ask not for whom the bell tolls
hemingway never wrote such a rain like it rained when we walked by Vox Pop—our independent community owned coffee shop—as the official peeled the back off the day-glow orange sticker and stuck it unceremoniously on the coming events board: “Seized.”
she’s looking fabulously gaudy in her demise, like Western Barbie busted with her winky blue eyelid closed. Alas, a trashy diva fallen. A regular, Tom, posted on Ditmas Park blog: “Vox Pop was too pure for this world and Debi is a saint.” Without calling down heavenly glories, this neighborhood will be less of a neighborhood without our bustling front porch that Debi tended with so much love. The early ‘til late spot churned the neighborhood energies, giving space to knitters, writers, mammas, musicians, comics, characters, cat ladies, census takers, and job seekers as well as the hung over, freshly radicalized and bat-shit crazy.
i met the preacher-eater at Vox Pop. When he first started working, i would shamelessly lean way over the counter to place my orders. On our first date, we made-out ferociously against the shuttered window with Big Sean and Psychic Mary for audience. The community around Vox Pop supported me in searching for work and in fundraising for social justice organizations that employed me. Other couples carried on in love, date by lingering date, at the Pop. All day long, people connected to find gigs, barter skills & services, and talk each other through accessing food stamps, housing and health care. The corner was near perpetually active. The sort of healthy community that NY urban genius Jane Jacobs experienced and worked for. In her now famous descriptions of the everyday life as witnessed from her home above a candy store at 555 Hudson Street, she summed:
“People who know well such animated city streets will know how it is,” Ms. Jacobs wrote. “I am afraid people who do not will always have it a little wrong in their heads, like the old prints of rhinoceroses made from travelers descriptions of rhinoceroses.”
Vox Pop is not the first coffee shop in my life. When I first went away to college in Des Moines, Iowa, I eagerly drove my rattling Ford to the Java Joe’s in downtown as if it were a salon of bygone Vienna or a café among the revolutionary students of Paris. No one actually talked to each other, but I would haul my feminist friend or art class friends to the wan open mic nights in search of inspiration nevertheless. This was not the Bronze, Buffy.
i left after two years and worked at Starbucks in sweet home Chicago and its suburbs, before Frappaccino when we used “cup management” to know our drink orders without writing and where the line would wrap round the block at Christmas time. Took off for Italy where i was silently overjoyed at the bar each morning, fingertips to the cool marble counter then the pristine white cup of hot espresso, clinging by ear to the neighborhood’s morning business, unintelligible. Followed my queer heart to Boston; worked at the Starbucks off the park near the swan boats. As I slung $5 lattes for ungrateful tourists, I also taught art at a day camp for kids who were all on the free lunch program, some suffering from malnourishment. Neither environment entangled me with my neighbors. Finishing school in Peoria, Illinois, the only coffee shop in town became the epicenter of my world. One World gave me space to meet folks, organize, read, think, carry on tête à tête, and, eventually, waitress. Everyone came through, each in their time niche. The nurses and CAT tractor company employees coming through in the morning, students with bottomless pots of coffee all day, downtown folks who came up for lunch, and my favorite professors & party wrecked gay boys at Sunday brunch.
coming to Ditmas Park and finding Vox Pop called me back to that time when I could meet most everyone in the neighborhood and probably find what I needed if I just stayed for coffee long enough.
final open mic this coming Sunday 29 August @ 7 pm