Monday, February 28, 2011

Just for fun, I briefly considered doing a bit of historical research for this entry. After all this is a blog that often traces the history of Ashland, albeit vaguely. But I decided not to because I am lazy, yes, but also because I want to historicize using the particularity of my limited 26-year-old memory. Remembering even those short years back has the effect of making just about everything new to me. I don’t mean new in the sense of fresh, but in the sense of bewildering. What’s strange about this is that although Ashland is littered with bewildering things, I am used to them. Although the two main roads, Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street, have gained ornamental islands of plants in their center lanes in my lifetime, I have no trouble navigating them. But I have this nagging sense occasionally that they shouldn’t be there. I never really got around to accepting them, but I keep living with them, as one does. The condition is the reverse of an amputee’s phantom limb. Parts of the town are like limbs I never knew I had. Basically, I have a very mild, high-functioning form of dementia. So does everyone who has lived for more than a second.

From this perspective I have one question: what is mix? It was never here when I was in high school, which of course is the ground of validity. Back then, and really for as long as I can remember, the space it now occupies was The Fudge Factory, which was ostentatious about its identity. In the window the fudge maker could be seen working with enormous copper vats. An entirely different aesthetic occurred there than does now at mix. The room was filled with warm colors and soft, buttery confections. I can remember alarmingly little about it. I remember looking into the display case at the many varieties of fudge in little squares, although there wasn’t much difference between them. There were only so many things that The Fudge Factory thought fudge could consist of: chocolate, white chocolate, peanut butter, maple, nuts, and, yeah, that’s all I can remember. It was not the sort of thing that would be well loved these days (gosh, no bacon?), and in this way the advent of mix is a sign of the times.

The other defining feature of The Fudge Factory I remember: it was always said, with an air of scandal, that only pretty teenaged girls were ever hired to work there. Perhaps this was only said among my peers because the idea of a sexualized and sexist workplace had only just made it into our purview, however poorly glimpsed.

When The Fudge Factory became mix, some things changed and others did not. In many ways mix is just an update of the same basic concept of selling ice cream and other sweet things downtown. Wait, did The Fudge Factory sell ice cream? It must have, but I don’t remember. I at first find it difficult to think of mix as anything but a reflection of changing tastes. For one thing, mix drastically changed the nature of sweet shop spectacle. It replaced the homey mythology of confectionary with a starkly cute look of garish colors, simplicity, and modernist furniture. The windows were expanded even further, and now showcase customers rather than the labor of making fudge. Instead of marketing the “home-made” production of their goodies, the sweets in mix’s display case seem to come from nowhere. There is a little kitchen in the back, but you are not to look there. It is only through curiosity that I speculate that the little four-inch tarts aren’t baked, but probably just assembled back there. Oh, maybe they’ve managed to hide a bakery back there, who knows. Mix orients the customer’s gaze away from the food’s origin, toward ourselves. Michael Pollan would be horrified, I’m sure.

Speaking of which, mix’s products are all from elsewhere, and proudly displayed as such. Their coffee isn’t from one of the local roasters; it is Stumptown from Portland. Their gelato is shipped to them from New York City. Even its style seems imported from some more urban locale. This is an odd thing in the context of all this hysteria about local. Rather than fetishizing a visible, immediate origin as The Fudge Factory did, mix romanticizes distant origins. They purvey not homemade-ness, but sophistication.

In other words, mix operates by opposing dementia. Just as it exemplifies for me how the present is an obstacle to grasping the past, its aesthetics, business model, and food sourcing embody a negation of origins. Nothing here has a past, mix insists, all of it just is.

It’s becoming a standard practice in these entries to say why I come here. I come here to forget. Here I can forget about what living prevents me from fully remembering. It is a place full of distractions that allow me to focus. I come to sit in at the wooden bar at the window, to listen to the annoyingly hip music, and to watch people walk by. In such a busy environment it is often possible to think, to strip away transference for a short while. But what is left?

Even those upon whose childhoods mix is not transposed can’t seem to grasp what mix is. An older man telling his friends where to meet him says “I’m in a place called M-I-X. Yeah. M-I-X.” He has to spell it out because, well, god knows how it’s supposed to be pronounced--it’s not even capitalized. And if he did pronounce it, his friends might think he meant “Mick’s”. In fact, its success seems largely due to the impossibility of understanding it. Not knowing what to make of it, everyone comes here, from families with babies and small children, to flirting teenagers, to slowly conversing geriatrics. The employees also create disorientation. Although they are surrounded by cutesyness, their ennui is often palpable. Over the indy-pop I often hear their trite conversations of woe. It’s not even clear that mix knows what mix is. Its pastel pink sign deems it a “sweet shop,” yet ham and cheese sandwiches (on cute minibaguettes) are served here.

Because it denies the distortions of the past wholesale, mix is the very condition of knowledge, and at the same time eludes knowledge entirely. One can see the present as the present, yet one finds that nothing is there.