Daria logo

"...you're standing on my neck."

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been choking on this post for almost three weeks, and I’ve been sitting on the material for almost three months. It all started when I got a new job and on my third day attended a book reading by literary critic Bill Deresiewicz. I was thrilled to attend, as he’s an author that I’d praised in the past.

Deresiewicz has gone on record and in print stating that everything he needed to know about life, and especially friendship, he learned from Jane Austen. While attending a short lecture by Deresiewicz at Lewis and Clark College, it suddenly hit me that Bill D. and I shared a mutual experience. I too had come to several life revelations due to a re-discovery of the stories of a certain sharp tongued, precocious teen that I couldn’t seem to take seriously enough when I was a teen myself. Even though she lived in an era almost unrecognizable from mine, and her story still has significance today.

I’ve realized that everything I need to know about friendship (and Jane Austen), I learned from Daria.

Like a certain Lizzie Bennett, Daria Morgendorfer is a smart, snarky girl who rolls her eyes in the face of an utterly moronic society fueled by excess and superficiality. She knows who her friends are, and—unfortunately—who her family is as well. Also, in all her precociousness, Daria was still blindsided by her first love who crashed into her life like a modern-day Mr. Darcy. Daria and Lizzie are literary soulmates separated by a century, that still have plenty to teach to us 21st century folk…particularly when re-visited in your mid- to late-20s.

Daria helped shape what kind of girlfriend I wanted to have (I eventually married a Jane Lane), and what kinds of friendships I wanted to have: honest, unsentimental, and largely based on food and bribery. Daria taught me to accept that my family is crazy and I’m just as crazy, and that television serves us by convincing us that the rest of the world is crazier. I learned (in retrospect) that high school was far from the best years of my life, and that your first taste of wisdom comes when you accept that fact. More than anything, I learned that deciding against pursuing a career in music made me smart, but not cool.

“Daria, huh? Never heard of it.” Bill Dereczewicz said, the gleam in his eyes betraying his attempt to hide the synergy of the moment. I respect his desire to downplay the intellectual spawn that had been born between us, since it would only alienate the rest of those present.

Sorry people, we can’t all be visionaries.

Tiffany Carlson performing at Singer Hill cafe.

Tiffany Carlson and company, with a toddler cuttin' a rug.

There’s nothing quite like being in the zone and falling out of it. I’m speaking rhetorically arbitrarily, of course, since I don’t harbor any illusions of being in a blogging “zone.” It’s actually been slightly over a month since my last post, and I’ve spent most of that time writing and re-writing a post about something that happened nearly three months ago.

As Indigo Montoya said, “When a job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning.”

So here I am, back where this blog was last seen: Singer Hill Café in Oregon City before a show with Laura Ivancie at the 505 Tavern. I’m blogging to the sweet sounds of Tiffany Carlson…again. I’ve got my Mushroom Swiss Quiche with a side of fruit, which bears a casual resemblance to the lime tart I had last time. I’ve got my decaf coffee (it’s almost 8pm, give me a break) which has no real relation to anything I had last time, and bread pudding that…

Empty plate, empy glass, and half-eaten bread pudding.

Forgot to take a picture before I ate. I really am off my game.

Ok, ok. That “back-to-the-beginning” thing doesn’t really work at all, but if it did it would have been awesome. If I were really going back to the beginning I’d be twenty-two years old and working night-crew at a grocery store. Hell, I haven’t really gone back to the beginning as much as I just went back to where I was a month ago.

It’s still a pretty nice place though.

Singer Hill Cafe on Urbanspoon
I’m fascinated by the way many (but not all, mind you) Portlanders describe surrounding areas that don’t fit their mold. Vancouver is “Vantucky,” a backward, uncivilized place populated with mostly hicks. Oregon City apparently is the same, only with more “religious freaks.” Lake Oswego is a yuppie paradise. Heck, even Southeast Portland is a “ghetto.” Seriously, anyone who’d call SE Portland a “ghetto” has certainly never seen one.

Anyways…

Lime Tart and Cappuccino.

Lime tart, cappuccino, and some sweet decor.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to my sojourn down to Oregon City. In fact, I really didn’t know where Oregon City was and had gotten well into the day before I decided to find out exactly where I was headed this particular evening. I initially feigned excitement about dropping down to Oregon City for a show at the 505 Tavern, to which my co-workers responded with resounding “meh.” Geez, the reaction was so lukewarm I thought I’d accidentally said “Vancouver.”

Perhaps I’ll enjoy it after all.

Plants on the wall over the stage.

Just in case you thought I was kidding, yes, there really are plants growing out of the wall.

After scoping out a few options, I decided on Singer Hill Cafe as a good place to crash before my show. The  shop seemed to have plenty of loyal patrons. The layout reminded me of a more expansive version of the dearly departed Marcell’s in Vancouver, which was essentially a large house. Singer Hill is a coffee shop with a full menu of sandwiches and salads, pastries, and a mighty fine Lime Tart. When he saw me taking pictures, the owner took me on an impromptu tour, showing off the backyard garden where he hoped to host a few outdoor concerts in the future.

Singer Hill hosts music on Fridays from 6-8pm, and I arrived in time to catch the second half of a fundraiser show by Tiffany Carlson who delighted the a rather cordial crowd of friends and families. I also have to acknowledge the pretty sweet stage that had plants growing out of the wall. That I’ve never seen before. It’s easy to feel at home in Singer Hill Cafe, and that’s a feeling I really have to search for in Portland, which is often hip, but rarely cozy. You know, I gotta admit: Oregon City is an okay place.

Well…if you like Vancouver.

Grendel's Coffee House on Urbanspoon
Pure circumstance brought me to Grendel’s Coffee House, though I admit I was somewhat fascinated by the name. I’ll be honest, I’m no scholar of ancient Anglo-Saxon mythology. In fact, everything I know about Beowulf I learned from an episode of Star Trek Voyager, so don’t expect any witty mythological wordplay.

Actually, scratch that, I’d like to give it a shot. *ahem*

Exterior of Grendel's

How could you not want to go in?

Where the fearsome Grendel may be a mythical beast of unparalleled horror, the intimate Grendel’s Coffee House serves up excellent coffee and unparalleled service in a cozy space on East Burnside (count it!). When I say cozy, I do mean cozy. Seriously, it’s about…counting…12 seats. 15 if you count the couch. If anything, it sort of reminds me of a really tiny Southeast Grind, just not open 24 hours. They’ve got wifi, but you can also fire up the retro PCs (CRT monitors, yo) if you’re jonesing for throwback. Of course, that kind of intimacy almost always implies a good place to chill and chat. This is, for the record, a great place to chill and chat.

They also sell  Snarky Cards, which practically shouts “we’re cool.”

I opted for the Grendel’s Ghost mocha, which uses white espresso and produced what tasted like a full-flavored mocha with a dollop of restraint. It’s awesome. Try it. Actually, another blogger shared a description of the flavor that also follows the ghastly motif:

What was at first an interesting experience for the senses, soon turned into a flavour that wouldn’t shift from the palate, haunting every taste bud with its weirdness.”

Coffee at Grendel's

Grendel's Ghost Mocha. Oh, and yes, this photo was take well after closing.

The owner, Eric, was more than happy to explain the white espresso roasting  process to me (something about flash-roasting and more caffeine) while he brewed it up. He was also kind enough to reset the wireless router when it went screwy, let me stay after closing, and even offered some light conversation, all while patiently showing a new employee the ropes. Actually, this guy is such a pro, I think we’ll have to go to the play by play:

It’s Friday evening, and Grendel’s closes at 6pm. It’s now 6:16. Will Eric serve this walk-in?

Yes! Though coffee is off the table. He busts out the tea and hot water. She looks thrilled! That’s the look of a returning customer.

It sure is Bob. Now how about this: It’s now 6:20–twenty minutes after closing–and we’ve got a pair of folks looking for coffee and a little food.

They do offer sandwiches and pastries, Jim.

But this long after closing? We may have seen the limits of what he can do.

Well, it looks like he’s giving them the bad news…but wait! He’s taken them outside and directing them to nearby restuarants. He’s pointing, he’s gesturing, and look at that smile!  Jim, this guy’s a first-ballot all star if I’ve ever seen one.

Well there you have it. Customer service at it’s finest. Heck, he even encouraged me to take photos, though I’m sure that’s far from the strangest thing people do in coffee shops around here. Eric, if you can hear me from the legendary world you inhabit, you are the Beowulf of customer service. I shall write epic tales of your exploits…or at least one blog post.

Was it good for you?

May 1, 2011

So this, this, and definitely this got me thinking…

Joe Wilson shouting.

"You lie!" Congressman Joe Wilson shouts in wild, sexual, extacy.

I’ve been baited into a more political exchanges in the last few months than I’d care to remember…two actually. Whether my arguments were intellectual, personal, political, oreven irrational, the heart of it was always the same thing. I wanted to win. I wanted to be right. Rooted in the theory of consumerism as an extension of our primal hunting instinct which has no modern outlet (thank you Jane Lane), I’m entertaining the idea that our often insatiable appetite for moral justification is merely uncontrollable, misplaced sexual aggression. I mean, really, what feels better than being right? What outside of sexual climax could possibly compare to achieving intellectual checkmate?

Nothing.

In that sense, what better manifestation of primal, passionate argumentative energy exists than democratic politics? This begins with electoral primary; elaborate, awkward, and boring foreplay. The real action, starts with campaigns which revel in protracted, competitive, contemptuous orgies of arguments, promises, and allegations. Unlike religious arguments (which always end in stalemate) political arguments have the advantage of inevitably leading to the ultimate “justifcatious coitus” of electoral victory.

Politics isn’t just sex. It’s GREAT sex.

Democrat Barck Obama (L) and Republican

That's it boys. Don't be shy.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there’s genuine sincerity in there somewhere and many (most, I believe) candidates are essentially good people. In the heat of the moment, though, honest communication doesn’t ignite the passion. News networks don’t want pillow talk, especially when there are hundreds of thousands out there tuning in for hardcore political pornography. At the particularly kinky fringe, there’s always wild conspiracy theories to satisfy those with..*ahem*…unique interests and desires. In whatever form, the masses want to see action. If you’re going to win that election, you’ve got to be a tiger in the proverbial sack.

Of course, when it’s all over and the post election cigarette (inauguration) is burned down, we’re left lying in this intimate relationship with someone we barely know that will likely screw us a few times and make an abrupt unceremonious exit.

Hopefully we had a good four years.

So, I’ve reached Friday of my first week at my brand spanking new job. I’ve got a head full of new names, places, and procedures, and I’ve got a new, daunting morning and afternoon commute to tackle. A whole new community of faculty and staff to integrate into, and welcome new morning and afternoon routine to carve out. So I found myself churning my way through a lynda.com Adobe InDesign tutorial (played at double speed) and reflecting on my experience at the William Deresiewicz  book reading and Q&A when suddenly it hits me:

The title of my blog sucks.

I’ve been telling my students for years “don’t let anything be automatic.” Everything you do should be a conscious choice, which takes into account your objective and desired outcomes. Make a deliberate decision, and resist becoming a backseat driver in your own car. Well, I’ve failed. Not only is it silly that the domain name, blog title, and blog subject matter have absolutely nothing to do with each other, it’s a tad hypocritical to bemoan nonsensical marketing slogans when I haven’t the slightest idea what “Extroverted Introversion” is supposed to mean. Actually, I whimsically came up with that title when I was a bright-eyed twenty-two year old college graduate musician working night crew at a grocery store. Now I’m a twenty-eight year old pseudo-intellectual techie musician with a coffee shop fetish. It’s definitely time for a change.

Welcome to “Caffeinated Counterculture”

Picture of a coffee cup.

It's, like, I'm the cup, ya' know? And society is, like, the table. And I'm, like, "counter" that.

It’s not perfect, but it feels right. Not only does it return few Google search results (when typed in quotes), it has a glorious hint of pretension, which sells like hotcakes in my neck of the woods. Besides, I’ve done some market research (read: asked a few friends, my mom, and my wife) and it’s tested well.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not changing the domain name. I’m far too vain for that. Besides, why type thirty characters when you can type eight?

Que Bella!

April 20, 2011

Bella's Garage Coffeehouse on Urbanspoon
Like a typical middle-class American, I measure my life in pop songs, presidential administrations, and places…to get coffee. You say junior high, I say Barnes & Noble. You say high school, I say Bertolino’s. College? Jazz & Java. Grad school, Cosmos Coffee (R.I.P), and then Grounds for Thought. My first teaching job…I can’t remember but it was a nice place to play a gig.

A picture of Bella, a bird.

This would be Bella, the owner of this coffee establishment.

Downtown(-ish) Vancouver’s got plenty of options, and I never really picked a regular. Actually, it probably would have been Marcell’s had it not caught fire. So, now that I’m regularly commuting to Lewis & Clark College, what’s it going to be?

Bella’s Garage, sitting pretty on Terwilliger Blvd., is what any college neighborhood coffee shop should and could be. At the moment I’m hard pressed to figure out what they don’t offer. They’re serving up a full coffee menu, wi-fi, local pastries (yay for the apple empanada), local tea, and even a greeting card section. They’ve also got generous and varied seating options (even a kids section!) without being stingy with power outlets.

If you drop in between 6am and 9am you get any size drip coffee for a buck. Sure, my knee-jerk reaction is to be suspicious of deep discounts, but $1 coffee is much different than a dollar cheeseburger. Anyways, I can go here five times a week for morning coffee and spend less than I did stopping in most other places twice a week.

cup of coffee in Bella's Garage. Chairs too.

If you look closely at the cup, you can tell I am only slightly capable of feeding myself.

The icing on the cake? The wireless service is dodgy, and by “is dodgy” I mean “has yet to actually work in my three visits.” While this may be a red flag to most folks, to me, it means I might actually get something productive done.

Bella’s Garage: a place where the prices are low, comfort level is high, and the wifi is fubar. I think I’ve found a new home.

***4/23 Update***

I think it’s only fair of me to point out that the wireless has worked for the last two days I’ve been there. I’m not changing my marketing slogan, though. That’s poetic gold.