too many words by laura lemay

Just another day at the cafe

In both an attempt to A. get out of the house more often, and B. be one those cool arty bohemian types, I have been recently going down to my local coffeehouse and trying to write there.

I adore my local cafe. It’s very local — not a chain — and its been around for a gazillion years so it’s a very serious institution in town. On weekends you cannot even get in the door, so many people are lining up and hanging out and stalking other people’s tables. Its in one of the older buildings in town, with exposed brick and wide-plank flooring and baker’s lights and antique ceiling fans. The regular clientele ranges from older guys who play chess against one wall to high school kids on recess to rockabilly hairdressers from next door to dotcommer movers and shakers gibbering away on cell phones. They have the coffee bean roaster RIGHT THERE on the floor, so from a table by the window you can watch the master roaster at work, and when the beans spill out you can practically see a wave of Columbian french roast smell as it rushes out from the roaster, explosively fills the room and washes over you. There is always a moment in my cafe when the beans spill that all conversation in the room stops, there is a collective group inhale, and then a long, quiet, “ahhhhh.”

I initially thought nothing could be so wonderful as sitting and writing in a cafe. But so far, I’m not having a lot of luck. For one thing, I had not realized how much I rely on quiet for writing. Between the general nattering of people all around and the whish whish WHACK WHACK WHACK of the espresso machine, cafes are not exactly cones of silence. I am continually distracted. I get very little done.

In particular, though, it seems recently that there is a cafe god who is fucking with me. The other day I went into the coffeehouse, got my usual double latte, and found a table in the lower half of the cafe, where it was surprisingly quiet. Other than one other couple, I was the only one there.

But not for long. I was only there a few minutes, just long enough to take off my jacket and pull out my book, when suddenly a horde of small children with insufficient adult chaperonage swept down the stairs into my little corner of the cafe, and began to madly rearrange the furniture.

I furiously attempted to concentrate on my writing as iron chairs and tables were screeched repeatedly across tile and the two presumed mommies shouted instructions to the various Jasons and Heathers and Ashleys present. Maybe they would settle down. Maybe things would be quiet. Maybe I would be able to get some work done.

It was not to be. I looked up a few moments later and my mouth fell open in horror. The children had been seated at the tables with a snack. Each of them had been given a brownie. A brownie! A huge, sticky, fudge brownie! “Are you completely out of your minds?!” I wanted to shout at the mommies who were in charge of this horde. “Don’t you have any conception what happens to a small child under the influence of that much sugar?! And there are only two of you!!”

I remained silent, but considered making a break for the door while I still had a chance. Maybe the mommies knew what they were doing. Maybe I would be proven wrong.

But you could hear a slight rumbling in the air as the brownies were consumed. I began to feel uneasy. The tension began to build. I felt like a trailer park in Kansas with the skies darkening and the rain beginning to fall. I scribbled madly, hoping I would not get caught up in the collateral damage. There was a short moment when I thought perhaps I was wrong. But then it started. The children finished their brownies, got down from their seats, and then Jason, Ashley, Heather, etc, proceeded to methodically destroy the cafe, while the mommies did little other than fret and wring their hands.

One of these explosive bundles of ADD descended on the recycling bin and began to fling cans about the room, tasting each one for its appetizing qualities before rejecting it (Mommy One: “Heather, that’s dirty. Heather, come out of there. Heather, don’t eat that. Heather, stop that.”) Two others did laps around the perimeter of the cafe, diving in amongst the tables and upsetting a chess game in progress (“Jason, stop running. Jason, don’t chase your sister. Ashley, please stop screaming like that.”) A fourth, less mobile, practiced her oratory skills at ten decibels (“LOOK MOMMY DOGGIE!! DOGGIE! LOOK! LOOK! LOOOK!!!”)

One of the mommies found it prudent to finish up the lunch, probably having sighted the irritated looks the various patrons were giving her and her friend, and bundled the can connoisseur, the road racers and the orator off to the bathroom, at least to contain them for a while. The only remaining child was a toddler, who was chewing on a chair (“Britney, don’t put that in your mouth…”) Another customer who had witnessed this carnage caught the remaining mommy’s eye and and sympathized, “they’re difficult at that age, aren’t they.” The mommy agreed. Particularly when you feed them SO MUCH SUGAR, I wanted to point out.

* * * *

Today I went to my local cafe and intentionally surrounded myself with adults. I got a table in the main room, with an older gentleman with a beard behind me, a dotcommer in front of me, and two Los Gatos Housewives beside me. I suppose I should explain the phenomenon of the Los Gatos Housewife. Los Gatos is a very rich town, and it is adjacent to Saratoga and Monte Sereno, even richer towns. These are the towns for the older money, the more tasteful money, the money made in things other than tech. If you are a 30-something dotcommer gazillionaire, you buy a house in Woodside or Palo Alto, the hipper towns in the Valley. If you are a 60-something gazillionaire and you made your money in antiques or bond trading or commercial real estate, or you inherited it all, you live in Los Gatos or Saratoga. If you like asian fusion cuisine and go to Tahoe for the weekend, you live in Palo Alto. If you prefer French continental cuisine and go to France for the weekend, you live in Saratoga. If you are still on your first wife, you live in Palo Alto.

The Los Gatos Housewives are the second or third wives. They are younger, thirties or sometimes even forties. Usually blonde. They are always immaculately dressed, always coiffed and spa’ed in lipo’ed and polished. They lunch a lot. Wander downtown in Los Gatos at lunch and you see zillions of them. Listen to their conversations, and you get a view on a very surreal world indeed. They don’t have jobs, because their husbands either don’t want them to work or they see no point (they’re rich, after all). They keep busy by constant redecorating of the house in Los Gatos or Saratoga or Monte Sereno, or constant redecorating of the summer house in Belize or Hong Kong or Nice. Sometimes they open boutiques or art galleries in Los Gatos, funded by their husbands (we have more bad art galleries per block than any other town I have ever been in, except perhaps Carmel). And they have many opinions about the right sort of people who belong in Los Gatos and Saratoga and Monte Sereno. None of these icky nouveau dotcommer gazillionaires. No one who might be, to put it delicately, of a more ethnic socioeconomic class (or *any* ethnic socioeconomic class, actually). They want more people just like them.

Given an opportunity I will always eavesdrop on Los Gatos Housewives, because they are a lot of fun in a strange did-these-people-just-get-off-the-boat-from-Mars-or-what way. So I admit that I was pleased when I arrived at my Cafe to have positioned myself not only in a group of adults, but a group that included Los Gatos Housewives. This, for a writer, was a major score. I hid behind a newspaper that had been sitting on my chair. The Los Gatos Housewives did not disappoint me for long. They were talking about handbags. I wish I had had the foresight to take notes on this conversation, because my own handbag experience is limited, and this was one intense conversation. They argued about handbag styles. They argued about handbag designers. They argued about the best shops for handbags. You would have thought they were negotiating middle east peace accords.

And then it happened. “SHIT!” shouted the older man with the beard behind me, and I choked on my latte in surprise. “Fuck! Cocksucker!” The Los Gatos Housewives had become very quiet. “FUCKfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” continued the man, muttering, his tempo rising and falling as he went on. I didn’t want to turn around and look. Instead I looked over to the Housewives, who were exchanging nervous glances. One of them attempted to continue the conversation, but the man behind me was not done. He continued to mutter a bebop of expletives and half finished phrases. For over three minutes he muttered nothing but variations on the name of the town: “Los Gatos. Looooooos Gatos. losgatos. gatosgatosogatosgatos GAAAAAAAAAAAtos. LOS! GAT! OS! LOSGATOOOOOS!” and so on. And then back to the expletives.

The Los Gatos Housewives had managed to restart their conversation, about how difficult it is to find remodeling contractors in the valley. But they were distracted and nervous. You could see the conversation they wanted to have: what is this NUT doing here? This is a NICE town. We don’t WANT people like this here. This is WRONG. Why doesn’t someone DO something. We should not have PEOPLE like this HERE this is why we pay TAXES so that we can feel SAFE in our own TOWN and not have to run away from SCARY people in coffeehouses. They were conflicted. Should they tell the man to hush? But that would be impolite. And Los Gatos Housewives are nothing if not polite.

Finally, the Los Gatos Housewives had had enough. One of them put her palms down on the table, and said brightly “well, I had better get back,” as if she had anywhere to go. The other said “Oh, yes, me too,” and they leapt up from their chairs, gathered their handbags and their jackets, and practically knocked down a younger couple in their haste to get away from the crazy nut by the window.

The crazy nut in question fell silent for a few moments. And then he began to laugh.

Throughout all of this one else at any other table was even raising an eyebrow. The dotcommer who had been talking on a cell phone and typing on a laptop at the table in front of me didn’t even glance up when my bearded friend began his routine. The chess people continued playing. The cafe workers just wandered right by, showing no concern. My friend the nut was obviously a regular, obviously did this regularly, and you either got used to it or you ran away. I kind of like a cafe that embraces its nuts. I just have to remember not to sit next to them if I want to get any work done.