The Apple Cellar (Downtown)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

As I’ve said before, I’m always thinking of what to write on my way to the cafe I’m writing about. Though it would be more practical to begin thinking about these things at home, I very rarely do. I can’t, really. I need the forward motion, to humor my restlessness. To move forward is to tear up the present, to make really reflecting impossible, but it’s the only way to reflect. One can never really understand, one can only keep moving past shreds of where one has been scattered along the way. There’s never enough time to think, but if I stop to allow myself time to think, the thinking stops. Sometimes, afraid that when I arrive at the cafe I won’t have anything to write, I dally, walking around the block chewing my lip. This never really helps. One cannot dally on the way to the grave. And the Apple Cellar, down in the cool earth, is certainly the grave.

They started at the other end of town, where everything that’s sold in this downtown location comes from. This little cafe is just a satellite. I haven’t been there to the main bakery in ages, but I used to go with my friend’s family often. It feels like it’s trying to be a modernized throwback to another era. In that frantic state of mourning in which one tries to preserve rather than let go of what’s lost, everything is draped in bleached white. The tablecloths are white. The plates are white. The uniforms are white. The baked goods are set in pristine refrigerated deli cases. Everything is cheaply French. It’s not that the products are entirely bad. I like their almond crescents, even if they taste a bit too refined in the industrial sense. But the repertoire doesn’t feel like the choices of a discerning taste, because taste, like anything alive, is open to change. This is just ossification. It’s an apple cellar in an English estate on some American rebroadcast of a British period drama. As time goes on the Apple Cellar has grown via their little colony over here, but they haven’t changed.

The window display belies its preference for aesthetic perfection over everything else The cupcakes, cakes, and breads on display are lacquered inedibles. Rather than a rotation of perishable fresh goodies, these preserved corpses are used to lure customers. In the window they advertise that another bakery’s (The Village Baker’s) bread is sold here. Their bread has always been dependably okay, nothing special, but they never change the recipe.

The decor is deeply apathetic. The beige walls are completely bare except for some flat glass art for sale. As one college student customer commented to another, even the ambiance is for sale. And unlike other cafes, these pieces of artwork are the only things the ambiance has going for it. And they’re not much. Otherwise, everything is drably regal. Lifeless. Black chairs with Art-Nouveau-via-Home-Depot flourishes on their backs. Beige half-sphere lamps, like one might have in a new suburban home, hang from the ceiling.

As I’m stuck when I stop to think, this place is stuck. To come in is to be buried in a casket. What lies beyond the grave? Not much: pale ghosts, inedible cupcakes, broken-record angels--everything that one doesn’t imagine because one doesn’t need imagination. This is why one should fear death, and try one’s best to sin so badly that one avoids being raptured off the planet whenever the next millennial prediction rolls around. Because this is the afterlife.

Which appears to be a particularly awful place to work. I do not envy angels. The pay is minimal, the shifts are such that one is usually working alone, and the customers, mostly tourists, come here not because they like the place, but because it has coffee and baked things. The girl who’s working here now has a terrifying chirpyness. I cannot tell if she’s just nauseatingly happy or deep in despair. Whether an angel is filled with joy or melancholy we will never know.

An English woman comes in, for the second time I gather from her conversation with the girl. They chat amicably, and the girl asks her, as she asks everyone, how her day is going and the woman says it’s going well. The girl says how refreshing it is to hear that someone is having a good day. “So many people, they go ‘oh... okay.’”

Of course I’m thinking myself what then does she think of me looking seriously out the window?

Not long after this a man comes in who she asks the same question. He says “pretty good so far.”
Again, “it’s so refreshing to hear that someone is having a good day.”
“Oh, really?” Doesn’t everyone say they’re having a good day?
“Oh, you’d be surprised...”

Perhaps she says everyone’s good day, whether or not it’s a good day, is refreshing.