Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Did you notice that this post is incredibly late in my completely arbitrary, self-imposed schedule of once a week? Well, to make up for my tardiness I now present you with a pile of bullshit mixed with bulls, because I'm the sort of doggedly determined realist (or self-defeating storyteller, take your pick) who feels compelled to inform you where all the shit comes from. Additionally, I will provide you with some slightly less adulterated bullshit that has absolutely nothing to do with the place this post is ostensibly about, because I needed something to tack on to reach my equally arbitrary, self-imposed word count.


What am I doing? The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is not a cafe. There isn't even anywhere to sit except on a bench outside, where I am. I will soon run out of the tiny thing of espresso I got because they have no coffee of the vile, watery stuff I romance. The shop itself is a big nothing, anyway, so I will resort to the dizzying array of people going by. Dizzying because just as I begin thinking about one person, I am hypnotized by some other wandering group of tourists.

A group of self-congratulatory, smelly teenagers in a Subaru stops for another, similar, though more smelly and less moneyed group at the crosswalk. Perceiving the two group's bond of vague hippiedom, the driver of the Subaru yells out at them "there was a REVOLUTION last night, man!" This is all kinds of confusing. Is there something they heard about in the (indy) media that has them all uppity? Some development of which the fellow revolutionaries need to be appraised While some revolution takes place, crumbling the ground beneath our feet, we wander about buying chocolate, enjoying our Saturday like Rebecca Black enjoys Fridays, oblivious. This is an image that such self-styled revolutionaries both cherish and bemoan. In a circular logic, the public's obliviousness is proof of the existence and importance of the invisible struggle. It's happening because it doesn't appear to most of the population to be happening--only the few (of whom they are of course a part) know. But it is also a frustrating state of affairs. If only the masses could see as I do! If only they knew that things are changing, and were not blinded by hegemony! This is why life is exciting if you're the sort of revolutionary who yells out your window that the revolution is happening and that everyone needs to wake up (like that Rage Against The Machine song at the end of The Matrix, man): the mundane is always undercut with the extraordinary, or the potential for the extraordinary. You walk around seeing, you think, what nobody else can see. Secret knowledge animates everything you perceive, pulling it all into a dramatic overarching plot of international politics and class warfare. The best part is that nothing has to confirm this sense, because its negation confirms it. The more everyone else is oblivious, the more you are convinced by your righteous truth and you feel you are struggling against their ignorance.

I love the two women licking ice cream to my left cackling at just about everything. One is telling the other about this couple she is visiting here. In the evening she suggests playing cards, or doing something together. But Jill, who we will now call the woman of the couple, always says "no, let's have a drink and watch a movie." She parrots Jill's shrill voice and adds "that's all she ever wants to do, watch a movie." The man, who we will now call Joe, apparently has no stake in the matter, and does nothing but baby-talk with Jill. "Hey hamburger," Jill says when he comes home from work. "Hey french-fry," he responds. Between the movies and the baby talk, our bemused heroine flees from the doubtlessly impending "I love you, chicken strip" to the guest room to get some sleep. But she is kept up for at least an hour by the noise of the television. Jill doesn't bother choosing a movie--she just watches whatever is on television.

For some unknown reason there are hordes of highschoolers wandering the streets. I don't think they're from Ashland. I think they're visiting the shakespare festival on a school trip. I think the Oregon Shakespeare Festival ends at the end of the month. So downtown Ashland is their playground during the daytime hours for the weekend. I prefer to imagine it this way--one of those sanctioned adolescent respites from home for which their parents provide money. Having Hollywood antics in their hotel rooms, flirting, wandering around town latte-laden, feeling cool. Wearing the new outfit they bought with their allowance last week.


He licks his thumb, not because he is fliping through pages, but because that is what he always does when he reaches for a piece of paper. There is not much on the paper. It is full of text, yes, and it once meant something important, but now there is nothing there. It stares back at him goadingly. He runs his hands for the hundreth time through his greasy hair, and makes a few scribbles in the notebook beside the papers and the pile of books. It is not working. This is just like his office. He came here to jolt himself into finish the essay he has been tinkering at for the past year. He has not yet tried to submit it to wider academia, because it never quite satisfies him. He always feels that something is missing, some part in his reasoning that seems arbitrary. Even now he finds himself staring out the window doing the P.h.D-holding equivalent of eeny-meeny-miney-mo in his head. Maybe it is not an important contribution to philosophy anyway. Maybe he will have to give up his reputation of being a prolifically published professor of philosophy and an asset to a for the most part unremarkable university. Maybe he cannot finish this paper. He puts his black bowler hat over his slicked-back jaw-length hair. He straightens his back, stretching, jangles his bangles back into place, and flips desperately through one of the books at his side, this time forgetting to wet his thumb.

Zoey's Cafe

Saturday, October 22, 2011

He won't recognize me, but I said hello to him last week. He was looking down at Zoey's Cafe from the 9th floor of the Lithia Springs, and I took his photo in the reflection on the glass. Barely visible overlayed onto Grizzly Peak, you can see his oblivious eyes gazing intrepidly down at the street, determined to believe there was something to see. Those same eyes overlook me in the booth behind him, although sometimes I think he is aware of the possibility that I'm watching him. When he walked in his was visibly agitated that I was occupying the corner booth where he could have the entire room in front of him and nobody behind him. I can see him sweat when he turns his head from side to side, watching the employees and typing in short fits. My eyes follow his eyes. This he does not suspect because he preemptively dismisses his paranoia of being watched as paranoia.

When he came in I watched him stand in mock patience at the counter, waiting for the group of ten to get through their gabbing and ordering of ice cream. They were oblivious in the way that neither of us could be: so caught up in their world of ten that they could not be fucked to care what the rest of us thought. It is as far as I can tell suicidal to be self-conscious in public with a child, much less four. Or homicidal--there is no shortage of parents who take out their embarrassment on their children who, god bless them, care about as much as a dog does that it smells of feces. Eventually the teenager behind the counter gave in to his feigned serenity of eyes staring past the ice cream case, and asked him "are you not with this group?"

Despite the fact that he tries to politely ignore the large group, he positively stares at his physical analogue. Perhaps he thinks he's looking at a possibility of what he might be doing when he's in his thirties as the guy he stares at is.

I'm not entirely sure what the familial ties are in the group of ten, but there appear to be some. The guy he stares at, for instance, has a very similar face to the oldest man in the group, who keeps adjusting his baseball cap and his lips every ten seconds. There are definitely two heterosexual couples, both of whom have children, all boys. Two of the boys, presumably brothers, have been dressed in matching striped green t-shirts. One of the young women in the group seems to be managing all of the children except for a baby that sleeps on one man's back. But only two of the children leave with her when she leaves. They all go their separate directions. One woman goes across the street before all the others, in what appears to be a dejected manner.

He keeps looking up from what he's writing, scratching his head, and glancing from person to person. Now he stretches, looks at the ceiling, and sighs. He seems a little frustrated, and I'm imagining that he can't get whatever he's writing about everyone he's watching to cohere. Maybe he could blame the setting. It's shockingly, maybe comfortingly uninteresting in here. It doesn't lead to anything except outside. I can see why he came here--it is a perfect place to watch people. Half of the circumference of the building is made of glass. On two sides he can look out on the street. Well, the streets--the main drag, Siskiyou, is in front, and to the side is First Street. I notice that he often stares absent-mindedly at the people walking by outside, gets lost. I do too, following his gaze. Watching them is even more enticing because from in here it seems that nobody will look back at him; nobody will see him looking at them. He can't hear them outside the windows, so it feels more that they are a show than people whose capacity to return his gaze would turn them off-puttingly real. It's not just that it has lots of windows. It's also that the interior is so open. Nothing obscures his gaze between where he's sitting and the windows. There are no partitions or curtains. The largest thing is a single succulent plant right next to the window. Otherwise it's one open floor, with booths uniformly set along one wall, tables neatly distributed in the middle, and armchairs near the door. Zoey's cafe is a place to engage in comfortable voyeurism.

At least of the people out the window. He does observe the employees, but much more furtively. He steals glances at them and then, flinching, seems to catch himself staring unabashedly. He turns his head and pretends he's not listening to every word of the banter between them. I listen in. It's a little flirtatious, having the place to themselves as they do. The girl asks the guy to stop being so gross, and this of course just eggs him on. He grins and keeps talking about whatever it is. "No, really," she says, "anything else." They chase each other around with objects with which to strike. They talk about horror movies--he pontificating, she asking questions. Apparently demonic things get to him, ghosts get to her. They laugh and work side be side. They seem to be in some disagreement about "The Thing". She thinks it's a terrible movie for a date. Did they see it on a date together, or do they merely work together? As his fascination becomes my own, I wonder if it might make an opening scene to a movie--watching them banter and flirt, not knowing what their relationship is. That would become, the film maker would hope, the interest of the audience in the scene. What's interesting as a voyeur is interesting on film. Of course, now our listening is becoming even more conspicuous to them because us two are the only customers in here. It's just us four.

The 9th Floor

Friday, October 14, 2011

The foremost purpose of a writer is to be quotable.

There are at least a few theories of what a cafe is. One of the more popular is that it's how people gather in a cafe, whatever may be served. As one of the louder proponents of this academic fad, B. Ayn Jojo laboriously puts it, "while 'cafe' has its own array of significations in the English-speaking world, we may freely ignore these to develop a precise, unified theory of cafeness, which is a mutating collection of socio-econiomic practices going back to the Renaissance, and which encompasses everything from a shisha bar to Starbucks." However, there is some disagreement even among Jojoians, who for the past ten years have been whittling down their theory of cafeness to a more and more essential meaning, and tracing its origins to prehistoric times. In fact, Madeline Javangle has gone so far as to postulate that cafeness is "at the very core of human ontology," and that "the tendency towards cafeness is one of our earliest and most primal." Of course, Javangle has defined cafeness in such abstract terms that our hypothetical prehistoric ancestor need only have wiggled his toe in the right body-act to create cafeness.

The renowned Marxist Gerald Hunam of course takes issue with a cafe being anything but a historically situated practice driven by material conditions. At least year's CafeCon, in one of his more polemic (and some say inebriated) moments, he said "the idea that a Starbucks is essentially the same as a London coffee house in the 17th century only holds water among you namby-pamby metaphysicians."

Still others insist that a cafe has to do with coffee, and that a cafe may only be called a cafe if it serves coffee. These coffeeists moreover argue that the sociocultural function of a cafe only came about because of coffee. They take a rather broad view of agency. “We like to think of ourselves as being the only force in the world," Martha Wuwuberg writes, "but if this perception of our intentional effect upon the world is merely an effect of our sentience, indeed the perception of our sentience--sentience itself--then it could be equally said that anything and everything works its will on the world. The coffee plant is one of the more breathtaking examples of this."

I have taken the coffeeist position to write this post, not so much because I believe it but because I have run out of lay-defined cafes in Ashland, and the idea that wherever I take my coffee becomes a cafe gives me something to go on.

So I have come to the ninth floor of the Mark Anthony, which may only be thought of as a cafe in the coffeeist way, because there's nobody else sitting around, no employees, and no coffee served. There is only a small table with two wicker chairs, surrounded by tall windows, probably the highest-up windows in the Rogue Valley.

From these windows the buildings downtown look oddly exposed, as if they had been upturned, revealing this undersides to me above them. From the street one only ever seeds the facade, and maybe the very top of a vent or something, but up here I can see the whole mess of wires, rusting air-conditioning units, fans, satellite dishes, skylights, and television antennae. The top of the post office looks like it's designed so that water drains from its almost flat roof into a few holes, but actually it collects in puddles on top. Not that long ago the post office was covered in white and grey stones, but these were removed to reveal the pink bricks beneath. Zoey's Cafe & All Natural Ice Cream, which I'm not sure qualifies as a cafe, even though the nominalists would have it otherwise, has put their logo atop their roof, as if to announce themselves to high-resolution aerial cameras. If the logo is intended for hotel guests (for the Mark Anthony is a hotel called Lithia Springs Hotel), it is unnecessary. Even here at the top floor the sign on their awning is highly visible.

What if we posit the following tautological theory: a cafe is where psychocafegraphy can happen, and psychocafegraphy is writing that occurs in a cafe and whose subject is a cafe. In other words, if I can write a blog post from this 9th floor wicker chair, it is a cafe. This is potentially problematic because this would mean that a cafe does not necessarily involve hot drinks, much less coffee. Moreover, one of the ventricles of psychocafegraphy’s heart is observing and eavesdropping on people. If a cafe is a place where psychocafegraphy can happen, then people must gather there to converse. I am inclined, then, to agree with the Jojoians, if not quite to their recent extremity. Unfortunately, I am close to finishing a psychocafegraphy post about a place where very few come to talk. (When two or three people do come here to talk, if another group comes, they politely avoid sitting near the group who is already there. Just a minute ago a woman came over here, poked her head around to look out the window, apologized, and scurried off, as if I owned the place. I didn’t have time to say I didn’t mind her looking out the window. But perhaps she did.) This post, then, is a (very tiresome) paradox (for which you probably want to hit me for boring you with).