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Working Stiffs

Even more Fall Cafe

July 21, 2003

It had to happen- I’ve made my first inroads with Fall Café management. It occurs buying a medium ice coffee one morning, talking to the girl behind the counter about cities.

“There are no real ones outside of New York,” she states, in more factual terms than grand. I withhold comment, though one would be easy to make, largely because I’m beginning to realize that she actually has the basis for an argument. I lead instead with familiarity.

“What about San Francisco?” I offer.

“Oh,” she says, somewhat longingly, though she’s never been. “I hear it’s beautiful.”

This is when management chirps in. I’ve noticed him before, but we’ve never spoken directly. A small, quirky man, with a bit of a speech impediment, he runs this casual empire with an eye for detail, clearing stray cups and napkins, stacking the Sunday Times into neat piles, and conversing with regular patrons who have paid their dues. Six weeks in and several ice coffees down the road, I sense I’m getting close.

“Yeah- it’s a beautiful city,” he interjects. “If you can afford a million dollars for a home.”

The man is speaking my language. I tell him he has a valid point and that the upper-middle class, even, has been priced out. He says there is no middle class anymore, upper or otherwise. “We’re all getting pushed under!” he asserts, suddenly passionate about something. I bury my Tag-Heuer watch in my shorts pocket and listen intently. My Jack Black bagel-jockey perks up in the background, doing a dish over the sink, aware that an outsider has engaged the Big Man.

But the Big Man is getting more worked up by the second and I figure it’s best to keep our first direct communication brief, so I nod in perfect agreement and backtrack toward my table at the front window with beverage in hand. I’m just a patron, after all, and no longer have designs on employment with this prized establishment. I realize the advantage in being a customer and reflect on something that a friend has recently offered, regarding getting a bartending gig: why mix work with something you love?

And yet, I thought that was the idea – to be able to show up at the job each day knowing that you will be pursuing something about which you are passionate. The bartending example, of course, has merit. You’re really mixing work with somewhere you’d rather not be working. But even in its purest form, I have questions regarding this “follow your bliss” advice, particularly as it relates to a nine to five engagement. Of late, plowing through thick, humid mornings in my Brooklyn sublet, trying to form a semi-solid daily routine, it occurs to me that work’s most valuable element is work itself. I’m reminded of something Curtis Yee, an old co-employee from San Francisco, once told me. I was commenting on the effort he put into the job.

“You’re a hard worker, Curtis,” I told him.

“Kills the day,” he said.

The Fall Cafe is now packed, and my friend appears in no danger of going under any time soon. Despite his fears about Smith Street’s gentrification and being pushed aside by pricey eateries, I’m guessing he knows he’s found his niche. Charging a dollar less than the Starbucks a few blocks over on Court has done the trick, along with an individual vibe and suitably unsophisticated oil paintings, hanging for sale on the walls. I look outside and see the Big Guy, all five foot two of him, lugging ice from a van while sporting a power-lifter’s back brace. Apparently the Fall has yet to install its own machine; another thing to like about the place.

I power-down my laptop and glance up and out at the gray cloud cover edging in on the neighborhood, carrying the promise of mild temperature change. Time to stop goofing around.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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