Chapter 4: Trouble
The cafe is small, narrow like a railroad, straight as a pin.
There is a counter with black stools that look cold and hard, like they're made of wrought iron but maybe wood. There are dudes who make coffee. White - mostly. Dudes exclusively. And they are, I guess, anarchists. They are doing some kind of disgruntled, youthful masculinity that is new to me.
Seeing unhappy white men feels new, I mean.
White men in San Francisco tend to exhibit a jovial aloofness. I feel their pride, derived from a sense that they participate in the world with the conviction of their level headedness. To them there is one reality, and only one. They have an unshakeable sense of their place at the future's healm. Their humanity is unquestioned - by themselves or anyone else.
These coffee dudes consume me. They don't smile. They are irritated if I ask questions. They demand tips. They take their time. They don't like it when I laugh. They turn the ugly weird dissonant music up when I talk too much to whoever is with me.
They treat just about everyone this way, but it feels personal because little in my life doesn't.
If they were women their behavior would place these coffee bar guys squarely in the domain of "bitter," but they're not, so it's something else - mysterious or aggressive, but alluring. Definitely alluring.
They made me mad at first, but I always wanted to know why they were upset. I spent hours talking about them, theorizing with my friends about them.
I think I wanted to know if they were like me. Were they mad because their parents had taught them how to be ashamed of themselves? Were they mad because they were jealous of the effortless joy exuded by the elite all around us? Or were they performing this for no reason, just because they could, because "fuck respectability and fuck you too."
People come from all around San Francisco to watch this spectacle. The exhilaration of flagellation. A moment to play at feeling unimportant, to slum it.
The coffee here is perfect. Smoky and strong. Some coffee makes me edgy, humming with fidgety paranoia. This coffee makes me focused. I think it even inspires me.
This coffee story is about to turn into an allegory for colonialism.
I order iced coffee and a man who looks like a boy wearing a beanie yells "ICE IT" into air in front of him to another man who's behind him. He's got a chipped tooth. I pretend he can't afford to fix it. This is how I pretend that he's mad for a reason.
I guess the reason that a single coffee shop could change my neighborhood - any neighborhood - is all the lingering that’s involved. It’s not like a clothing shop or a gas station. People linger for hours sipping and chatting.
If they were all brown or black people it would be called loitering. But since they're not it's something else. It's not criminal behavior because these are desirable people.
They made a parklet, and all of a sudden there were people lingering all day on a tree that had been twisted and turned into a sort of long tendrilous bench. They were all mostly the same kind of people. White people. Thin people. People of color who love white people, drinking with their white people friends. People with corgis. People like me, popping between an ambivalence borne of my own politicization and alienation, and the safety of a sense that sometimes I am seen as a white person or a person of color who loves white people who drinks with her white people friends who have corgis.
And even though no one ever said anything I knew – I knew – that these lingering sippers were supposed to be aspirational to me. They were supposed to signify that desirable people had come to save my neighborhood. That I should be happy and grateful that they were there. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t happy or grateful.
I don’t dislike these people or anything, but I’m suspicious of what they represent - the progress of my neighborhood. Progress is a Western construction, a meaningless word used to explain the importance of Westerness itself. This idea has been used to justify all kinds of things – from war to circumcision to Kellogg’s corn flakes, and to parklets in neighborhoods that nobody liked, until they did.
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ABOUT THE BOOK
I release a new chapter a week on Thursdays - unless I'm exceedingly overwhelmed or whatever I write is so epically terrible I'm too embarrassed to put it on the internet.