24 August, 2006

I am irritated

At the local vegan cafe, the dishes are all named for positive affirmations. You can ask for the "live bruschetta" and the waiter will say, "One `I am bountiful,' coming up." You might want a pecan pie, but you will be served an "I am perfect." Yerba mate chai is "I am triumphant."

It's a bit like Starbucks, where you can order a medium coffee and hear the clerk -- who is either a barista or a partner, depending on the context -- call out, "Grande Americano!" But it's worse because at least "Venti Americano" has a single referent. Its cloud of meaning in the mind is concentrated and precise. It doesn't hijack perfectly good words and herniate their meanings. To me, Cafe Gratitude's menu is Operation Iraqi Freedom all over again.

It would be harmless except that I'm kind of dumb. Euphemism fogs my thoughts. The best thoughts come directly and unencumbered, like a great dancer leaping up, tapping her feet together a few times and returning silently to the stage. But my thoughts rarely do that. They are tied up with mental fascia that drag on my mind just as fascia tissues drag on my legs when I try to jump a high-hurdle. If the word "freedom" is tied in the mind to aerial bombardment, and the word "graceful" is tied to steamed quinoa with fresh basil-almond pesto, those words will flow less freely in my head, language will become more cumbersome, thoughts come more slowly and arrive laden with distracting and antisocial subtexts.

Worse yet is the lack of sincerity. A close pal of mine works at a school where the staff have routine 15-minute staff meetings where people can offer a shout-out, thank yous, apology or call-outs -- you know, a STAC. * If I'm happy with someone, I tell them face-to-face. I think public affirmations are a way of showing off. They are mainly about making the thanker look good, not the thankee. Formalizing and mandating thanks for other people replaces a beautiful feeling with an often-empty public display. People who do this too often can come to confuse the public display with the real feeling. I have known performers -- actors and other showoffs -- who become so good at ersatz feeling that they lose the capacity for the heartfelt variety.

* Even the name of the ritual is an offense against language. What does it have to do with any of the meanings of "stack"? A neat pile of flat objects, a bunch of speakers, a series of computer memory addresses, boobs -- doesn't this word carry enough meanings already? Why make an awkward, phonetically ridiculous acronym for a something people already know?


I attribute this to the general trend to push consumerism beyond the mere tangible - one doesn't just sell goods any more, one sells attitudes, moral positions, a way of life, a fucking soul. I would assume that in the process of purchasing a replacement soul, the original article becomes corroded and lost. 

Posted by saurabh

It's just another attempt by the major corps to get us to unwittingly make subconcious references to that commercial product in our mind whenever we hear those common words. Of course, it's the desire of most corps to get the status of Google, which has gotten us to say its name instead of a common verb (search). It's similarly depressing to see the way people will watch tv comms where a rich/famous person wears a clothing/accessory, and then they wear it. This sort of thing destroys our individuality. And people say capitalism helps it. A double-edged sword, I guess. 

Posted by Nikhil

i probably won't go to that vegan café again but the once i did, i thought it shifted the sense in the room more compellingly than do anonymous intimacies at hip soap shops, for instance. which is different from anonymous intimacies at bath houses.

it was hard to fathom how they thought trading money for this didn't screw up the metaphor, although religious organizations always have a hard time resisting the pull to define charity in terms of specific amounts in specific bank accounts. it'd be sort of nifty if they started trading affirmative refreshments for physical objects, and became a clearing house for macrobiotic burglars. "i am shifty." "i am on parole."

i can sympathize with a search for real but not feel it much. my family was upper class on both sides until my parents' generation. reality was always warped and i'm not shocked that people sought after that feeling of wealthy falseness. 

Posted by hibiscus

became a clearing house for macrobiotic burglars. "i am shifty." "i am on parole." 

Hell, I'd pay good money to order at your restaurant hibiscus. If you're going to be gimmicky, you better be entertaining.

People have been telling me about cafe gratitude for months, but since they always focus on the wackiness and not on the menu, I have no desire to go there. I want good food, first and foremost. I dont' mind massively complex word clouds, since I grew up having to distinguish between multiple bizarre usages and jargons and langauges, but I do mind ascribing value to meta-stuff--branding, content, luxury items, experiences--that isn't my value. I happily and deliberately sign on to brands like Sesame Street, Neil Gaiman, or Thorlo socks. They mean something to me, but on my terms. This kind of metavalue is neither entertaining enough to be passively accepted, nor engaging enough to be thoughtfully considered. It's empty branding, and preachy at that.

Manzanita, on the other hand, is supposed to be genuinely tasty and pretty, and I need to go there soon!  

Posted by Saheli

I will have to try Thorlo. For now, I am a Smartwool partisan. I don't know Manzanita. I want to go to Hibiscus' restaurant, too. Macrobiotisism and shifty: A friend was at a Dunkin Donuts on Mass Ave in Boston late one night when she saw a face she recognized -- a founder of the macrobiotic movement; if memory serves it was Michio Kushi. (Mr. Kushi: If it wasn't you, sorry for the confusion.) The dude was noshing on a glazed donut and she said, "what are you doing here" to which he responded a line that should be printed on the cover of every macrobiotic cookbook, "I'm pure enough, I can afford some pollution." 

Posted by hedgehog

How much of a wet blanket do you have to be to lump Cafe Gratitude in with the Bush Administration? You've clearly not spent enough time in SF, or perhaps just forgotten to stop and look around a bit. Even a hardened, cynical, east-coaster like myself has learned to appreciate the intention if not the implementation. The affirmation-style names are meant for *you,* the customer, to say ('I am bountiful and generous'). It's all part of the 'create a healthful space' approach, like the family-style seating with strangers and the hokey everybody-wins card games. They are no less a hijacking of language than the 'California Roll.'

cmon brah, quit harshin our mellows. 

Posted by aaronb

I am a very wet blanket. I should have mentioned, though, that I really liked the interior of Cafe Gratitude and I have nothing to say about their food, since they were closed when I got there, and that the workers seemed nice enough.

California roll is different, as the roll contains avocado, which nowadays often comes from Cali, even if the tree was first cultivated in Mexico. Also, I don't see "California" as having any particular spiritual content on its own, whereas saying "I am grateful" does. It's the cheapening of words like "freedom" and "grateful" that bothers me more than commercialization of "California." 

Posted by hedgehog

=v= The food at Gratitude is excellent, tasty, and I feel really good after eating it, though it is pricey. Okay, so much for the restaurant review, back to the wacky stuff.

A friend of mine went there, noticed "I am ..." written everywhere, then went looking for the bathroom. There was no sign. She suggested to the staff that they put up an "I am relieved" sign, to which they responded with blank stares. There is now a sign that says "I am the bathroom." Goo goo gajoob.

It's the sincerity that gets me. I ordered dishes with names that suggested I had everything my spam promises me I could. The servers changes the pronoun when delivering the food: "You are sexualicious" and "you are the hottest love monkey on two wheels" (I'm paraphrasing here), but do they flirt or give out phone numbers? 

Posted by Jym Dyer

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