Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Real Deal"


He wanders around the rough, wood-planked floor, silent yet observant, pausing long enough in front of each table to get the attention of each group of patrons, begging for help with a quiet kind of grace, silently, unspoken. He's attired in dirty, over-sized denim and a worn tee-shirt, hair long and greasy, exuding the aroma of the unwashed. His sun-ravaged complexion is that of a mestizo who's spent plenty of time out of doors. To some people he's nothing more than a dirty, homeless Mexican. Though he might literally be just that, there's more to the story than mere superficial appearances.


Loser's Blend attracts these kinds of people, but not just them. It's location, situated smack in the midst of the university district, along the town's busiest mass-transit corridor, makes it an ideal melting pot for people from all walks of life, an intersection of converging paths that overlap for a spell and diverge once again.

If this were the world depicted in the Star Wars saga, this would be a coffee shop adjacent to the bar on Tatooine, where all the weird and wonderful converge. But this isn't. Instead, it's the place where a guy of indiscriminate age, in pink shorts and sleeveless tee, just walked in, loaded down with an enormous backpack, carrying two skate boards, one strapped to his pack and the other in hand, which he sets down in the corner adjacent to the old upright piano while he orders an iced coffee. A regular, of sorts, if any one, or thing, could be termed regular in this place that's perpetually new while simultaneously old and world-weary, a relentless cosmic churn. Outside, at a sunlit patio table, another hand-rolled smoke is lit up.

People come here because it's predictably the same, as comfortable as an old shoe, and just as worn and smelly. The aromas of body odor and kitchen spices intermix with the patina of coffee-stained wood floors and dingy walls, while some eclectic mix resonates in the background, behind the rattle of dishes, clicks of keyboards and murmur of chitchat. Two out-of-towners, middle-aged and borderline obese, wander around the room, eyeing the artwork and patrons alike, overtly friendly in that naive, small-town manner of those unjaded by big city living. You can pick them out a mile away.


Loser's Blend works on a cooperative business model, owners and workers sharing equally in both the responsibilities and rewards. Two years ago, they catered coffee and burritos to the local chapter of the Occupy Movement, something you would not expect of the corporate coffee chains up the street. The word "local" is tossed around a lot within these shabby confines.

Some people, from entirely different walks of life than what one might expect of a regular, are themselves also regulars, further expanding the eclectic nature of the place. A few of these will also be regular purchasers of the house roasted coffee blend, which they will take home to their affluent neighborhoods across town to impress their middle-class coffee klatches and social circles, threatening to transform Loser's Blend into a destination for hipsters and yuppies, which it mysteriously and resolutely refuses to accept, as if the place itself were somehow possessed of a consciousness, wholeheartedly embracing the fine cusp that divides the merely grungy from the actually destitute.

Genuine would be as good a description as any of Loser's Blend, being a bit rough around the edges, unrefined, unpretentious. The real deal.


He pauses in front of the table adjacent to mine, waiting for them - a young couple, she with purple hair and he with acne-scarred face - to notice him, who they ignore, then moves along to stand in front of me, seated at the long, wooden table that's lit from skylight above by a sporadic sky of clouds that alternate light, dark and light again. He's now standing directly in front of me, head down in a posture of humility - or is it an affectation, I'm not certain - while inwardly I'm torn between ignoring and engaging him.

Finally, I break the spell, just a brief moment before he is about to bolt to the next table beyond. "Yes?" I ask, brief and to the point.

His head imperceptibly rises, his eyes catch mine, a fleeting connection made across vast reaches of culture, a wormhole of sorts.

"Here," I quietly intone, loud enough for him to hear but not those seated around me, as I reach for my wallet and camera, reminded of the verse, "And when you give alms, do so in secret." I raise the Instax camera to my eye, compose and press the button. Out spits a little rectangular print with a motorized whine. I wrap a bill around the print and hand the bundle to the stranger, still standing in front of me. "Have a good day."

He walks away, staring at the surprising package in his hand as if it were completely foreign to him, walking out the door to pause on the sidewalk and stare down at the print as it develops itself before him, like magic, or something even better, the past in one hand and the future in the other, his life spanning the hands breadth distance between.

I watch him turn and amble out of view as I return to my coffee cup that's now cold. Undaunted, I reach for notebook and fountain pen, and begin writing.


Post-Script: This, being fiction, means that it never actually happened, didn't it? And it wasn't written via fountain pen, but AlphaSmart Neo. Photos via G5, not Instax camera, because this is fiction.

Coffee Shop Cosmology





Post-Script: I created this photo/poem mash-up several weeks ago, but sat on it as a backup until I was in need of a blog posting. I recorded these photos at my favorite coffee shop, Winning Coffee (and the inspiration for Loser's Blend, the fictional setting of my short story series), but not sure what I would do with them, as they were subtle but interesting. It wasn't until I looked at them later, especially the swirls in the table's surface, that the inspiration for the poem came.

Photos via Lumix G5, typecast via Olympia SM9.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Maitani's Jewel



Great Jobs001a



Post-Script: These images are scans from the lab prints, not the negatives, so they probably aren't as sharp as they'd otherwise be. The XA2 is truly pocketable, even fitting inside my front denim jeans pocket, yet is "full-frame" in sensor size. There are few other classic compact film cameras that I've desired to own, the XA2 being a good combination of fine optics with classic Japanese engineering and design. True, it's no Leica, but then again a Leica could not be put inside one's jeans pocket, and would be much heavier as well (not to mention expensive).

I like these classic 20th century jewels of mechanical engineering, they remind of why I like manual typewriters, especially portables, as they represent a careful balance between mechanical sophistication, useability and portability.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Coming Home"


I don't know how long it's been since I've eaten here, Devon Taylor says to himself, barely sipping at his coffee, basking in the steam's warmth against his cold face, cupping his cold, dry hands against the mug's heat. Outside Loser's Blend, crows cawed and pecked at debris along the curbside, while across the street busriders and pedestrians exchanged places. It had been a week since returning and he was still finding his place back in town. Portland had been fun, but wasn't for him. Something magnetic-like keeps drawing him back to Albuquerque, his home town.

He looks up from the wiggling reflections in the black coffee, past the rim of the cup and its rising steam, past the room's length and aromas, through the dingey window beyond, past the pedestrian and motor traffic on the street, past the skyline of cluttered buildings and crystal-clear sky beyond, past the rim of the world itself, his thoughts cloudy and indistinct.

A noise, close by, awakes him from his diffuse revery, something distant yet familiar. A typewriter. A goddamned typewriter.

Earlier, in a cloudy haze of confused thoughts and memories, he had arrived, ordered coffee and sat down oblivious to the world around him, automatically tuning out the typical coffee shop noises of the kitchen's clattering and the patrons' subtle but insiduous keyboard clickings, yet here it was, loud and insistent, seemingly louder now that he was paying attention to it, like neighbors' noises late at night in his cheap apartment - the more you tried to tune it out, the more you ended up paying undue attention to it, like some trick of the mind whose solution he had yet to master.

There it was again, that click-clacking and then the occasional but predictable 'ding' of a bell. He sets his cup down on the wobbly table and looks around at those seated about him.

There he is, the bearded figure at the corner table of potted plants adjacent to the window, typing up a storm, little turquoise-green machine set in front of him, his fingers in an elevated posture, arcing through space to find their target upon the dainty, mechanical keyboard. Click-clack. Ding.

Well, I'll be damned.

Curiosity being his constant weakness, and born out of an innate need for other people and some long-repressed fear of solitude - the last few years having taught him hard lessons of self-sufficiency while on the road - he persists against his normally shy nature, arising from his seat, coffee sloshing a little torus of brown liquid upon the worn formica, walking over to the corner table with the bearded man and turquoise typewriter and stands there, just stands there staring silently in disbelief.

The typing continues another 20 or so seconds and then abruptly stops, fingers hovering above keys, the bearded man looking up over the rim of his glasses like some school teacher from long ago, frozen in midsentence.


"Ah, don't mean to bother you, but I was just wondering..."

"The typewriter. You were wondering about the typewriter, right?" He lowers his hands to the table, then takes a sip of coffee from a tan mug crazzed with tiny fissures.

"I get asked this at least once per day. Goes with the territory; the price you pay, I suppose, for bringing out a typewriter into public. Name's Gene. Gene Willard."

A rough, harry paw is extended, which Devon hesitantly takes, reciprocating with the best manly handshake he can muster, like some ad hoc but persistent male custom or ancient tribal ritual, seemingly outdated and ackward but still seemingly necessary.

"Sit down," drawls Gene, making room on the table. "And go get yourself a refill of coffee."

Devon does as he's instructed, almost automatically, pausing only long enough to consider the ramifications of these unspoken rules of engagement, so oddly familiar to him, always playing the role of the passive one, born out of habit or insecurity - or necessity - only realizing, halfway to the counter, that his cup's still nearly full.

There is some indistinct latin guitar music playing from the little dust-encrusted speaker high up in the corner of the room, a spider's web connecting the speaker's faux-wood finish to the wall's rough plaster.

Devon is sitting across from Gene, sipping at his coffee and watching him finish his paragraph, little hammers flying up to smash ribbon against paper, mechanical linkages intricate and obscure busily at work, click-clack-thunk, the table vibrating in response as Gene slings the carriage back with a confident precision, thoughts forming letters, letters forming words, words forming sentences and paragraphs via the intermediary of fingers upon keys, ink upon paper, direct and physically real, words that only exist here, right now, in this dingey university-area coffee shop.

"Done," Gene proclaims, releasing paper from machine with a twist of a knob and a flurish of soft, mechanical clicks, holding it up before himself like a proud papa's newborn child, scanning it briefly before precisely folding it into thirds and stuffing it into an envelop, which he licks shut, then addresses with a fountain pen retrieved from somewhere deep inside the folds of his jacket.

"A letter," Devon declairs. "I didn't think anybody wroter letters any more."

"They don't. But I do. I'm not just anybody. It's something I prefer, ink on paper. Plus, I like these machines, the way they feel and sound, their industrial-like functionality. I suppose you could call me a hipster if you want, but I've been typing on machines like this way before there were hipsters."

"But you do see the practical benefit of a computer, right? I mean, if you had your choice between using the one or the other?"

"Given the choice, I'd prefer to type, which is why I'm here, typing this here letter to this danged arts foundation." Tongue in corner of mouth, he finishes addressing the envelop, then applies a stamp he retrieved from a little leather notebook, securing it with a solid press of his fist.

"So, you're an artist, I gather?"

"Well, not really. Or, I suppose you could call me that, though the term is really kind of meaningless. If a person's graduated from university with an arts degree, then you could call him or her a pedigreed artist. But if a person has no such pedigree, but creates art anyway, are they still an artist?"

"I suppose only their public can say for sure," Devon hypothesizes, his cup now nearly empty.

"And if you have no public? What then? Does art exist absent an audience? Is it intrinsic, does it exist on its own, or is it only the context between a creator and a participant? Weighty questions, no?"

Devon sits across the small table from Gene, both sipping their coffee and reflecting on these thoughts whilst outside on the sidewalk a group of skateboarders dismount and have a seat at a table to smoke and chat, and pigeons peck at specks on the sidewalk, oblivious to the turquoise typewriter at the table through the stained window.

Breaking the silence at last, Devon sets down the cup and introduces himself, exhanging brief biographies like two long-lost friends meeting for the first time ever.

Time passes, cups are drained and filled and drained again, while a seemingly never-ending stream of customers cycle in and through Loser's Blend.

"You don't suppose I could have a try at that thing do you?"

"Why sure. Always pleased to have the opportunity to set the hook."

"Set the hook?"

"You'll see. Here." And with that, Gene spins the little machine around, setting it in front of Devon, and gives him a brief lesson in typewriter operation.

And that was how Devon Taylor came back home, only to become a typewriter geek.

And if you were to stop by Loser's Blend yourself on a cold and blustery day, be very careful of what you pay attention to, because you might find Gene or Devon - or myself - sitting at some little corner table, typing up a storm with our click-clack-ding resonating upon the dingy, coffee-stained wooden floors, waiting for yet another long-lost, newfound friend to come home.

Post-Script: Another installment in a series of short stories that I've come to call the "Loser's Blend Mythos." The largest part of this mythos is a fledgling novelette set in a distopian, post-apocalyptic, cyber-punk future, but it's sat languishing for several years. I do need to get back to work on it. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name Loser's Blend for the fictional coffee shop is based on a very real place called Winning Coffee, check it out.

This piece was written on my AlphaSmart Neo, a great stand-alone writing tool, the closest thing yet to a portable electronic typewriter minus the printing mechanism, with a "real" keyboard. Which is ironic, I suppose, given the subject matter of this piece being about manual typewriters. Which reminds me, did you all catch the NBC News piece Sunday night about the manual typewriter renaissance?

The little green typewriter mentioned in this story is, as most typewriter geeks can assume, an Olivetti Lettera 22, illustrated in the iPad Hipstamatic photo at the top.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Swamp Cooler Season



Post-Script: Of course, there's a bit more involved in restarting one's cooler, but I left out the additional details to keep the length of the piece to one sheet of paper, and to keep from boring all but the most hardware-obsessed. There are "old-school" style swamp coolers with thin pads on three or four sides (depending if it's downdraft or sidedraft style), and the newer "Master Cool" style coolers with one thick pad, which I have, and which seem to do a better job of cooling. Then there is the matter of cleaning rust and scale from the cooler. Mine is pretty rust-free, as the water tray is a thick plastic piece, but the "old school" designs were just painted metal troughs, prone to rusting, and would have to be scraped and sanded and painted with a marine coating every year. Fun stuff, especially if you waited too late in the season before starting, in which case you'd be up on a hot roof in 90+ degree heat.

Regarding editing this down from the original first draft, you wouldn't necessarily go out of your way to remove entire lines and paragraphs (like I did) if writing this in ASCI directly to the computer. Typecasting like I do often involves creating text in page-sized chunks, convenient for posting as a consistently-sized graphical image, so it's often inconvenient to have to add a partial second page.

Another example of how typewritering (that's a new word) is different from keyboarding into a computer is when you have to make a carriage return to finish off a paragraph, and would otherwise be stuck with a short bit of text on an otherwise empty line, it offers a good opportunity to add additional verbiage, since that line is already started anyway. So one's writing ends up being distorted by the mechanics of fitting words into lines and paragraphs on paper. My first draft was done in 1-1/2 line spacing on the little endless roll of paper, which is a lot more stream-of-consciousness than typing up a neat final version for scanning.

Typecast via Olympia SM-9, image of close-up of swamp cooler pads being wetted via Lumix G5 (you were wondering what that picture was about, right?)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Number Crunchers


P1040268a(Rockwell 9TR)



Post-Script: I still use these three calculators, rotating them in and out like I do my manual typewriters. My most common use for them is when resizing images in my blog, like I'm doing now. When I copy the links from Flickr they're 800 pixels wide, but I resize them to 650 wide to fit within my Blogger template, and therefore have to calculate their respective heights to maintain proper aspect ratio (650/800 times their original height). Both HPs use RPN logic, so I keep my skills active with this now nearly obsolete operating system; even HP has conceded as much, since their current scientific calculators offer the option of both RPN and algebraic systems, keeping RPN alive for use oldsters from an earlier era.

As for the Casio fx-48 mentioned in the piece, a quick ebay search reveals none available as of this writing, they being as rare as hens teeth, which provides yet another reminder of how easy it is to take for granted what we have today, and the temporality of all things.

Post-Post-Script: Here's a link to a great vintage calculator page.

And here's a link to an image of the Casio fx-48.

Here's a link to the book "Games Calculators Play," an attempt to familiarize the average person with these then popular devices, which reminds me of the subsequent revolutions of the VCR and personal computer, both of which also required some education before the public would soon become comfortable with them. Then followed the DVD, MP3 players, and the smartphone/tablet revolution of today. But it was really all started, back in the early 1970s, by the pocket calculator craze, which I was a part of.