Coffeehouses are places where friends meet—all friends, male and female, familial or not, a great diversity of people. Yesterday, I met a friend for coffee, a bittersweet confab because she’s moving away soon.* Several years ago, I met her significant other at the same coffeehouse, while perched on a tall stool. I don’t know how it happened, to be honest, but we spoke of Sor Juana, and the rest is history. Friends who discuss the life and poetry of Sor Juana—well, how can you lose that sort of friend?
In the early days of coffeehouses, male friends gathered to discuss politics, philosophy, and art. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire visited cafes, and great ideas fomented from the mind-sharpening brew and the wit of an intellectual crowd. In the United States, the first coffeehouse opened in Boston in the late 17th C. By that time, England had over 3,000 of these hotbeds of news and information. Friends and associates shared the latest in an environment not tainted by drunkenness or vice.
In Europe and the United States, early coffeehouses are associated with tenuous ideas of liberty. Tenuous. Yes, that’s the word I mean. When the freedom to access information and discuss it over coffee is a male privilege, then it’s a weak sort of freedom. When the male configuration of friendship is the only one allowed in the doors, then the women are left lonely at their tables back at home**.
But of course, all that has changed. And in my country, and in my Pacific Northwest, my Oregon, my sense of Portland, the history of the coffeehouse begins with the Italian immigrants and their espresso shops. From there springs the artistic cafes we’re more familiar with these days, where a mixed audience might catch the music of a local singer-songwriter on a Friday night.
And this brings me to Pablo Loves. There’s no sense I can use to perfectly capture Pablo Loves, except with the sixth sense of memory, an aspect of memoir I haven’t yet touched on. Pablo isn’t his real name [that would be anonymous]. Rather, Pablo was the pseudonym my anonymous friend picked at age fourteen, which should give the first clue about him. He—chameleon that he was—slipped from definition the way others clothed themselves with it. Or I should say that, as a chameleon, he was one color one minute, and another color the next. Pablo Loves—Pablo loves what? Pablo loves many things because his mind is a kaleidoscope.
When I was seventeen, he was fourteen. In those high school days, he played the guitar and played at poetry, too, as well as drawing. But his artistic outlets were just that—ways out of his mind, exits from anxiety and his fixed view of himself. Yes, these are all assumptions I’m making, but I believe them to be true. Behind the strumming, I have this feeling he made all manner of plans.
He never gave up the music, though, and has learned many instruments over the years, as well as modern mixing technology. Maybe music was part of the plan. I don’t know. Maybe later this week Pablo—my anonymous friend—will call me and demand to know why I’m making up his character as I go along. In answer, I’ll say, “That’s what writers do.” Writers do this, and they hope to stumble on the truth in their mix of assumptions and half-remembered stories. This is also why I’ve left his name from this memoir—because I don’t have permission to draft my idea of his character in public.
I understand a myriad of concepts, though, truths of friendship, information sharing, and the way these mix and mingle in the environment of the coffeehouse. To arrive at this mix, I need to back up a little [never has a memoir been harder to write than this one! Friendship is so difficult for me.] Pablo and I were good friends, despite the age discrepancy that causes more trouble at the respective ages of fourteen and seventeen than it does in older or younger persons. We weren’t necessarily comfortable with each other, and a scene in the forested area behind our school captures this: we stood awkwardly, under the branches of the fir trees, which dripped with rain. The afternoon was dark. Clouds hung deep and shadowy. And the tension was as heavy as the clouds because we both attempted deep communication, yet neither of us was capable of it. The world was too complex a place, too filled with paradoxes.
Later, soon after I married my husband, when Pablo would have been a senior in high school, my husband and I drove five hours to Portland to listen to Pablo strum on his guitar and sing his poems in the Pied Cow coffee shop. For those who know Portland, they’ll recognize the Victorian house turned café, and they’ll understand what I mean when I call this the apex of my friendship with Pablo Loves. The Pied Cow is—or was—a warm and friendly place. When I watched him, sore throat and all, bravely singing his heart for the world, my idea of him was fixed as a pure moment in time.
Pablo Loves has grown up so much since that night. We all have. Three years between us isn’t much to signify any longer. But I can’t shake the image from that night, how the world seemed a clearer, less complex place without its usual paradoxes. Pablo Loves and Pablo sings because Pablo’s a poet. I’d like to ask Pablo if he writes poetry these days—I know I don’t. I’m guessing he doesn’t, either. Instead, we share information. When he visits us in New Mexico from his home in San Francisco, we brew many pots of coffee and bombard each other with information. We’re the historical conclusions of the early ideas of liberty, the physical manifestations of enlightenment philosophy.
We’re the apex—the culmination of ideas and literature and coffeehouses. We’re friends. And I don’t know how to properly express my gratitude to him or to coffee or to history. Thank you, Pablo.
Pablo Loves Friendship.
*I began writing the difficult post last week and dropped it due to a terrible migraine. Since that time, the friends mentioned in paragraph one have moved.
**A number of women owned coffeehouses, but still, they were proprietors rather than purveyors of ideas. I created a neat little error in that last statement, and I think I’ll let it remain.
***I have been told that this isn’t Pablo’s shadow. It couldn’t be his because he would never frame his shadow in a shot. Plus, you know, those aren’t his ears. Oh, well. I thought the shadow idea was kind of clever.