“THE BLAIR WITCH TOILET”: A REVIEW OF CHOICE HOUSTON COFFEE SHOPS

September 29, 2012:

Today’s goal was to experience different Houston coffeehouses, and judge them for their atmosphere, service, quality brew, and clientele (yes, I set out to judge other coffee drinkers and laptop trolls).  As a guide, I referred to a blog entry from the Houston Press, our popular, offbeat rag.  At first, I started close to home, at Bohemio’s on Telephone Road, near the U of H campus.  I never made it inside, however.  Something about that place told me not to waste my time.  Maybe it was the neighborhood, which seemed awfully cracky, or maybe it was the deserted atmosphere of the parking lot.  It looked like a more suitable location for a carniceria than a local espresso bar.  So I set my sights on the Heights, and made my way to Antidote on Studewood near Euclid Ave.

Antidote has the unassuming facade of a launderette.  One suspects it used to be one, with its big, front windows in aluminum frames.  Being used to grand, hollowed-out Victorians with stately gables and dark wood interiors, I felt somewhat bleak as I pulled in to this hangout, like I was in Seattle.  Inside is neatly divided between a service counter on one side of the dividing wall, and a modest seating area on the other.  The baristas were rough-looking forty-somethings with t-shirts, facial hair, tats, and rather surly expressions.  Being used to grand, hollowed-out Victorians with stately breasts and dark eyes, I felt somewhat disappointed as they took my order.  But I soldiered on.

My opinion of the place started to pull out of its tailspin after I started to drink my latte.  Served what I like to call Austin-style in a thick glass tumbler wearing a cardboard mini, my hot latte was expertly made.  The roast was distinctive but not too bitter, the milk was nicely frothed, and the drink as a whole was rich, creamy and delicious.  I started to look around me.  This place wasn’t too bad!  I stayed for a few hours, ordering another latte and a few iced cool brew coffees.

While catching up on some backlogged work, I took note of the clientele.  What I found particularly interesting about this Heights neighborhood is that the women–all very attractive–like to wear dark cowboy boots pulled up over dark tights, topped with a checked flannel shirt.  I noticed this look on several female customers.  It looks like Flashdance without the rips.  While fetching, I haven’t seen this in other parts of town.  Makes me wonder if the Heights has its own little self-styled dress code, what other foibles there may be, and where do these little cultural eddies start?  Also, while the women were, as I say, attractive, most of the customers seemed a little pasty, a tiny bit zitty, just a tad past the expiration date compared to, say, those in Montrose or Rice Village, and I wondered where that came from too.  Was it just the lighting?  (As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in Agora Coffeehouse on Westheimer near Montrose, and everyone’s skin is just glowing–although the lights are very dim).

My opinion of Antidote suffered another setback, however, when I toddled to the loo.  The establishment sports two “unisex” restrooms (I never understood the term “unisex”: when 2 genders use a toilet, it should be called bisexual; “unisex” just sounds Victorian, like someone’s afraid of saying what one means, for fear of farting accidentally during the double entendre).  Anyway, I quickly felt like Alice in Wonderland.  Behind the first door was a dark and scary place.  Where was the light switch?  I had never been in such a dark public space before.  I groped and groped like an idiot, with my body holding the door open just to shed a little wan light into this piss-closet.  I even checked the wall outside the door.  No switch.  So I ventured in, bravely, like one of the Little Rascals on a cavernous adventure.  Pulling out my cell phone for a kind of torch, I  explored the dark cave walls without success.  Starting to feel Blair Witchy, I spooked and bolted back into the hallway.  Anyone by chance observing me must have thought me suspicious, like a guilty toilet-stinker or non-flushing turd-leaver.

So I went to the other bathroom across the little hall!  Behind door number two was the cutest, cleanest, most adorable and welcoming public bathroom I have ever seen!  I felt like I’d walked into a Type A teenage girl’s bedroom.   Little bows and sculpted soaps adorned the porcelain sink, and everything smelled clean and happy.  A little wicker basket containing a fluffy puppy would not have seemed out of place here.

It therefore made me feel like such an asshole to take a shit in that little slice of heaven.

Apparently, I was not the only customer flustered by the bathroom situation, because on a separate trip up there, I met a young woman who cautioned me against going in the “Blair Witch Toilet” because, apparently, someone after me had left all sorts of moistness on the lid and other aspects of the commode.  She was just coming out rather quickly as I was making to go in, and she related this tale as she was darting over to the “Brittany Spears Unisex,” which created an awkward moment because our conversation lasted long enough so that, were she to end our discussion and go into the bathroom, it would be painfully obvious that I would be watching her go into the bathroom, and we all know what goes on in there!  Deftly, I sunk my head between my shoulders like a shy turtle, and, with eyes averted, blurted out “you go on in and I’ll go back to my seat, it’s not like I’ll be waiting out here while you’re in there!”  Hee hee! she giggled, and I ran away to my laptop.  I will always remember her, and hope that she quickly forgets me.

Well, Antidote certainly proved the antidote to my procrastination disease, because I caught up on a lot of work while experimenting with its toilets, atmosphere and coffee.  My work completed, I set out for my next destination, the River Oaks Cafe, which was said to boast a very friendly staff and sub-par lattes.  Like Antidote, the River Oaks occupied a sliver of retail space in a little, 60′s era plaza, and had the same floor-to ceiling front windows.  Inside, however, was a warm glow, and from the parking lot I glimpsed the heads of half a dozen customers bent over their books and laptops, like kindergartners at nap time.  Inside was an attractive pastry case, a shiny espresso machine, said handful of sleepy customers… and no barista in sight!  The lack of service afforded me the opportunity to consider whether I really and truly wanted to spend any time here, and the answer that came back was, “mmmm…No.”  So I said “So long, fuckers!” (in my head, not out loud), and took off.

So now I’m at Agora, in a large, woody Victorian with dim lights, glowing complexions, beautiful faces, and Stereolab.  And I just went to the bathroom–again!–and dang it all if I wasn’t halfway through my business when I realized they were fresh out of T.P.!  There wasn’t even enough left on the cardboard roll to do anything but make me soil my fingers…  I glanced around the stall, stuck there, mid-shit, wondering what to do… Someone came in and used the sink, and I considered yelling out to him: “Hey, can you toss me some toilet paper?  Can you tell the girl behind the counter I’m trapped in here?”  But I thought the better of it.  He started blasting his hands with the air drier, and I had another sinking feeling as I realized there weren’t even any paper towels in this place!  My plan of gingerly “zipping trou” and tip-toeing from the stall to grab a scratchy wipe fell to pieces in my mind, and I felt like a castaway who’d just lost his lighter.  What was I going to do, splash myself clean with toilet water and then push my ass against the wall-mounted hand-drier?  I cast about for something–anything–to wipe myself with.  Then I noticed it: a tiny, pre-k sized trash can right next to the toilet, with a little, green swinging cap.  I pushed the cap aside and peered down in there and saw–lo and behold–a little, lonesome, thrown-out cardboard roll with exactly three squares of TP left on it!  What to do?  Well, I bit my lip, weighed my options, and reached my hand in there…

So, yeah!  I admit it! I wiped my ass with toilet paper I fished out of a garbage can!  Just wait until that happens to you!  When you’re staring down the barrel of that problem, see how you decide!  I dare you!

Eric Little is a native of Ithaca who, like Odysseus, is currently held captive in a cyclops’ cave in Texas. A Cornell graduate, he is also an alumnus of Ithaca’s late Apple Blossom Café, Class of 1991. While his body may be in the Southwest, his heart belongs to Ithaca. He supports the tinytowntimes.com as a correspondent at large, reporting back with observations germane to, or of interest to, Tiny Town types.