Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lovers dine at evening


Lovers Dine at Evening
At the end
Gray grabs tangled days
Rids clutter, sets a marbled table
Serviette, silvered spoon
Ivory cup, prism'd tumbler.
So ordered,
We sit swizzled
Like iced lime
And tonic.

Dark dallies as wait
Other half-known lovers
Upon some cleansed place
Set aside for
None else (naturally);
Once more shined,
Like light upon
A blackened,

Freshened linen,
Walnut, teak and teacup
Lie like columned
Warriors ordered
To Lovers' fields,
Polite in lights
Dimmed warm,
Like hope in
Those who dare
To start
Another's end.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Logbook 10: Conversation and dialogue


From behind her dressing screen, Felicity Hunter gave a sigh and then a long pause before answering.

"Denis," she started," You've posed an interesting question. Yes, I did have the coffee on the morning you mention, and yes, I did make the phone call you mention, but honestly, Denis, the rest doesn't ring a bell. Your coffee was perfectly hot -- and it usually cools to a distractive degree. But ... it's interesting, Denis; it was piping hot."

"And the artwork, Miss Hunter. Did you notice the artwork? Do you recall?"

"Oh, my yes. It was a lovely fern, like those on the banks of the lake, what do they call them, Denis?"

"A sword fern; the image of a sword fern, etched in white within the crema. It was JR's, ma'am. It was an excellent one! He wanted it perfect, for you."

"It was perfect -- a perfect latte from your marvelous coffee shop. Whatever else could matter, Denis? How did you say you sent it?"

It was an awkward moment. If I answered honestly I would be nattering to a beautiful and talented actress at Lake Eden's much-loved cultural center. "Whatever else could matter," that's for sure. Certainly not fantastic tales of molecular recurrence and prophetic cross-stitching and ancient Chinese hokus-pokus. I wanted to flee. Felicity seemed absorbed in her work. She adjusted her costume, turned left and right before the full-length mirror on her dressing room door, then examined her backside, her thin neck turned nearly half-revolution and her hair coiled incarnadine against it. She returned to her dressing table and touched up her makeup, then moved to her door. She spelled me of my fantastic tale.

"Come, Denis. They want to make some adjustments to the lighting. Come along. No wait -- the changes."

She called for a stage hand to bring her costume changes, and a stubby man with a fluffy mustache soon arrived. "Which ones, Miss Hunter?" he asked. "Oh, bring them all, Skenk. God only knows what these technicians will want." As Skenk gathered the costumes and hung them from a rod on a cart, we left the dressing room and walked the hallway behind the stage in silence, her dress swishing with her dainty strides and I a half-step behind like a puppy. We turned the corner and came to the stage left wing and entered the stage behind the scrim.

Lighting technicians aimed the suspended lights and adjusted the colors, turning them on and then off to test the scrim's transparency. As they worked Felicity chatted casually, like a factory worker who repeats motions on the assembly line. She was completely at ease. She asked me to move to the audience side of the empty theater and take a seat there, so the technicians could test the lights and we could talk. I was trapped.

"You've passed the Fourth Wall, Denis! How exciting! I stand behind the scrim and you sit in the first row. We communicate across an imaginary Great Wall, Denis! Now tell me about this business of the car -- what was it?"

"A 1927 REO Flying Cloud. It's a wonderful car, something like you've seen in a movie. Our neighbor, Ernie, said he could make the car move a lightning speed by invoking the incantations of a Chinese prophet named Chang."

I blurted it out like a child, on the one hand animated and enthused and on the other embarrassed and shy.

"How terribly interesting, Denis. You've all gone batty at the coffee shop. How wonderful! Is it the caffeine you sip all day? Perhaps I should switch to straight espresso!"

She spoke her words as if lines in a play, and the spot illuminated her indigo gown, and the bright colors played against the sharkstooth weave of the painter's scrim. Lights from above and in front of the curtain came on, and her image was obliterated while the lights played on the surface of the screen. When those were doused and the back lights came up, she was a silhouette, each curve of her fine figure disclosed and her full costume alive as a shadow. She moved as an apparition. The front lights rose, and all but her voice was gone.

"Well, dahling; it was perfect. I simply cannot get started without a hot latte. Beautiful is extra, and I love beautiful, too, Denis. Thank you for beautiful! It was beautiful. And an old jalopy delivering it -- I had no idea! Splendid, Denis! Splendid!"

"It's why I'm curious, Miss Hunter. The story is fantastic. It was Ernie's plan. He got the idea from a Chinese prophet who had a lightening-fast donkey!"

"Oh, that's lovely, Denis! A speeding donkey brings my latte each morning. A wonderful story, Denis! Let's have it that way each and every morning, love. Who needs an old jalopy?"

"We didn't have a donkey. All we had was Ernie's '27 Flying Cloud, but Ernie felt it would do. So we rigged the latte to the REO, Ernie said his incantation, and Christopher DeFarge set his prophetic cross-stitch needles to clacking. I know it's utterly fantastic, Miss Hunter, but the contraption began to move -- backwards! -- and then the phone rang, and it was you and you said you appreciated your piping hot latte. Do you think I'm mad, Miss Hunter?"

"Of course you're mad, Denis! Isn't it wonderful?!"

The front lights dimmed, and the technicians brought up the back lights. Felicity Hunter's beautiful curls were visible against her soft shoulders. She had changed her costume, now wearing an angular pants suit and top hat and carrying a slim cane. She rehearsed a dance step as the technicians maneuvered the lights. Her hair bounced as she stepped; she looked to me exactly like Rogers or Astaire.

"Good, Miss Hunter," a technician said through a loudspeaker. "Please try some lines."

"It reminds me of a play by the same name, Denis. Flying Cloud, by Ryan. It's a wonderful play, a one-woman play. She's a lonely actress who has only her stage. Here's what she says, Denis. George! George! I'm going to do some lines from that Ryan play, the Flying Cloud. Are you ready, George?"

"Ready, Miss Hunter. Whenever you are. Wait, let's try the scrim. Here ... here's the front." A bright yellow of primary shade came from above and Miss Hunter disappeared as if overwhelmed by sunlight. A spot projected a variety of shadow images against the curtain, first a shade tree and then a cityscape and then a mountain range. "OK, working fine," came the voice in the loudspeaker. "OK, here's the back..." The yellow front lights dimmed, and a soft green back light faded in. Miss Hunter had changed again, and now her silhouette was soft and round. She wore a country girl dress, bobby socks and her hair had apparently been tucked into a wig. She had pig tails. Her voice became deeper and vowels distinct. She recited these lines.

"We sailed a sky one summer day
As katydids from jasmine fields
Kissed an edge of snowy clouds,
We reached with gods at play.
Caught a puff on feathered tide;
Held a hand of time.
Laded thoughts on Flying Cloud
Where dreams alone reside."

A stage hand placed a wing-backed chair beside a drop leaf table, simple stage props for her leisure. Felicity Hunter removed her wig and fell into the chair whimsically. She crossed and uncrossed her legs, then pulled her right leg under her and leaned toward the empty theater. Lights behind the scrim came up slowly and the areas behind it were exposed. A technician tested images visible to me from where I sat. The misty patterns of clouds were to me very pleasing. I imagined a summer day, like the one she had spoken of in her lines.

"Denis, have you read the Quixote?"

"Cervantes? No, I have not. I've seen Picasso's drawing."

"There was a man invented by the Argentine, Borges, named Pierre Menard. He wrote the Quixote."

"No, Miss Hunter, I'm sure it was Cervantes."

"Pierre Menard wrote it the second time. He copied it word for word. An exact copy of Cervantes. Ha! Isn't that interesting, Denis? He copied the wondrous tale word for word!"


"An illustration, Denis. Or an illusion. When we experience something, we change it. The wise man said you can't go twice to the same river. Isn't it interesting, Denis?"


"That's it, Denis! That's it! Heraclitus. What a wonderful Greek name, and perfect, like your latte, Denis!"

"Dad used to say that. He'd say, 'Nothing endures but change, Denis; you can’t step into the same river twice, 'cause by the time you step in and step out the water has run away and the river is different.' That's what Dad said. Then he'd take another job in some new city and we'd have to move. I hate change, Miss Hunter."

"He would move you around, just like that? How thrilling!"

"Always wanted a better job, Miss Hunter. Grass was greener. Mom left him because of it, and I finally ran away, too. I wanted a steady, dependable place, so I rode the rails until I came to Eden Hills. It was time for a change, and I found Lost Goat."

She leaned back. The stage crew lowered a backdrop as she raised her arms and clasped her hands behind her head. On the backdrop had been painted a gallery of men and women dressed in black against a clinquant background. Each mouth was an open oval, and each face otherwise blank. Each held a book like choristers. On the scrim was projected a goliath form, like a warrior. Then it vanished. In the long silence I let my eyes wander to the proscenium directly above, and the box seats to each side. Below me and easily visible was the orchestra pit, and I imagined a great kettle drum, oboes, horns and trumpets before a conductor who danced at the end of gleaming puppet strings. I heard only the rustling of scattered theater workers.

"Menard's version is infinitely richer," she said. "His notebooks were in his handwriting, not the printed words from some embossed book of the month. He burned them."


"He burned his notebooks in a crackling bonfire by the river, his work and Cervantes' work in the same cloud of smoke, wafting over the flowing river that is never the same. Isn't it a wonderful thought, Denis?"

"It would have been better, and his work worthwhile if he had imagined it himself. What does it do to repeat another's thought?"

"He did imagine it himself. No one else had thought of it, Denis."

"But it's not a new thought. It's a stolen thought, someone else's thought. It's just plagiarism, Miss Hunter. It's worthless."

"Then why would he trouble himself to burn it, and why would Borges thought to have mentioned the bonfire? If it were unimportant, it wouldn't rate a story. It's like your latte tale, Denis. It's important because it actually ideaed. Is that a word, Denis? Is 'idea' a verb? Heavens -- how can a language have so many unhelpful words? No, it was an exquisite Idea, existing alone in Menard's brain and expressed in Menard's own handwriting. Borges said Menard's handwriting was like an insect. Isn't it a wonderful idea, Denis? Writing like an insect -- a spider, or a ladybug or the viscid meanderings of a garden slug -- splendid!"

She had lost me. I think now she was simply reciting lines from the play she mentioned, not telling me something. It made no sense to copy another's story. She had done this hundreds of times, saying passages someone else had written and not a thought inside her head, just memorized lines punctuated with affectations of emotion. I wanted music -- Honegger or Bartok from the stolid mouths of the choristers to bring the scene to life, but I heard only the distant steps of stage hands exiting the long hallway to my right.

"Miss Hunter, was Menard real?"

"Of course. Borges invented him."

"Then Menard was just a fiction, an invention, wasn't he? He created nothing. I can see that he only was an invention."

"Just an invention? Oh, Denis, you speak the unspeakable."

The theater was silent except for our voices. Only the lights remained, and the scrim with its projection, the chair and table which Miss Hunter used, and the backdrop of silent vocalists. I wondered if it was completed, probably just an unfinished part of the set, and I visualized the builders and artists working before it on ladders dripped with colors from hundreds of sets from thousands of plays, workers with busy brushes looking like Marceau in mime, coveralls growing bright with smudges and spills.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Logbook 9: Was that a real dream?


As the logbook keeper at Lost Goat Coffee House, I have both a responsibility and a freedom to portray life at the coffee house thoroughly and honestly. I have been reading Immanuel Kant, and his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals has caught my attention and pricked my conscience. I'm troubled enough by Kant to want to help my readers distinguish fact from fiction, reality from dream. Feedback I've been getting (please see the Comments) suggests I should take more care to document and verify, as a good journalist would. Against this backdrop, some of the previous entries, especially the one immediately preceding this one, blur the line, and it's my duty to rectify, to the degree that I can.

I know it's not common for a man of the rails to study philosophy, but exposure to new ideas, especially aided by the stimulant of coffee, can provoke intellectual activity in the dullest of minds. Coffee houses have a rich history in bringing out the intellects (or some vague facsimile of them) in their patrons. For example, coffee houses had barely come on the scene in 17th century London before the monarch worried. An emissary of the king himself described his investigation this way: "In a coffee house just now among the rabble, I bluntly asked, which is the treason table?" To the delight of the growing number of patrons, coffee houses become known as "seminaries of sedition." Rome, too, was concerned, and at one point in the drink's colorful history, the papacy conspired to keep coffee from the mouths of the masses (and close to the Vatican chambers). Today Americans have at their disposal a coffee shop on nearly corner, so the potential for sedition is greater than ever. Is this a legitimate worry? My personal feeling as that as long as Americans take their "venti latte" to go, there is no need for political leaders to worry. Let them stop and talk, however, and the overthrow of some government -- any government -- is at hand.

It's this spectacle of color that has appeal at Lost Goat Coffee House, and I suspect that's what drew the actress Felicity Hunter. Our place is a stage where patrons linger and converse, and our customers are thespians of the highest caliber; no one knows if they're acting or for real. The prospect of financial success at Lost Goat Coffee House is presently limited; our enterprise is not embraced by the mainstream of Eden Hills. Instead, it seems to attract its shady underbelly, which has both the time and the inclination to gab. The rest are going somewhere, God knows where.

I have mentioned Immanuel Kant at the top of this entry, because it is his excellent work in the field of morality that influenced me prior to the visit to Miss Hunter's dressing room. I'm well aware that the experience related in Logbook 8 is, if not pure fantasy, at least on the edge of pure fantasy. In that entry, I had only recently awakened from a dream, inventoried my senses and was immediately involved in the problem of conveying a perfect latte to Miss Hunter's dressing room. The method of conveyance that I reported, in retrospect, appears to me to be too fantastic to be real. Could it have been merely my dream, and not an actual experience? I am troubled by this, because it is not my will to deceive. If my report on an event has somehow become so subjective as to include a dream, it's time I stepped back and assessed my faculties. For starters, I determined at least to learn the experience of Miss Hunter herself.

Miss Hunter is all about theater; all the world's a stage to her. When she called and ordered her 16-ounce latte, I found my opportunity. As soon as JR had prepared her favorite drink, I was off. I rehearsed my questions, thought about the moral implications of deceiving my readers, and commanded myself to discover and report the absolute truth.

At the Center for the Performing Arts at Lake Eden Landing I caught Miss Hunter in the midst of her preparation for performance. To my surprise, she didn't send me away in feigned embarrassment. Instead, she invited me to sit and watch.

"It's not easy , dahling," she said with wry self-effacement. "Being beautiful is not easy. It is not for the shy; not for the faint of heart. Courage! Courage to create. Courage to be."

She sat before the tri-view mirror at her dressing table, her face thoroughly scrubbed and ready. "It's a canvas," she said. "You shall see a work of art."

She tightened her dressing robe and pulled her copious red hair into a ponytail. A headband kept her bangs from her face. She used a pencil to shape and highlight her eyebrows. Then she took a tube from her table and squeezed a tad into her left hand.

"Concealer, dahling," she said. "It's the gesso, the basecoat." She applied it sparingly but with confidence, until her face took a unified hue, complementing her red tresses and covering freckles and blemishes.


Using a flat, firm, slightly tapered brush, she applied a coating sufficient to neutralize undesirable colors. She had selected a faint pink tone, similar to her natural skin color but a touch darker, as stage makeup tends. She feathered the material gently outward.

"The cardnial rule, honey, is blend, blend, blend," she said. "Isn't it magic, Denis? I am flawless. I am artist. I am Picasso. No blems, dahling. No blems."

Feebly, I replied, "Yes, Miss Hunter. It certainly is amazing. Thank you!"

She finished with the concealer and began with the foundation. She divided her face into thirds and worked progressively on each. She started at the center of each section and worked the sponge outward in short strokes to the hair line, under her jaw, and down her tapered neck. The foundation set up as she worked, but she knew its characteristic. She worked with the fine hair on her face, gently pushing it aside with color until it disappeared. She inspected the angles of her face and used the make-up sponge to smooth and blend where needed. Then, in gentle, even strokes she applied a white-based cream pencil under her eyebrows, under her eyes, and down the length of her distinctive nose. She carefully blended every edge until there was absolutely no discernable line of white. She dusted her face with powder and sat perfectly still, her defined eyelids gently closed, until it set.

Suddenly she spoke. "There! Perfection! What do you say, Denis?"

I could say nothing, because there before me sat the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She gently let down her hair and brushed it smooth, the gorgeous red curls bouncing lightly on her shoulders, which she had bared. She applied lipstick and finishing touches to the liner around her eyes. Though I was but a few inches from her splendid face, I could see nothing of the paint she had brushed; no suggestion at all of deception. She had, in fact, taken her already fine face and transformed it into cover-girl perfection.

"No blems, Miss Hunter. There are absolutley no blems, ma'am. You're exquisite. Perfect."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Logbook 8: A perfect latte for Miss Felicity Hunter


On the 7th of June of the second year, I awoke from a terrible dream. As my senses rose to the surface of the great pond I have called sleep, I felt deep within my brain a dull pain, as if squeezed from within. I lay in the bed and shifted lugubriously for coolness until my skin, completely exposed and vulnerable, found reprieve in the unwarmed portion of the linen sheets. I lay there, first listening, and the sense I call hearing reported (as a dutiful soldier) that automobiles and trucks and motorcycles, potentially driven my men and women and not other machines, moved at substantial speed on the freeway. I moved the finger and thumb of my left hand and my brain recorded instantly that my beard traced the edges of my face. I quit my shallow breathing and with focused deliberation, drew air deeply into my lungs, then exhaled slowly and completely until my lungs reported exhaustion and my brain noted that evacuation was complete. I then focused my entire being on the simple but much misunderstood process of smell. I sensed a pungent moistness that may have emitted from the mulch beneath the trees and bushes outside my open window. It was familiar. I then tasted the sour particles on my lips and on the roof of my mouth. Encouraged, I opened my eyes slowly; gray, indistinct light entered and was captured and reported to my brain. The inventory of my five senses was complete, and I deemed with faint resolution myself to be alive.

I cannot say whether my brain moved me ahead, or if the converse were the case. Certain was the distinction of one from the other; that is to say, brain and physical being moved separately from the Great Pond that I have called sleep. Memory emerged. There had been a great black box into which I had been stuffed, and its edges, though distinct, were blurred and might be described as fuzzy, not yet gray, but as if becoming gray. Eyesight distinguished the confines of the black box, and I knew it was not infinite. I used the Idea of a measuring tape to determine the length, breadth and heighth of the black box, but the numbers on the measuring tape were of a denotation I could neither recognize nor decipher. From this experience, I deduced that the dimensions were real but recordable only in concepts I did not understand. I could not smell, taste, touch or hear it. I could only see it, and it was black with indistinct, fuzzy edges. In the black box was a stage, and the stage was not illuminated. On the stage were characters that moved in unison to inaudible music. It was not clear to me whether I was experiencing something or nothing at all. Idea, and it dandled me as if a baby succoring at mother's breast.

I collected my energies and with great effort threw aside the bed clothes. Air from my open window and open door, like the brush of boar bristle, prickled my bare skin. The din of the passing vehicles grew louder, and the aroma of the rose and jasmine were pleasurable and worldly. I brought my hand to my face and stroked my beard, like a meditating imam. I walked to the bathroom and felt the stiff carpet on my feet. I urinated and smelled the wafting odor of it. I turned the faucet and washed my hands with soap (which a friend had given me) from the Eden Hills Hotel, and then I drew a glass of purified water from the Eden River, gargled and swished, and then brushed my teeth with Colgate fortified with fluoride for cavity prevention and spearmint for flavor. In the mirror, I saw the face of Denis Dedrow (which is captured to your right by the deft brush and colors of the famous artist, Dani Weiner) and in the mirror behind saw the cleavage and noted the black hair of my shoulders and ribs. I dressed quietly.

At the front counter of Lost Goat Coffee House where I work for lodging and camaraderie, JR greeted me with enthusiasm. He said the actress Felicity Hunter had called and asked that a 16-ounce latte be delivered to her dressing room at the Center for the Performing Arts at Lake Eden Landing. It must be piping hot and finished artistically with the image of a sword fern from the shores of beautiful Lake Eden. Only JR was adept at latte art of this calibre. Our challenge would be to get the drink from the Lost Goat Coffee House to the dressing room of Felicity Hunter without losing its form, its substance or its heat.

We deduced a great plan that would require the collective effort of all of the patrons of Lost Goat Coffee House. Our Idea, which would be dreamlike, was to convey the drink by means of commonly shared experiences. Normally we would have taken the drink by bicycle in a thermal insulated hot pack, carefully shored up and locked into place so as not to spill. We were aware of the shortcoming of this method under the present circumstances. Miss Felicity Hunter, an actress of supreme reputation, must have a drink worthy of her great art. Would it be possible to place ourselves irrevocably on the very same stage with Miss Felicity Hunter and therefore to be able to share with her the adoraton of her vast audience? If the drink could be gotten to her sufficiently, piping hot (that is to say, steam visibly rising from its surface), in a 16-ounce ceramic latte cup placed accordingly on a matching saucer, and adorned lovingly by the clever hand of JR with an artful fern leaf (in perfect replication of a real sword fern from the banks of Lake Eden), would this not be an unprecedented performance of significant theatrical importance? We set to work.

JR announced to the morning patrons the scope of our work and solicited the involvement of everyone. To our surprise, no one refused. Christopher DeFarge signalled his commitment by grunting; Ernie and Crazy Mike said their schedules would permit. DeFarge was most essential to the operation, because he, being both blind and deaf, had the ability to focus his three remaining senses. Ernie had known great risk and peril already in his life, having survived the almost unique experience of sailing the Huangpu River as an infant. Crazy Mike could summon both demons and heroes at will; with him all things were possible. JR had complete confidence in his abilities with the GB5 espresso machine, and I, as the official recorder of the Lost Goat Coffee House logbook, could document the entire process.

First we conceived of the sword fern. Our collective memories of the leaf were vague, so we dispatched Crazy Mike to the shoreside to collect for us one sword fern. He returned in minutes and laid the specimen on the counter. Cristopher DeFarge, whom we now suspected might be a seer or a prophet, carefully felt the fern with his index finger, then ran his hands around the latte cup. To our knowledge he had never felt, smelled or tasted Felicity Hunter, but we could be sure he had neither seen nor heard her. He then sat at his table on the dais and removed his cross-stitching. Ernie, always nervous, paced the floor and talked aloud in his distinctive Mandar-English, bits and pieces of which suggested a mechanical solution to the challenge. JR, like a high diver, practiced the motions he would need to replicate in steamed milk the tapering leaves of the sword fern. I noted it all.

Thankfully, Ernie seemed to be making progress with the biggest challenge of all: Getting the finished drink to Miss Felicity Hunter without damage to the artwork and in sufficient time so as not to lose its heat. For purposes of documentaton, I carefully measured the temperature of a latte finished under normal circumstances and found it to be exactly 173.3 degrees F. This is considerably hotter than most establishments serve their lattes, but at Lost Goat Coffee House we take extreme pride (as bonafide participants in the specialty coffee business) in serving our drinks at optimal conditions. We knew (Liebeck v. McDonalds) that to serve coffee much hotter was to invite litigation, but we dared to push this envelope. Any cooler and the drinker is deprived the enjoyment of the range of aromatic and volatile compounds in properly roasted coffee served hot and then allowed to cool naturally. These compounds release their various ethers at different temperatures, so to enjoy them all, a drinker must begin at optimal temperature.

Basis for Ernie's contraption was a '27 Reo Flying Cloud. He had one available, its wheels removed and its chassis prepared for a process of conveyence he called shapeshifting, which he had learned from Chinese ancestors who devoted their lives to the study of thaumoctopus mimicus, an Indonesian fish species. As he began to explain the concept to us in his heavy accent, we became very excited for the possibilities. According to Ernie's experience, thaumoctopus mimicus has the ability to become like another fish species. The deception can come in handy when hungry; act like a tuna and -- boom! -- dinner arrives! Shapeshifting isn't normally used in transmogrifying lattes, but Ernie felt that the medium of the '27 Reo Flying Cloud could surmount the molecular recurrence issue. He cited an instance recorded during the Song Dynasty in which an aged hermit named Chang Kuo Lao utilized for similar purpose a donkey that could travel at incredible speed. If Ernie could get the '27 Reo prepared to use Chang's primordal vapor for fuel (and he said he intended to make use of Crazy Mike's demons), he could harness the same principle to transport JR's latte to Miss Felicity Hunter as expeditiously as turning a page of coffee house history.

Meanwhile, DeFarge was cross-stitching madly at his seat on the dais, his needles clacking loudly like his namesake in a Dickens novel. Occasionally he would grunt his deaf/blind syllables at us and we knew the Seer was making progress. When he eventually approached the counter and pointed to his pattern, we knew our deliverance was at hand: There in his cross-stitch pattern was a very large stage on which sat the likeness of Miss Felicity Hunter with a steaming cup and saucer in her hand!

JR pulled the shot and started the milk to steam, his hands moving before the GB5 like a charmer to a hissing cobra. He heated the 16-ounce ceramic latte cup to temperature, added the shot (incidentally, dear reader, all shots at Lost Goat Coffee House are doubles; we don't do singles), and added the steamed milk. Back and forth, as subtle as an afternoon breeze and Giverny, his graceful hand adjusted the stainless steel pitcher and before our eyes, huddled like acolytes around Dr. Jekyll, the image of a perfect sword fern took shape. Its likeness to the real fern that Crazy Mike had collected at the banks of Lake Eden was uncanny. For documentation, I measured the temperature of the completed drink -- 173.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Exactly.

JR carefully carried the ceramic saucer and cup -- no distractive cardbox box -- outside to Ernie's '27 Reo Flying Cloud, and placed it gently on a platform Ernie had rigged for this special occasion. We all stepped back, and with DeFarge's cross-stitch held in our fingers like players of the game called Ouija, we listened as Ernie recited the ancient phrases of the Chinese sorcerer Chang Kuo Lao. Then we watched in utter amazment as the perfect latte changed form, became one with the platform on the '27 Reo Flying Cloud, and the entire contraption moved backwards down the street toward the Lake Eden Center for the Performing Arts. With mouths still agape, we heard the phone ring in the shop seconds later and we suddenly snapped to our senses. JR ran for the phone and then covered the mouthpiece as he mouthed these words to us all:

"It's her! Perfect latte! Fern lovely! Piping hot!"

JR collected himself.

"You bet, Miss Hunter. Thank you. Break a leg, ma'am" he said calmly into the phone. "Break a leg, Miss Hunter." And hung up.

He poured a Misty Valley Yirgacheffe all around, and we stood in awe, savoring its blueberry aroma and replaying in our dazed minds the incredible event we had just witnessed -- caused! Crazy Mike's eyes darted all around and then he lifted his cup and barked, "Break a leg, Miss Hunter!"

"Break a leg!" we yelled in toast to ourselves.

"Break a leg!"

"Break a leh-egggg!"

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Logbook 7: Encyclopedia - Part 2


That Eden Hills, Oregon, had become something of a retreat in the Cascade Mountains for artists, musicians and assorted intellectuals made it a perfect location for Lost Goat Coffee House.

Our place is situated between the jetties of Lake Eden Landing and the railroad yards where massive diesel-electric engines assemble trains of timber, hops, filberts and wheat to help satiate America's voracious appetite for Northwest commodities. Amid this base of commerce and adjacent to the medicinal waters of Lake Eden, Lost Goat Coffee House parked its La Marzocco GB/5 espresso machine, hung its distinctive shingle and welcomed thinkers and characters of every sort.

We are situated between nature at its best and commerce at its most ambitious. On a clear day you can see the pristine peaks of the Cascade. Mount Jefferson, the North, Middle and South Sister, Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington are discernible in spring, and their snow-capped summits glisten in the afternoon sun. From the air, one can see a patchwork of clear-cut logging operations. The varying shades of green -- from lightest to darkest -- reveal the lifespan of the Northwest forest. The darkest greens are reserved for the now uncommon dots of old-growth forest, where massive firs with trunks bigger than a boxcar soar close to two hundred feet into the air.

The slopes of Eden Hills are populated with fine estates that testify to the glories of Oregon living and the prosperity of our town. Often including an acre or two, these homes, though grand, are unpretentious. Simple living always has been admired in Eden Hills, and those who make too much of a show of their wealth are scorned. At one time in its history, Eden Hills legislated sumptuary laws that prohibited the use of jewels and gold, placed a limit on funeral expenses, and restricted the use of motorized vehicles. Granted this was during a time of zealous Victorian simplicity, but these laws nonetheless established local mores for decades to come. More ambitious cities, especially Eugene, regarded these laws as invasive of human liberty, but the counter-argument was (and is) that lavish living is anathema to happiness and a paved road to bankruptcy. Occasionally in a corner at Lost Goat Coffee House, one can hear the debate rehashed in modern terms, and for the student of local history the perspective is highly enlightening, if only vaguely entertaining. Consider that a turn-of-the-century visitor to Eden Hills once wrote in an Eastern newspaper that our town then was "rich because of its liberty and its commerce and often sees everything around it in flames without being in any way affected."

Government in Eden Hills is highly progressive, and to the extent that nationalistic boundary allows, quite apart from the norm, and definitely in contrast to our larger and more ambitious neighbor, Eugene (how often the residents of that town must thank their lucky stars that their founder wasn't named Ralph!). Eden Hills stops short of being sovereign, although recent scholarship traces its history to a band of Native Americans called the Kalpooyas. If such a fact could be documented, Eden Hills could claim sovereignty and build a casino. (The public relations problem, of course, would be to reconcile the placidity of Lake Eden with the garish layout of a modern Indian casino -- noble savage indeed! See Lake Tahoe.)

Where most Oregon cities elect city or town councils, Eden Hills blazed its own trail with respect to the concept of representative government. One of its early leaders, borrowing his ideas from Rousseau, eschewed the notion of representative government and advocated instead for direct government of the people. For the first 20 years of its existence, Eden Hills held monthly meetings in an outdoor log pavilion near Lake Eden Landing. Residents would elect a meeting manager who would call the assembly to order, and the creation of a vocalized agenda would commence from among the participants. If accepted to the day's agenda, matters were then discussed in open and ultimately put before a direct vote of the people. But the population grew and the assemblies became large; town business no longer could be conducted efficiently. To address this problem, a Grand Council was eventually formed, and four syndics were elected. Scholars of European history will note that this system closely replicated that of some of 18th century Europe's most respected communities, among them Geneva itself.

Perhaps as a result of its foundation of direct, participatory government, Eden Hills hasn't been inclined to levy unnecessary taxes on its citizenry. Therefore, despite its wealth, its state is relatively weak. Other than for basic needs such as police and fire protection, infrastructure such as roads and bridges, a dependable ferry system, and public services limited to free, compulsory education and a public library system, Eden Hills taxpayers have balked at most other progressive ideas.

Its library is grand. Located among the bustling commerce area of Lake Eden Landing, the library contains more than 110,000 volumes. Not to be overshadowed by modern methods of enlightenment, the library has been among Oregon's most aggressive at providing access to the world wide web.

Its early history, however, was troubled. As library proponents expanded access to common knowledge, early church leaders fretted that the collection included several books that, in their view, weakened the populace's understanding of its Lord, which had, in their view, been most precisely described by John Calvin. When a grand new building was proposed to house the growing book collection, church leaders, who wielded political power from their pulpits, threatened to derail the project unless a committee of their choosing could be formed to review each volume of the collection.

Fearing the worst, city leaders, headed by a free-thinking scholar named Jonathon Volatari, worked out a compromise, and the building even today evidences the result. Volatari was willing to concede to the church leaders an element of their doctrine in return for the freedom to stock the library's shelves with "all literature and science known to man." Volatari's reasoning was that irrespective of the church fathers' dictum, the people would find their own way with up-to-date information and a free flow of ideas. He feared not so much the church's preachments as its power to censor and withhold ideas.

Church leaders, while recognizing their concession of editorial control, reasoned that the public pulpit afforded them by the inscription over the entrance doors of a grand public library would both trump and shape the populace's hunger for ideas. They eagerly endorsed Volatari's idea, and set to work on a Latin inscription suitable to their doctrine. The unexpected outcome, to which Volatari and his supporters had irreversibly committed, was the precise wording of the inscription. Volatari had not anticipated that church leaders would focus their rare opportunity for broad public exposure (a modern equivalent would be television) on their primary disagreement with Rome. They came up with a cleverly worded notation that includes (in Latin, thankfully!) the assertion that the pope is "The Antichrist."

Not surprisingly, this has been the subject of considerable debate over the years in Eden Hills, if not a blight on its otherwise honorable intellectual history. For one thing, the church and the state can hardly be separated (an American First Amendment priniciple, still) if a public building in a peaceful Oregon community so boldly takes sides in an epochal division in church history. Secondly, the Catholics in our town aren't too happy about the disrespect shown the leader of their church. And thirdly, the more zealous of the modern protestant churches, themselves grown somewhat insular by the inane claims of religious zeal frequently heard from today's political leaders in Washington, have a variety of other suggestions when it comes to naming the Antichrist.

It's unlikely the inscription will survive, and for many of us at Lost Goat Coffee House, the animated arguments over the issue will be missed, primarily because we fear the topics that might replace them.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Logbook 6: Encyclopedia - Part 1


Eden Hills, Oregon, lies at 44 degrees 21 seconds north of the equator and 122 degrees 57 minutes and 48 seconds west of the prime meridian. It's easier to drive the I-5 south from Portland a couple of hundred miles and keep going past Goshen. It's not hard to spot.

The city was founded by Eugene Skinner as a back-up to the successful city that now bears his given name and which is located at the southern end of the Willamette Valley. A conservative and cautious man, Skinner built Eugene and Eden Hills at the same time, in case one of them, due to natural catastrophe or pestilence, failed. Eugene (the city) prospered and today is the home of the University of Oregon football team. Eden Hills doesn't have a football team, but it is regarded as an arts and cultural center and is sometimes referred to as "Geneva of the Northwest." It was formerly known as Skinner, but the name was changed by popular vote in 1956 after the Los Angeles Times published an article about oddly named American cities and suggested Skinner, Oregon, owed its name to the popular Northwest pastime of hunting deer and elk and dressing them in the wild. For many of the sensitive souls of Eden Hills, the image was frankly unbearable. Unfortunately for Eugene Skinner, only one city in Oregon now has the honor of bearing his name.

The city is situated on two hills, at the foot of Lake Eden. It is the lake which provides the most prominent topographical feature and which has been the central source of beauty, inspiration and economic development. Because it is navigable by small craft and provides access to larger ports in the Northwest, Lake Eden has become a popular inland landing. The lake is approximately 18 leagues long and four to five leagues wide. It is fed by the Eden River, which empties into it on the south. The Eden River continues northward, and it eventually empties into the mighty Columbia.

While shipping and international trade aren't part of the Eden Hills economy, it is the center of a market microcosm with all the trappings and complexities of a center of commerce. Colorful markets dot the areas around Lake Eden where forests of Douglas fir and hemlock have been carved back to make room for them. Goods produced in such exotic places as China, Japan or Indonesia can be purchased at many of the markets, along with such items as locally grown produce, blueberries, soap and organic home brew. On any given Saturday, the markets bustle with activity as vendors set up their shops and peddle their wares. Wide varieties of food are available, representing many different ethnic regions and suggesting Eden Hills' interest in and ties to the rest of our world.

The city has an opera, a symphony orchestra, a repertory theater and a wonderous indoor-outdoor performance hall at Lake Eden Landing, the most active of the outdoor market areas. In the summer, the city is home of the International Sergei Prokofiev Festival, during which an award is given each year to the scholar whose treatise most vividly explains the coincidence of Prokofiev's death and that of Joseph Stalin in 1953.

Eden Hills took neither its fame nor its fortune from timber, like so many other communities in its neighborhood. Because it was merely a back-up plan to a much more ambitious community, it depended instead on its wits to grow and prosper. With the arrival of the railroad, and its natural and valuable asset in Lake Eden, it soon became both economically viable and a highly desireable, Eden-like venue. Intellectuals, artists, musicians and journalists drifted to Eden Hills, seeking rest and the medicinal values of the clear waters of Lake Eden. In the post Enlightenment period following the American Civil War, much thought was required to reconcile the ideas of "noble savage" postulated by Rousseau and the elitist freedoms so acidly advocated by Voltaire. Where else but in the American West could one come to think through, while relaxing along the clear waters of Lake Eden, the vagaries of empowering the masses?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Logbook 5: Meet the author


Regardless and for better or worse, I, Denis Dedrow, am the compiler of the logbook for Lost Goat Coffee House. That's me, on your right, as depicted by my friend Dani Weiner, the best artist in Eden Hills.

Every reader is entitled to know at least something about his or her author. Readers of this Logbook think so, too, and some have written to ask for more information about “the writer,” as they have put it. To that end, I submit the following piece, begging readers to please forgive my self-indulgence.

I descend from families of distinction, but I have never amounted to much. It is the way of life. Genetics may claim predictive results in horse racing, but in human procreation, it apparently works differently. The blueblood-achievements of my ancestors had run their course when my parents married and produced their three children. My two sisters and I are by no means bad people, or even impaired; comparatively speaking we just didn’t discover our pathways to success. No book will record our contributions to society. We will not have led a great army to victory on the battlefields of Iraq. The TV news will not find our bodies beautiful nor our voices sexy. Our names do not appear in the columns of the daily newspapers of major American cities. We’re normal, maybe even less than normal.

My mother is a direct descendant of John Adams, the under-praised intellect of the American Revolution. My father traces his family to the French Enlightenment and such men of letters as Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. My family represents the elite of American and French intellectualism but for my sisters and me, life has bequeathed no silver spoon.

My father was a writer. Not the admired author of interesting novels or profound short stories, but an everyday journalist who compiled the police logs and covered the county fairs for local, small-town newspapers. Like a Guthrie character, Dad followed his dream. The jejune hope of a better job (doing roughly the same thing in yet another small town) kept my father on the move and my mother on edge. Her longing was for a stable life, anchored in a familiar place and revolving around her beloved garden, romantic novels and the children on which she doted. Ambition, especially that of an aspiring crime reporter, was something she had no ability to understand. They divorced when I was 12 and my sisters were 10 and 9.

The girls remained with my mother, and for family balance and some simulacrum of fair play, I was sent with my father. In 1961, his next job (the best yet, Dennis!) was in Yakima, Washington. I helped Dad load our station wagon with his meager possessions, and by the time we filled the 8-foot U-Haul, we had everything he owned and about twice what we needed to establish ourselves in a new town in search of a new life.

Except for the books. Dad had forgotten his most prized possession – his orange crate of literature. He prized his copy of The Complete Works of Henry Adams and Discourse on Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He would have claimed to have been all right with leaving Voltaire’s Candide behind, but he would have lied. Although he detested its elitism, Dad considered Voltaire essential reading for a crime reporter for a major metro newspaper (which was just one career step away for him). His collection of Charles Dickens was hardly impressive, but to him it was priceless.

So Dad uncrated the books and told me to get in the car. Then he packed the volumes around my feet and in the recesses of the closed door, across the expansive seat of the Oldsmobile, and onto the raised hump the massive drive train. Although I had little room to move and not much more room to breathe, the mission had been accomplished. The books were with us.

The miles along Old Highway 99 unrolled slowly that summer in 1961. We crossed the Sierra near Mount Shasta, and pressed on past the wheat fields of Tule Lake. We admired the arrow-straight rows of the bean and potato fields around Klamath Falls, and tugged our way over the pass and into the high plateau south of Bend. On and on. I eventually wriggled free and found Dad’s paperback copy of A Tale of Two Cities. I propped my head between the door, John Ernst Steinbeck's East of Eden, and the velvety seat back of the ragged Oldsmobile, and I began to read. For Dad and me, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” too.

We settled into a trailer house near an apple orchard in Yakima, and Dad began his job as police beat reporter for the Daily Record. Six months later, we left for a better job in Chahalis, followed by a better job in Pendleton, followed by a better job in Snohomish, followed by a better job in Lincoln City, followed by a better job in Silverton. At the age of 17, my junior year at Linn-Benton Alternative School, I wrote a note to Dad, thanked him for everything he’d done for me, and filled a knapsack with a couple of books and a jar of peanut butter. I walked to the railroad yard, and when a southbound freight inched through town, I hopped on an open-doored boxcar and didn’t get off until it stopped in Stockton, California.

There’s not much else to report, at least insofar as readers of the Lost Goat Coffee House Logbook would be concerned. I rode freight trains and generally made do for the next forty years, picking fruit, cleaning sidewalks, and helping farm hands. In the year 2002, on the Fifth of November, I jumped off a train from Timberville as it slowed for Eden Hills, Oregon, and found my way to Lost Goat Coffee House, where I’ve been since. They gave me a few odd jobs and eventually asked me to keep this logbook for them. In return, I get enough money for food, free brew coffee, a place to stay in the back by the coffee roaster, and all the love and care a man of the rails could want. I’ve found my home, my place and my time, and it all suits me fine.