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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution

The Essay
Show #434
Mendocino Cappuccino
David Gunn

Precisely at six-thirty a.m., Wotan Ganglio and Senarius emerge from their small basement apartment pulling the portable Turkic Koffee Kart kiosk. After years of practice, they quickly maneuver it up the six cement steps to street level. Wotan does most of the lifting, while Senarius--who, after all, is only a macaque--helps maintain the cart's balance. From there, it is a twenty-minute walk to the corner of D Street and Magnolia, Northwest, in Washington DC, where they habitually set up. Wotan, who started the business, has been doing this six days a week since 1999. Senarius joined him two years later. Wearing a vivid seersucker dashiki and red velvet lederhosen, respectively, Wotan and Senarius impart a colorful visual image. And when I said that Senarius was "only" a macaque, I meant that he merely lacks the physical ability to lift heavy pushcarts. However, he was no less than a marketing mastermind when it came to the business. Indeed, it was Senarius' idea to settle on the corner of D and Magnolia because it fronted the Basingstoke Bassoonworks, the city's most renowned double reed emporium. He had discovered a fundamental cause and effect relationship between those woodwinds and coffee - the more intense the caffeine rush, the better the bassoonery. And the Turkic Koffee Kart enjoyed a reputation as having "the city's juiciest jolt." Besides offering the customary coffee palette of freshly brewed espressos, cappuccinos, lattes and dark roasts, the business featured Senarius' own "Special Arrangement Hellfire" coffee, a concoction that, according to his own handwritten sign, "will stick like blades of caffeine to intestinal walls--very effective and palpitative!"

This morning, four double reedsters, all members of the Banderilla Bassoon Band, sit crosswise from one another in Practice Room X located in the very bowels of the Basingstoke Bassoonworks. The large pendulum chronometer on the wall is just a few ticks away from chiming seven o'clock. Its barometer suggests that stormy weather is in the offing. Perhaps so, because the four have been rehearsing a particularly convoluted passage in a new composition for over an hour, and their nerves are as frayed as Larry Flint's pajamas. No matter the practice room is nearly soundproof and the last round of hemidemisemiquavers is still reverberating fractiously off of the walls, each player distinctly hears the Bb to C# to Bb squeak of the Turkic Koffee Kart's wheels as Wotan positions it next to the No Parking sign in front of their building. Simultaneously, each drops his instrument onto the padded floor, rushes out the door and up the unlit spiral stairway. Each hesitates at the top where a maze of corridors extends into a nearly impenetrable gloom. There are unlit lights in the ceiling, but no wall switches to activate them, a structural dysfunction that forever troubled the denizens of the lower levels of the Bassoonworks. A sudden whiff of freshly prepared coffee--Sumatran Marshmallow Latte? No, surely Ethiopian Espresso con Pesto!--wafts from the northeasternmost corridor, and they all charge that way.

The farther they proceed down the corridor, the more Stygian it becomes. Anxiety replaces their coffee quest when, after five minutes, the four still have not encountered an intersecting passageway. Abruptly, the corridor ends at an imposing portal. Gnarled bassoon-nosed gargoyles glare down at them from the lintel. Though evidently made of brick, the door clearly smells of rayon that has been too long in contact with a cationic dryer sheet. The door is heavy and obstinate, and begrudgingly uncloses only after the bassoonsters push hard on it. The door opens into a dimly lighted room approximately twenty feet square. A dozen tables form two long rows on which lie a hundred miniature instrument cases, their lids ajar. And reposing on the linen linings in each is a baby bassoon. As it's still early morning, the gangly little woodwinds are still quiescent, and their gentle breathing fills the room with a kind of peaceful squawkage. However, the invigorating aroma of ... Mocha Coconut Macchiato?, Caramel Mendocino Cappuccino?--has pursued the Banderilla Bassoon Bandsmen into the nursery. As the caffeined tang reaches their own snoots, they look at one another in horror, knowing well that all audible hell will break lose as soon as these little ones wake up and smell the coffee.

Senarius was serving a Section 8 lobbyist a Double Instant Sulawesi Frappuccino when the first double-reeded caterwaul erupted from the building. The tumult broke all of the windows on the Bassoonworks' ground floor and leveled a Twingo parked--illegally--on the street in front. Wotan, who had experienced a similar hullabaloo once before, quickly untethered the kiosk and wheeled it across the street, moments before Magnolia Street buckled and collapsed under a second burst of bassoonic bawling. Except for an exploded bag of Gold Coast Blend and the loss of their corner for the day, Wotan and Senarius suffered no other losses.

Inside the building, however, the double reed situation was dire, indeed--too calamitous, in fact, to weigh down an otherwise uplifting episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, which would be number 434 in a series, and who more serious to begin the elevation of today's quasi-musical journey can there be than Kalvos?