Cafe 116

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why name a cafe after its street address? Why place pillows along a long bench inside? Why fresh flowers in tiny vases, one on every table? Why blue?

You can heard them asking each other questions behind the counter. On this, the first day Cafe 116 has been open, it's not entirely certain how it all is to be run. Everyone has had their training, but no practice being Cafe 116 rather than Key of C. Although there don't appear to be all that many differences. The counter has been truncated into a straight line along one wall, from the L-shape of before, and now it's all shiny steel and glass. The refrigerated portions house salad and quiche. Today there's tuna fish Niçoise. Tea and coffee are still served in the same mugs. Yet as one of the owners lunches quietly on soup and bread, the employees behind the counter ask each other how to do this and that. Not many certain answers are given, but lots of "oh, well, what I did was..."

There is the oddest hush at the counter. Each transaction is riddled with ponderous silences, as if saying the wrong thing would shatter Cafe 116's pristine (re)opening. I'm given the impression that this is not supposed to be the place for loud small talk (anymore), that anything more than a smile is vulgar. Quiet French jazz holds everything down sumptuously into itself. Purple, white, and blue--colors of calm control and understated fecundity. "You can relax" turns into "you must relax." You will live in this form.

That is what going to a cafe does: gives you form. You become expressed through the dark, sober tables and the yawning white cups. You become the person who sits where you're sitting, listens to what you're listening to, and drinks what you're drinking. I am the person who drinks jasmine tea (which tastes purple, don't you think?) on a pillow, alone. I lift the cup to my lips in a certain languorous way that aspires to the enjoyment expected of such a person.

Watching people in cafes also works this way. Whether you like it or not, you are to anyone watching you the kind of person who does what you're doing, sits the way you're sitting, has what you're having. A cafe is the form--one a sonnet, another a villanelle, one more a sestina--you are the content.

In writing there's the possibility of revision, of perfectionism. You can write a draft, throw it out entirely, and write a new version. You reveal it to be read when you want to. The writing process does not take place in front of an audience. In a cafe, or, indeed, anywhere else public, there is only improvisation. It's always live. You are judged not by what you can privately perfect, but on the hapless perturbations of your body--the immediate you. (Artaud might write an angry letter against this point.)

Which on the other hand, can be comfortable. The greater possibility of perfection in the written word hangs over your head as much as it buffers you. If it can be perfect then shouldn't it be perfect? Of course, by no means is this (megalomaniacal) anxiety limited to writing. It's just as easy, really, to feel this way about the immediate world: If I just did this, remembered this, wore this, held myself this way, said this, I would be saved from being wrong, acting wrong. If only all the wisdom from all the time I have lived could be compressed into each moment so that I might not let it get away from me, so that I might not get away from me. But there you are, yourself, not yourself, drinking the latte that you never drink, feeling naked without the beard you never shave.

In an odd way this brings us to something I've been thinking about ever since last weekend when one of the employees of The Roasting Company told me that she read that post. It didn't occur to me until later that when she handed me a tea cup and called it "ugly" that it was a joke aimed at my description of the mugs there ("ugly").

But I actually rather like their tea cups. So many times I've come in to have a pot of tea with their dainty, shallow cups which prolong the tea pleasurably: three, four, five cups of tea. And there is something about the pouring (and the chastening!). But I have called their cups ugly and said that they seem about to fall apart at any moment.

The fickleness and time-bounded-ness of judgment comes also of the observer. This blog is subject not just to what cafes happen to be when I happen to be there, but also to my whims. Each post is really, when it comes down to it, however I was able to get my kicks at the time. When I wrote about The Roasting Company, I felt like insulting their pottery.

Now I have an opportunity to correct this error (and you're right, I just did). But is it an error? Do I begin apologizing, taking back things I've said? I'm inclined to say no. First of all there's a certain futility in correction. Correct and recorrect all I want; I will not arrive at a crystaline expression of truth. Second, the structure of this blog is such that it should preclude corecting myself, because it's one post per cafe. (But then Key of C goes and gets a new owner, then changes its name, creating three posts on the same place.)

(Of course, now we're missing one of the essential ingredients of psychocafegraphy: memory. But haven't I covered every vaguely interesting memory associated with Key of C in the last two posts on it?)