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By Kellnerin (Sat Aug 09, 2008 at 06:18:56 PM EST) (all tags)
D and I had an errand to run in Lowell this morning, a place that is physically close but psychologically an entirely different land. Afterwards, we wandered around downtown in search of a place to eat. We came across this sculpture slash art installation slash whatever and thought it was kinda neat, we guessed. D found a placard that had its name and a short description, and we read it together.

"I don't know what that means," I said.

"Yeah, me neither."

DOWNTOWN LOWELL HAS SOME cool restaurants and bars and things, but at 11 o'clock this morning, these were mostly not open. After walking around for a while, we spotted a cafe called the Brewed Awakening Coffeehouse and crossed the street to investigate.

The shopfront was painted dark yellow, with a row of words like "Coffee * Tea * Bagels" written along the bottom of the windows. A sign in one of the windows announced, "NOW SERVING BUBBLE TEA." There were a couple tables outside and a few more inside. As we entered the two girls behind the counter were having some minor dispute.

"Well I'm sorry we have customers," one of them said.

The other looked up at us and said, "We'll be right with you."

"That's OK, we haven't decided what we want anyway," we assured them, looking at the blackboard above their heads. The whole lower right section of the board was devoted to "CREPES Served from 11 am to closing." Bubble tea was not mentioned anywhere on the menu.

"Sorry, we're just trying to make an egg sandwich," the first girl told us.

"OK," we said, not at all sure what this was meant to explain.

While we waited, D flipped through a book that they were selling published by a small local press, titled Sweeney on the Fringe, while I checked out their assortment of board games. When they took our order, D got a bagel sandwich and I asked for a chicken, spinach, and cheddar crepe. This elicited an odd look or a short laugh.


"Oh, nothing. It's just that we've been making crepes all day."

"I think we're out of chicken," said the other girl, who went into the back room to check.

"Ham would be OK," I told her partner.

Meanwhile (...), D ordered a chai tea latte, and that sounded good, so I got one too. He asked if they sold whole coffee beans, since we were almost out, and the answer was Yes.

"Maybe we should have gotten coffee if we were going to buy beans," I wondered out loud.

The other girl came out with a bag of chicken pieces. "They're, like, frozen."

"Ham is fine."

She put down the bag then and came over to finish taking the order. "OK, so no chicken and spinach," she said, punching buttons on the register. "Ham, egg, and cheese?"

"Just ham and cheese."

"On a bagel? Or on a ..."

"A crepe."

"Oh." More buttons. "What cheese do you want? Cheddar or Swiss?"


D added a newspaper and a pound of coffee to the order.

"We have Sumatra and Midnight."

"What's Midnight?"

"It's a darker roast but it also has less caffeine because it's been roasted longer."

"OK, let's try that."

We paid, grabbed the paper -- a local rag, name of The Sun -- and got a table. D took one section and I started with the other.

"We didn't get the coffee, did we?" I asked.

"No," said D. "They seemed busy."

After a minute, they called out D's order, and I nudged him.


"Your food."

He went up to the counter, and I got some napkins and a knife and fork for the crepe. D got back with his sandwich, an open-faced deal called the "VegWay," and picked up the paper again.

"Who's Michael Phelps?" he asked.

"I don't know."

"I keep seeing his name everywhere." He indicated the paper.

"Michael Phelps is a really amazing swimmer," said a woman standing in line near our table.

"Thank you," I said.

D looked up. "Hmmm?"

"Sorry," said the woman, then she repeated, "Michael Phelps is a really amazing swimmer. He's unbelievably good."

"Oh. Thanks."

Our drinks came: two large iced chais.

"You were thinking hot, weren't you?" I asked D when the girl had hurried back behind the counter.


A SHORT DIVERSION HERE, because at this point in the narrative I still haven't got my crepe. But for a long time there was a cheerful woman with bleached blond hair at the train station in the mornings handing out free copies of the Lowell Sun to commuters about to get on the train. I never took her up on the offer, but she was at her post each day, greeting people and making conversation with the people at the ticket counter, or anyone who wanted to stop and talk. Then she stopped showing up as often, and then wasn't there at all. Health troubles, I overheard the ticket agents saying, but they didn't get more specific than that.

Lately a new woman has been around, but she doesn't give the paper out for free; she sells copies for 25 cents apiece. She has a much less sunny disposition, too, droning her line, "'d you like to buy The Sun for a quarter?" as if she doesn't really expect anyone to take her up on the offer, but being conscientious about putting the question to each person who passes nearby. She does get a few takers.

One morning as I was waiting in the crowd on the platform in a gentle misting rain, I could hear her reciting her clipped pitch over and over, but this time I could swear she was saying, "Like to buy a Sun for a quarter?" Just at that moment, the idea of buying a sun for a quarter sounded quite tempting, though I still wasn't interested in the newspaper.

BACK IN THE CAFE, D and I finished reading our slim sections of the Saturday paper and traded with each other. I started reading a column on the front page and got totally trolled. I'm not sure what got me the most: the smug tone, the lazy argumentation, the incomprehensibility of phrases like "unleashing heavy armor," the tortuous sentence leading up to dropping the H-bomb, or just the general incoherence. "Look at this crap," I told D. "Especially the last paragraph: 'Yet what still is most bothersome about the Olympics is women's gymnastics. Granted, it looks tremendously difficult. But really, how difficult can it be if it can be mastered by age 14?'"

"Yeah, that's pretty bad. I stopped reading it before I got that far."

I found it oddly compelling in its awfulness, though. It missed the point so badly that I had to explain what is really wrong with Olympic women's gymnastics, a rant that D has heard before and agrees with, so I only gave the short version. D stood up, walked away, and came back.

"You just put my knife and fork on your plate and threw away the napkin I hadn't used yet," I said.


"Why did you do that?"

He shrugged. "You forced me to do it by continuing to talk about that article."

Anyway, so now I don't feel so bad about never picking up The Sun at the train station.

D heard the one of the girls saying, "Both of the coffees are decaf. What do we do?" "Serve it anyway," the other one whispered. Then they called out another question about which cheese, and D answered "Swiss" on my behalf. "How many times have they asked that?" he asked me.

To be honest I wasn't sure how many of those had been regarding my order, and how many of them had been for egg sandwiches that other people were getting. "I just hope it's a crepe."

Eventually we smelled butter melting on a crepe iron, and shortly after that the crepe was ready. It was a little crispier than crepes usually are, but otherwise tasty.

"What do you think are our chances of getting the coffee?" I asked after I'd taken the last bite.

"I don't know, I'll find out."

He went to the counter, things having quieted down a bit by now, and one of the girls got out the coffee and poured it in a pound bag. She closed the bag and wrote on it as D told her to have a nice day and she told us to have a nice day and we said thanks and she said thanks and the other girl apologized for the delay and we said that was OK, and left.

On the sidewalk outside, D looked at the bag in his hand, and saw what she had written. "Oh look, we got Sumatra."

"Well, it was pretty entertaining at least."

"Oh, if it was more convenient to us, I'd come here all the time. I just won't try to order anything specific."

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Human Construction | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Oddly compelling in its awfulness by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 02:48:20 AM EST
Er, not a snarky retort, just a nice phrase :)

Well Kellnerin, I'll bite. What is really wrong with Olympic female gymnastics? The physical danger to young bodies? The fanatical single-dimensional devotion of a young life so required? The weird kinder courtesan vibe of barely pubescent women prancing about in leotards? Lowering competition standards in these decaying days of neglected tradition? The ribbons? I never really got the rhythmic gymnastics with the ribbons to be honest.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

the rant by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 06:34:23 AM EST
is closest to your second point, though the first is related and the third is also valid. I think it's partly that the devotion necessarily comes at an age where it's questionable whether it's a conscious commitment on the part of the athlete rather than some guardian figure. It's also that even if one accepts the premise that the passion springs solely from the young lady's own heart, the Olympic timeline means that she has but one chance at the dream, for next time (four long years later) she'll be long past her prime. I always wonder, after years of preparation, of a life on a trajectory aimed at this one moment -- one's identity having merged with the role to be played during those few days when the universe is no bigger than a regulation floor mat or the runway to the vault horse, cameras flashing like constellations from above -- what happens after that? The winners will have a piece of fame and a shiny disk to carry with them, but what do they do with the remainder of their lives? And the losers ...

(I imagine a classified ad: "Olympic gymnast, slightly used." Now I am being melodramatic and exaggerating for effect, but I suppose my point is that what was once meant to be inspirational -- I imagine -- now makes me mostly sad.)

I can't speak to your fourth point since I haven't really watched Olympic gymnastics since the trend of prepubescent competitors took hold (which I perceived as being driven by a higher standard of competition at the time, but I don't know if it's been recalibrated since).

Rhythm gymnastics is a whole nother arena about which I have no strong opinions. Though yesterday I was flicking through channels and came across Olympic beach volleyball being played indoors, on a sand-covered stadium floor. Synchronized swimming, or the thing with the ribbons, seems no more absurd by comparison.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Slightly used by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #8 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 03:00:50 AM EST
It does seem to be one of those sports where after athletic success, you have a wide range of career options from coach to assistant coach.

I'm not sure if I agree or disagree. I know I certainly don't have that commitment and sporting parents freak me out though.

As for synchronized beach rhythmic volleyball, point taken, though I'm not a huge fan of the telegenic rise of the sport myself. Oh and isn't it nice to see the women's version is so popular ...

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
After having further mulled it over by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 02:30:01 PM EST
I think part of my reaction comes from not having had any concept at age 14 what I wanted to do with my life, so that the thought of having not only (putatively) figured that out, but actually done it (perfect tense) by that age, makes something within me twist inside.

Probably I am romanticizing things a bit, and surely there are comparable tragedies in the world (not to mention much worse), but what are the Olympics for, if not romanticizing?

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
I miss working in the service industry by MissTrish (2.00 / 0) #3 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 07:55:06 AM EST
Although if you caught me on a bad day, I'd probably have buggered your order and put up all those delays and roadblocks just to mess with you.

That said, I've found people who assume that because it is summer, I must parse "Chai latte" to "iced Chai muthafucka." Hilarity ensues.

ypu're a chair
I honestly would totally go back by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #4 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 10:43:01 AM EST
It's all about expectations. It's true it was summer, and everyone else seemed to be getting egg sandwiches of some kind. But I'm pretty easygoing about breakfast, generally, and we weren't in any rush. Next time, I wouldn't mind being served whatever the will of the masses dictates that day.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
My old kitchen manager by MissTrish (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 05:36:25 PM EST
would give the hardcore glares to anyone who dared to order an omelette in the morning. Egg sandwiches are super easy and one avoids the stink-eye on order. I suppose the crepes were an equally sticky point at this place.

I'm sure an old cant regarding pessimism would be appropriate here, but I think I've spouted enough cliches for one day. The advantage with chai is that it is tasty in all forms.

ypu're a chair
[ Parent ]
chai -- true by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #10 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 02:12:43 PM EST
I think D's instincts were good there, conscious or not.

And re: crepes, the CEO of my company (who likes to pretend that we're still a tiny startup working out of a basement) has a particular passion for crepes. One day in fact a couple of crepe irons appeared in the kitchen (it later turned out that the company had bought them) and he and the VP of Engineering made crepes for anyone who wanted one. As a result I think I have an irrational belief that the opportunity to make crepes must give everyone boundless joy. I'm now willing to accept that may not be entirely true.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
also -- by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #5 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 12:49:26 PM EST
I neglected to mention that the place also sported a poster of emergency procedures in case of zombie apocalypse -- how could we not love them?

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
I certainly hope by MissTrish (4.00 / 1) #7 Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 05:38:24 PM EST
it included details as to which implements within the cafe were available for customer use. All the same, quite awesome.

ypu're a chair
[ Parent ]
From the sound of it by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #9 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 04:23:50 AM EST
sounds like you two could have swapped places with the stoners behind the counter.. Not sure who was in more of a daze.. What brought you to lowell ?

oh, we would have been worse by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 02:38:23 PM EST
D is chronically absent-minded and I'd be terrible at making egg sandwiches.

There's an office of the local cable franchise in Lowell. Continuing on the path to becoming really fucking bourgeois, we found the need to upgrade our cable service (but only because our town doesn't have FiOS!) and this turned out to be the best way to do it. Why do you ask?

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
Was trying to work by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #13 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 03:28:59 PM EST
in some kind of Lovecraftian reference, but couldn't manage.. (ISTR Lowell plays a role in several of his stories... Of course I may be entirely wrong..)

[ Parent ]
that's my life -- by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #14 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 04:10:38 PM EST
mundane, desperately uncool, and Lovecraft-proof.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
I have so much to read- by moonvine (2.00 / 0) #15 Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 06:47:41 PM EST
so much here to catch up on. Hi, Kellnerin.

Hi! by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #16 Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 02:01:44 AM EST
So glad to see you again. Was it Queue's magic incantations that brought you back? Please stay a while (or be away not so often ...)

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
[ Parent ]
I think by moonvine (4.00 / 1) #17 Tue Aug 12, 2008 at 05:02:42 AM EST
it just could have been. He is magical for sure!

[ Parent ]
Human Construction | 17 comments (17 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback