Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Hipster Den

The hum of air conditioning and industrial fridges fattens the middle of the frequency spectrum. The chirruping of mouse-clicks and clinking of spoons takes care of the top. Mismatched chairs, G-plan style. Low-slung coffee tables. Bare ventilation pipes on the ceiling. Cracks on the lino floor.
Three Warhol-style prints of Lindsay Lohan stare at me belligerently from the back wall, daring me to form an opinion. Beneath them, an evenly-spaced row of silent punters. Each one is seated behind a softly glowing Apple logo. They gaze expressionlessly at their screens, limbs arranged in various attitudes of distraction. Some legs are crossed, some are planted square on the lino floor. Some flip-flops have been discarded, feet tucked under buttocks. Their faces have an unhealthy, electric pallor. White tentacles snake from plugs in the wall at their feet.
I order a coffee and a banana from a square-faced hipster with an intimidating black beard. I sit down by the window, opening my banana from the wrong end. The American end. It turns out to be the better end to open bananas from, after all.
Ba-nee-ah-nah. A lot of open ‘ah’ sounds have a diminutive ‘ee’ stuck on the front of them, like roadkill on the grille of a truck, screaming past, squealing its last.
The clientele sports an array of full-sleeve tattoos, unkempt and sun-streaked hairstyles, interesting eyewear. With the exception of two men in polo shirts and belted chinos, both of whom have identical wraparound sunglasses perched atop their balding heads. They wait to order, clutching their iPads defensively to their chests. One of them jingles coins in his pocket. They glance around them warily.
All around, the hipsters watch, wait, concealed inside shrubs of facial hair.
Motown classics shimmer on the stereo. Across 110th Street… I am nostalgic for 1970s Harlem, despite being white, being Irish, and not having been born until the 80s.
The square-bearded barista, now revealed to have a tattooed foreleg, comes in from the car park. Parking lot. He clears his throat, glances around.
‘Anyone own the white Camry parked outside?’
A slim Asian girl in high-waisted shorts looks up, puts down her coffee cup. Stands up hesitantly. ‘Uh, yeah.’ She pushes her dark fringe out of her eyes.
‘Yeah…’ he wipes his mouth with his hand, in a downward motion past his chin, makes a rueful moue. ‘It’s being towed.’
She gasps. Hand to mouth, echoing his gesture. She races past him, short steps necessitated by her flip-flops. He steps neatly out of her way, stops the door from slamming shut.
A wave of schadenfreude ripples through the café.
A girl in front of me sits down with a cafetiere of coffee. A French Press. Short butter-blonde hair, the suggestion of dark roots beneath the unkempt curls. Heavy black eyeliner, red lipstick. Plain grey backless dress. A pair of vertiginous, ungainly suede heels invalidates her otherwise-viable hipster credentials.
The Wikipedia page for ‘cerebral blood flow’ is open on her browser. She opens a PowerPoint entitled ‘Central Nervous System Summarized’. Her coffee cup is already ringed with crescents of lipstick.
She opens Spotify. I see Boards of Canada. Conspecific, though the heels gave me pause. I crane to see what else is on her playlist.
New barista on the till now. He regards the waiting customers from behind heavy-rimmed black glasses. A suggestion of stubble on pale skin, delicate features. He has an improbable shock of hair, tight black curls rising in a cliff from his forehead, giving him the vague appearance of a bespectacled Poodle.
Having placed her order, a woman in a short black dress toys with her locket, staring into space. Black biker boots, loosely laced, with black socks pulled up inside them. Short red hair. Lots of lipstick.
Behind her, a man in basketball shorts, grey marl t-shirt, close-cropped hair, with ‘Doc’s kid’ tattooed just under the elbow of his right arm in blue pseudo-Celtic script. He shifts his weight from foot to foot, glances back at the door. Checks his phone, puts it away. He’s chewing gum. Blinking a lot. His eyes are a vivid aqua, his teeth disconcertingly white.
Outside, sunlight bathes the trees across the street. A squirrel runs deftly along a power line. Thunderclouds are gathering, the sky deepening to a dark, velvet grey. The billboard on the laundry next door, black letters on yellow, proclaims that it is TIME TO GET CLEAN.
A saxophone screams a high B, at the apex of the solo. I accidentally kick the metallic leg of my table. It pings. The same B.
All is right with the world.

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