No Juliet for this Romeo

Where art thou Romeo?
Where art thou Romeo? // Jennifer Cheung

It turns out Café Romeo doesn’t just peddle fancy Norwegian water bottles. They sell whole grains, too.

The better angels of your nature might be zooming in on that “Go Lean.” But that’s a Kashi trademark, and Kashi’s owned by Kellogg, and your anthropology professor wouldn’t really want you eating that. Oh no. Because breakfast is a site of power relations, she said, and Kellogg is a multinational corporation. And yeah, that’s bad. The world is flat and you’re a brat.

But alas, vegan peach coffee cake! Thanks to you, cows and birds will roam free. Not that you’ll care when all that sugar piles into your flab and you contribute to the nation’s obesity epidemic. And what would Michelle Obama say about that? I’m sure a woman biceps really knows how to wag a finger.

The paper containers here, like the ones for fries at baseball games, spell exactly the kind of American Exceptionalism your Uncle Pootie-Poot over at the Kremlin recently put out of fashion (or maybe just out of its Prozac-guzzling misery).

Turns out you really aren’t that cool.

You came to Café Romeo wanting to say, “Fuck the patriarchy!” You made a beeline for that East Rock café as if for the promise of another life: authentic, without QR requirements, one in which we all get to live off campus and cook up quinoa dinners. You thought you might find your TA there. You’d make eye contact, talk up Baudrillard, and things would evolve. But the only action you’re getting is from the paintings on the walls — artistic visions of nubile manga-women with flowers for heads. It’s kinky and heteronormative; you’re mad but couldn’t care less anymore.

It’s easy to see corporate conspiracies at Café Romeo. But it’s even easier to discern the End of Irony — the sunny day when Lena Dunham is no longer the voice of a generation, and there are no more corporate conspiracies.

Remember the last scene in Weeds, when pot’s legal and Nancy opens a coffee shop chain (of the Amsterdam variety)? The gang resettles in suburbia; there’s no swagger to be swung because all’s normalized. Things just are. Café Romeo’s kind of like that.

There are thousands of places like this in America, with their stainless steel tables and stainless steel chairs and wavy stainless steel ceiling panels. The color palette is earthy: a sprig of brown and olivine green: Oregon office-space chic. Maybe the folks at Romeo think they’re cool, but I suspect normalcy buoys them. An M&M dispenser sits like an afterthought in the back, swaggering so slightly. These cafes are sad and sweet and have no poetry. They serve soups and sandwiches; salads and (sometimes, like at Romeo) pizza, too.

If Blue State at midday is all North Korean pageantry — a hundred stern undergrads highlighting in unison — this is all happy-go-fuck-yourself, Walden Pond self-reliance. Each customer is an island; there’s peace and quiet, none of the camaraderie born of Blue State’s cramped corridors. It’s a scene for the dabblers.

What matters is that the grub’s good. The coffee was realer than Book Trader’s, less acidic than Blue State’s, more full-bodied than most. I had the Cobb Salad Wrap. The vinegar was balanced; everything worked in concert. And there was just enough avocado to remind me of my perch in the New England liberal conspiracy.

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