Crema Sweet Shop & Espresso Cafe (Talent, Oregon)

Friday, September 30, 2011

The chairs here, they swivel. It's incredibly noisy, for such a quiet place. It's not that there's a crowd of loud voices. It's that I'm sitting in between two air conditioners. The radio, too quiet and too loud, is turned to "Light 102," the most horrific presence of non-presence. So I have moved outside, to the ample tables out here. Ample is an understatement. They are so enormous that sitting across from someone at these tables is a comical proposition. Made of glass and steel, they are as intimate as a high-rise. I would say that they, like the spacious, sunlit offices of a prestigious tower, are places for glamorous, alienated drama, but the tables are dirty. With its subdued colors and straight lines, it's more that it has pretensions of precision, while in fact being chintzy crap that fell out of its home in a catalog photo. They're all set on an incline, so that everything seems just that more wily-nilly. A tag flaps about at the back of one metal chair's drab, green-and-white cushion. It looked good in the catalog photo, I'm sure.

It is in this way, I suppose, that consciousness of planned obsolescence can become simple snobbery. This is the terrible thing about didactic documentaries--they get you on about these things. Planned obsolescence--it's everywhere! This furniture wasn't designed to last. It was designed to look shiny, to be bought, and then to fall apart over the next few years. How common.

Music can obsolesce, too. On my way here I was listening to the Counting Crows album "This Desert Life"--the one with a goldfish in a fishbowl on the cover. It's my dad's second-hand copy that he bought recently for $1.99 (there's a sticker on it). I used to listen to this CD over and over (well, maybe I skipped a few songs) around the time it came out, when I was 17 I think. Back then the songs had depth because I couldn't really understand them. I focused on Adam Duritz's overblown imagery, and found myself in a kind of dreamy nirvana, as I am wont to do. You will observe that this is the basic reaction of a stoner to the world, especially to beloved "trippy" objects: whoa. Perhaps it is because I had this tendency that I have always been and continue to be pinned as a stoner despite having never actually been stoned. In any case, oddly enough I listened to this CD specifically while I played a Quake mod which turned it into a Terminal Velocity type of game of flying around in various aircraft and shooting things. There was also a great deal of avoiding walls and flying through tunnels. "This Desert Life" and flying seemed to go well together. Oddly, this means that listening to the CD on the drive here conjured up images of a badly-textured, low-facet-count A-10 model twisting and turning (the mod was in 3rd person perspective) around the sky.

The album is largely unpalatable to me now. I skipped all but three songs--the peppy ones. Not because I dislike slow, mopey music in the least, but because these songs I found specifically annoying. What's interesting is not so much what changed from when I enjoyed most of this album to now, but that it changed so drastically. Of course, this isn't the best example of this phenomenon, because it's not like "This Desert Life" was even one of my most beloved albums back then, it was just one I liked. More apt might be my fairly lengthy obsession with Sonic Youth, which I now realize requires obsession to enjoy (one which I can no longer muster--there are no longer deep truths hidden in the music that I can't quite reach, but only some occasionally very pretty but demanding songs). The only thing that has stayed the same is that I'm still intrigued by the song "I Wish I Was a Girl." I still don't understand the singer's stated reasons for this sentiment, although now I'm fairly certain it has nothing to do with an earnest transsexual desire so much as a general need for an "out" of whatever fraughtness he has found himself in ("static" that he "can't shake"). The wishing he were a girl is, I'm pretty sure, just a cheap trick to get our attention that is ultimately empty. Back then, though, I would think yes, I want to be a girl, and I would feel vaguely illicit. It wasn't so much that I actually wanted to be a girl, but that I wanted to be a girl and a boy, I wanted to be all sexes or perhaps not sexed. A kind of inverted tomboyism. This desire still rumbles along, but weakly, as my megalomania slowly diminishes. Maybe by the time I am old and dying, if I ever get there, I will have completely given up and forgotten my desire to be more than one sex.

Which brings us to my intended point, that aging is a process of letting go. Or maybe that's not really what I mean. You know how one's taste in music tends to ossify? One stops bothering to look for anything new, I think because what is new stops being relevant. And what you used to listen to stops being relevant, too. You're left floating around, everything vaguely but not really satisfying. Satisfying enough. Hence "Light 102."

Yeah, I know, this has become less a blog about cafes and more a blog about whatever shit I'm thinking about when I happen to come to one. The cafe, however, is indispensable. I would never think about or take the time to write about what I do if I didn't come to a cafe to do so. The ritual requires that I have something to write, so I come up with something, even if it is simply navel-gazing about having something to write like this paragraph. The time in the cafe provides the time, the space, and the habitual coordinates to write. It gives me time alone. It gives me caffeine.

Of course, while going to a cafe provides me with a kind of consistency, there is plenty that is potentially destabilizing about a cafe. There is something, well actually many things, as David McConnell's narrator in The Silver Hearted would put it, out-of-true about this one. The strange, ill-fitting, intimacy-killing furniture outside. The noisy air conditioning. The way chairs spin. The off-putting radio station turned to an off-putting volume. But that's not quite it. It feels like a concession stand. Maybe that's a nice thing--it isn't so self-consciously involved in its own cafeness nor is it obsessed with gourmandaise. There is one kind of coffee, and they do not tell you whence it came nor how it was roasted. You are only told that it is Noble Coffee. There is regular and there is decaf. They give infinite, free refills. Buy one cup of coffee for two dollars and come back for as much more as you like. This, I think, is the best thing about this place. They also have odd smatterings of food. The to-be-expected pastries in plastic cases, but also bento items to pick and choose from, and some assorted breakfast and lunch items. The first time I came here I had some white rice and chicken skewers with peanut sauce. It was quite nice. Not amazing, but satisfying, and inexpensive.

The building, really, is the strangest thing. As long as we're on this buzz-word, the building fights obsolescence. It used to be a railway station. On both sides of the building it says "TALENT, ELEVATION 1,365, TO PORTLAND 336 MI, TO SAN FRANCISCO 436 MI." I don't know whether this was left here, or if it simulates what the building's purpose used to be. Now it's full of all sorts of hippie shit--on one side is Harmonic Design & Imaging, upstairs is Om Sweet Om, a yoga center, and on this side is the cafe.