Thursday, May 22, 2008

The gift of cat poop

People give me stuff. I'm a barista in the state's coolest coffee shop (well, that may have sounded a tad self-serving...let's just be completely honest and say the coolest coffee shop in middle America!) and as such, we've met a goodly number of customers who have over the course of time become good friends. And you know how it is with your own friends, you want to share things with them, things that you enjoy and that you want them to enjoy as well. So, friends have brought us a list of goodies that includes cookies; cakes; pickled eggs; smoked fish; venison steaks, bacon and wieners; home smoked beef sticks; cheese; whole 15 lb. salmon right from the lake; and homemade fudge (if that doesn't sound like a Wisconsin menu I don't know my cheese).

Well, one of the shop's most loyal friends is a spunky gal who has brought a lot of good humor, fun and occasional amiable psychic swordplay to the party. Now then, in order to protect the identities of those involved let us just call this dear lady, oh, just for the sake of brevity let's call her "Lucy." So Lucy has shared with us all sorts of interesting and delightful tidbits and ephemera, including relevant newspaper and magazine articles, books, works of art, sugary yummies and so on. She is also a cat owner and devotee. One day Lucy, my stepdaughter Heidi and I were talking about cats. Heidi owns a couple of cats herself. While I suppose I like felines well enough (I'm really a dog person) I am not at all ambivalent about the smell they produce. Can't stand it really. I maintain that you can identify a household with cats as soon as the front door is opened, regardless of what measures are taken to inhibit the odor.

Lucy insisted that she used a specific cat litter that, according to her, entirely and completely eliminates all catbox odors. I, of course, expressed my doubts and likewise declared her to be a biased and prejudicial participant in the stinky cat debate, whose opinion on the matter should be judged invalid because of her professed affinity for cats in the first place. She dismissed my entirely objective and tactful pronouncement (I think I said something like "No way! You're out of your gourd!") by pretending I wasn't there, and continuing the conversation with Heidi alone, whose opinions also, I might add, I had judged to be without merit. And so, now that I had been effectively pushed out of the stinky cat debate (which was now no longer a debate at all, as I had been the only one actually debating the issue) I took solace in the fact that Lucy and Heidi inwardly agreed with me but were too stubborn to admit that they were wrong.

The next day in walks Lucy holding a small brown top-folded paper bag that clearly contained something at least a little weighty. She held it in front of her as though it were a trophy she had just won for bowling a perfect 300 game or baking the first-prize winning carrot cake at the County Fair. Smiling a little too smugly, she handed it to me on the side of the counter with a "David, would you please give this to Heidi?"
"Uh, sure...what is it?" I asked.
"This is a sample of the litter we talked about yesterday. I wanted her to see exactly what it's like and how effective it is."
" this is cat litter?" I asked again, a little confused as to why anyone would even care to parcel cat litter for someone else.
"Yes," said Lucy, "there are actually two separate samples in there. One of fresh, unused litter. And one that has been soiled."

My three outer fingers immediately recoiled from the hold I had on top of the bag, leaving my thumb and forefinger lightly pinching as small a portion of paper as I could without dropping it. Extending the package as far from me as I could I said through curled lips "You mean that there's cat poop in here!?"
"No, no," said Lucy in a singsong voice. "The soiled sample just contains a little peepee litter, and it's in a ziplock baggie. Go ahead, smell it. You will not smell any cat odor whatsoever." (
Of course what she was really saying was "David, you silly man, here's what I think of your opinions on cats and cat litter.")
" thank you," I replied, which may have come out sounding something like "No way! You're out of your gourd!"

"Gee," I said in mock dismay, "you used to bring me cookies and brownies. Now I'm getting cat crap. I'm not quite sure how to take this."
Lucy, of course, parried my sarcasm with a good natured laugh.

I did store the bag for the better part of the day, half-thinking that maybe Lucy was being legit and really did want Heidi to have it in order to confirm what they had been talking about the day before. And then I realized that "hey, I'm saving a bag of cat poop...just paint 'all-day sucker' on my forehead."

Every now and then I bring up the time that I was gifted a bag of cat poop. You can hardly top that.

Ok, that's two posts now that are scatological in nature. I better remember to do something different for the next one or people might start to think something weird is going on here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"This is shit!"

This one occurred a while back, during one of our weekend live music gigs. We had booked an improvisational jazz trio billing themselves as TRiP (each capitalized letter representing the first letter of each guy's last name, and the word 'trip' perhaps signifying the mind jarring, if not hallucinogenic experience their music would impart to the listener). The instrumentation consisted of electric cello, upright bass, keyboards and accordion and all three artists were highly trained and skilled musicians with years of performing and teaching experience under their collective belts. It was strictly and entirely improvisational, non-melodic and experimental jazz...really more discordant aural stimulation than what most would consider music in any traditional or recognizable sense.

We had quite a crowd this particular evening, young and older, individuals, families and couples. And the response from the audience to what they were hearing was as varied as there were people in attendance. "I like it. "I don't know if I like it." "I'm not sure what to make of it but it is interesting." "Kudos for bringing in something so different." "I don't care for it." Personally, I thought it was very cool, not especially for the the music but rather for the experience of watching these guys play off of one another. The audience response was also so dynamic and diverse that it added another dimension to the overall experience.

The kicker, and real subject of this story has to do with one particular gentleman's response to the music of TRiP that evening. He was an older gentleman, maybe 75 or so, a regular customer and friend, and something of a cynic and curmudgeon. The fact that he was in the audience at all was a little unusual. His musical tastes pretty much ran the wide ranging
gamut of 1950s polka music to 1960s polka music (perhaps it was the mention of the accordion in the concert posters that persuaded him that the music would be comfortably familiar and nostalgic. Little did he know, this wasn't going to be your mama's accordion music).

He sat right up in front, two feet from the band, at the smaller and higher two-person table, wincing and grimacing with every sound that TRiP made. I took a break from making drinks and was making the rounds to say hi and chat with folks, but I knew if I went over to his table that he'd give me an ear full about how he didn't like the music or that it was too loud or when are we going to have some good music here (translation: polka music).

Well, his critique was even more pointed than what I expected. "Hi _____ ," says I. "Good to see you here tonight. Interesting music, eh?"

His eyes widened in mock astonishment. "Music!? Music!!? I sure as hell wouldn't call it music!" Then he tilted his head slightly toward the band, which, again, was just a cou
ple of feet away, and said loudly, "THIS IS SHIT!"

Whooaa... While I didn't expect him to like TRiP's music one bit, I was nevertheless angered and embarrassed by his loud and rude pronouncement. "All right," I said, "that's enough. I'll talk to you later." I got up and went back to chatting with other people. He left shortly after, obviously having heard more than enough shit for one night (and frankly, I was amazed that he stuck around as long as he did).

At first I was pretty ticked off. But after a while I started to think about what fun I could have with this by needling Greg, the keyboard and accordion player, with our friend's critique of his music. Greg is a serious musician with a serious musician's background, but he also has a wry and sardonic sense of humor. I figured he would get a kick out of it.

And so, after the last set and after most everyone had left the café, the three guys and I were sitting around idly talking about the evening's performance. Greg asked, "How do you think it went? What do you think people thought?" I told them most people indicated that, if not necessarily easy listening, they did find it interesting and dynamic, and certainly different from the usual music scene offerings in the area.

Then I asked if they recalled the older gentleman who sat right in front of them. "Oh yeah, he didn't look like he was digging it too much," said Greg.

"You didn't hear what he said when I sat down with him?" I asked.

"No, we weren't really listening to anything other than what we were doing."

"Well, it's even better than that!" I replied gleefully, ready to smack him with the zinger. "I asked him what he thought of you guys and he practically shouted, and I quote,
'This is SHIT!' "

Immediately they all started laughing. "Oh that's funny!" "Oh man...well you can't please everyone." "We have to use that! You gotta blog that!" "We're changing our name now...from now on we're SHIT." "When can we bring our shit here again?" "SHIT returns to Stumpjack!"

Of course now we were on a roll. "I can't play with you guys anymore, you both sound like shit!" "What a shitty thing to say. I'm way shittier than you." "You can't even come close to my shit!" "This whole deal is shit!" "We gotta get our shit loaded into the car." "You need help loading up your shit?" "This is the shittiest place we've ever played!" "Why thank you, we're shit and proud of it." "Okay, thanks guys. Thanks for the shit performance." "Our pleasure. Have a shitty night."

All truly is well that ends well.

The moral of this story: Sometimes people say some real shitty things, and it's often better if you can respond with a laugh and have some fun with it rather than getting bent out of shape over it.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A freshness zealot.

A middle-aged fellow who I'd never seen before comes in a while back and he seems a little fidgety. I greet him "Good afternoon" and he doesn't answer me so I say again "Hello!" to which he glances at me and offers a rather disinterested "hi." He's looking around furtively and distractedly, as though he's looking for something specific but can't find it. He goes over to the brew pots lined up on the counter, peers down over the top of his glasses and seems to be quickly reading the labels on the pots. He asks without looking at me "Which is your freshest coffee?" I reply "If you mean of these brewed coffees, they're all fresh. They were each brewed within the last hour or so and these brew pots are designed to keep them fresh and hot."

"I know, I know," he says, a little irritated. "But what's the freshest one, the one brewed last? I only drink fresh coffee and I can tell when it's not fresh."

"Well," I say, smiling a little, "I made this Colombian last, so it's maybe 7 or 8 minutes fresher than than the one before it. But as I said, they're all fresh and since they're each different coffees you will taste the differences of each one more than you will any difference in degree of freshness."

"Fresh coffee is everything. It's all that matters. I know coffee and I know fresh coffee from stale coffee. I'll know whether or not this is fresh." Now he's looking at me and I think he might realize that I'm not amused by his silly declaration that he can taste the difference in coffees brewed minutes apart from one another over the differences of origin and variety. I raise a slightly dubious eyebrow, ignore his implication that we might harbor stale coffee, and tell him that fresh coffee is what Stumpjack is all about, that we get small deliveries in once or twice a week for that very reason, so that nothing stays around for very long. "But," I say with a little sarcasm of my own, "if you can taste freshness that precisely...well, that's quite a sophisticated palate you've got there."

"Yes it is," he declares. "My palate is sophisticated." I'm not making this up...he really said that, out loud.

I hand him a cup, he pumps a little coffee into it, smells it and tastes it like he's tasting cheap wine (that is, rather perfunctorily), fills his cup and hands me $2.00. As I hand him his change I ask a little too cheerfully perhaps "Well, whaddya think?"

He doesn't look at me again and curtly says, as though it's a single word " 'tsgood" and walks right out.

I picture him getting in his car, a mid-70s station wagon, and taking out a well-worn notebook that lists all the coffee shops in the country, with columns on the right that are labeled "fresh" and "not fresh." He takes a stub of a pencil and mutters "damn" as he puts a check mark in the fresh column across from our name. Then he rides off down the road to other coffee shops in other towns, keeping a silent record of freshness that no-one will ever see.