Starbucks (Near the University)

Monday, March 7, 2011

I’m going to have to resort to the Fox News idiom pointed out by “Outfoxed”. People are saying that this blog is written only for an audience who has been to these coffee shops, and who lives in Ashland. And some people say that these entries do not include enough detail.

What I am writing is necessarily a lie. Take, for instance, the present tense I used in the previous sentence. When you read this--and you are reading this right now (but that has already passed)--to refer to myself writing in the present tense is erroneous. But it is a necessary error. To use the past tense and say that I wrote this would be equally misleading.

But this piece of writing in particular must be a lie for another reason: I am writing it in the place I am writing it about. Moreover, I am not using various facts about this place to construct an essay as I usually do, but rather I am writing a linear narrative of my time there. And it’s a narrative that includes the time in which I write what am writing now. I have to narrate writing the narration of my writing. It is impossible. Hence I must lie.

My story has a short prologue. I had never wanted to come here. In a town that has an overabundance of coffee shops, going to Starbucks is unseemly. I would say that my aversion to Starbucks is for the standard reasons, but what this really amounts to is that I have no reasons per se. Just, like, you know, Starbucks isn’t cool, bro. Duh. Since I’ve begun this blog, I have wanted to come here. But this place has thwarted me countless times. It's just insanely busy. College students must drink a lot of Starbucks. Every time I’ve tried to come here, there are no empty tables.

It’s easy to get lost in the details. Conversely, it’s easy to skip over the details entirely. The problem with this latter, so far as this entry is concerned, is that teleology alone does not write blog entries. There must be something between here and there. As much as I don’t want so much to write this as to have it written, blogs do not consist in merely a stated desire to write content.

So what is between here and there? Details. Take these floor tiles. They exude dark, rough earthen-ness at a glance. They are here to help create an ambience that fits into the fairly inclusive aesthetic of Starbucks. They look like stone. But as I look closer I notice that one tile is repeated throughout the floor’s grid, although each is rotated to a different angle. I can see this because I’m looking for it. On my way here I was thinking of how to write this entry, imagined what the interior might be like, and endeavored to inspect the floor tiles. Now that I have seen one matching pair of tiles, rotated 90 degrees from each other, I assume without looking that the whole floor consists of a small set of repeated tiles. But I want to look closer. If I bend down to look at a tile--causing I’m sure everyone who notices me doing this to question my sanity--I see what I expected to see. The pattern has resolution; it is made up of tiny squares of color. What have I learned from my inspection? Nothing. I had already assumed that the tiles were manufactured in uniformity by computer. This is by no means a scientific inquiry. Here facts are fungible ways to find what I already had in mind. Hypothesis and conclusion get together before their wedding and share secrets.

The thing about intending to write a blow-by-blow account of your immediate experience is that as a story your experience is bound to disappoint. When I come in breathing a little heavy from the walk and because I have a cold, there is nothing special about how the guy behind the counter says “hello, how are you doing?” The pomp he adds to our exchange is unnecessary but completely ordinary. I order my boring default of black coffee, and he says that he thinks there might be one mug left, the implication being, I assume, that everyone orders espresso drinks and they all come in paper cups, thus there aren’t many mugs kept about. Accustomed to fussy customers and assuming the worst, baristas tend to over-justify any action they take involving your drink. After I said, when he asked, that I didn’t want room for cream, he added that he “left a little splash room” (so that it doesn’t spill) to preempt a complaint from me that he didn’t fill my cup high enough. Wanting to pay with quarters I’ve scrounged from my room, I fuss with my change, which I always assume people find annoying.

Two conversations are going on as I make my way to a seat. There’s one between a woman who got up from her table adjacent to mine and one of the employees. He’s cheery. He’s got a whole gestalt of easy energeticness going on. His hair seems to me the original source of all this, blonde and gelled into short forward and upward spikes. He has a short, well trimmed beard, which makes his long face look like a goat’s. I imagine him as a Disney character as he smiles widely and moves about behind the counter with little dramatic flourishes. He’s tall and lanky in a way that turns his every move into endearing slapstick. In any case, he’s chatting with this woman. They seem quite pleased with each other, really. It could be sweet. The flow of their talk is punctuated by the rhythms of his job, as he flips various switches, washes dishes, brews fresh coffee, and operates the espresso machine. When their talk ends and she returns to her chair, he turns away and I can almost see his face drop in profile. He’s tired of smiling.

The other conversation is between two students. She’s sitting down to a pile of homework and her laptop, and he has come over to say hi before going out the door. It’s one of those not quite commiserating college interactions; he tells her about the homework he has to do and asks her “how about you?” Perhaps they are in the same class. Contrary to her serious furrowed brows as she works, her voice is blissed-out. I lack the vocabulary to describe it. It sounds really like she has a frog in her throat, except in an intensely girly way. What would it be like to have such a peculiar voice? We are stuck with our voices. While mine sounds relatively pleasant to me when muffled by the flesh between my mouth and ears, it is nasal in a way that I dislike when I hear a recording. There are certain things that don’t sound right spoken by certain voices. Growing up we develop an ear and a voice, slowly mimicking and censoring ourselves into a vocal persona. This never really stops, although I think it slows. One even develops different vocal personas with different people. Some of the most glaring sedimentation of mannerisms on top of voice revolve around gender. One develops vocal personas in relation to gender, but gender is not explicitly perceptible as a socially coercive producer of another’s speech patterns and inflections. The particulars get lost in the general, and the general gets lost in the particulars.

I sit writing, getting more and more tired and getting lulled to sleep by the low-volume, pasty muzak and the white noise of the pastry refrigerator. It’s getting darker outside, approaching twilight. It’s time to go home. But I must pee. On the way to the bathroom I am reminded what a terrible person I can be. Remember the woman with whom the cheery employee was chatting? She is hobbling with her dangling laptop bag toward the… well, I guess she must be headed to the bathroom. I squeeze past her, getting in her way as I rush to the Men’s room. “What’s your problem, buddy?” she says behind me. I sit in the bathroom with the requisite guilt, wondering why on earth I hurried in front of her, thinking of how to modulate an apology. Then I plot my escape. What happens when a fact doesn’t fit my hypothesis? I flee.