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Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: The Terse Edition

Now that I’m done with editing Anna and the Dragon* forever and ever, amen, I’m ready to reveal the side of me you don’t know. To be fair, although I forced myself to read through my book one last time because I couldn’t handle the thought of replacing the book cover without searching for typos, I didn’t find that many errors. [Where did that last sentence come from? This was supposed to be the terse edition. I can’t stop myself from writing long, complex sentences. I can’t change my thought processes. I can’t do it. Yes, I can. Apparently, this is the subliminal version, meant to combat cognitive dissonance.]

Underneath it all, I’m terse. At the abominably bad age of sixteen, which also happened to be 1990, I took up exercise. I bicycled around the neighborhood. I ran at the track down the street from my home–barefoot, of course, because running barefoot is poetic. Then, I discovered jumping rope. My parents’ den was covered in a peculiarly hardy linoleum product, which meant I could skip to my heart’s content. And I did. I would play the longest Bob Dylan songs I could find and hop on my toes to the last minute and last note of the harmonica, guitar, or organ. I would revel in the euphoria only Dylan could evoke in my heart. Trust me when I say that Mr. Tambourine Man is one of the best songs ever written. Add to that a few Scorpion songs, such as Rock You Like a Hurricans (which I’m currently listening to), and you really, really won’t want to be around me.

When I packed up at age eighteen and moved to Linfield College for a short jaunt, I couldn’t believe my good fortune at having a weight room almost solely to myself. There were always a few bulky wrestler/football types hanging around, but they ignored me, as I did them. Jocks aren’t too terribly fond of thin women–or they weren’t in the nineties–and that gave me the space I needed to focus on my terseness and my OCD rep-counting habits: 50 presses and pull-downs and curls and crunches; 20 min stationary bicycle with moving handlebars; 8 laps around the track; bar work in the large, empty gym; 25 min Stairmaster while holding a book [as you can imagine, the last was my favorite].

This post, however, isn’t merely about me. That’s a lie. Of course it’s about me. It’s my memoir. But it’s also about the Pacific Northwest in the nineties, in which grunge-influenced wannabe poets pierced their noses and took their dogs to outdoor cafes, where they soaked up the few hopeful rays of grayish cloud-sun after having just spent their last fistful of ones on double cappuccinos. [Be terse, Jill. Be terse.] At the same time, the gym-goers had revved themselves up. Not being much of a team-player, I couldn’t have cared less about the grunge scene or anybody else’s gym habits, good or bad. In the days before Curt Cobain put a gun to his head, I attended a Nirvana concert because somebody I knew had an extra ticket. That moment of grunge was somewhat life-changing, but that’s a story for another post at another time. It’s a heroic love story and has nothing whatever to do with Nirvana and my intense lack of interest in grunge boys and girls.

Once, while I wasn’t at the gym, a friend brought up a box of old magazines from one of the dorm basements. Students could use the basements to store their boxes of junk over summer holidays, but they often never returned to retrieve them. Life moved on past college in the old days, I guess. In this case, the box contained magazines from the sixties. My friends and I were thrilled to find a short story in a (Life?) magazine about a girl called Jill who was thin, blonde, lugubriously gray-eyed, and misunderstood. She was a poet who let slip silly, yet enduring words. She would stomp barefoot in mud puddles and proclaim it was beautiful because the word puddle sounds just like what it is! To the unaware–that’s called onomatopoeia, which sounds just like what it is, too! Wasn’t that a coincidence? I, too, was a thin, blonde, lugubriously gray-eyed poet called Jill who was misunderstood because I went around proclaiming stupendously stupid drivel about puddles. Splash! Doesn’t that sound exactly like the first cosmic sea crashing against star dust?

Except I wasn’t. Story Jill bore a strange kind of through-the-looking-glass resemblance to me, and that was all. I wanted to be a poet, even deluded myself into believing I was, but when it came right down to it, only the gym could calm my OCD tendencies. I suppose I was the other kind of nineties girl, the kind with a gym habit, except I wasn’t that either. Women with gym habits, in those days, bought expensive workout suits and managed to collect big rocks for their hands, which I didn’t. Now is the moment to tie this oh-so terse memoir into my coffeehouse world. Obviously, after I quit that short jaunt at Linfield College and went to work at Coffee People, I immediately purchased a gym membership at Nautilus. I’ve always been stingy with money, which meant I had only to scrape a little off the top of my bank account to pay for six months in advance. But still, I was the one selling the beverages, not the one on the other side of the counter, buying flat and skinny lattes with extra vanilla in order to effect a sugar rush after aerobics class. [Terse!]

Now you know something about me, and why I never wanted to look at Anna and the Dragon again. Writing Anna doesn’t quite give me the energy that exercise does. Yes, of course, I still exercise obsessively! What do you think? It’s so habitual after all these years that it’s as necessary as my morning coffee. Even at my busiest and poorest, I’ve soothed my exercise soul with a system of threes: 300 jumping jacks, 30 sit-ups, 30 push-ups.

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