Java Jive 2
Our annual writing contest pours out work that is hot, steamy, and not a little black
There is a voyeuristic quality to Java Jive that just can’t be beat. Springing from our frustration at not being able to squint well enough over the shoulders of fellow cafe denizens to ascertain just exactly what it is that they were scribbling about in journals, notebooks, envelope backs, and novel margins, Java Jive brings the miracle of knowledge into shining relief.
Last year, most of our entrants had a seemly interest in the nature of sex, making for perky reading. This year, there’s a lot of black-shirted angst and not as much sex as we sneakily anticipated.
But we continue bravely on, awarding the top three places to Guy Biederman, Nadine Van Vranken, and Robert Porter, who will receive gift certificates to Copperfield’s Books totaling $100, $75, and $50, respectively. We are pleased to have the other published entrants toddle off with fragrant pounds of Taylor Maid organic coffee. To all who entered, we bow low with thanks (forgiving even those who put off submitting work until we were brought, sniveling, to the lowly state of placing the headline “Win Big Prizes” on the come-on Java Jive ad).
Our only regret is that we don’t have the space to publish all of the good choices that we have come to agonize over. But we certainly can grudge the room to print the names of those writers whose work got argued over plenty during the winnowing process. And so extra thank-yous and honorable mention to Matthew Nyiri for his riff on gasoline coffee and the clean, sexy glory of Sundays coming home, to Barbara Stafford for her evocative “Still Life,” and to Desiree Hedberg for her strangely sweet “Bean in Love,” as well as Zoë Griffith-Jones (“The Evening Crowd”), and H. L. Seggel (“Counterspy”) for their “both sides now” glimpses of the cafe counter.
So pour yourselves a cuppa joe and find out just exactly what the hell your friends and cafe compatriots have been writing about all this time.
“I’M A LIAR,” announces Leo with a shrug.
Gloria purses her lips. “Don’t sell yourself short, dear, you’re also a cheater, and a scum.”
They’re drinking refills of house coffee at Cafe Therapy. It’s crowded inside, standing room only.
“I’ll order mochas,” says Leo. “Looks like we’re in for a night of it.”
“Can I believe you? Can I believe anything you say after you fucked Marie?”
Leo pulls out a five from his Levi jacket. “You can believe that I loved you, once.”
“Yeah, right,” she says. “How could I forget . . . “
The day is growing dangerously remote. Leo’s thigh’s just an arm’s length away, but Gloria prefers to float just now.
Faint jazz mingles with the clack of backgammon and passionate chatter. The counter boy sweats, filling mugs from a steaming tap. Near the window a cropped woman speaks: “That’s the closest I’ve ever been to being insane.”
Gloria feels fearfully private, as if anything could happen and no one would notice.
A loud throaty laugh breaks everything up–a recklessly fat woman in slippers is beating a short man at gin. And Gloria thinks, what a disgrace, to do such a thing in public for everyone to see. And Leo puts his arm around her but she knows it’s for the wrong reason, that he thinks she’s crying over him.
But what does it matter:
Leo’s a liar, a cheater, and a scum.
AN AGELESS Japanese woman enters. Under her unbuttoned overcoat a long, pearl colored slip loosely fits her pale nude form. She slides her feet across the linoleum in large-size men’s galoshes, courtesy of the Goodwill bin three doors down.
The college student behind the counter, with pomegranate hair and rows of earrings, does not look up. She’s already preparing her tea. She knows the Woman is lemon verbena. She doesn’t need to ask decaf or caffeinated, here or to go, room for cream. She knows all of that. She knows most Sundays at 10 a.m. the Woman will come. The boss knows too. He’s posted a note just below the counter to ensure that, next time the Woman tries to pay with ghost money, she’ll be asked to leave.
“You’ll be repaid later,” the Woman predicts.
The Student looks at her co-workers. They look away. She quickly rings, then shuts the register. At closing, she’ll empty the tip jar to make the balance even.
The Woman winks in conspiracy as she pours milk into her paper cup. Outside, clouds mix in the swelling river. Seagulls land on overturned tables, fanning their wings for imminent flight. The Woman stands among them sipping her tea as if from a porcelain cup. Through the rain-wet windows, the Student sees the edge of the Woman’s slip dip into gasoline puddles along the alleyway. The Woman walks as if she has begun a long journey across the hard interior of an abalone shell.
–Nadine Van Vranken
“VEGAN? It says the muffins are vegan. What is vegan? Am I saying it right?” She pronounces it vee-juhn. She is not local. Locals are likely to call it anything, but don’t ask how.
Her companion is surely not local because he gives her a straight answer. “Vegan”–he calls it vee-gun–“means no eggs, milk, oil, sugar, baking powder, or salt. Good is bad.”
A local gives the correct answer. “Vegan is named for the star system Vega. The owner was once abducted by aliens, little gray guys, not foreigners, and the wisdom they imported was the recipe for Vegan muffins. Carbon life-forms cannot digest these muffins. You would not believe where the soup comes from.”
In the front door comes a woman with wild hair and so much metal in her hide, surely her Cuisinart exploded. But it’s the mosaic of tattoo we see even with her clothes on that causes speculation. Definitely Star Trek material. The out-of-towners decide bagels sound good.
The East West Cafe, the only coffeehouse in Sonoma County named for UFO vectors. Coffeehouses attract eccentrics like money attracts politicians or politicians attract flies. But the East West has gone pro. East West attracts aliens. Their disguises are almost convincing. None of that short bug-eyed gray stuff or the ostentatious green glob thing, and they almost always obey gravity. But after a second cup many begin to lose their sync pulses and their manner becomes erratic. Many witness this and assume they are seeing double. Which is like assuming you hear with an accent.
Sebastopol is home to Goddess Local 107 and New Age motorcyclists with crystals sprouting from copper brain-buckets. The neo-Atlantean theme of the East West harmonizes with this. But saffron walls and hip Egyptian murals don’t subdue caffeine’s zip. Ranting and raving, panting and waving. “Dennis Rodman will balance Perot’s ticket!” Sam the owner takes it all in stride. He’s from the Middle East: it takes more than pedants and tattooed women to blow his cool. He does give the tattooed lady a lingering glance. She is, after all, from way out there, way out there.
Caffeine Junk Dilemma No. 29
OCTOBER 17, 1989, San Francisco. After the quake.
Midnight at Polk and Eddy glass glitters like diamonds in the street, on the sidewalk, in the flashing lights of patrol cars. Its crunching under my feet breaks the eerie quiet. All I want is a hot cup of coffee, but power and gas are out everywhere.
Clocker on the corner asks for a light.
“Slow night?” I ask.
“Couldn’t drum up business with a marching band.” He shoots a quick eye around. “Too dark for the man to see, but too dark to see the man.”
“Too right,” a prostitute offers, passing.
Coffee’s the only unavailable commodity tonight.
Market and Van Ness I’m joined by a lean man with a long, slow gait, years of street life fixed in an intense gaze, sleeping bag over the shoulder, elbow pointed to the black sky.
“Feel that warm air?” he says, stopping. “There’s another one coming.”
We chance upon a trio at a bus stop, waiting.
“All things considered,” one says “I believe that the universe is not a malevolent place. We have nothing to worry about.”
My tall, wandering friend responds quietly, “I think the universe is full of fools. Take care. brother man.”
On Fillmore a band of moto-police ride a tight six, party lights flashing blue up the dark hill.
“Kinda scary, isn’t it?” one shouts.
It is. I never do find that cup of coffee.
3:32 a.m. Another large tremor.
Tonight everything’s shaking but me.
IN THE MORNING he was caused to smile by the smell of coffee. I loved to make it for him: a meticulous process in order that every ingredient would be just right. I would make sure to grind the beans enough, but not too much, and be sure to put cream in.
It seemed to feed that heated glow of him. His skin was always warm to the touch. The darkness of him, as well, seemed to be colored by it: his skin tanned, his hair dark, his eyes brown. I liked to imagine that the coffee infiltrated him, giving a strong flavor and texture to his personality. Without this, he might just be another blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy I had passed time with.
I can’t help but think about him in coffee shops, reminded of the way his big flat hand held the cup. I look around at these people, milling, smiling, curious: a disco ball of faces and coffee beans and various ways to order a latte. People always want new things, to experience new ways of being. There is a strange simplicity in wanting something familiar and cherished, like the warmth of a cup of coffee, or the warmth of a lover.
MINE EYES have seen the glory . . . Heavenly smells, wishin’ wells . . . A cup a joe stares me in the face. Lucid milk-fed pools. Rippling steam engines explode under each breath. Wait a minute. What am I doing here? Oh yeah, wake up. Wake up and smell the coffee. Isn’t that how it goes, trying to get through the day good to the last drop and all that. Check her out, read this, what a bunch a crap. Self-indulgent witless wonders. And I’m one of ’em. Yeah, one of the Seven Witless Wonders of the Worlds, but hey, this is coffee-land. Land where half meets half and whole bean meets the steam and we make beautiful music together. Yeah, if it weren’t for my tin ear. Tin ear and a paper cup. And here’s to you, Mrs. Olsen, Jesus loves you more than you will ever know, now teach every housewife how to make a cup a joe. Woe woe woe. And Juan Valdez quietly handpicking only the richest coffee beans while his burro “Coca” was loaded down with burlap sacks filled with only the richest white powder and the gringo businessmen danced the Mexican hat dance all the way to the bank. Whoa, who stuck these Oliver Stone-esque flashbacks in here? Whew, pardon me, but my sense of reason seems to have been amputated this time of day. Gone under the knife. Cut out like a benign neck tumor on election eve. What? Would I like more decaf? Oh, foul, I cry.
THE ALMIGHTY had had a long, stressful day and was ready to park his carcass on his Hepplewhite and impersonate one of his finest spuds. He’d been crashing out in front of the tube more frequently these days. So what if he got every cable channel in the universe (including Bravo and Spice) and had the best HD reception in creation? He was finding it harder and harder to be stimulated. It was always a case of “been there, done that,” and somehow he knew that taking a vacation wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
Mrs. God had whipped up a very nice cheese strudel that afternoon, and was making fresh coffee. God had downed a raft of her rugallah that morning (he didn’t worry about putting on weight), and it was a fact that Mrs. God’s pastries were the best in the universe. Her coffee wasn’t bad either. and it was getting better all the time.
At exactly 7:11 a.m. PST, an 8.3 on the Richter epicentered in Santa Ana shook Southern California. God is a very loud snorer. It’s a good thing (though not everyone agrees about this) that he smelled Mrs. God’s coffee or the aftershocks would have leveled most of Orange County.
Rubbing his eyelids, the Big Fella sat down at his simulated maple grain formica table,and slurped the frothy whipped cream topping his java. Shoveling a Buick-sized slab of strudel into his mouth, he belched.
The people of Earth named it Cecilia, and it wiped out most of south Florida. The next morning a brilliant sun dazzled them, and they all agreed, “God’s in his Heaven. All’s right with the world!”
he buys me kona
he buys me kona coffee
because I like it.
it’s not deep and existential
like French roast
it’s not nihilistic
like espresso beans
it’s not going to rouse you out of
bed with arias
like Italian roast
it won’t be distant–
alone in a corner
scribbling angry poetry
it’s just kona . . .
which reminds me
of bare feet in the cool, wet sand
The Daily Grind
I stared into his coffee-colored eyes
they stained my soul with
Hot with emotions
Brain percolating with rich images
I timidly sipped, then gulped
And the scalding clarity of
burned through me
Waking my morning-sluggish heart
with espresso insistence
Whipping my layers of bitterness
with creamy, sweet addiction
That floated on top of dark
Cafe Death Dream
Visions of drunken
Comrades of poetry
Leaping upon tables
Screaming poems of
War death sadness or
Wailing laments of
Love death sex dreams;
Shattered by empty
Carafes of house wine
Sitting alone in packed
Cafes of self-indulgent
Poets in darkhole cafes;
And whining about
Whose children cover
Themselves in television;
Heroes who feed them
Dreams of freedom from
Bored suburban poets
Whimpering in dim cafes
Pathways well wandered
Down Kerouac roads
Of Zendeath dharma
Anonymous Fish Processor
She went into the room and killed everyone. Of course it wasn’t easy. Her parents put up the biggest fight. For the first time, they worked together to defeat her, but they failed. Would their other child miss them? Not likely, but who cares anyway. He should be killed, too.
After her killing spree she went out for a cup of coffee. Then, in a moment of celebratory release, she decided on a cappuccino. You couldn’t see the blood on her black clothes. It was no longer wet enough to rub off on people, but it did have a distinctive smell. She would have to change before midnight.
At midnight she would leave for Alaska. She was heading out to be an anonymous fish processor. The VW van was packed already. They said she would never do it. Well, they were dead. Too bad.
Outside in the moonless night, she sat alone at a tiny round table. She stuck her fingers through the foam into the hot espresso below. It didn’t hurt at all. The blood loosened from her fingernails and blended with the caffeine. Some drink.
From the September 26-October 2, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent
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