Crucial Coffee

Saint Augustine, Florida USA

tableaux'd by:

Flies in the ointment of my life script such as Thos. often decry that my happenings are staged if I am allowed to take but small relish in what Nitzer Ebb called their fitness to purpose. I hereby grant to those of his ilk that the entire narrative unfolding even now in script is and was truly staged as episode affected episode with an eye for editorial dedication of my life. Far less to comment on the particularities of Crucial Coffee than to seek retribution for my overpriced lunch at Kosmic Bluz Pizza I sought to ruin the afternoon and to find comfort in abject and outlying pleasures so that I might have specific narremes off of which to hang my enraged musings.

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Tableau the First:

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The Castillo was smaller than I remembered it. I am larger than I was then. There certainly isn’t any need to empty out such abused tropes. I certainly hadn’t walked five miles to it when I was a child. Although, as a child I would still have turned my nose up at the ridiculously dangerous open-air trolleys that traverse the city. These are acceptable for riding from your car to the gate of The Magic Kingdom but their safety on downtown streets with other (drunk) vehicles is specious at best. We were almost run down by one’s elderly inertia as it jackknifed all yawning into the driveway for the Fountain of Youth. On a bench out of their way and into the way of the stream of loose children by the entrance of the Castillo we shared a banana and a granola bar. A man with curly nicotine-stained hair sat with a Sheltie on his lap. His perch was clearly calculated to halt the skipping gait of as many preteen girls as possible. “Can I pet your dog?” “Of course! His name is Jamie! Is today your birthday? No? It isn’t? It looked like you had some sort of birthday sweatshirt on.” We tacked on “You know Jamie loves birthday girls. Jamie does some really neat tricks, but he only does them in my van, etc.” Considering we only had $7 cash, instead of paying $6 apiece to smell the mossy guts of the fort we reconnoitered its perimeter by way of the seawall. Below in the dry moat Jamie and his master stood and posed for a photo taken from a bastion of the Castillo by Jamie’s master’s wife. He sweated as he stood amongst the children lest his wife espy his sweat.

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Tableau the Second:

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We endeavor’d inland through the town, first passing White Lion (the restaurant (unfortunately)) and Crucial Coffee, an open shed of a cafe that reminded me of nothing but Thos.’s summer ’99 coffeeshop in the parking lot of the Bay Watch back lot in Marina Del Rey. We of course ‘had’ to go there, but not ’til wearied by everything in the town that hadn’t its bizarre magnetism. We loped through the pedestrian alleys smelling taffy and buffeted by Christmas music still lagging on a warm December 31st. The turrets of Flagler drew us further inland toward my memories of the most peaceful day of 2009 spent in the winter vacation rapture of Emory University. We sat on a bench reading (Sebald again, as I had on that day) in the silence, periodically interrupted by a serpentine tourist trolley passing on Valencia or Sevilla Streets. Hearing voices over muffled loudspeakers from a distance, not making out the words just a vibration, leaves me feeling like I am in a prison camp, and we grew hungry, and an early returning student stood nearby stretching and jogging in place with his earbuds draped over his ears by their wires like two loudspeakers blaring a tinny rendition of some booty-smacking drudgery so we padded back into town for a bite.

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Swearing off the vast majority of tourist eateries like The Bubble Room, we poked down a fresh alley where a rainbow flag hung over the patio of Kosmic Bluz Pizza. We were heartened. Avoiding the patio which was filled with a family of fools and children (about 6 folks total) we took a high table inside where there was just one other couple, both staring at their phones silently. We were waited on by the proprietrix who, after several minutes brought us beer in plastic cups and took our food orders. We ordered a pizza identical to their ‘Caney’ pizza which came with fresh tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, red onions, artichoke hearts, black olives (canned, we learned), fresh rosemary and basil, except ordered it a la carte to avoid the cheese sauce. We in fact eschewed the fresh herbs as too extravagant and the fresh tomatoes as we would have a tomato sauce on this variant and ended up with 4 toppings. Now, the Caney pizza costs $18. That is crazy. But the pizza we ended up with, which was inferior to the Caney in scope with two less toppings and a considerably cheaper sauce, ran us close to $22. Not realizing our fleecing until it was too late we tittered through the meal at the proprietrix apologizing to the few other patrons who began to show up for their lack of service because the place was ‘swamped’ and her waitress was out or scolding a family for foolishly attempting to order food before she had collected their drink order. Of course she needed to sauce them up before they saw that they were ordering a lunch for the price of a February’s-worth of pinto beans! It was my intention to forgo the tip but was chided by my companion into leaving the two singles I had in my wallet and we bolted out the door. I tried to convince myself that that was possibly even more of a slight than the €0.01 tip I had left a waiter in Aix-en-Provence after we saw him walking up the street in a leather jacket halfway through our meal, never to return, which I saw as being almost humorous in its theatrics. A $2 tip surely would say something… wouldn’t it? I could speak of nothing else, and after determining that leaving the $2 as a statement and increasing our already bank-breaking donation to Kosmic Bluz by more than I was comfortable with was the wrong decision, I desperately wanted my two singles back. I thought of going back to demand them but my companion reminded me of Crucial Coffee and I perked up. “Let’s reclaim the afternoon from the jaws of defeat!”

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Tableau the Third:

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Crucial was quiet but for the strains of some distant programmed Casio jam on the salty air. Of the two windows, one to Charlotte Street and the other inside the shop we chose the latter. Once inside a group of teenage girls arrived at the Charlotte window and proceeded to order smoothies. As I browsed all of the menopause related gifts for sale I leaned against a brick pony wall whose heavy coping slid off and landed on the creamer counter knocking all of the stirring sticks about like shocked lumber. As I cleaned up it became our turn and I coaxed my companion into ordering first. She asked for a rhubarb spice tea. “Would you like that in latte form? It is divine in latte form.” “No just black is fine.” As I attempted to lift the coping again to take a picture of my hand sandwiched beneath it I was elbowed and filed my order for a small coffee. “Would you like a latte?” “No just a coffee please.” The tea came out first with the caveat “Let me know if it is too strong. You can really smell the rhubarb.” A man at the other window was jumping in to try to place his order out of turn and was spurned. My coffee came across the counter and I payed, knowing all the while that what I had been served was a 16oz cup of espresso. Now y’all who can put away the caffeine can cast the first stone, but I have had to cut my intake down to almost nil. I plan to gear back up once my days are no longer populated by typing pool levels of keyboard noodling or outdoor voice conference calls by peanut-butter-mouthed wookie impersonators. But at the moment my tolerance is at an all-time low for the drug. I could take no more than a shot’s worth of sips before feeling the rage come back. My companion drank her ridiculously weak rhubarb spice tea.

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Tableau the Fourth:

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We sat at a table by the source of the aforementioned Casio airs. A man named Charlie Brown played standards such as “Shining Star” by The Manhattans and “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” presumably the Temptations’ version, not the UB40 version, and some possibly original cuts that we couldn’t place. He had a joie de vivre and innocence that almost completely erased the day’s shortcomings. But it didn’t. It did reveal to me the pearls, by dint of our current presence at a coffeeshop, I could string into a staged tableau using the previous events to pass constructed judgment on the types of sets and motivations in which I would have preferred to act.

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First, in the oblivion of my own life, I chose to tip Charlie Brown with the remaining sawbuck I had in my wallet. His foot tapped the stool as I stood in front of him and put the folded bill into his can. He posed for me to take a picture and glowed. “I enjoy entertaining you and your kids.” We can tell! I relished that moment and the decision I had made. If only I could have given him all $7. Then we hoofed back towards A1A. Early-bird revelers in foiled paper top-hats did shots on the patio of a liquor store. “I need to use a bathroom. Why don’t you throw that espresso out?” “I have a plan!” In a plaza near the Saint Augustine Visitor’s Center was a row of portable toilets. “I’m going in here.” “There are some public bathrooms over there.” “I know but I’m going in here!” I had a plan. And by God if the world was not in my spiteful oblivion then it would be now.

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Postscript:

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We walked the five miles back to our cottage. The beach grew overcast as we walked in the sand to cushion our bruised feet; mine still suffered from my inadequately shod loop around downtown Omaha in August. There was going to be a blue moon that night, New Year’s Eve. I planned to watch it rise over the ocean from the cottage. I planned to watch ‘Persona’ and eat soup, alone.

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Play us out, Charlie Brown.


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Crucial Coffee

Crucial Coffee
26 Charlotte Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
USA



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CAFE TABLEAUX
is a compendium of literary, anecdotal musings on coffeeshop and cafe culture.
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