The Rip Post                                Riposte Archive


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          I’m sitting in the mouth of the corporate beast, its demographic saliva dripping all over me, peering out through the fangs. I’m encased in market-tested earth tone walls, a ceiling with air conditioning ducts fashionably laid bare, and a few Pythagorean cut-outs of blond wood suspended from above. Carefully approved “cool” surroundings, carefully approved "cool" music.
          I think this used to be the site of a longtime L.A. bar with the marvelous name of Betty’s Pistol Dawn. (Think about it.) That’s the most redeeming thing I can say about this spot. I mean, that terrifying “Bijan---designer for men” billboard at Santa Monica and Sepulveda is the big atmospheric bright spot out the window. Unless your idea of atmosphere is watching the endless L.A. funeral procession of The Driving Dead. Bijan’s iridescent choppers are about four-feet tall. . .
          My more immediate view: several rusted newsracks full of sex tabloids, L.A. Parent (the possible result of buying sex tabloids), and the L.A. Weekly, home of that guy who won a Pulitzer Prize by eating parts of poor animals that were not meant for eating, then writing about what it did to his taste buds.
          Inside, the inevitable procession of the grubby, amiable, pissed-off, rumpled, overweight, all line up for coffee. Unwashed guy in wrinkled shorts and T-shirt, sunglasses on heads, dashes out, cup in hand, to a black BMW parked at a meter he didn’t bother to feed. Hip Asian Dude with blonde crew-cut parks gold Mercedes in red zone next to hydrant, runs inside. Lunk barks stupidly into a cellphone, clad in T-shirt printed with “Brooklyn,” and Nike sweatpants. Chubby chicanas shift on their haunches, crammed into those jeans that all women wear that manage to eliminate all femininity. Skinny blonde with a hideous latticework tattoo circumnavigating her upper arm shouts into a cell phone on her shoulder, “OKAYCOOL!” The usual scattered complement of suit/cellphone/laptop clones.
          They come and go, these wretches, with their lattes and caramel machiados and café vanillas, and I think of the opening line from “Grand Hotel:” “People come and go. Nothing ever happens.”
          I’m drinking some sort of Casper Milquetoast thing called Chamomile tea, because I can’t handle the acid in coffee. But of course, I absolutely reek of coffee--- burned coffee---which should be the last hint you need to know that I am in a Starbucks.
          It was never like this in the Green Tea Terrace.
          The Terrrace was an Algonquin Round Table by contrast. People got to know one another there, at least some of the people, and they stayed and carried on conversations.   Now, for those of you who are not clear on what exactly a conversation is, it is not where you tell someone about your screenplay, and he/she tells you about his/hers. It is a circumstance where people impart ideas, and jokes, and trade commentary with one another, essentially for the joy of it. Nobody works an angle, nobody schmoozes, nobody networks (if that asinine term is still alive.) I know, I know. What is the purpose of that, you wonder? What’s in it for me?
          Well, call it an arcane pursuit still carried out by eccentrics.
          At the GTT, in Westwood, a block and a half south of UCLA, there was an intermingling that might---might---have been unique in all L.A.. Yes, I realize that there are hangouts in Silverlake and West Hollywood and Santa Monica and Ocean Park where intermingling takes place. But it all seems cliquish to me. Either artsy-fartsy types in strange black clothes, strange black hair, and lip-piercings, driving ’64 Dodge Darts, or homo/bi/quadra-sexuals, or rich people dressing po’, playing regular folk near a Venice that has not been funky in 30 years.
          At the GTT there were UCLA grad students and undergrad students and old folks from the neighborhood and lonely middle-aged people with no jobs and the occasional reeking homeless. There were waifs and naifs and old farts and vigorous grannies and drugheads and philosophers and linguists. There were New Agey marriage counselors and investment guys who secretly hated the world they worked in, and I swear, not a single goddamn screenwriter in sight.
          Okay, except for one day when an aggressive, fashionably tussle-haired young fellow huddled with a somewhat embarrassed prospective writing partner, and carried on in a voice loud enough to suggest he owned the place, talking about character motivation and back stories and all that awful crap. But that was an exception. I nearly tapped the jackass on the shoulder and told him that screenwriting discussion was prohibited in the GTT. Which would have gotten a hell of a laugh from the staff.
          You know, there were comparative literature majors reading classics in Spanish, and “anarchists” who had graduated with degrees in environmental studies, and French majors and divorced fathers who came in on Saturdays with their kids, and immigrants from Israel and Africa and Asia.
          You wouldn’t have guessed any of it from the outside. I sure didn’t. It was a narrow space, handsomely conceived though no less plotted than a Starbucks. The Japanese owners supposedly wanted it to be a “classy tea emporium,” and in a way it was, but not in the way they wanted. Students saw to that---sometimes unfortunately, with occasional hideous rap music and for one period of several months, incessant, deafening airings of "Dark Side of the Moon."
          I plunked down a laptop amid its pistachio and orange and azure and whizzing machines as an experiment, about a year and a half ago. I had first gone there for the tea several years earlier, but it wasn’t until I started hunting and pecking on the keyboard that I got to know the joint’s magic. I never intended to speak to anyone, let alone get to know them. I figured this was L.A., you see, and this just isn’t done. I just went there to work.
          “So what brings you here?” asked a guy one day, as we sat at a counter in the back along with a couple of students, huddled over laptops.
          The guy turned out to be a philosophy graduate student who is one of the finest people I’ve ever met. A rare mix of intelligence, compassion, education, decency, honor. I didn’t know such people still existed in Bushcheneyland. We began a conversation that endured for months, whenever we felt like taking breaks. Check that---I joined an already running conversation that had been running there for the five years that this guy, whose name is Ira, had been coming in. A conversation that included anyone and everyone.
          Some of the most entertaining talks I’ve tuned into in many years were between Ira and a GTT employee from East L.A. named Jorge. Jorge was curious, well-read, and unschooled, and when the two of them exchanged notions about Aristotle, or the nature of time, I didn’t know whether it was profound, or profoundly funny. Or both.
          There were employees like steady-as-she-goes Lauren, a mainstay of the place since it opened, and Shelly the Enviro with a social conscience as wide as the 405 will soon be, and Dhana from Israel who did Brazilian drumming and martial arts, and Tamara the Vietnamese-American who went to study in Spain, and Michelle who was kind of like a young version of your favorite aunt, and recited Faulkner. And there were customers like Roni, a middle-aged guy from the Middle East, who always seemed a little sad until he had his matcha, and Craig the Realtor, who loved to talk about better ways to get along in life (“not everything needs to be resolved” was one of his memorable remarks), and Molly the counselor who won a year’s supply of free tea, and whose genuine smile made you want to believe in optimism again.
          But about that matcha. . .
          Matcha was the lubricant of the GTT, and until I had it, I thought magic potions existed only in Wagner operas. This is powdered whole leaf green tea, and it is rife with antioxidants, varying amounts of caffeine, depending on the grade, and an amino acid called theanine which does two great things: it triggers serotonin, which engenders happiness, and it facilitates a slow-burn of the caffeine, so you don’t bounce off the walls. Everybody at the GTT was a matcha addict. Every last soul. You could feel the energy whip up when the staff laid into the Imperial grade, and the walls sang with a vivaciousness I’ve not felt since I was. . .in college.
          A funny thing happened in the middle of all this: I got more work done during the 18 months at the GTT than probably the previous five years put together. I finished a novel, wrote a few short stories, edited two collections of my essays for forthcoming books, wrote the first draft of a first-person book about my association with a rather famous personage, and tons of columns for this site.
          It was the matcha, yes, but it was more. I’ve been writing for the last 25 years in relative solitude, and the GTT made me recall how much I missed the conviviality and energy of newsrooms, where I spent ten years (fifteen if you include high school and college.)
          So now I’m back to solitude again, or at best, vicarious socializing. The GTT is closing in a few weeks due to, say many of the regulars, slipshod management and no promotion. I am poorer for it. Many others are poorer for it. L.A. is poorer for it, not that it will notice. And all the people brought together there, by the matcha, by the energy, by the joie de vivre, by the pistachio and orange and blue walls, will scatter.
          To the corporate, coffee-reeking winds.

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