Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part II

Anyway, as I began to take my leave once and for all, Sunshine Dixon, of the Urban League of Portland, entered. I have never been so glad to see Sunshine. Believing she would have a contact number for Mark Kirchmeier, I felt my current dilemma of relaying a message to Mark, solved. I informed Sunshine that I was leaving, telling her “I cannot conduct a story time here.” (For background, Sunshine initiated contact between Mark of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café and me. She had explained that his “global” coffee shop was also an art gallery and he was looking for a diverse mix of artists to adorn the walls and provide entertainment on his premises. I had contacted him on her recommendation. We met and he subsequently expressed an interest in carrying my product, and invited me to conduct a (and possibly several) story time.)

I explained everything to Sunshine and asked her for Mark’s number. Sunshine confidently said, “I’ll take care of this.” She too was met with unbridled hostility. The multi-pierced, angry, white, woman continued to bleat at me telling me to get out and threatening me with the police. Sunshine attempted to both locate Mark Kirchmeier and reason respectfully with the irascible multi-pierced, white, woman. Eventually she tamed enough to ask derisively of Sunshine, “Why are we still dealing with her? (pointing to me) Are you her sister?

Standing talking with Sunshine, suddenly I heard “miss.” I turned to find the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, standing by me, face and body turned away from me, holding the phone contemptuously out toward me. 

I stepped so that I could look into his face and he would have to look into mine. I did not reach for the phone. Refusing to look at me, he, the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, contorted his neck and body, and jabbed the phone at me, saying disdainfully, “It’s for you. It’s Mark the owner.” I was not about to take the phone until he acknowledged me and so I continued to look at him in utter amazement, willing him to recognize my humanity. Alas, ‘twas not to be. The tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee ceremoniously dropped the telephone to the floor at my feet and ambled away.

Stunned I could not believe this was happening. I looked around the room, scanning the faces of the patrons who all, to a person, sat passively by, their reticence smirking at me.

Awakened from my stupor by my son’s movement and fearing he might pick up the phone, I readied myself to knock it out of his hands. A law-abiding, conscious, member of society, I am proud to say that my son kicked that phone away from me. 

Well, this gesture of self-respect and pride sent multi-pierced, angry, white, woman into a tailspin. She began bellowing that we were now damaging property and she was definitely calling the police.

Interestingly, or should I say, revealingly, it is now that the adult patrons of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café were compelled to action – almost baying for the blood of my 13 year old who had simply, unlike any one of them, courageously stood up for something, for his mother, for himself, his brother, for people of color, for humanity.

Sunshine was now on the telephone with Mark Kirchmeier, the owner of Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. He apparently was begging me to stay and wait for him because he was “only ten minutes away.” I finally had had enough. I gathered my children and began to leave again. Still breathing fire, multi-pierced, angry, white, woman, customer, followed behind me ranting, “Yeah! Get out.” “Who do you think you are? There’s only one British Queen.”

Finally outside of that toxic environment and inhaling the unexpectedly magnificent fresh air of highly- trafficked, North Interstate, I remembered a friend of mine was coming to the story time with her children and I rushed to call her to dissuade her from coming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, she was literally around the corner and pulled in simultaneously. Sensing something wrong, she quickly parked and rushed out of the car. I began to recount what had happened and I broke down sobbing. (Still, two weeks later, my spirit sobs when it hits me what my sons and I experienced, and I feel, like thumps on my person, the arrogant superiority of the perpetrators whom, somewhere in their being, believed such bigoted treatment justified, because we were in their eyes, different; in the words of the tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee, “…not from here” and therefore not entitled, as other paler people, to humane treatment.

I laugh, sorrowfully, when I think about how the stories I was going to read were about inclusiveness and the fact that, though we might be different on the exterior, we were all ultimately, inherently the same – human. I was going to sing my song “What Color Are you? You’re The Color Of Love!”

While my friend was consoling me, an anxious Mark Kirchmeier came scurrying down the street. He nervously asked me what happened. I told him, sharing how his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee had used the eponymous “You people” to refer to me. I too told him how that same employee had screeched at me, “I don’t know where you’re from but you’re in my country now.” I spared him no detail.

He ran inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, coming back outside to state, “Well, we have a classic case of he said, she said.” At no time did he, the person who had invited me to conduct the story time, invite me inside so that we could discuss things all together and “sort things out.” He did, however, proceed to tell me that his employee’s social skills were “rough around the edges.” I asked “And you have him working in a coffee shop?” He also informed me that the multi-pierced, angry, white, female, customer, was his tall, bespectacled, white, male, employee’s girlfriend.

He then tried to assuage my feelings and wipe the slate clean, by offering me the chance to do story time on another day, “any other time I wanted” were his words. Shocked that he would ask, I told him that no I would never. When my friend who found the whole thing quite ironic knowing me, my books and my message, asked him if he had any sense of what it is I do. Why I do what I do. Why I write and illustrate the books I write; why I sing the songs I sing? Seeming confused, his response to her was “Well, we would still like to carry her children’s books and products.” 

Incredulous at Mark’s attempts to appease me and negate my experience, I communicated to him emphatically, that his employee’s actions were racist. Mark recoiled, horrified that I had dared to not only identify the elephant in the room, but also the piles of doo-doo on the floor. Then, shamefacedly, asked me, all the while looking down at the floor “So, you don’t think it was just that he was rude, you think it crossed the line into racism? You don’t think you’re being…” Mark didn’t complete that question, though I, staring at the edge of his spectacles (for he still would not look me in the eye,) willed him to do it.

Next thing, wouldn’t you know, a police car pulled up, parked, and the policeman entered Krakow Koffeehouse & Café. Mark took off back to his business. A minute or so later another police car pulled up. This time a policeman replete in bulletproof vest and ammo belt sprinted across the street into the coffee shop.

Susanne and I continued talking on the sidewalk for a little while longer. Neither Mark, policeman number one, or number two, nor anyone else from inside Krakow Koffeehouse & Café, approached me for any, or, additional information.

 Continued/Storytime, Krakow Koffeehouse & Cafe, Portland, Oregon, January 30, 2009, Part III 

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