In Portland, Oregon, where I live, there is a section of North Portland called St. Johns. St. Johns is a pleasant bike ride from my neighborhood and my brother, Mark, and I rode up there today with the idea of stopping at Anna Banana’s Café for a sandwich and a beer.
This short essay is in praise of the kind of place it is. It is not an assessment of a restaurant. I would like the kind of place Anna Banana’s is no matter what its business was. This picture is from their website.
Downtown St. Johns is a little bit on the raggedy side, so it made sense to me that the restrooms at Anna’s required keys. There were two restrooms: the slotted spoon restroom and the black spatula restroom. I discovered those names for myself when I went back looking for a restroom and puzzled a little while over the names.
I puzzled first in how the names identified the men’s and women’s restrooms. My attempts to associate “spatula” with some known attribute of men or women failed as did my attempt to associate “slotted spoon” with either, although I did experience a brief flurry of possibility. When everything failed, I noticed that each of them was, in any case, locked, so I went back up front for a key. There they were, hanging on the wall: one key tied to a black spatula and the other to a slotted spoon.
So I took one and opened the restroom and confronted two signs on the wall. It is partly the signs I have in mind when I say that Anna’s is “a kind of place.” Another part is the the people who were doing the cooking and serving seemed like the kind of people who would have wanted signs like these in the restrooms.
Here’s the first sign.
Small art pieces wanted
Instead of graffiti I propose we
collaborate on a gallery of your art or
cast off art. I want the pieces to come
from a place of love, viewable by all ages.
All art must be ok’d by the barista on
duty. Let’s make the bathrooms a more
I like it that in this tacky little sign in a restaurant restroom, there is a goal statement. “Let’s make the bathrooms as more interesting place.” There are lots of bad things that can be said about bathroom graffiti, of course, but “not very interesting” seems to me one of the better ones.
There is to be “a gallery of your art,” which may very well be how the graffiti artists felt about what they had been doing, but now they are invited to do something better. And they are to do so in collaboration with the management. You see that in both “collaborate” and in “Let’s.” Let us make…
The management can’t prevent it anyway. They may own the restrooms, but they can’t control what is done there. Ownership and control are just not the same things in a setting like this and an invitation to collaboration seems a good substitute.
Here’s the second sign, pinned to the wall just below the first.
Do not flush
Tissues and Wipes
Kittens and Puppies
Hopes and Dreams
This one doesn’t really work the way the first one does. The first few items are standard and there is the temptation to think you know what the rest is going to say. It is true that each line is in a different font and that might keep some part of your mind on the lookout for ambiguities.
Still, it is a big leap from “Sanitary products” to “Kittens and Puppies.” And the background of “don’t flush sanitary products” is not at all like “don’t flush kittens and puppies.” I wasn’t sure how my body had responded to that prospect. But, well before the verdict came in on how I had responded to the demise of the kittens and puppies, I came to the last line. We don’t want you to flush your hopes and dreams here.
The people who posted the sign about making the restroom a more interesting place and who solicit your art are the kind of people who would think you have hopes and dreams and who hope that you treat them kindly. Flushing them down the toilet in the black spatula restroom is not treating them kindly.
So I left Anna’s, having had my sandwich and beer at this table on the sidewalk on a beautiful day after the first half of a very good ride and as the context for an even better conversation with Mark.
I was still happy about it when I got home, so I wrote this. I wish all the people at Anna Banana’s Café well. It’s a very good kind of place and I am looking forward to going back.