Published in the Tacoma News Tribune
August 20, 2012

BEYOND APPEARANCES AT THE MANDOLIN CAFE

The Mandolin Café was a quirky little place on 12th Street South, where coffee, wine and music were the order of the day. It was a little rustic, with worn hardwood floor and walls covered from floor to ceiling with local art.

The first time I walked through the door, I had a rather vivid flashback of Haight-Ashbury with some SoHo, New York, thrown in for artistic flair. It seemed an appropriate place to meet Kory.

Kory was a web designer our son had recommended when I found myself staring blankly at the world of URLs, hosting packages and web design. I had officially passed into the world of computer unfamiliarity.

Twelve-year-olds probably understand websites, but I don’t. I have no idea how pictures and words travel though space and plunk themselves onto your computer screen. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know how a wired-to-the-wall telephone works, let alone one the size of a matchbook that is carried in your pocket and snatches bits of conversation out of the air, messages that just happen to be for you.

And yet, there I was at the cafe, waiting to meet a web designer I had only talked to via email. Looking around the inside of the cafe at the odd mix of people, I began wondering how many earrings and tattoos this character would have. Knowing my son’s eclectic taste in friends, he could be a clean-cut geek with Harry Potter glasses and high-water pants or he could ride in on a Harley with dreadlocks and flame tattoos on his face. I was braced for anything.

And then, there he was – standing in front of me. We smiled, shook hands, and he sat down.

“So, I understand that you need to build a website.”

“Umm. Yes,” I stammered, “I’m publishing a book and need to build a website as the basis for a marketing campaign.”
I was saying words to him that sounded normal, but all the while I was thinking, “OK, I don’t see any studs in his nose or tongue – no visible zombie tattoos; he looks clean, dressed in jeans and a sweater. Hmmm, nice eyes!” I began to relax a bit.

I took a swallow of my now-lukewarm coffee and showed him the examples I had brought with me. We talked about themes and looked at various websites and, after about an hour, it finally dawned on me – it wasn’t a website about my book that I was looking for; it was a website about me.

That’s when he asked me the most important question, “How do you define yourself?”

I could feel his eyes on me while images rapidly ran through my head. The question reminded me of my father telling me, at age 16, I could be anything I wanted to be.

Building a personal website is a lot like life. You can be anything you want to be. As I looked around the cafe, I wondered how any of us define our real selves to the outside world.

I looked closer at the young lady in the flowing “hippie” dress with the tattoos and nose studs, head bent in concentration over a law book. The bald guy sporting swastikas on his worn “motorcycle leathers,” sitting behind me, was clearly programming something musical and rich on his laptop. The snippets of conversation I heard were scholastic and intelligent. I realized things aren’t always what they seem.
Kory left the cafe shortly thereafter, with a promise to email his ideas. I couldn’t help smiling, watching him juggle his laptop under his arm as he got on his bicycle and rode down the street.

I sat there at the worn wooden table, wondering whether I was so much different than those sitting around me. I looked more closely at the interesting and curious cross-section of life held within those walls. What a jewel Tacoma had in this little cafe.

My website is almost active, but still needs tweaking – much like life itself. I never made it back to the Mandolin Café. It sadly was sold and closed a month later. But it makes me wonder where that unique, artistic crowd now congregates. I’d like to visit.

Glenda Cooper has recently published her
first novel, The Road to Lost and Found.
She lives in Tacoma  with her  husband Jim
and their Old English sheepdog Reilly.

Tacoma Web Designers at Intra-Designs