Snowsuit Closure?

My first thought was whether she was coming in on purpose or by accident.

Luckily it was just two of us in the cafe when Snowsuit Lady came in to ask for some bus fare. She prefaced it with a long story about rugs and court dates and having to get somewhere. From her expression I couldn’t tell whether she was sincere or not. Couldn’t tell if maybe she was here to retaliate, believed me to be the author of her misfortunes. She did tell me her real name and address. So I told her my name. When she wound down I asked her if she remembered me, if she remembered that her and her guy had tried to punch me in the face, to kick me in the ass.

“Was that you?” She apologized. I said that I would like to help her, that I didn’t really know how but I could help her to find organizations who did know how to help. She said she knew the organizations already. Said she was cleaned up now. Back at Church. “They put me in jail you know,” she seemed genuinely sobered by that.

I gave her the bus fare and told her that it was coming out of Sarah’s Sign Fund, that we were saving money for a sign. She apologized. I saw the hug coming but not the kiss. Wet.

Since I am an after-shock kind of person, my limbs are still shaking as I write.

Is it possible? Is it possible that just by standing your ground, telling people the truth, being sincere, that we can effect change? That life offers interesting opportunities that allow us, or others, to turn corners? I have had my doubts lately.

Has Snowsuit Lady renewed my faith?


Home Sweet Home

Last week The Hair told me that she’d seen me on the street;

“I was driving by with my mom and I said, ‘look mom, there’s Rebecca!’ and she said ‘who’s Rebecca?’ and I said ‘she’s the owner of the Heart of the Hammer!'”

Tee-hee. I was featured in a celebrity sighting. While I think of it as my cafe I hadn’t actually considered it in terms of ownership. At this point I own a twenty-three thousand dollar debt and a sixteen hour work day – the lament of many a small business owner, it turns out.

This morning I waved at Jake as I got into the car. “Hey,” called one of the fellows he was talking to, “you’re the owner of the Heart of the Hammer!” And I realized; I’m not a celebrity, I’m a person in your neighbourhood. In our neighbourhood.

Am I home? Finally?

Good morning neighbourhood!

Dog People

I am slowly coming to terms with the idea that people who don’t play nice with others don’t have to be put up with. That inclusive doesn’t include bad behaviour. In fact, not putting up with people who are rude or selfish or intolerant or just plain cranky is probably the best signal around to help them to change their behaviour.

In my experience these people are the first to scream foul when really, the thing that no one wants to say is “Man, it’s just because you’re a beeyotch!”

I don’t want to say it. Nobody wants to say it. And yet, if each of us did they might just get the message and adjust their behaviour accordingly. But still, sayin’ it makes me feel like a beeyotch.

Unlike some things, behaviour is a choice. As I struggle to find the ground rules for inclusivity, the little notes to self that will help me to differentiate between public meeting and private dinner party, between hard of hearing and doesn’t listen, I wonder how on earth other people do it? How do we negotiate the relationships we do want much less the ones we don’t?

One of the most useful relationship-building books I have read lately is called “Positive Dog Training for Dummies”. I kid you not. It’s at the library and it’s all about building a relationship with your dog. But it works really well with people too.

And it says to ignore the bad behaviour. It says that the thing that dogs (and people) want most is attention, so if you ignore the bad behaviour it will stop.

Because I have a dog, people assume that I’m a dog person. But I’m not really. I don’t like all dogs, I just like nice dogs.

And I like nice people too.

But for those occasions when ignoring the dark cloud of nastiness isn’t working, I’m going to get a t-shirt that says “Because you’re a Beeyotch!”

The Incredible Normalness of Giving

“Uh-oh,” says Mike from behind the counter. I am backstage thinking that I can’t really deal with any uh-ohs.

“Is that a bad uh-oh?” asks Emanuel, coming up to the counter as he waits for crepes.

“There’s a crack in the french press,” says Mike.

Our coffee is made in the french press because we think it makes a better cup of coffee. We have two of them and it takes 4 min per pot so coffee is actually laborious compared to most everything else we make. And now we only have one pot. I had been thinking that what we need are some two-liter french presses so that we can make a whole thermos at once and not two cups at at a time, but the small capital purchases have to wait till after the liquor license. Till after the liquor license makes money, that is.

So I’m standing at the back of the cafe as this happens, and haven’t quite processed whether or not bawling my eyes out will fix this particular problem, and I don’t much feel like crying cause it’s crepes day and the neighbours are all out, when Emanuel says, “Don’t we have a bodum sitting around at home? We’ll bring it over.” And voila! Problem solved.

Things keep happening, and I keep thinking that somehow it will all work out, and somehow it does. And it’s becoming normal, the incredible givingness of this neighbourhood and how people just keep pitching in.

“You need cushions for these stools,” says June, “I’ll make you some.”

“I’ll donate some pies to raise money for the liquor license,” says Cindy, and a bake-sale fundraiser is born.

On and on. And it’s these little investments that make the cafe theirs, that make it not exactly a business. And I worry that I will someday take it for granted, all this giving and helping.

And then I think, wouldn’t that be incredible if we could take giving and helping for granted? What would that say about our world?

Can you come out to play?

I imagine there are lots of people like me who learn things the heard way and whine out loud all over the place when things get hard, who start things like cafes and then holler up and down the street for help when they’re out of ideas, resources, energy, batteries…

And then there are people like Sarah. Well, maybe there aren’t, but there’s at least one person like Sarah.

When I met Sarah, I thought, “Hey, I want to be friends with her,” but you know, that’s not easy when you’re all grown up. I mean, how do we say “Can you come out and play?”

I was glad that she came over for wine and cheese on the porch in the freezing cold weather last fall. You know that’s not about the wine. Or the cheese. I was double glad one day at the Hub when her husband said, “Sarah might be interested in working with you at the cafe.” And so she was.

Sarah has this amazing way of working autonomously while somehow also checking in on my obsessions; “Is this how we spread our cream cheese here?” she asks and I wonder what makes her think I am THAT particular, as I glance over her way. “Well, no,” I say, “how ’bout like this,” realizing that maybe I am that particular. And apparently that’s OK with Sarah.

Sarah also takes responsibility for things like the monthly artists, the musicians and the high-up things. “Do you need a tall friend right about now?” she asks as I drag a stool around the cafe, never having felt so short in my life. She writes cheerful messages on the sandwich board and she engages with people in a way that I think is important. Anybody can learn how to make a cappuccino, but the right attitude is hard to teach. Or learn.

After about a month in business as I was struggling to pay for things, like Sarah, she approached me after her shift, after everyone had left. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said, and my lungs seized – Oh my God! Sarah’s leaving – I thought.

“I think we should lower my pay until things pick up,” she said. “Ok,” I replied, a little too stunned for much else.

Then, as I muddled through a month without Sarah while she had to deal with real troubles – life and death troubles – I began to feel like a widow, who first stops cooking meals, then stops shopping, then stops cleaning up, then stops having people over… “Oh, I don’t need to put all that away, it’s just me coming back in the morning” I would tell myself.

When Sarah came back, we started a money conversation, one that isn’t exactly finished yet. About how to pay her. There’s rent, there’s food and there’s her pay, except that there isn’t enough for all three. So I probed around the edges to see at what point she might cut back her hours to like, zero. And I self-consciously advertised that my bling shoes and fru-fru purse were not new; that I am not spending money, that it’s all going into the cafe.

When someone is so understated and they say ‘ouch’, you know that they really mean it. So when Sarah said, “I really think it’s important to get the sign up as soon as possible,” I knew she really meant it, but how? The only thing I could think of was to ask the sign guy to do it for an I*OWE*U. But Sarah-who-isn’t-exactly-getting-paid-yet had another plan. She is putting her tips towards a sign for the cafe. And she’s having a contest for the logo.

I tried to explain to Sarah why it’s so important to have her here; it’s not just about help; it’s not about help who puts up with not getting paid, or reaches tall things or programs the music or donates the fridge or any of those other great things, but because I value her opinion, her input, her values, and if she believes in the cafe, then I believe in the cafe.

“People don’t really need coffee,” she answered. What?! I thought, uncomprehending, alarmed at the dangerous territory we were now getting into. “People don’t really need the world’s best hot chocolate or great bagels,” she said. My heart was racing by this point, what could it mean?

“People need people, and I believe in the cafe as a place for them to meet, I believe in the community. I’m doing this for the community,” she said.

So guess what? “Working at the cafe” IS the grown up version of “Can you come out to play”.

It Takes a Community…

So I went to CSI on Sunday night to empty my office. I had been loosely hoping some magical solution to getting my things from there to here would appear, like a truck and big guys with muscles. And it did in a way, but it was Margaret and her daughter with a Van. Margaret proved herself most resourceful while I gestured in an empty helpless way about the fact that I couldn’t find the dolly. She is now Margaret the Marvelous.

There was a lot less to pack than I had imagined. As I transferred files from my beautiful four-drawer cube, circa 1920? I was panic stricken – “Oh nooooooo! These are the same damn files I have been carting around in boxes for 15 years! I am homeless again!!!” And for a minute, I couldn’t continue. I had brief flashes about squatters rights and “But you’re my family!! Surely I can just leave my stuff here in your attic till I’m all grown up!”

I told myself this was just my transient psyche, the result of too, too, too many moves. At the end of high school I realized that I had been to more schools than grades. I thought University would even the score but no such luck. When Mike (aka The Best) and I bought the Pink Palace in Montreal I told him, “This is my second-last move. Next time is into a custom-built house and we wont be taking the furniture.” So much for that. And my score is still many more addresses than years old.

But usually, you’re moving onward and upward. And as I sat having my own little Pity Party for One on a Sunday night while the rest of Canada watched as we went into overtime to become the most gold-winning nation on earth, I realized that I had moved out of CSI months ago.

I had come to CSI homeless, jobless and somewhat disillusioned about the state of our non-profit sector. Still believing in Saints and Heroes and Happily Ever Afters I wound up at CSI, aka Hero Central aka The League of Canadian Justice. Here I encountered values with which I resonated, examples aplenty that I can only hope to hold a candle to and opportunities galore; opportunities to learn, to fail, to invent and opportunities to practice being myself in a place that valued my me-ness. Now I have come away with vision and direction and energy and ideas and a network of Super Heroes to call upon when I have ideas for them. I have incubated.

It takes a community to raise a person and it takes a person to start a community. Thank you Tonya. Thank you CSI. I have cracked my shell and moved on to shrubbery and marble columns. Come see for yourself!

This is it! Heart of the Hammer is the red door on the left. What isn't in the photo is the little hand-made artisanal sign over the door. You'll see it when you get up real close. Best kept secret in town!