The Roasting Company

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let’s face it, language does not make sense. It doesn’t have to. When you stop and think about their origins, the phrases we use all the time are utterly incomprehensible. Their obscure and convoluted etymologies are not apparent. It is quite possible that these histories are not even knowable, and it is not the slightest bit important that we know them in order to utter the phonemes they have resulted in. Language keeps trotting along. But sometimes it contracts severe case of philosophical doubt, and hysteria erupts. Let us consider, for instance, the following sign:

Thank You :)

Obviously I could just send this along to the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks, and be done with it. And we could all have a good laugh. I sure did. In fact, transcribing this sign felt risky because I thought the employees of The Roasting Company, inside of which this sign is posted, would see that I was giggling at their sign, and would give a shit. This is absurd, of course. In any case, I think the sign is more than just amusingly stupid. It’s smart for the same reason it’s stupid.

Why put “bus” in quotes? It was done, it seems to me, to draw attention to the peculiarity of the word. “Bus” bears only a spare relation to its homonym: a bus transports people, and to bus a table is to transport dishes. Aside from both involving transport, they aren’t even the same part of speech. This is not at all uncommon in English. Homonyms don’t have to be related in any way, in fact, they generally aren’t. If one troubles oneself with such things, it is a bit confusing, even, that occasionally they are connected at all. But if one is confused, usually one just rolls with it. This sign is hung up on it. Bus your damn table, it says, and quit telling us about how odd the word “bus” is.

There are a number of other, less explicable decisions that went into the making of this sign. There is that one comma after “please,” which seems like it could be a misplaced genuflection to correct punctuation, despite the fact that elsewhere those rules are completely ignored. Perhaps it’s not attempting to be correct at all, but simply a verbal pause meant to emphasize the insistence of its plea. There is that change from ALL CAPS to Capitalization for “Thank You”. It’s as if “Thank You” is its title, and just happens to fall at the bottom.

In short, the sign is a mess of conventions. It has been here for a long time, and although its place within even advertising English is sketchy, it very much belongs here. This whole place exudes the same sense of rushed intentionality. Everything seems to have been put in place just until a more permanent fixture can be put in place. The ugly, hour-glass-shaped mugs feel like they could fall apart at any moment. The plastic water cooler is perhaps the most obvious example of slapdashery, resting as it does on a not entirely clean-looking towel, which is there not to prevent leaks but to absorb them.

There are two communities here, one of which I am not and have never been a part of, and other of which I was once, briefly. The former community is this cafe’s family, as some cafes develop. It consists of the regulars, the proprietor, and some of his employ. They chat; they ask each other how they are doing and how their children are doing. Some of them even have a predictable schedule of coming in, which when deviated from is commented upon. The family worries about its members.

The proprietor has baby pictures posted on the back of the espresso machine. At least, I think he owns the place. He certainly acts like it. Youthful though he is, he has this fatherly way of carrying himself. His manner is very grave, like you might wish a surgeon to have. When I order coffee from him it is as if I agreed to the excision of a tumor.

The latter community is high school students. Only a hop, skip, and a jump away, it’s their hang--well, some of them. If you come here during lunch, or, even better, during the off periods you get in your last year or two, you are cool. But you don’t come here alone, you come with an entourage of friends and/or your boyfriend/girlfriend. You come here to feel adult-like with coffee in paper cups or with little pots of tea. You spend money here because you have it.

I hardly remember being here in high school although I know I was. It is only by eavesdropping on the current batch that I can access my memories of that time. Okay, I do remember, waiting in line one time, being told that Ray Bradbury is a good guy. Or a standup dude, or something like that. But mostly my memories have been bussed away. I can come here, for a small fee, to be bussed back, for better or worse. It is in this way that if you’ve lived somewhere for a long time, its geography becomes an archive.

Although high school students rarely do in Ashland, I like to think of them as those that come on busses. After all, if they don’t come on a bus, they are either bussed here by their parents or they bus themselves. Even those that walk to school are bussing themselves, are they not?

In the ideal world that the sign proposes, baristas do not bus tables, but they end up being bussers anyway. So there are those who are bussed and those that bus. This distinction is not in the least bit helpful in distinguishing high school students from baristas, but let’s use it anyway. The bussed are urged to bus their tables. In theory only the bussed bus, while the bussers are in no way a part of any bussing or busses. In practice, however, the bussed are forgetful and do not always bus, and the bussers, true to their name, also bus. There is something a little irksome about this, hence the sign. The sign polices language and customers alike, yet in doing so it recreates the very aberration it seeks to quell.