Occasionally, the odd Saturday will crop up where I have no deeds to do and no promises to keep. Lindsay will be off donating blood, volunteering at the mission, baking cookies for the HIV Alliance, or whatever other awesome thing she does that makes her such a better person than me, and I will find myself with an unexpected sliver of unscheduled life. This past weekend I used one of those to bring a new book to a fading Cafe in Eugene known as The Beanery.
In the 90’s, The Beanery was a hip little Douchery that attracted the cream of the Hipster crop. It’s one of those purposefully haphazard semi-industrial spaces. High ceilings, clerestories, rough brick, exposed ductwork, mismatched furniture, etc. You know the drill. It shares a space with a place called A Very Eugenian Bike Shoppe (Note the pretentious old world spelling), and a parking lot with an Herbal-Gerbil version of Pier 1 called Down To Earth. That parking lot seems designed to punish people for killing Mother Earth with their cars, and you expect to find your vehicle defaced when you return unless it’s a hybrid or has a Coexist bumper sticker on the back. You know, because of how tolerant everyone is.
In my bachelor days I lived within walking distance of the joint and would spend a considerable amount of time with a book and a cup of joe out in the patio seating area, although back then it was paperbacks as opposed to the e-reader I brought this time. I read most of “A Prayer for Owen Meaney” there, laughing uproariously at my table for one, and attracting not a few odd stares from the Dreadlocked honkies around me. Glad I finished that one at home, because I cried like a girl at the end.
Today the place has been largely abandoned by that crowd, as the whims of elitist Hipster douchebaggery would dictate. They’ve all taken their manual typewriters somewhere more organically obscure to blog about GMO’s and Occupying whatever needs Occupying. So what’s left is a smattering of locals who live or work within walking distance. The county jail is across the street, so there’s an aging bureaucratic demographic in here, a random cross-section of moldering hippies, and what looks to be a few of the catch-and-release crowd from the jail itself. It’s sad to see the place slowly fading away, although the service is faster because there isn’t a crushing line of people dying to give their money to the place so they can be seen here.
No, the only reason to come here now is for the coffee itself, which is black as dark matter. They roast their own beans and appear to have two settings on their roaster: Blonde and Cinderized Memory. I prefer the latter, and you can get a contact buzz even out in the parking lot from the aroma of the bitter, acrid tar they’re brewing behind these doors. I brought a copy of the latest e-Book I’ve downloaded, “Thirteen Reasons Why,” and plan to spend a couple of hours enjoying their air conditioning and getting lost in a good book.
The Barista on duty is a brunette, apple cheeked twentysomething named Rose. She’s helped me a couple of times before, and I took an immediate liking to the kind of open ebullience she has for life in general. She seems to have a very Rosey outlook on life, which I hope is permanent but fear is simply a result of not having had enough time dealing with the public to have it beaten out of her. For some reason, she’s alone behind the bar and has to fill food orders as well, which I’ve also made to go along with my tanker of java. I got here just ahead of a couple of guys who appear to be in a bit of a hurry, and so threw a monkeywrench into their schedule with my order of Spinach Artichoke Quiche and warmed Toffee Scone, which poor Rose is having to make under the baleful stares of their impatience.
One of these august personages is a mid-forties business type in a dark tweed coat, only no tie like it’s Casual Friday. On a Saturday no less. He looks like the kind of guy who takes his day out on helpless waitstaff because he’s given up on his dreams. I’m sure if I had a minute, I could pick his Ford Taurus out in the parking lot. If I’m being honest, he probably bothers me more than he should, because that’s me if I’d gone down a slightly different path. Hell, maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe that’s me now, except I can’t afford Tweed coats. So instead, I’m just a grown-ass man in a superhero T-Shirt.
The other guy is the very definition of an old curmudgeon. Not sure if he knows this or not, but his whole face is frozen in disapproval, all of the time. His hair has finished its abandon ship drill and his huge, face-consuming tri-focal glasses are so heavy his pinched nose can’t possibly hope to support them, so they perpetually sit on the end of his nose. This is convenient for condescending and disapproving looks in any and all directions. He’s wearing one of those indistinct khaki and beige uniforms that seem to be issued to every guy with their first Social Security check. The exact color of Nothing. If he stood still long enough, he’d be invisible. Everything about him says, “Get off my goddam lawn,” so I immediately decide that his name is Herb. Because what else would it be?
Rose calls my name and I head over to the counter to receive the jumbo sized ceramic vat of coffee she pushes across the counter to me. It scrapes another minute layer off the industrial laminate the counter is covered with, contributing to the patina of scratches that mar the surface like a map of a million proffered morning eye-openers. Coffee is up, but the quiche and scone are still on their way. The place is getting older even as I wait. In fact, the only new thing here is Rose, her youth and optimism shining like a new dime. Everything else is chipped, nicked, scratched, dented or covered in the filmy residue of a thousand hands. Slightly tacky with the congealed resin of oils we leave behind everywhere we go. Hand prints on glass, nose prints on windows, little dust bunnies of sloughed humanity in drifts under the tables. Doesn’t say a lot for their housekeeping efforts.
I take the chipped ceramic vessel Rose passes me. It’s thick and heavy, even when empty, let alone filled with java. Lift with your legs. The coffee is so black it looks like negative space, like it could be a tunnel to somewhere else. I take it to a table and catch the look of annoyance on Casual Friday’s face. Yes, she’s still helping me. I think about throwing a cookie on my order, just to irritate him. They do have delicious Reese’s peanut butter cup cookies here, but one look down at the 15 pounds I’ve gained back since last summer puts an end to that idea. So I just take my mug of tar to a table by the window, where I can also keep an eye on the door. I’ve got issues.
As far as I know, there’s not one table or chair in this dive that doesn’t rock. Nothing is stable. At least one leg on everything is too short, or missing a glider on the bottom. There are matchbooks shimming up table legs and the chairs all creak like Herb’s hip when the weather turns. Everything is succumbing to the entropy at work on us all, all of the time. It’s all defective now. As adorable as they are, even the dimples on Rose’s plump cheeks are technically a defect. They’re caused by a dominant mutation that shortens or bifurcates the zygomaticus major muscles in the face. Things like that make me wonder if perfection itself might be a flaw.
The music they play in the Beanery seems designed to remind you that you are not at Starbucks. There’s no smooth jazz, or indie Sub-Pop artists here. There is however an abundance of lesbian music. And not the good kind. Not Indigo Girls, Melissa Etheridge, or Tori Amos. No, this is pure Ani Difranco territoryhere you’re supposed to like it because they’re lesbians. You’d think the Hipsters would’ve taken that with them. Maybe she’s too mainstream for them now. She has been on the cover of Spin Magazine. I should probably just get down to minding my book, and my own business for that matter. Just sit here with my gourmet coffee and e-book being terribly modern. Rose knows what she’s doing.
I don’t need to attend to anything other than the strange book I’ve selected out of what I’ve discovered is actually the Young Adult section at Barnes and Noble. The last couple I’ve read have been about young people’s perspectives on death. They’ve seemed remarkably mature, and not just a little haunting. Makes you wonder what’s going on. "The Fault in Our Stars" was about a couple of teens and terminal illness, and now “Thirteen Reasons Why” is about teen suicide. I had no idea that either of them were considered teen books when I initially picked them up at the store and then later downloaded at home. I immediately found them compelling. Why are they thinking about this stuff? Don’t they know they have their whole lives in front of them? Death is for others to worry about.
But instead of doing any of that, I continue to watch Herb and Casual Fridays tap their feet, check their watches, sigh with irritation while casting looks at poor Rose while she hustles and bustles behind the counter. These are clearly important people, with places to be. This whole pointless drama is, at the moment, more interesting to me than anything my little e-reader could show me. I’ve noticed that if you’re in a moment, really in it, sometimes life will show you stuff. Like it wants you to learn something. Maybe even tell you a joke. It’s just that we’re never paying attention. Regretting, fretting, or daydreaming, anything other than being here now. The world washing over us unbeknownst, to be reflected upon later as even more of your life gets away from you.
That’s when I see it. Rose, Casual Fridays, and Herb. 20’s, 40’s, 70’s. I’ve got a cup of joe and the continuum of life right in front of me. Who could ask for anything more? Just beginning, in the middle, and fading away; the life cycle of the Human Being. All of us in a relationship of demands with each other for these few minutes. Under pressure. Me holding up Casual Fridays, him delaying Herb and all of us waiting on Rose to serve us. Everyone disregarding or reducing everyone else to a demographic, an impediment to their happiness.
Casual Fridays has sized Rose up. First, a servant; second, too plump to be a sexual object, therefore no deference accorded. Herb is too old to be even worth noticing, or maybe he’s just been standing still too long and his nothing-colored camouflage has done its perfect work. And who the hell is the loser in the superhero T-shirt, doesn’t he know who I am?
Herb is here to disapprove of us all. Rose’s bosom is too exposed. Casual Fridays should have let his elder go ahead of him in line. And what is that punk in the Flash T-Shirt looking at? Him and his newfangled e-reader. I can just picture Herb growing up hearing how shouldn’t sit so close to the radio, it’ll melt your brain. His dad disapproving of the radio, as Herb does the same with the Internet. All the new technology that was ruining the younger generation, and the country was going to Hell in a hand basket, because nobody has any work ethic these days.
I feel the same when I think of kids today in the back of their parents’ minivan, each with their own entertainment system. They don’t even have to share a TV screen anymore, they all have their own. As a kid we travelled thousands of miles across country routinely, and all I got was a box of crayons, a Rubik’s Cube, and a tall glass of “Shut the hell up back there.” So of course today's kids have it too easy. I mean, all this new technology is just ruining the younger generation. I tell you what, the country is going to Hell in a hand basket because nobody has any work ethic these days. Like anybody is born with a work ethic.
I look at Rose and think that she’s probably too old for Justin Beiber, but maybe about right for Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, or Pitbull. Any and all of whom are responsible for the decline and fall of Western Civilization, and for whom I reserve the haughtiest scorn. Her generation has terrible taste in music. Not like Milli Vanilli, Wham!, or Poison back in my day. Or Elvis, The Dave Clark 5, and The Lettermen in Herb’s day, otherwise known as the Pliocene Epoch. Just another go around of the same cycle of bullshit, pretending that things have changed from generation to generation, and always for the worse. In my day, we didn’t… whatever. Shut up, Herb! He probably railed against such hedonism as Bogey and Bacall in Key Largo. Doesn't he know that anything from the black and white days is wholesome family fare?
It’s the same old song and dance that we dress up in new shoes every generation. The hem lines go up, they go down. The music gets louder, society becomes more Godless, etc. Nevermind that back in the good old days of black and white movies and respectful teenagers, the darkies rode in the back of the bus and women knew that hopes and dreams were Satan’s way of distracting them from making dinner. Back when smoking didn’t cause cancer, and you didn’t have to wear seatbelts in your car while you got a lavish 1.8 miles to the gallon. Before Jazz music and indoor plumbing ruined our morals.
So Herb snuck 45’s of Elvis and parked with girls at the drive in, only to grow up and disapprove of Casual Fridays feeling his girl up to Mötley Crüe. Now Casual Fridays can’t imagine how he’d ever wind up fading into the background of life like Herb, and can’t remember that he was just like Rose once. Full of naïve dreams, asinine schemes, and idiotic optimism. Back before the Tweed and Ford Tauruses. In turn, Rose looks at us like she can’t imagine ever caring about inflation, compounding interest, or a 401k. She thinks OMG (That’s right, she actually thinks in text acronyms) these guys have always been old. Just born flossing and getting oil changes.
No one remembers how they got here, and can’t imagine they’ll ever be…old. They’ll never die. Teenagers all think they’ll be dead before they’re 30. And every 30 year old thinks they were an idiot when they were a teenager, but still thinks 40 is the end of the world. Maybe if we didn’t disregard Herb as irrelevant we might learn a thing or two about perspective. Of course, he would have to stop thinking everything about the 21st century was scandalous, stupid, or immoral. He’d have to see someone with tattoos and piercings as a person, instead of a symptom of a societal disease.
Looking at everyone in this momentary melodrama that I’ve both perceived and projected onto us, I wonder that we’ve survived at all. Somehow we have. In spite of judging, misunderstanding, and disregarding each other, we’ve still managed to cure polio, leave the earth, and stop burning witches and queers at the stake. Only God knows how. With the young charging head first into change like there’s no tomorrow, because for them there isn’t, and the old riding the brakes like their lives depended on it. And those of us in the middle shaking our heads at everybody on either end of the continuum, like we know what the hell is going on. Like we were different when we were young, and we could never get old. Never die.
But every day I hear myself saying things like, “Where did the time go?” and “It feels like just yesterday when…” Seriously, Christmas seems like it comes 3 times a year now. Is that how you get old? You just start sounding that way? If I had any balls, or thought he would answer, I’d ask Herb. He must’ve played baseball once, catcalled to the ladies, told off-color jokes with his buddies, right? Maybe he’d tell me that you don’t stop having fun because you get old, you get old because you stop having fun. Or maybe he’d tell me to piss up a rope. What kind of dick would do that, you ask? Probably the same kind of dick that would invent personalities to project onto total strangers based on their clothing or some random look on their face, and then proceed to judge them as though they actually were those people.
But what the hell do I know? I’m a grown-ass man in a superhero T-Shirt, for crying out loud.