Step into this cafe and think: “Mediterranean:” bright colors and tropical plants greet you. Ceiling fans revolve briskly. Almost-impressive paintings of flowers and women and tile-roofed cities hang on the walls.
Now listen to the music, and think, “Old.” Because it’s jazz.
In these parts, restaurants whose patrons trend older and affluent will play jazz on the sound system. It’s relaxing; it’s inoffensive. It’s hip, or it was in 1965. If you’re over 70, you remember jazz clubs and intense young people listening to multi-ethnic combos in hip clubs in North Beach, the Village, Chicago, LA.
Maybe you were one of those kids. And jazz is still hip, to you. In pop culture, though, jazz died a long time ago. Rock displaced it in the hearts of the young, and only dedicated aficionados and musicians and academics keep it going. Anymore, the best jazz station online is out of Switzerland.
And you walk to your table past all sorts of people who are there to chatter over eggs or ponder the ultimate and the New York Times with a Belgian waffle and a cup of Smooth French. All sorts, but trending old, because the olders are retired and free and can afford it. This town ain’t poor.
And the jazz plays and soothes the patrons with Old Cool while the waiters criss-cross the floor. This day our waiter is a slender young man of expressive smiles and graceful hand movements. As always, he treats Rhumba and me like fragile grandparents needing care and guidance; and as always, we are amused. He tries too hard. We like him for that.
“I saw you on the street over the weekend,” he called chattily. “I almost waved, but you were so far away and I was with my” — quarter-second pause — “friend.” He named a street.
“Yes, we were on our way to have some hot chocolate over at Maison Peut-Etre,” Rhumba said.
“Oh, my girlfriend and I were on our way to the movies. Sorry we had to be in a hurry.” And he bustled off with our orders.
I looked at Rhumba. “He doesn’t have a girlfriend, does he?”
Rhumba and I lived in San Francisco in the ’70s and ’80s. If gay-dar was a physical device, ours came from Raytheon. False negatives? On occasion. But never a false positive.
Gays have made so much progress toward equal rights; you’d think the cause was won. But is it won in every heart, even in this West Coast college town? So many of our waiter’s customers are older; and 50 years ago, before the university came here, this was John Birch territory. Those people didn’t leave. And they eat breakfast, too.
He’s a waiter. He lives and dies on tips, and so he must not offend. Not anyone. Especially in this most expensive town where, I know, he lives in a tiny, airless room whose only window opens onto an air shaft. It’s all that he can afford.
Sadly, jazz isn’t the only remnant kept alive by older folks, and some young ones as well. I’m sure that most of his customers wouldn’t care if he was completely himself, but his livelihood rides on everyone liking him.
The war has been won, but the battles go on. It’s not supposed to be that way, but it too often is. Especially when you are paid at the customer’s whim. God, I hate tipping. Just offer everyone a fair wage for a job well done. Please.
In the meantime, I’ll see if I can find a tasteful gay-friendly lapel button to wear for our waiter’s benefit. If he needs to be sure who his friends are, what can a friend do but tell him that he can afford to be himself?