Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Teams That Meet in Caffs

Recent distracting local scuttlebutt -- referencing the comic computer casino capers of an immodest, slovenly, malaprop-wielding, aliterate bumpkin who is generally hailed by some voters of Fall River as their heroic representative -- has put me in mind of my own short-lived dependence on "internet cafés" in the past. Actual Internet Cafés, like the ones that real businesspeople use to check their e-mail, communicate with clients and remain au courant with office hijinks; not dingy storefronts filled with unashamed seniors indulging their tawdry gaming proclivities. I patronized the former and repudiate the latter. As does the state Attorney General. For fifteen or so years, I have done my home computing at my home exclusively. Except for various smartphones in various settings. But this was not always my way. At a time low in the mid-Nineteen-Nineties, I delighted in hours at the helm of somebody else's Dad's weekend carousing barge, particularly if the old man wouldn't sail it himself all the way to the holiday nest at Cape Pickatrailer. (This was the below-the-radar work that offered itself whenever I swaggered my braggadocio-laden accounts of TallShips™ adventures: "Boat Delivery.") See how they put the Irish to work? I grabbed my Army-Navy surplus store Swiss gas mask bag (which held my Sony DiscMan and not much else), heaved myself and the Port-A-Potty 37's bowline onto the dock, and made my way into town, hoping that the walk would ameliorate my three-day sealegs and I would not disconcert others by appearing the proverbial drunken sailor. On the other hand, although it was mid-morning, my shipmates hoved themselves to the nearest bar in order to become just that. Let's call them, ''Frank'' and ''Ann.''They were a nice married couple who spoke their own language. Not an utterly foreign language -- he was from White Plains and she was from Newport -- but another language which consisted of a few common English words which seemed to represent significant terms, but not the ones that we're used to. Cooing and giggling furnished the rest of their vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation.

HE: Teehee gold seams (pause) Norfolk.
SHE: Yep. And Wednesday. Mmmmmm. Ha ha.

Experienced individually, either was a pleasant and sometimes downright clever conversationalist. Together, even my penchant for linguistic vagaries was stretched. I welcomed chatting with them each singularly; I enjoyed their tales of Caribbean ports and deliveries, and I often considered joining their much- and only just-contemplated boat charter company. All that I required was a 100-ton Near Coastal Master's ticket. (And that hadn't been secured during any of the years that I had been sailing, so, well, er...) But dinner theater and office job and steadier friendships on sturdier decks would happen and those waters would just have to wait. And wait. I remember her looking like Romy Schneider. And smelling like The Ripple Girl.Years before, as over-extended costumed interpreter and crew on a just-as-harebrained wooden ship, I had become unduly -- but discreetly, which is to say, unrequitedly -- enamored of a pierced-tongued Phish Phan who insisted that I procure something called a "HotMail account" so that we could "stay in touch." I failed to see the necessity of using a computer mail gadget for this, since she waited tables near the masts that I labored under and I could stalk ogle SEE her every day. I offered that justification to her, but on the quiet recalled that these internetwork on-line cyber things were rife with rumors of potential for abuse. Plus: "HotMail." Doesn't that sound kind of sordid? As longtime readers of this Journal know, I was living in the Eighteenth Century at the time. As that stupid TallShip™ prepared to cast off docklines and embark on yet another pointless meander up the coast, that enthralling hippie handed me a slip of paper that reeked of patchouli; it displayed her name with random numbers addended plus that @hotmail suffix. That was two years before I found myself wandering, through this particular North Carolina seaport college town, seeking caffeine and a newspaper, I spied a quaint storefront clean but festooned with the usual sort of college town concert, roommate, poetryreading fliers and ... something else. This coffee shop had computers. Four of them. That one could use to access the Internetwork. This was one of those things -- an Internet Café. A thirtysomething in a light linen suit sat clacking away at the keyboard, looking up every so often at the screen of the boxy television before him. A college kid was navigating AOL. And soon, I was sitting between them, searching for a slip of paper that I had hidden in the cover of a Liz Phair CD, fumbling my way through an awful e-mail to that enthralling hippie chick whose address was on that slip of paper, and revealed that I would be pulling into Cape Pickatrailer and since that's, um, well, I was just, you know, letting her know, because, well, you know, I might, um, you know, and uh...

That was the only "gambling" that I ever engaged in at any Internet café.

Some might remember cafés like this. Except, without the Internet. And the Jan Sterling.

(This presentation includes photographs of Maureen O'Sullivan, Annette Funicello with some guy, Romy Schneider, and Jan Sterling.)

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