Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Joe's "It's All Right Cafe"

by Troy Chapman

(published January 05)

There’s a place in my head called the It’s All Right Cafe. I used to hang out there a lot. It’s right out on Main Street across the way from my new hang out: The Auld Anxiety Tavern.

I remember the day I first stopped in at the Anxiety. All my friends were going there back then and it was the in thing. We’d sit around and catalog all the things that were bad about our lives and extrapolate a bleak future from this evidence. It was great. I felt like I belonged and it was us against the world. It was sort of a game back then — until I started actually believing all the gloom and doom. Then it started making me miserable but by then I was addicted. I couldn’t picture myself without some battle to fight, some misery or fear to hold up as the Meaning of My Life.

Then one day I stopped into the It’s All Right Cafe on my way to the Anxiety. I was just curious. The place had changed. Windows had been broken and boarded over, the once-gleaming vinyl on the booth seats was now ratty and leaking stuffing in several places. But Joe was still there behind the counter.

“Hey Joe,” I said. “How’s it going?”

“It’s all right. What can I get for you?” Wiping his hands on a towel.

“Just a cup of coffee,” I said. Then looking around I asked: “What happened to the place, Joe?”

“Well, business has dropped off,” Joe said, depositing a cup of coffee on the counter in front of me. “The ’80s,” he sighed. “Then the ’90s, you know.” As if it needed no further explanation. And I guess it didn’t, but Joe continued anyway as I nodded sadly.

“When Anxiety franchised, started shipping in product from around the world — NAFTA, you know — and dropped prices lower than an ant’s ass, anyone selling optimism at a fair market value took a beating.”

I nodded my empathy and tried to hide the guilt of being one of the consumers that supported all this.

“But it’s all right,” Joe smiled. “We’ll make a comeback. Anxiety’s always cheap at first but when all the competition’s run out they always adjust their prices way up over the top. It takes a while but people catch on. And optimism’s been around a long time. We’ve been through it all before and we haven’t gone out of business yet.”

“You know Joe,” I said. “I’m gonna tell my friends about this place. Word-of-mouth is good advertising. With a little pick-up in business we could fix this place up.”

“You think so?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.

“Yeah, I mean people are tired of being in perpetual fight or flight mode. I remember when we all used to...”

The little bell over the door interrupted my thoughts and I turned on my stool. “Oh my God!” I whispered.

He walked in and sat dawn at the counter, ordered a cup of coffee from Joe, then turned to me as I stood there hyperventilating. “It’s all right,” He said with a smile. He saluted me with his cup. “Nothing like Joe’s coffee, eh?”