Editors Note: Spacing is pleased to be participating in the Toronto Public Library’s One Book program again this year. This month the library hopes the whole city will start reading Loyalty Management, a poetry book by Glenn Downie, set in part in the Junction neighbourhood. Throughout the month Spacing Toronto will present a series of posts exploring the book.
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Downtown they’ve crossbred
the cafe & the peep show Men pay
to lean on a rail while women fetch
Downie’s men are in a shop where “there are no chairs Men come / & go in minutes No alcohol / No food There is only / One hunger.” They are somewhere between coffee-as-activity and coffee-as-fuel; it’s a quick trip, but it’s about more than the drink.
Every week on Craigslist’s Missed Connections there is a new post involving a lustful latte purchaser and the inevitably “cute” barista who serves them regularly. The idea of a long line of suits eying the server while they wait for a complicated beverage is something on the smarmy side of compelling. The actual process of purchasing said drink is only befuddling (although less so since I’ve learned such phrases as “with room,” and begun remembering that ‘Tall’ actually means small), but the coffee itself is…well, it’s kind of sexy, isn’t it? It’s warm, it comes from some exotic location, it can be knocked back or mulled over, depending on your mood. And yet…
I have heard a rumour that people meet other people– you know, meet other people– in coffee shops. My first thought was: “maybe some places, but not in Toronto!”
Is it the laptops? A computer seems to say “serious work” in a way that a book in the lap doesn’t. There may be some mathematical equation that determines the exact number of sticky tabs and hand written notes that move the book over into do-not-disturb-the-reader territory, but I don’t know what that is.
Coffee shops encourage only premeditated socialization: we talk to those we came in with, or we do something. Working in a coffee shop is less about coffee, and more about a break from the library or the desk. But if we’re craving company, if we’re dying to get away from the monotony of solitary work, why don’t we talk to anyone? Laptops are not a Toronto thing. Being reserved is.
The exception to this hesitancy is the server, more blatantly sexualized in Sexpresso — “in minis & low-cute blouses / or chiffon-over-busier they sashay” — but always existing in that comfortable zone of acceptable chatter and smiles. It’s their job to talk to you. A blatantly miserable barista is a pain, and being friendly and charming to the person who makes your drink is not dangerous. Downie’s servers seem to offer more to their audience: “smiling / making male small talk / feel bigger…They refine / the smallest motions down to / microns of hinted intimacy”. This does not sound like us.
Although: We have been a bit frisky lately. The weather seems to have reminded us of our bodies and we can’t stop looking at each other (and then averting our eyes quickly because–and I fall for this too–there is still something shameful in being attracted to someone). The frequency of lingering looks in coffee shops seems unaffected by the spring air. It’s still a risk; you’re not going anywhere. A penetrating stare that is unreturned will be a source of humiliation for however long both parties choose to remain in the shop. Besides, a body at rest is always less exciting. Maybe that’s the barista’s secret.