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Back Buzz - April 25, 1997

pumping heart Still Life In Fremont, 709 North 35th Street, Fremont

What a perfectly situated cafe this is. A half block east of Fremont Avenue, Still Life lies within spitting distance of the heart of Fremont, also known as the Artists' Republic of Fremont. Perhaps a more depictive, less phlegmy way to describe its location is that it's nestled snugly against A.R.F.'s jugular vein: in one direction you've got the Fremont rocket, the statue of Lenin, the Hale's, Redhook, and Maritime breweries, and all those pubs; in the other direction, the Fremont troll and Archie McPhee's. Like Uptown Espresso in Lower Queen Anne, the place is usually crowded. The room features tall echoing ceilings, a cool wall of northern-exposure windows, and a cozy clutter of mismatched wooden tables.

Concerning the recent double cappuccino I had here, I have to take points off for the use of a coffee mug instead of a proper cappuccino cup. With a typically dryish cappuccino the shape of a mug forces the milk foam into a tall, impenetrable tower. In order for the espresso buried underneath to reach one's mouth it must slide around the tower and out the side, resulting in a mouthful of straight espresso and a faceful of foam. In other words, there's no cohesion; a cappuccino should feature the marriage of fine espresso and perfectly-steamed milk, not the separation. Another minor pitfall was the fact that they didn't seem to offer a proper spoon, either demitasse or regular. I had the choice of a large or small soup spoon, so I opted for the small, which seemed more suited to feeding strained prunes to a baby than stirring coffee.

The espresso itself (Torrefazione, according to a year-old source) has that powdery working-class Italian taste that many espresso oldtimers prefer. I could appreciate the coffee's character -- nice and strong -- but it tended to weaken toward the end of the cup, becoming almost watery. Could this be simply from the barista oversteaming the milk? Or were the shots too weak? It's hard to say, but I'll allow for the possibility that it wasn't up to Still Life's standards. All in all it was perfectly enjoyable, though, even without cohesion and even when stirred with a babyfood spoon.

Still Life also offers a variety of sandwiches, soups, and desserts, and I happen to know they have excellent scones and bread. While you're here you should definitely check out the Garden of the Everyday Miracle, a cool hillside art installation immediately to the east of Still Life. Seen from the alley side it's a typical overgrown Seattle hillside; but growing among the plants and weeds are TV's, computer terminals, heads, and other artifacts. It reminds me of some of the wonderfully eccentric yards I've stumbled across while exploring the Berkeley Hills with my Bay Area friend.

There's one rather unsettling feature of Still Life In Fremont, however. On each table sits a sign which reads, "PLEASE do not study or conduct business meetings when it is busy so that people wanting to eat can have a seat. Thank you." Now, just what exactly does this mean? As Max pointed out, what if one plans to study or conduct a meeting for exactly how long it takes to consume their meal? Is that frowned upon? And just what do they mean by study, anyway? Aren't most of the average person's waking hours spent studying in one form or another? Is one allowed to sit in the cafe when it's busy and muse, for instance? How about scrutinizing one's pumpkin cake or contemplating one's tea? Are those activities allowed? What if it's crowded at lunchtime and a tired worker merely wants to sit and eat a sandwich while pondering her own existence? Is that any different than perusing the morning's paper or scrutinizing the crowd? Aren't these all forms of studying?

This reminds me of that ridiculous sign in Westlake Park which says "Do Not Feed the Pigeons." Now, Westlake Park is located in the heart of downtown Seattle. On a sunny day the park is usually full of office workers with their lunches, a handful of homeless people, and pigeons. So why on earth not feed the pigeons? What a ridiculous concept -- I mean, they're pigeons! They're urban scavengers. The sign makes absolutely no sense at all, and I'm glad it's regularly vandalized and defaced. It shouldn't exist in the first place.

On the subject of existence and nonexistence, here's an e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend which just happened (or didn't happen, depending on how you look at it):

Last night I was talking to my friend Adam, who says he enjoys reading my Double shot Buzz columns. But he thinks I make up the entire column, including this so-called Bay Area friend named MistahRick. When I tried to tell him you were real and the material's from actual e-mail correspondence, I don't think he believed me.

So how would you like to do me and Adam a favor and forward this on to him, perhaps with a brief statement of the fact of your existence? Thanks!

As you requested, I sent a message to Adam trying to prove that I exist. But, as you know, that is philosophically impossible. I can't even prove to myself that I exist. (I once tried to use this as a line of defense against a Jehovah's Witness at the door. If she couldn't even convince me that I existed, what was the point in her trying to convert me?)

Whether you can prove your existence or not, I'm looking forward to hearing Adam's response. Max says Adam will probably think I made up the entire e-mail, somehow faking the From address because I'm just such a damn fine hacker. What I want to know is, how can one prove that e-mail actually exists in the first place? I mean, here I am typing these words by pushing on plastic buttons which send electrical impulses to the computer which are then stored as vast arrays of on-switches and off-switches. And then somehow the computer sends more electrical impulses over some wires, and ultimately you'll stare into a cathode ray tube and see what your mind perceives as words. Even if you can prove they are indeed words, how can you prove that I actually sent them to you and it's not just an amazing coincidence that your computer happens to be spewing out impulses that end up looking just like an e-mail I might send? And then how can you personally prove that I actually exist? And what about Adam? As far as you're concerned, since you've never met him I may have totally invented the guy! So if we can't prove his existence or my existence or your existence, how can I possibly prove the existence of the bottle of beer I'm about to go pop open? By drinking it? Sounds like a great idea!

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