Tonight was a fascinating night of testimonies from at the DOC UGM revival, a group of what appears to be Mennonites, or more appropriately Amish, sung songs and spoke about the word of God. Goggling the term, I wiki learned that my use of the word Mennonites is pre-Amish, and being that I would be more considered a heathen than a religious historian, I will stop the reciting of 15 seconds of Wiki research.
During the songs I sat and closed my eyes and meditated. In my trance I kept migrating to my cafe in Portland, and for some strange reason beyond me, I started thinking about all the colorful people who came into the cafe. Like a hooker named “Ofelia”.
Kevin who was one of my first employees and at 19 possessed the unique ability of being able to size-up all of our customers, naming many with names that matched characters of books. Ofelia being one of these characters I never understood the appropriateness of the name until doing a yahoo search well after the name became common place. (This of course being before the ability to google or Wiki).
Ofelia was a hooker-crack head, who somehow developed a cli·en·tele amongst the predominately gay neighborhood to support her habit. She was in her mid-twenty's and wore sometimes scanty and usually wildly colored outfits. Her overall demeanor gave us the impression that she came from a wealthy family, but in my embarrassment to ask in fear of opening Pandora's box, we never learned where she lived, slept, her background or her real name. As it turned out, since we didn't have a black-list, other employees had banned her repeatedly from the cafe before I did, and apparently she knew that she could always just return on Kevin's shift.
I guess with a cafe named “Heaven” you should be hard pressed to mess with the cheat-codes of karma.
Ofelia was always well dressed and colorful. One of my favorite past times used to be looking at Mannequins in display windows. I often thought she would have been a great window dresser, you would surely never forget her windows. Besides being a hooker, she did manage to maintain the unfortunate, quickly degenerating look she had. The Mary Poppins quality about her, she had an effectual smile and had a demeanor about her when she was sober. Which up to this day was all I saw. Now recognizing why Kevin named her, "under the influence" she displayed a different behavior. One day while chatting with Kevin about her past, keeping in mind of course that "men don't gossip they chat", Kevin informed me, “Your joking right? You didn't see it, she is not only a hooker, but she was a 'crack-head', God Mike, sometimes your an idiot.”
Arriving early one weekend, from Seattle, for my weekend shift I began preparing some of the food menu we were beginning to develop. Blending a batch of our favorite Mexican Hummus, named after the wetback that was making it, Kevin in his usual manner whenever I arrived, was sitting outside the cafe taking his every hourly 15 minute cigarette break. The common small trail of customers during his shift began to accumulate. I noticed after a few minutes after my attempting to ignore the group, he cigarette- martini-break, appeared to have no influence over him. The customers, instead of appearing to be aggravated, began to filter into the cafe and starting setting up there laptops and begin working. I was impressed, it appears Kevin had trained them as well. He being a "rock-star" with the best trained ear of up-and-coming music, he was loved by most all our customers and it was impressive to see his regulars respond.
I being irritated, by this apparent aloofness, put on the black apron that signified a barista was in the house and began helping his customers. Beside, I knew it drove him crazy. In looking over his tip jar which he one day provided, a Bemis Sharps Containers, it appeared it had been busy for it was stuffed. Damn – him.
In my rush to help his customers, I could see that he was preoccupied with Ofelia outside, and his occasional glances inside appeared we was not satisfied with my impatience. “Remember customer service is always first in the service industry” mimicking the slogan ingrained into me as a teenage bagger at the local grocery in Phoenix where we were as well forbidden from taking tips.
Kevin, apparently now done with his cigarette, glided back behind the counter with his usual smile and what are you doing look.
"Kevin!”, I say looking at him when he finally gets behind the counter. “Oh you know you love it ... this song sucks, didn't you hear it skipping?" pushes me to the side to get at the Fischerspooner CD which was playing a skipping version of *#@¥¿. I guess in the end maybe he was right, I really didn't mind his laziness he was funny and as far as I could tell at least partially honest.
Our cafe was around 900 square feet on the ground floor, and 200 square feet of computer kiosks upstairs. I had a designer from Germany, K (Rocketworks Design Studio) who is an exceptional Urban designer who was commissioned to make one of most unique space age flying saucer chandeliers, a sleek concrete and scaled metal counters and mechanical lights that gave the Cafe a one of a kind high-end designer feel. His design gave Heaven and the two-single paneled bayed windows, which where twenty five feet tall, and the lower profiled but similarly windowed entrance, a unique Urban feel. Concrete, mixed with steel and natural wood, was European in origin and stark contrast to the typical Starbucks organic feel. The mauve and early 1900's architecture of the building, added to the charm of the cafe's, now stark but dynamic art gallery feel. With the Portland Street Car passing directly in front of it every 10 minutes, the up and urban town of Portland and its surrounding high-scaled hotels, gladly sent all their travelers to the only Internet cafe of its type in town. With a latte, customers where able to listen to some electronica, coffee and surf the Internet and every once in a while watch the entertainment of the area. Due to its art shows, it quickly became a highly controversial Graffiti Art gallery with often risky art shows, of only local artists.
Like Ofelia, Heaven was no exception.
Ofelia, during the slow hours, was often the discussion amongst fellow employees, with constant debate of whether she was homeless, whether she was raised from a wealthy family found drugs, instead of God ,and now was hitting rock bottom. As it turned out in the Summer of 2003, two years after opening, we at least got some of our questions answered.
During the rush of customers that I had helped, I didn't realize that the cafe had become full, Heaven had a huge WiFi customers base that began as soon as we opened the cafe in 2001. Being a computer nerd we adopted 802.3 networking as a novel approach of getting cheap bandwidth from the telecom hotel, across the street. It was a novel idea that gave us up to 11mB of bandwidth on the fly! As is it turned this very crowded day would get some human bandwidth to hoot!
“By the way,” Kevin tells me as we puts in a Peaches CD, “Man, Ofelia is 'spun-out' and I was trying to keep her outside, but she was telling me and reciting passages from the 'Pan's Labyrinth,' - she's amazing!” Instinctively, peering out the huge class panes, I can see she is still smoking and 'snap' like a photograph my mind, I know I am going to remember this day.
Finishing her cigarette I watch her begin to walk into the store and as she stands in the middle of the sea of open laptops nerds, hipsters and hotel types she stands as if she is waiting for her audience to recognize she is on the stage. Shakespearean like, in her short summer dress, her blond long hair pulled up into a seductive hair bonnet, she begins a rant of yelling by semi-squatting in a grand plie and begins, “look-looook” pointing under her dress, “look – look!” as I run from behind the counter, noticing through my peripheral vision, that she indeed has captured her audience, she continues before I can arrive, “in my p#$#, look in my p#$#, from there came my babies, came my babies in my p#$#” continuing to point and squat, looking at everyone, who are now all starring at her in mild horror, some with shock, others with sorrowful but refrained facial expressions, “look- look!!” as she tries to hold everyone's attention.
“Ofilia – Ofelia,” I command, “That's enough, no more, time to go home, stand up Ofelia, are you Ok. Ofelia?” In my voice I used to use when a child has been acting bad and for the hundredth and final-time-voice, I grab her arm trying to straighten her from the squat, hoping i will stop the now parakeeting words. “It's time for you to go home Ofelia, no-more.”
“Ofelia, do you have babies? Ofelia, are you Ok? Do you want to talk to someone?”
“Babies, from my p#$#”, don't touch me, leave me alone!” pulling her arm away from my loose grasp.
“Ofelia, it is time to go!” As glares and all eyes are posted on the spectacle, I see that the needs resolving fast. “Ofelia, it is time for you to go, I am sorry, but it is time.”
“No!, my babies!” as she begins here demonstration again.
'My god I can' believe this - am I in a movie?'
“Ofelia, No – it's time for you to go, or I am going to call the cops!”
“No I am not going – No you can't make me – No!”
“I am calling the cops.” As I reach to grab my cell phone and begin to dial 911, she rushes out of the cafe yelling, “I hate you- I hate you – my babies!”
Damn this is messed up!
Looking around and I can see most of the customers are back in their laptops. A few glance at me, making quick eye contact and then as if unaffected, return to their conversations. As I walk back to the counter, I make eye contact with a few, smile like a politician at a few others and then one appears he wants to talk to me.
Damn, where is that Bashas' play book? Searching through my memory database I remember nothing compared to what just happened. Except for maybe the one time I received a request from a male customer one Sunday morning who whispered into my ear, “hey you know where the condoms are?” At the time a 'born-again', and just turning 16, I had no clue what this guy what the guy was asking for. Turning to the female cashier, who I always enjoyed joking with, I asked, 'Hey, where are the condoms?', after the squirm and the funny looking faces from the both of them did I realize, 'condoms' are in fact 'CONDOMS'. Nope I analyze, that wasn't so embarrassing.
“Crazy experiences happen in 'Heaven' wouldn't you say?” Maybe Bashas' did prepare me!
“Well, I want to complement you, actually.” He continues, “Every time I come in here I see you interact with various customers, and I am always impressed with how you handle them all, you talk to them as if your like their fathers or their clearly not problems where other restaurants would automatically throw theme our, your stern but not, I could never do it, how do you have so much patience?”
Looking at the guy, I can not place him.
“Well, you know this is Heaven!” I quip! 'Humor – yeah – humor can get you through anything.' I say walking away, satisfied that I answered the only way I knew how.
“That's it Kevin, no more – she is banned!”
“Whatever!” he retorts, “You let all the crazy street people in here all the time, why not Ofelia, this isn't Starbucks! I left you a dollar in the tip jar. It's past 7.” Smiling as he walks out the door.
'Damn that Kevin!'
“Sir, do you want to eat diner, or are you here for 'sleep only'?”
Waking back up from my trance, and the end of Ofelia's demise, that didn't end that night but only after several months later, when she was found having stolen a valuable painting of 'Denice the Menace' I had commissioned and an employee of the Barnes & Nobles Coffee shop took it away from her bringing it back safely home the next day.
He told me that he could be a witness if I wanted to press charges? "Nah, I told him, it takes a village to help someone, even someone like Ofelia.
 In "Pan's Labyrinth" the young girl, Ofelia, must race to against the time of an hourglass to retrieve a dagger from a child-eating monster.