The Curse Of Great Beauty

I think the first thing I noticed about the café, the first thing that truly struck me was the efficiency. Absolutely nothing is wasted, and labor is stretched thin enough that you notice—you actively realize that you are quite possibly doing the job of three or four people. By ‘you realize’, of course I mean I realize. I realize because I am the one who decided I wanted to manage the café. Sometimes I wonder if this is sane.
I once estimated that I spent between ten and fourteen hours a week grooming myself. On any given day, a regular day, I’d take a twenty minute shower. This is not any ordinary shower but rather one carefully choreographed to perform many tasks at great speed and everything was always done in the same order. That twenty minutes was a race to shave, exfoliate, wash, rinse and repeat. I’d brush my teeth in the shower to save time, and I was oft known to have a cup of coffee resting in the soap dish. It took me six products and three pieces of hardware to take a shower—Shampoo, conditioner, face wash, face scrub, body wash, shaving lotion, pumice stone, exfoliating gloves, and razor. This is also three products and one piece of hardware less than at other points in my grooming history. Every product used in the shower had a specific scent carefully chosen not to clash with each other or any of my post shower products that I would order and have shipped from Canada. I was always teased about my long showers, but thankfully, I could usually use my gender as a crutch, saying something along the lines of “we don’t wake up looking this beautiful, you know.” I like believing this.
I estimate that I spend between 55 and 65 hours a week at the café. On any given day, a regular day when I get to work, I have twenty minutes until the owner leaves, putting me officially in charge of the store until the end of the day when I will close the till and turn off the lights and put my key in the lock of the front door to shut it tight for the night. I know the alarm code. This is comforting to me. Everyday when I get there I use that twenty minutes to put the store back in order after the ravages of the morning. I can restock lids with one hand and scrape lactic acid buildup off the steam wand with the other to save time. The coffee grounds must be wiped from the drip tray. Shot glasses and pitchers must be rinsed, dried, and put back in proper order. Milk must be returned to the fridge. The sugar and creamer on the condiment bar must be refilled. All the dishes should be cleared of the bus tubs and washed. Sometimes the register tape needs changing and this is my new grooming regimen. Most days though, I’m almost relieved when she actually does leave even though I would welcome her help. When she’s not at the café, everyone has to order from me; they have to talk just to me and I know all of their names and sometimes I pretend they are all my friends. Sometimes, I pretend they wish I was their friend. It’s a neighborhood café, and the same people come in every day, and all of these people who’s names I know and drinks I make live in the neighborhood too, and we all do, and when all of us are not at work, we all go to the same laundromat and grocery store and bar. My café is on Haight at Fillmore, and in the neighborhood, like some sort of Hollywood microcosm, I am famous; I am the best supporting actress, and when they all leave my café remarking on my politeness and perfect milk foam, I always say something like “Hey thanks for coming in [insert name]! I’ll see you tomorrow darlin’.” I like saying this.
In Seattle I hang out at a bar like this, a neighborhood bar, and like me my bartender there has a nearly unrivaled penchant for remembering peoples names. He remembers everyones name and their favorite beer and will run ten or twelve tabs at a time in his head. It’s phenomenal. He’s one of those really excellent bartenders, the ones you like to watch work just because you love to see the grace and humor they bring to an otherwise thankless job. He would toss a coaster in front of you as soon as you sat down to the bar. Many bartenders do this, but not many are as skilled as he who could flick his wrist and careen them onto the table top as one would a boomerang; they would slide a couple inches toward you spinning, then suddenly return the other way a few millimeters and eventually come to a stop right in front of you. It was beautiful. After he served you a beer, he’d always tap the counter with two fingers or two knuckles and say “cheers”. I remember these things about the bartender because I wanted to believe that he was my friend. He was everyones favorite bartender, and sometimes when he was drunk he’d say that I was his favorite customer, and he would miss me when I left for California. I liked believing I was the favorites’ favorite—meaning I, like everyone, wants to be special. He was famous in our neighborhood, and I liked to believe I could ride the coattails of his pseudo fame, through him I could be assured that I would not be forgotten when I left. When I would leave the bar, he’d leave the enclosure of the counter to hug me goodbye. Sometimes he’d catch a sniff of my carefully moisturized and perfumed skin and remark “you smell good.” I like hearing this.
I used to shower once a day, sometimes twice. Total time spent in the shower a week only brings my grooming regimen time to about three hours, but immediately following every shower though, there were a whole host of products that must be carefully applied and a number of tasks that must be completed before I can dress myself. If nothing is omitted, this takes forty minutes, and includes but is not necessarily limited to cleaning underneath my finger and toenails as well as the inside of my ears and bellybutton, moisturizing every exposed part of my skin, applying deoderant and dusting powder, touching up my eyebrows, medicating my face, and styling my hair. This takes an estimated six hours a week. On any given day, a regular day, this includes the use of 14 products and 6 pieces of hardware—body lotion, foot cream, deoderant, dusting powder, leave-in conditioner, wax-based pomade, styling gel, hair spray, facial wash, facial toner, facial moisturizer, a mild acne medication, eyebrow gel, nail file, q-tips, comb, brush, bobby pins, and tweezers. All of this is topped off with exactly two spritzes of perfume made with extract of Jamaican ginger and rose oil. It’s supposed to smell sexy so that boys want to have sex with you. This of course validates both the time and money spent on a grooming regimen. Hopefully boys appreciate this—I mean, hair removal alone can take two to four hours a week, depending on who you’re trying to impress. Sometimes boys will comment on all of your effort, saying something like “your skin is so soft.” They like saying this. I like being beautiful.
At the café, I can wear what ever I want and show all of my tattoos and play my own music. I usually wear jeans and t-shirts with chuck taylors as this costume is suiting to the type of work that I do. I don’t have time for my grooming regimen anymore, and so I have to rely on my personality to make people like me. This works fairly well. I remember the bartender and I try to be like him but of course more feminine; I flirt and smile and am overly accommodating. I tap the counter with two fingers after serving a drink. I make a point of remembering everyones’ name because most of them don’t realize that I do it to everyone. Each one in turn thinks that they are special, that they are my favorite. I have my favorites, yes, but I by no means have a hundred. Mostly there is one—one boy that I wait for everyday and suddenly when he’s there I never know what to say. When he is there, I begin to pace in my all-stars, suddenly very aware that my hair is not shiny, my skin is broken out and I have no extract of Jamaican ginger to make him swoon in my presence. Somehow with him and all of his dark shaggy hair and perfect build and even white teeth and reflective aviator sunglasses I forget all of my perfectly rehearsed niceties and can barely mumble a “hi Eric.” He likes that I know his name, and I know other things about him like that he drinks a large unsweetened iced coffee, he lives upstairs, he just earned a degree in mathematics, he’s going to begin teaching at Berkely on June 24th and most amazingly, that his last name is Miranda. I know these things because he is my favorite customer, I remember these things about him that he lets slip, I take it as some sort of sign that Eric Miranda and I share a moniker. I wonder if he realizes that I know this stuff, I wonder if he cares. It always goes like this: I get to work at two, the owner leaves at two-twenty, at three I change the specials on the board, and between four and four-thirty, Eric comes. He comes once a day with his dog, Floyd, and gets his coffee in a to-go cup. He drinks half of it on the back patio and chain smokes, and then when he leaves he always says “Well, I’m off. See you later Miranda.” I like that we share a name.
When my girlfriends and I really want to impress someone, we perform an almost ritualistic and extended form of grooming that we’ve dubbed the “uber groom”. We used to do this about once a week or so, always on a day off work and in the anticipation of seeing a boy that we’ve been eyeing. The uber groom usually entails a bath, a shower, post shower regimen, costume decisions and makeup. This could take anywhere from two to four or more hours depending on the extensiveness of the groom and on the method of hair removal chosen. Waxing and shaving are not equateable when it comes to measuring them in terms of time. This has always struck us as unfortunate. The number of total products and pieces of hardware used varies, but the total number is usually somewhere in the mid-thirties. This makes us feel more attractive to boys. An uber groom is usually planned to happen a couple of days in advance, and is carefully timed to end immediately before leaving the house armed with cellphone, cash, condoms, and the confidence that comes from knowing you spent four hours making yourself beautiful that day. A night out after an uber groom is one to be seen—there is something about such and extensive beauty regimen that makes one drink much more than otherwise. We, my girlfriends and I, have a specific way of referring to the act. We’ll hang up the phone with someone remarking “I gotta go—I’m gonna go rock an uber groom.” We like saying this.
The bartender is very attractive, but most of the time I think he wouldn’t seem so hot if he wasn’t a bartender. He’s very fair with green eyes, he has blonde hair and long girlish eyelashes, but when he’s behind the bar, he’s a man. He’s the man. He’s famous. He commands your love and respect with the arc of his carefully tossed coasters and his extensive beer knowledge. There are fourteen rotating taps in his bar that he keeps carefully stocked with hand picked beers that he admires and that the many beer distributors that frequent his bar sell to him. On Monday afternoons when the bar opens at three, half the stools are filled with beer distributors. I think they all think that they are the bartenders favorite, that they sell him the beer that the bartender likes the best. Choosing new beers is an art to him, an art the bartender foolishly thinks his patrons appreciate. Most of us don’t, but prefer to pound whatever can is on special for two dollars until two o’clock rolls around and we are booted from our stools by the time. He, like me, works very long hours. From three in the afternoon until two in the morning three to five days a week he is there, one block of highway 99 looming outside the picture window a few feet from the counter. Outside there is a convenience store and a fruit stand, and this is what he sees all day, every day from behind his bar. Sometimes when everyones beer is poured and every ashtray is empty, I catch him staring outside at nothing in particular. It makes me wonder who his favorite really is, if he even has one. One day he told me “Miranda, everyday I stare out this window and it’s always the same view. Day after day, eleven hours a day, I see the same block of this highway. I think when I die, they’ll autopsy my body, and when they cut open my eyeballs they’ll find a tiny picture of this block upside down and backwards burned into my retinas.” I like thinking about this.
Eric came into the café the other day, Floyd in tow, looking as graceful and beautiful as ever wearing a black hoodie under a dark brown blazer in perfect San Francisco style. He perched his aviators atop his perfectly mussed hair as he came through the doorway, and smiled at me as he approached my counter. He asked how I was doing and if he could please have an iced coffee. I like him because he is both beautiful and polite. I crossed the space to the freezer to retrieve the ice, then to the fridge to pour the pre-chilled coffee over it. I grabbed a lid, but didn’t place it on the cup until I was back over at the counter. My head bowed over his coffee, I can’t see his face but can easily see the coffee grounds under my fingernails. I wonder if he notices. I wonder if he thinks of me every time he signs a check or fills out a form or flips through his mail; If he at all equates himself with the girl who works at the coffee shop downstairs. I wonder if when signing his own name at the bottom of the resume he used to apply to Berkley he thought of me or his last name or my iced coffee or our conversations or how much Floyd loves me--or if he'll remember my dirty fingernails. When I finish, I tap the counter with two fingers. I smile and say “cheers”. I like saying this.
We have beer at my café too, draft beer in kegs of all different sizes from all over the world. We have six draft beers—Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Guinness, Hoegaarden Wit Bier, Stella Artois, and Speakeasy Prohibition. I like pouring beer for people because it makes me feel like the bartender, and because I have to turn from the customers to do it. I can actually stop smiling for a minute if I want to. When I pour a beer, I get a moment to myself, and the bustle of the café seems to fade away. Sometimes I pour beers and think about how many hours it would take to make myself beautiful enough for Eric. Sometimes I wonder if that much time exists.
Once, my wondering went a bit too far, and I was shaken from my trance by a keg exploding all over me. I had tapped my keg of Prohibition, and I’d have to change it. I open the fridge and it’s all aluminum cages shaped like barrels and plastic hoses and these big canisters that hold C02 but remind me of helium canisters you might see perched next to a clown selling balloons at a fair. I smell like beer and I’m tired and there’s a line and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how to do it. I do the only logical thing I can think of. I call the bartender in Seattle.
“Duck Island.” That is how the bartender answers the phone at the bar.
“Jeremiah? Hey. It’s Miranda. Are you busy?” I probably sounded frantic.
“Miranda! What’s up dude, how’s my favorite girl doing?” This makes me smile briefly.
“Actually, I’m at work and I blew a keg, and I gotta figure out how to change it. There’s beer all over and a there’s a line and I need your help.”
“Anything for you. Don’t worry, it’s simple. I’ll talk you through it.”

Eric came in a bit later. I saw him first through the picture window in the front of my café, and pretended I hadn’t noticed he had just walked in until he was much closer to the counter. He looked gorgeous. I asked him if he was having the usual.
“Not today. I kinda feel like a beer. You guys have Prohibition draft, right?”
“Yeah, totally,” I replied calmly, although I was suddenly very aware of the frizziness of the hair framing my face and dry patch of skin near my elbow that I had been scratching all day, “and there’s plenty ‘cause I just changed the keg.”
I searched the freezer for the frostiest glass, as if my amazing pint glass chosing abilities could somehow win him over. I briefly thought about the retardedness of this. I poured his beer, set it on a coaster in front of him, tapped the counter with two fingers and said “cheers”. He liked this a lot.
“I love Prohibition,” he said after a sip, “It’s my girlfriends favorite beer too.”

Right then, there were four products that I could think of off the top of my head that might make my skin clearer and six brands of hair gel all in different and oh-so-aptly named levels of hold I could buy and apply to make my hair more manageable and coiffed. I thought of the hundreds of dollars of Canadian lotions I could order that would soften and perfume my skin. I thought of all of the brushes and combs and tweezers in this world that might just make Eric take back those words and change them to “do you wanna go have a beer sometime?” I would love to hear that.
That evening the café was very slow. When all my sidework was done, I caught myself staring aimlessly out the big front picture windows. Outside, on Haight at Fillmore, there is a grocery store and a bus stop, and all of the kids of the neighborhood are out in their finery, perfectly groomed and beautiful in all of their hipster glory. They are getting off work and going to work and shopping for groceries and doing their laundry. They all know me, and I know all of their names. They all come see me at some point for their coffee and many of them believe that they are my favorite. There is this one block outside the window of my café, and ten to fourteen hours a day, six days a week, day in and day out I see them all. Sometimes they wave to me as they walk by. Sometimes they come in just to say hi to me. They love me, they all love me, and they all look like these perfect little people in their perfect clothes and hundred dollar haircuts and I know that as much as they accept me, I would never fit in with them. But they don’t know me, they don’t really know me, and it’s fucked up because they want to know me, and furthermore, they should want to. They only know the Miranda who makes perfect milk foam and taps the counter and is fast and efficient and when something is funny she laughs so loud the whole café can hear. Just once I want them to see what I am really capable of. I mean, if they think I can manage a café, they should see my amazing ability to pair tennis shoes with pinstripe pants or layer moisturizer under foundation. They should see how indie I look in my earmuffs or my legwarmers. They all think I’m cool and well traveled and funny and intelligent, but mostly I want them to know that once I too was beautiful. Before the cafe, I had time and energy for such pursuits, I could have fit right in, mingled amoung them all without getting found out.
Sometimes I wonder why I want them to know I was beautiful. Sometimes I wonder if this is sane.


charles.bukowski.costanza said...

dude that is Tight. i like the way you re-wrapped it; it was just yesterday that i remembered to print out the 1st draft you sent me and read it up at the bar. it has a very nice, very miranda-like flow. since i did read it yesterday with my imaginary red pencil tucked behind my ear, i would be happy to give you editorial comments. if you still want them. (there are only a couple; it is awful close to a finished product.) now, it seems, you have momentum that will carry your refined dynamism into your next project: a titillating expose on the dilemma of tits and/or ass. say word. i love you.

charles.bukowski.costanza said...

yeah yeah i completely get your sickiness re: that piece. and anyway editing is always better & faster after letting it sit for awhile. gives you time to forget your attachment/issues with it. i'm quite glad to have a little slice of m.m. sf life. tis very good shit.


mark "that is my beautiful wife giving that handjob" huntsman

Sam said...

You are beautiful, M.

Gotta go - I need to rock an uber groom (okay, not really; there's no point when my hair has to be confined all night and I'll inevitably come home with ketchup on my shirt).

The best uber grooms were in our basement - camped out on towels on the cold, painted concrete floor, product spread out from sink to shelf to washer and dryer, sometimes a friend or an Un on the stairs keeping us company...

I miss you.
We're still twins. You might manage a cafe, and I might wait tables on graveyard shift, but neither of us are grooming quite like we did when together. Hmm.

I love you so much.

Thaozee said...

The words "Fuck" and "Yeah!" came swiftly to mind after I read this. Beautiful post. I get quite a nice image of you from it.

My name is Thao Nguyen btw.

P2thaSmitty said...

Po2thaPo - you know it's good, and you know I think it's good, so why even go there when we don't need to (or did we?). That was loooong, but very good, so I can handle the loooongness. So, like, when are ya gonna gimme a call biatch? I saw Pete and/or you called me at like 4am some night... but I didn't see it until the next afternoon when I got up. Maybe I'll give you a call tonight on my way to the U-district... I'm stuck on going to the Rainbow every Tuesday for the open mic hip hop night. You get to know a few people, meet a few females, and Bam! you feel like you have to go every week. Mmmmm, if I could show you the video I have of.... what's her name dancing. I thought she forgot about me after the first night I met her and gave her my number, but I saw her last week and she asked me to sit with her and a few friends, then go on a drive to smoke a bowl. She's 28 though, and she has yet to officially find out I'm only 25. Ehh, oh well. Rock it like it's hot!
Anyway, time to see what the night is offering. Keep up the nice writing! I'll admit, it inspires me in odd ways to get my shit done elsewhere when I read your stuff, and think about the time you must put into it... And call me biatch!

Milkshake said...

I would like to take this opportunity to point out that I DID call Peter Smith, but it was on his home number, 'cause I lost my phone and I don't have his cell number, but I think Peter Counts does. I should prolly get it from him. Sometime soon, I'm really gonna sit down and put all my phone numbers in my phone--I just haven't done it yet (boo).

~PhoenixRising said...

You already know that this is rockin, and that I think it's rockin, so "What more can I say??" (in that bee-gee's style disco sample from Jay-Z's black-album....) -
It put a smile on my face re-reading it, which is quite a complement seeing as it is 9 am and I'm feeling about as smile-riffic as, uh, a frown.


Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

wookies names sound like english lords when they are speaking to each other. Fact

Chaz said...

Wow this was a very long post. But I read it all. I am very proud.

Good post. But I'll admit I liked the one about me better.

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