Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Java Love: Do You Love Your Coffee Shop?

It’s natural to love your coffee shop. That place where you get that first cup of love in the morning to stimulate your endorphin love humors to warm the blood for work or other human activities. That “cup of ambition,” that “eye-opener” or “cobweb buster.” Even if your coffee shop is an impersonal Starbucks, you still get the thrill.

My coffee shop, at least the one I wrote about in Java Love, was a very special place. I’m not kidding. You would have loved it. Everyone did.

Java Love is based on the original, Java Sun coffee shop on Atlantic Ave in Marblehead, Massachusetts. 

Marblehead is a magical town. Anyone who lives here, along its rocky shore and among its historic homes, will tell you – there’s something powerful, even enchanted, going on here amongst the layers of history and bustling everyday modern life. At the very least, Marblehead is always beautiful. The light is brilliant or subtle, the sea smoke rises off the harbor, the green light of the Marblehead Lighthouse shines over the rippling water, the moon sits low in the night sky over the silhouettes of historic homes and old growth trees. Though many professional people have moved here, a good many people still make their living from fishing the sea. Many Marblehead people sail for pleasure and the harbor fills each summer with sailboats and yachts from all over the world. It’s also a sporting town with baseball or soccer games on the town field, golfing, windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, running races for charity, sailing races for cups; it’s mindboggling how active the town is, and then there’s the festivals, in summer, the Marblehead Arts Festival, in winter, the Christmas Walk when Santa Claus arrives by boat.

So, picture it, the original Java Sun café in beautiful Marblehead. The shop has changed hands twice since then, and many other changes were made with each new owner. Each time the café would become more and more ordinary, not significantly different from the hundreds of other cafés that pop up everywhere, but, in 1995, Java Sun was unique. Its sign was a bright yellow sun surrounded by Africana lettering that spelled, "Java Sun, The Best Coffees Under The Sun." John, a pilot, who had traveled the world and missed the rich coffees he'd enjoyed around the globe, founded Java Sun. He breezed in occasionally, but, mostly, the café was run by a young couple, Christine and Mark, rather like kids babysitting for other kids while Mommy and Daddy were off and away. It could be a wild scene. The kids who worked behind the counter had colored hair - not the usual colors blonde or brunette - but aqua, fuchsia, purple or scarlet. Their noses or eyebrows were often pierced and tattoos covered their arms.

The original Java Sun roasted the coffee beans in-house. The roaster was big and gorgeous: bright red enamel, copper, chrome and it dominated half the café space. A tall young man named Brendon manned the elegant machine, roasting for hours. Burlap sacks of beans from Kenya, Columbia, Sumatra, or Yemen, to name a few of the exotic places, were piled up next to the roaster. The wood floor would get dark with coffee dust and the rich aroma of roasting beans filled the café and wafted out the door and through the walls, often to the chagrin of neighbors who complained about the fierce smell. I loved it. I often came home smelling of foreign lands. The customers were from all walks of life: moms and kids, teachers, car mechanics, fishermen, freelance writers, poets, artists, musicians, herbalists, bankers, lawyers, doctors, real estate agents, accountants and, occasionally, celebrities. Marblehead was often chosen as the location for Hollywood movies, so it wasn’t too surprising to see a famous actor or director sitting at a table having a chai latte. Everyone said Java Sun was the best part of their day, often, remarking, “it’s all downhill from here.”

The place was not fancy. There was a hole in the floor in front of the bathroom you had to leap over. But, the back windows, usually left open even in winter because of the intense heat from the baking and which you looked out over the barista’s shoulder as you ordered your coffee, opened to a rose garden filled with songbirds. The front windows looked out on to a busy main street alive with constant action of people and pets, children, babies in carriages, nursery school teachers pulling toddlers in red wagons, bicyclers, runners, skateboarders, roller-bladers, cars, and boats on trailers passing by. The fruit and vegetable stand across the street was vividly beautiful, as were the jewelry and clothing stores. Happy flags flapped from each shop and friendly doggie bowls of water were placed out at each front door.

I always sat in the corner where I could watch the action. The constantly changing activity never failed to stimulate my mind. At first, I wrote by hand in marble notebooks, but, as technology progressed, I worked on a laptop. The sight of me working in the window became somewhat iconic: at the time, not too many folks had a computer at home, let alone a laptop in a café. Of course, I hoped to write undisturbed, but I was often interrupted by people asking me what I was writing. I would tell them, and they’d be even more baffled. “A novel.” “A screenplay for the X-Files.” (“What’s the X-Files?” “Well, it’s about two FBI agents who try to solve paranormal cases.”) Or, if I were freelancing: “Copy for an extreme website.” “A travel fax/newsletter.” Hmmm. What was that again?

I preferred to be quiet. I loved to experience the people on my own terms, quietly. I loved to zone on them, who they were, what they did. Christine was gregarious and maternal; she always introduced people or spoke loudly to them asking personal questions as if to include the whole café, which was already a boisterous, free-for-all, more of a hang-out, really, than a coffee shop. Before long, I realized I was "getting" a poem for each person as he or she entered the café. "Oh, no," I thought, "that would be too many poems!" But, that is exactly what happened. I wrote a poem for each person who inspired me. Some of them didn't. But, mostly, I was enthralled.

I was in Java Love.


Everyone loved their poems. After reading her poem, Maine Sarah clutched her heart. Alisha laughed with delight. The Mechanic was told by one of the patrons that he HAD to read his poem. Other people went quite mad over the Mechanic’s poem, because the man’s arms were so massively built, but he seemed to take it in stride. Christine said I was her family, which was exactly right. Another woman, a dancer, was thrilled to read that she had “legs of wings.” The poems received a lot of warm smiles. People remarked, “No one has ever done anything like this for me before,” or “I never thought I’d have a poem written about me.” My favorite compliment came from the young man who papered his bedroom walls with the pages of Java Love. No literary prize could ever be so marvelous and rewarding. The title came about one quiet evening when I was the only customer in the café. Two of the kids were saying how much they loved each other. John walked through just then and smiled at me as he opened the door to leave. “It’s Java Looove!” I explained, and he laughed, approvingly.

from Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse:

The Mechanic

when there’s nothing
left to believe in
you can believe in

his arms

©Patricia Goodwin, 2018

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation. Telling Time By Apples, And Other Poems About Life On The Remnants of Olde Humphrey Farme, illustrated by the author, and Java Love: Poems of a Coffeehouse are Patricia's latest poetry books.