Sunday, September 21, 2008
Tattoo? Or Tatnot?
Imagine this scene...You walk into your favorite coffee shop, walk up to the counter to order your skinny latte or black C.O.D. The barrista turns around. You gasp. It's Johnny Depp -- perhaps he's dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow; this is your fantasy, too, make him look however you want. There's only a few rules to this scenario: For one, his tattoos are visible. You know, the ones on his right arm. And what the heck, let's give him a earring or two. Good morning!" he says and smiles, flashing his white teeth. "How can I be of service." You bite your lip to keep from saying something inappropriate. The muscles beneath his tawney biceps flex as he places his hands on the counter. The overhead light makes his dark hair gleam. Getting a grip on yourself, you place your order, tell him how much you love his work. He thanks you and says he's had enough of the big screen. He's a full-time employee at this coffee shop now. Your cup is filled in record time. You sample a sip and note it might be the best coffee you've ever tasted. Johnny thanks you for your business and bids you farewell as you head for the door. "Come back again," he says. "
My question: will you? Will you return? Think long and hard before you answer...be honest. Because chances are good that if you live where I do and you're a middle aged person, man or woman, you won't. Well, okay, if the barrista was Johnny Depp, you probably would, but if the barrista was Joe Blow and had those tattoos and earrings, you would not. That's what I learned at my "Do Something New" challenge this week. Read on.
On Thursday night, I participated in a focus group for a marketing firm that had been hired by a coffee shop. They needed people between the ages of 35 and 55 to answer questions, and I fit into that age range so I didn't hesitate to say "yes" when I was asked. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I write AT LEAST two mornings a week in one, and I often stop in at another after exercising with my mom at Curves a couple of times a week. Sometimes I even eat lunch at one particular coffee shop in town called Roosters. They serve homemade food after noon and I just love their quiche, not to mention their pie. Yum. Besides all that, I just thought it might be fun to participate, and interesting. I was right. And I met some really nice people. But I came away from the evening with something I did not expect -- something confirmed that I'd always suspected. In a lot of respects, I see the world differently than most folks--at least most folks around this part of the country. The other twelve or so people were all in agreement that they don't like their coffee served by someone with tattoos or piercings.
I said it didn't matter to me, as long as the person was clean, friendly, and did a good job. And this was weird--I have a completely different idea of what a "cafe" is than they did. When I think of a cafe, I picture one of two places: either a small bistro-like place, intimate, that typically specializes in one type of food--say Italian, for instance, and very personal service--such as the owner or manager walking around the tables, asking how everything is. Or the small-town Texas/Southern sort of cafe I grew up with. The kind with vinyl booths alongside the windows, and a counter across the aisle that overlooks the grill. Patrons at the counter sit on swiveling round stools and eye the pies in the glass-topped case at the far end. My fellow focus group members' idea of what constitutes a cafe was more like what I call a deli. Order at the front. No wait staff. Sandwiches and burgers.
Anyhoo...that was the "new" thing I did last week. I'd love to participate in more focus groups. For anyone, and a writer especially, it's a great way to get a glimpse into peoples' minds.
Speaking of tattoos, someone had a blog post a while back (can't recall the writer) about what writers are willing to do in the name of book research. It called to mind my strangest research experience. I was writing MY PERFECTLY IMPERFECT LIFE, and one of the characters is a drag queen. Whenever I was writing scenes that took place in the drag bar, I'd get stuck because I had never been to such a place. I knew my niece (in her mid-twenties)had a close male friend who is gay, so I asked Nicole if she'd find out if such a place existed in our small city. Turns out we have more than one. And Nicole had been with her friend before, so she offered to take me. My sister (her mom) went along. We arrived just before the floor show. It was "Trailer Park Beauty Pageant Night." I'll sum the night up like this: Fun, hilarious, bizarre, surreal. I learned several things: (1) Drag queens are friendly to others who stick out like 3 white crayon in a box filled with chartreuse ones. (Yes, my sister, my neice and I were the oddballs that night in our boring jeans and tucked-in t-shirts.) (2)Girls really do just wanna have fun, even when they aren't really girls. (3)Some men look drop-dead gorgeous in spiked heels, short tight skirts, and low-cut skin-hugging tops. (4) Some men don't. (5)If you're going to wear a bustier, you should wax your chest hair. (6) If you plan to wear silk stockings, shave your legs first. Please.
WHAT I'M READING: I'm about to re-read ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN' by Rick Bragg, the Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist. Amarillo College is bringing him into Amarillo to speak at the Globe News Center the evening of October 7. It's free to the public. If you live around these parts, you should go! It's a fantastic book and I've heard Mr. Bragg is a fantastic speaker.
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