doll I had as a kid, where I put a spoon of peas into the baby’s mouth, and the baby looked like it was consuming them but really the peas just retracted back into the spoon.
I drove home with my Schrödinger’s Latte and I watched Gregg Araki’s 1995 queer cult odyssey film The Doom Generation. (If you haven’t seen it, spoilers ahead, but it’s worth watching even if you know what happens.)
The second film in Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, The Doom Generation follows moshpit himbo Jordan (James Duval) and methed-up dark timeline valley girl Amy (Rose McGowan before she got TERFy) across a psychedelic, upside-down Inland Empire. The movie opens at the flaming gates of a club called Hell, and Amy is pissed she can’t find her lighter. The teens meet a horny and dangerous stranger named Xavier, or X (Johnathon Schaech), when he’s thrown onto their windshield. The trio bounces around the wasteland, eating fast food and choking each other out and accidentally (or not) murdering a few people while they evade their own angels of death. There’s a lot of drive-thrus in their world, too.
The movie is lurid and occasionally cartoonish, a party monster fever dream, but it’s tacked with moments of shockingly honest feeling, too. I’m not really interested in the pithy nihilism of Brett Easton Ellis; The Doom Generation is different. Our characters live in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, abandoned by family and government, seeking cheap thrills because they can’t afford anything else. While fleeing one bloody crime scene, they run over a dog; they risk capture to hold it a funeral. For all their shit slinging, they’re kids coming to terms with the fact that they live in a violent world, and that they, too, can’t stop perpetuating violence.
This loss of innocence bonds the trio, holding them together as they drift past gas stations and mini golf parks. It’s part sexual tension and part surface tension, the way water bonds to resist an object’s otherwise overwhelming external force. That object is the whole fucking world. As X puts it, after lopping off a convenience store clerk’s head: “I fry, we all fry.” I had to stream The Doom Generation from a bootleg site, and I kept getting pop up ads that said, “I’m horny! Please help me!” A cynic is a romantic with a broken heart.
The film’s climax is one of dizzying violence, graphic and perverse, a fatal gay bashing set against a strobe light and a blaring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Afterwards, sole survivors X and Amy drive away, towards no future. He offers her a Dorito.
I live in Los Angeles, where this week the city lifted air quality regulations so the crematoriums can burn a higher number of bodies. The Starbucks Pistachio Latte is good, I guess, when it’s nuclear winter and you need something to warm your hands.
And so in this way I guess I’m wondering if we can alchemize our shared lost grace into a bond. Wandering the wasteland, abandoned by or abandoning our gods, I want something more for us than the Starbucks Pistachio Latte.
This week’s stock market upheaval was the sort of ragtag victory that, while ephemeral, revived a certain jouissance—unbridled, self-destructive glee, because everything fun is wrong. Direct action and community care, while sometimes draining and unromantic, can induce a similar thrill, with far greater positive results. Last week at the community fridge, a neighbor and I went through every vegetable in the donation box, Tetris-ing together potential recipes with the ingredients at hand. Recall the last time you created possibilities with a stranger. All it took to push me into the present was a real-time person showing me how to tell when an orange is ripe.
I’ve also been thinking about how maybe joy lives next to sorrow in the body. (With nothing but respect, The Body Keeps the Score is Infinite Jest for e-girls.) I worry that I’ve been conflating “comfort” with a constant pressure from all sides, this unrelenting suffocation that with the right aesthetic could be mistaken for swaddling. I’ve been vibrating at a steady 3.5, unable to feel anything. Maybe experiencing happiness is integral to processing pain. If we’re living in a nightmare, maybe we learn to lucid dream. I went out again, after the movie, and bought a pint of pale green pistachio ice cream. I fry, we all fry. On the road to hell, stop for roadside attractions.
loved reading this instead of working this morning
I love your brain, thank you for this. And please give Puff a scratch for me because I love his brain also.