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Back Buzz - March 12, 1999

The Pearl Cafe, 4215 University Avenue North, University District

Although rather low-profile from the street, once you get inside the Pearl Cafe it's quite spacious and visually engaging. The walls are painted like an early 1970s Marin County coffeehouse -- for some reason the town of Fairfax comes to mind -- and several levels define the space, furnished somewhat haphazardly with mix-and-match tables and chairs. It was a Tuesday afternoon when my famous Uncle Tom and I stopped in for a drink, and somebody was playing a piano over on the side wall. There's a toy table and gaily-painted play area in the far back, and the cool textured gold ceiling tops off the eclectic decor. Since it was a few days after Christmas when U.T. and I stopped in, a big Christmas tree was still in evidence, under which a dog was happily slumbering.

But it isn't all Marin County; the chandelier and the gilded ceiling suggest shades of the Old West, too, along with a turn-of-the-century feeling combined with a bit of cool hip art which one might find at the Lux Coffee Bar. What decorative message am I getting here, anyway? I seem to detect an 1890s organic hippie-hip-cool child-friendly Deadhead traditional coffeehouse mix. Ouch, how confusing! Is it 2000 yet? Actually, it wasn't even quite 1999 yet. I suppose it was the confusion of the start of the new year, all those nines which are all squares of three, making the year have nine threes, and three times three equals nein, nein, nein!

But on to the coffee. The Pearl is yet another tasteful Seattle coffeehouse which uses Caffé Vita beans. (Uncle Tom spotted the Vita sign in the window first thing.) My double short cappuccino was served in a commune-like brown mug. The foam was overly airy, and although it was Vita I can't say they were very good shots. I drank my cappuccino at the long wooden bar which looks like it's more appropriate for sliding mugs of beer down, or dancing on, either drunkenly or risquély -- hmm, there's that Old West saloon theme again.

There is a calendar on the wall listing the Pearl's poetry readings and live jazz schedule. The patrons were mostly twenty-somethings, probably a good deal of them students from the University of Washington. There were some rather juvenile paintings on the walls of young women, seemingly school-aged. My god, I feel like I'm back in middle school again! No, grade school! No, it's -- it's --

We didn't stay any longer than necessary, since my gray-haired Uncle Tom found the noisy youthful crowd a bit daunting, and the place was quite overheated as well. And I felt myself sliding back, ever so far back, reverting dangerously close to my date of birth...

Speaking of returning to one's infancy, the following is an e-mail exchange from a year ago with my Bay Area friend about a mutual friend's life as a mother of three:

The weather was perfect yesterday for a newt hunt in Butano State Park. Soon after we passed the gate, VickyBob stopped the minivan and got out to save a newt in the middle of the road from being run over -- either by us or by the massive dump truck right behind us. The rain let up, but everything was thoroughly wet, and the forest was very dark in some places, giving the feeling of a primeval scene. On the trail things were a bit more frustrating; we passed five or six inert banana slugs before the babysitter's 7-year-old daughter noticed a newt by the side of the trail, which we picked up and passed from hand to hand.

From there we drove to the beach, where the storm-tossed ocean was crashing against the rocks. Vickybob's oldest daughter Rachel plodded along with the rest of the herd, happily splashing through puddles, and when we reached the coast she was really excited by the sight of the waves. But I don't know how VickyBob handles this life as a parent of three small children. Her husband works late every night at a startup that is behind schedule. I stayed for dinner and observed that VickyBob spends most of the time cutting food up into tiny morsels that the baby can gum and that Rachel will pick at, and trying to cajole Greg into eating the food on his plate. Between all the rounds of the struggle of getting three small children to eat, she had the chance to eat a few bites herself and say a few words.

Isn't that what early parenthood is all about: cutting food into small pieces and trying to get your preoccupied kid(s) to eat? The most frustrating thing I find with my friends who are parents of small children is that it's impossible to carry on even the simplest conversation with them. Whether they're with you in person or talking to you on the phone, the conversation always ends up something like this:

"So what did you do for New Year's?"

"Well, actually we weren't planning to do anything, but -- Dylan, don't put that in your ear! -- but -- I mean it! Take that thing out of your ear! And don't -- anyway, we got this phone call right at -- I MEAN IT! -- right at quarter to twelve, and it turned out to be -- Madonna, put Scruffie down! Put him down, sweetie! No, I don't want you holding him by the neck. He doesn't like that -- so it turns out it was -- Dylan, can you watch your sister and make sure she doesn't eat Scruffie's -- whew! Sorry. Anyway, it turned out that we'd won three million -- Dylan! What's Madonna eating? She's not eating Scruffie's poop, is she? Okay, that's all right. -- Anyway, what was I saying? -- what does she have, Dylan? Well, can you take that away from her? She shouldn't be eating that -- anyway, um, what was the question again? -- DYLAN! Don't put that in your ear! It's been in the dog's -- I'm sorry, I've got to go take care of this. Can you hang on just a minute?"

Perhaps the practice of early parenthood is simply another path to enlightenment. Spending one's days speaking in incomplete phrases, going through repetitive motions like dicing food into thousands of little cubes, sliding little tiny socks and shoes onto little tiny feet as they immediately get kicked and squirmed off, over and over and over again all day's a little like Zen Buddhism, isn't it?

Your Animated Friends page needs an animation of Vickybob's baby Elana spitting up on my shoulder. She does it so reliably after each meal that we could probably videotape it. It has something to do with weak stomach valves, which VickyBob says runs in her family.

Could it be the sphincter valve? No, I guess that's on the other end. They should take Elana to a good mechanic and see if he or she can adjust that thing. The parents could probably even do it themselves if they have the right tools. But they should check the warranty carefully.

You'd think a brand new baby's valves wouldn't need any adjustments for at least the first few years, though. Maybe she got a faulty one. Have there been any recalls recently for stomach valves on babies?