Diary of a Mad Coffeehouse

The year in soulful scribbles

So what's the point? What's the point of "Mommy" telling some otherwise-unidentified "Gabrielle" that "God has blessed you with so much talent—use it wisely"? Or "Neva" telling "Ryan," "You are so beautiful. Your spirit fills me with all that I have ever wanted. Your touch sends my consciousness sky-high"? As if Mommy and Neva and the others really expect Gabrielle and Ryan and the others to visit the Gypsy Den, order a mocha, pick up the journal, flip through pages of notes to other people, and settle on these shot-in-the-dark missives aimed at them. These are industrial-age castaways writing messages in bottles intended not for just any rescuer in any passing ship, but for one in a million. What are the odds?

The Gypsy Den journal includes some bad porn (a bathroom-stallish picture of a penis and a story about a married woman called Horny Lynda, whose deepest desire is for ruinous sex involving urine and fecal matter and many, many men) and an interesting, obscure note in Japanese punctuated by the single English word "menu." Another page is marked simply, "This page is too evil to write on." Not too evil, apparently: someone else, perhaps more religious, has written on it, "Evil demons, leave this page!" There are seemingly original epigrams ("If only I could follow myself like I follow you" and "Real life never looks as 3-D as IMAX makes it seem"), philosophy that sounds as if it might have been drummed out on an empty metal trash can ("Age comes to those who learn of youth through time and consequence") and rudimentary poetry, the linguistic equivalent of cave drawings (in one, the rhyme scheme goes grabbing/ stabbing, true/blue, fool/pool, fill/still, ordeal/steal, peace/piece, heart/start/ part and—yup—love/dove, heaven/ eleven, dust/rust, and ride/slide/ guide/glide/hide).

There are even pickup letters, the best of which is ostensibly written by two women to "Alec," whom they have noted is "beautiful and paranoid." Because they "have received telepathic messages" from him, the women, Mary and Erin, "know about [Alec's] speed habit & crazy parents & a lack of a driver's license & weird love life (we sympathize) & your poetry." And, well, they have an answer: "We love you & want to have a threesome with you. Call us." Their phone number is right there in the journal, but I cannot call (the mere thought makes me feel like a sweaty guy with a hand-held mic and a trailing camera crew and hot lights) to learn the rest of the story: whether a threesome turned out to be the very thing Alec needed, a vaccination against the craziness he has already generated without the severe mercies of not one, but two willing women attracted to the low drama of a boy with two mad parents and no driver's license.

But you don't read the journal for that (or maybe you do, but probably still not for the cute drawing that recalls the deft touch of Hello Kitty by Sanrio and appears, humbly, at the bottom of a page). No, you read this for the odd revelation of human consanguinity, for those Wings of Desire moments that recall Freud's expression for psychotherapy: the talking cure.

These are people pitching pennies into a wishing well: the "Dutch-Indonesian Princess" who hates OC because "it really is a 'tragic kingdom'" but who reveals something of a tragic kingdom within: "I'm nearing 30, still single and no kids. What a surprise." It's reasonable to guess that D-I Princess almost welcomes every hurt that enters her life and wouldn't know what to make of beauty.

There's "Special Artist," who just came from her "really bad" audition for the Orange County High School of the Arts. "First of all, I had no idea what anyone was talking about," she writes, "like the teacher was just saying, yadda, yadda, yadda. . . . I am so scared, and I hope I make it. Wish me luck." She has drawn a childish flower and a doughy pair of hands as evidence of her talent, but you wish her luck anyhow. And you sympathize with "Ed," who spent his June Saturday teaching "SAT chemistry to some rich little girl who couldn't care less" and now, after all that, is at the Gypsy Den "attempting to learn statistical physics," but not really, of course, because he's writing in this community journal instead, as is "Crummy," who, in July, promises "to slow down, follow the path on which I'm led." On which we're all led, Crummy.

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