By Carolyn Street LaFond
I was coasting down the Fourth Avenue bridge in April 1977, having just recovered from a grueling tonsillectomy and on my way to my Special Ed teaching job at John Rogers Elementary. At the bottom of the incline I noticed a woman working on the large show windows of a shop next to another shop front with an identical set of windows indented from the street. The position of the windows and size of the adjoining space cried out to me, “There’s a great place for an espresso bar!”
My teaching job had gotten the best of me after three years with a squirrely group of exceptionally disabled children. I loved them but was ready to break out into the world of cafe sales and service! After work I called the number for the landlord and gave her my proposal for the available space and also arranged to meet at her office. She was a local realtor and informed me that the spot was the other half of the now defunct Olympia Weekly News. The side that I had seen being worked on was the print shop.
The side I wanted was the office side. I thought it would be less of a mess but after putting down a payment for a month’s rent and acquiring a key, I discovered that it was a goddamn disaster and a Republican one at that! The office had also operated as the former Thurston County Republican Headquarters! There was some amazing refuse such as campaign posters for Nixon/Agnew and dances out at the old Pacific Ballroom with the Wailers, and all kinds of stationery supplies. I was too young and naive to know that it should have been the landlord’s job to clean the place out. So I engaged a number of friends to help me cart away the debris. I kept the shelves and counters to be recycled for my foreseeable future as a barista.
Later in May I returned my teaching contract unsigned with a semi-heavy heart but lots of hope.
I spent the rest of June trying to acquire a small business loan but no bank was interested. My rent at the address expired. I did not want to invest in more rent yet, so I began doing research on all the possible expenses such a business would require. This meant many trips to Seattle to visit the Allegro Cafe in the alley at NE 42nd Street between University Way and 15th Avenue NE. It was my weekend go-to place for a wonderful, foamy, and strong cappuccino.
I discussed my plans with Allegro’s owner who also devised an espresso bean blend through the early Starbucks company in the Pike Place Market. He was most generous in providing basic costs for inventory and furnishings, particularly a commercial two-piston, manual espresso machine. Automatic machines controlled by a button were on the cusp of invention. Anything I would want was at least $3,000. Then I went home and started adding up costs, creating a business proposal to submit to the federal Small Business Administration. I had been to one of their seminars in Seattle and had outlined the perfect revenue and cost proposal. Having been turned down by more than one bank earlier was actually a requirement!
I began typing like a graduate student weighed down by a heady Master’s thesis and fueled by lots of coffee. Plus writing was one of my fortes and by the beginning of August I was ready to send my application in. Meanwhile, I kept checking with the landlord about the availability of the Fourth Avenue space. It was still empty! Hooray! The end of the summer dragged on, but right before Labor Day I received written notification from the SBA that my loan had been approved and that an agent would be visiting Olympia to see the location. I was pleased because I knew it was all about “location, location, location!” And mine would be right on a main drag.
The agent showed up the following week and my first distribution of funds arrived soon after. I was prepared to put down the actual rent with the landlord, never thinking of asking about that clean out that should have followed!
The naming and remodeling of Cafe Intermezzo took a number of autumn weeks which I spent looking at Italian vocabulary and talking to carpenters who turned out to be less than savvy or trustworthy. While I planned on a white and black checkered tile floor, some of the furniture—a long bench with a matching table—was cheaper to have built. The carpenter I first chose never looked at my floor plans with the city building department and overextended the size of the bench and table. He sneaked them inside the space at 5 a.m. in the morning when no one would see him removing one of the big front windows that I planned to have painted with the name “Cafe Intermezzo” across a large circle. This debacle proved later to be a disaster but he managed to get things put back together and arranged the furnishings that would have never fit through the front door.
Along with this fiasco, a “hippie” plumber, who had been working on a shop down the street, offered his skills which soon proved to be minimal. He was promptly dismissed and I was smart enough to find a true professional after seeing the bright yellow plumber’s truck downtown with the words “DON’T FRET, CALL WOOLETT.” I called the number listed and a sweet elderly man showed up the next day to peruse my plumbing needs. By this time, I had procured the assistance of two women carpenters whom my friend Mary had found working on the Temple Beth Hatfiloh by the Olympia post office. This was how I got to know Nancy Powell and Ellen Madsen, who not only hung a beautiful drop ceiling for me, but managed to turn most of the remaining office shelves and counters into part of my décor. When Bud Woolett saw them working diligently from their ladders on the ceiling tiles, he very encouragingly suggested, “Why don’t you girls get your boyfriends to help you?” The three of us snorted to hold back our laughter and Nancy replied, “Oh, we’re actual carpenters ourselves!”
The next few months involved getting my boyfriend to jackhammer open the concrete floor by one wall that would allow a drain for the commercial sink and a second bathroom. The health inspector later told me two bathrooms had not been necessary for a cafe that was not a full restaurant. Good thing I was frugal and knew how to shop for used furnishings, floor tiles, and wall finishings at clearance sales. The illustrious Dan Blinkow—the local “floor guy” who was a friend—knew how to treat the concrete to receive the glue for the tiles I would be laying down by hand . . . with four burned fingers that I had dipped accidentally in boiling oil in a wok a few days earlier. My enthusiasm cut the pain.
I made the mistake of adding cornmeal to the wall paint, for “texture,” as one of the bad carpenters had advised. A few months after opening, the moisture from the steaming espresso machine and customers’ winter breaths allowed the corn meal to mold through the paint and another layer of paint was required. This was an ongoing issue for the next few years of business.
My Cafe Intermezzo sign, followed by “espresso bar and pastries,” was painted on the east front window by local artist Joe Tougas who had painted the tsunami scene on the west side of Childhood’s End Gallery. I splurged and asked for gold leafing on that treasured name, Cafe Intermezzo. The result was splendid and continental, in perfect view as one sailed down Fourth Avenue in traffic.
Although I had hoped to open in early December 1977 for the Christmas and holiday rush, I was not prepared to open my doors until January 3, 1978. But this, too, had a rush of all the waiting customers who had walked back and forth in front of the door while I worked inside looking plaintively at my sign: “Coming Soon! Cafe Intermezzo. Espresso bar and pastries.” Announcement cards were also printed by some friends who had access to the hand press equipment at Evergreen. The first batch had to be re-made as the message had read, “espresso bar and pasties.” Good for a few laughs but I had needed the announcements for my grand opening the third week of January, the weekend of my twenty-seventh birthday. A local band played in the evening while the hand-pulled pistons, foaming milk, and spritzing whipped cream created espresso drinks of every combination. There were also various teas and Italian sodas that one former New Yorker said tasted just like an egg crème. I was fortunate to have some girl friends from Seattle attending as my assistant baristas.
My first week of operation was as social as it was frantic. I was working alone and dealing with a line of coffee drinkers leading out the front door. Some not too savvy folks would stare at my wall sign which described in detail the makings of a steam-infused espresso coffee and inquire, “So WHAT is IT?” One friend on her lunch break explained the same thing that was in writing, and others who had been to Europe nodded enthusiastically. My friend Christine from Seattle was behind the counter the day that Jane Kauffman, alias June Hoffman, a talented local percussionist, sauntered inside and requested in emphatic French, “Je voudrais un espresso fort!” (I’d like a strong espresso!).
“D’accord, Mademoiselle,“ Christine replied in her own fluent French. (We had met in 1971 at the University of Washington studying French civilization in Avignon, France.) Jane was delighted and so were we, and we got to talking about how her women’s acoustic band, Gila, should play some afternoon in the front window next to my half upright spinet piano. It had been moved from my duplex on the westside of Olympia. This event was arranged in short order and the next week Jane dragged in her congas and bongos. Barb Moreno brought her saxophone, Loree Gardener brought her stand up bass, and the piano player, Kathy Lyle, transposed all sorts of chords with her nimble fingers. By now Jane was working for me along with her girlfriend Catherine Williamson. An older man who had stopped in to see what was happening noticed Jane and Catherine kissing ardently between sets and said to me, “Awwwww. They must be sisters!” which was comical due to their extreme difference in height.
The first big challenging event happened over a month later when the Northwest Fiddling Champion was scheduled to play on a Saturday evening. I drove down Fourth to the front door of my Cafe and my brakes promptly went out. I pumped them gingerly and ran inside to learn that the drain from the main sink and bathroom had backed up! Yikes! This required purchasing stacks of styrofoam cups, paper being rare back then, since I couldn’t do dishes. I called Bud Woolett who arrived on the scene in due time and had already checked with the building department to find out that the drain to the sewer line had been disconnected years ago and not marked on the blueprints for my building location! Bless his heart, he got the city workers down there right away to jack hammer open the drain in the alleyway going out to the street. It didn’t get fixed until the day after the fiddling champion worked his magic and brought in a handsome cover charge to take home. Meanwhile, I was down at Pete Lea’s Automotive Center getting the brakes fixed on my 1970 squareback VW.
Once March rolled around, Jane and I got it in our heads to hold an evening Saint Patrick’s Day party and doctor up our coffees plus whipped cream with some Irish whiskey. Dale, the front table pontificate of the cafe, insisted on bringing the best. Bushmill’s. I procured a banquet permit to serve alcohol to those over twenty-one and also invested in a case of Guinness stout and some bottles of Brut Champagne. The party was by verbal invitation only. By now the clientele was large and loyal enough to police any stragglers. Jane and Catherine ran the stereo as discotheque DJs and there was lots of “Whoop! Whoop!” to accompany the dancers. Jacque Dennee, who delivered flowers from Belfair, showed up with a creamy green sheet cake and said she had wanted it for her birthday. When I asked “how old?” and she replied “thirty-seven,” my first response was “but you don’t ACT like you’re 37!” We both burst into heady laughter.
While the espresso flowed out of the shiny, red Cimbali espresso machine, the nitrous oxide capsules sent the canisters of whipping crème billowing over our steaming cups. Little did I know that people were in the back room snorting the punctured nitrous oxide capsules for a quick high. The capsules were not cheap! The rockin’ Cafe Intermezzo produced dripping windows along with the glass door, plus the mold from the cornmeal started to emerge from the painted walls. It would look worse by morning and would call for another layer of paint to be put down by the next week to smother the cornmeal.
Things ran smoothly enough for the rest of spring 1978 until a planning meeting was arranged by a number of Evergreen women and their cohorts to take place at the yet to be demolished Senior Center on Columbia Street around the corner. Apparently the arrival of a group of short haired dykes dressed like boys overwhelmed the elderly men and women who were chatting in the main foyer.
Posters for the meeting hung right in front of them, among other locations in town, e.g. my Cafe, but they did not connect the date and time to the event at hand. When it was explained that the meeting was for Women’s Solidarity in Lesbianism, two older women rose with their hands up defensively and cried out “Oh, no no no! Not HERE!”
“You CAN’T have your meeting HERE! This is a RESPECTABLE place!”
“EEE GADS,” several of the women said.
Anna Schlecht stepped forward with her leadership skills and decided, “Then let’s go check out the Intermezzo and see if Carolyn is still cleaning up!” I was, and I knew exactly what had transpired when the ranting by my best customers appeared in the doorway.
“MAN,” Jane began with a long draw on her cigarette . . . (it was the days of smoking and a smoking woman always looked tougher.) “We got KICKED OUT of the Senior Center! Can you believe that?”
“We need to get our room rental money back! That’s happening tomorrow for sure!” one of the women asserted. Although I had done the dishes and cleaned up the counters and machine already, I succumbed to a few more sales of espresso drinks, teas, and Italian sodas. I hung around to listen to everyone’s concerns with the community and the college as well, and felt a bit out of place. I was Espresso Mama, not Lipstick Lesbian . . . although I occasionally liked the idea.
My hunger for dinner and the need to go home overcame me and I asked Jane and Catherine if they would clean and lock up and I would add it to their pay. As I drove up to the westside where I lived on Conger Avenue I realized I needed to run a clever ad in the Daily Olympian (alias “The Daily Zero”). I would include the same image and message on a poster to attach on various retail and restaurant bulletin boards, not to mention out at the college. This would require rounding up all my female customers who had motorcycles to pose in front of the cafe windows holding up ceramic cups with glee. I would be in front like the orchestra conductor. I asked my friend Steve Jones, who had a good camera and liked to do black and white photos, to join us all after work at rush hour, 4:30 p.m., to take our picture from across the street.
Thus ensued the creation of the notorious photo DYKES ON BIKES (please observe this was long before any gay pride parades in most towns.) Steve must have taken nearly 20 shots to choose from for my project. He was repaying me for handing over the old Nixon/Agnew posters which he had hung in his walk-in closet. Rush hour cars streamed by with passengers hanging out the windows and cheering for a solid hour and finally we got tired. Some folks may have flipped us the finger. When I later shuffled through the stack of prints for my ad copy and poster, I couldn’t wait to see the results. Along the top of the image were the words, “OK, Olympia, we know what you’re saying about this place!” Below it read, “THE BEST COFFEE IN TOWN!”
The ad ran in The Olympian for several weeks and my poster of the same, only larger, graced the many billboards at The Evergreen State College, some downtown eateries, and even the Legislative Building outside their cafeteria. I sent copies to my sister and family members who could appreciate them and still have copies at the bottom of my “Cafe Memories” box.
By early summer of 1978 I decided I needed to sell some t-shirts to advertise my “Woman’s Enterprise.” I had made friends with Nancy Sigafoos who did silk screening and proposed she print my designs and slogans for the Intermezzo. I ordered shirts in all sizes and brought my drawing of a steaming cappuccino with the words “Legal Speed.” This was the male alternative to my feminist shirt with the image of Adam reclining, as he does on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, reaching up to the hand of God to receive a demi-tasse of espresso. This shirt parodied a common saying about “God created man but She was only kidding” to read “When God gave man an espresso She was only kidding!” A customer brought me her sewing form to display the shirt in the window, but the most charming fame that my cafe shirts brought was told to me by a customer just back from San Francisco. He had attended a gay volleyball tournament wearing my Intermezzo shirt with the She-God serving the espresso and said one guy had offered to buy it off his back for $100 cash! Not a bad price for 1978!
That autumn I attended Evergreen College’s theatrical production of the play Equus which had become a movie with Richard Burton. He played a psychiatrist who analyzes a young man who has been charged with blinding a horse in the stables where he works cleaning up. The boy had been attempting sex with a stable girl and the horse was looking on. This shocking mutilation was all the news in England, where it had occurred a few years earlier. I was intrigued to see it, all the while noticing my customer audience and recognizing what espresso drink each person preferred. Although the little bit of nudity—with the boy dreaming himself bareback on a horse—was impressive, I was mostly moved by the deep, rich voice of the student actor who played the psychiatrist, delving into the religiously stifled psyche of the guilty boy. Some weeks later, I was approached at the cash register by an early balding man my age who ordered “A double espresso if you please!” in the same deep tones of the actor I had seen on stage.
“Oh my God!” I exclaimed, “You played the psychiatrist out at the college in Equus!”
“That was I, indeed! Or me indeed!”
“I could never forget that voice!” My enthusiasm matched my vigorous pull on the Cimbali’s piston handle. The man observed what must have felt for me like shifting gears in a sports car.
“Four on the floor, huh?” I agreed it was a work out for the biceps and triceps of my puny arms. Ted Roisum, my soon to be bisexual boyfriend, had as much charm as talent and was soon a Cafe regular who happened to work in the same group home as Dale, the pontificate who sat in the front window. Ted’s impersonations of their charges verged on darling to hysterical. Not exactly “PC” but done with affection. Ted also did a few performances at the Cafe on a weekend evening. However, his best performance was after slipping away to the back storage room with Jane to smoke a joint. Two policemen had suddenly entered the Cafe, so I offered them an Americano. When Ted emerged with bloodshot eyes and saw my new customers, he immediately lit a cigarette, which one could do back then, to mask the aroma of the pot. Thus began a witty banter with the officers about how they wouldn’t be able to get a donut from me and my array of pastries.
By September 1978, I felt I needed a little “junket” to the Bay Area under the guise of doing research on espresso roasters. I had wanted to touch base with the Graffeo company in North Beach which provided all the beans for the surrounding coffee houses, especially Cafe Roma, my favorite on Columbus Way. I drove my little 70s squareback down Highway 101 so I could stop to see my step-sister in Santa Rosa. I also stayed with a college friend, Lizbeth, who lived on the cusp of Oakland and Berkeley. Berkeley had been the birth of my cappuccino mania where I first tasted one at the Renaissance Cafe on Durant off Telegraph Avenue. That event was spring vacation 1975, even before I had traveled to Italy as a pilgrimage to visit the Uffizi in Florence. This museum housed the Botticelli Room containing such masterpieces as The Birth of Venus, which I would write about at length one day.
When I introduced myself to the Graffeo crew, I was offered a free pound of espresso beans and as many shots of espresso or cappuccino as my already buzzing brain desired. I learned I could order twenty-five pounds at a time for freshness and it would be shipped to Olympia in a matter of days. I was hooked. When I returned to Cafe Intermezzo I ordered my retail beans from Starbucks in Seattle and the Graffeo’s was saved for the sacred espresso drinks, served in the traditional brown ceramic cups.
For my first Christmas in the Cafe, I purchased a small tree from the lot next to the notorious Senior Center and Ted helped drag it across the street and around the corner. I offered a free drink to any customer who brought in an ornament for the tree. I first put on some lights. It got rather cozy in there in the dead of winter. I closed late for Christmas Eve and transported my handmade gingerbread house to the small son of a man who had recently rejected me after a two month fling. Then I drove to Seattle to see my mother and young half-brother Brian who got a gingerbread house as well.
On January 3, 1979, I hosted my first anniversary party for Cafe Intermezzo, after hours, with another banquet permit for champagne. I had sent invitations out with the same “Dykes on Bikes” photo that said, “We really mean business!” Inside requested, “Attire of interest.” My friend Maureen showed up in an Intermezzo t-shirt while rolling in a spare tire painted gold. The furniture was moved and disco hits rang out, thumping through the dripping windows and door. The fact that I had a sore throat didn’t stop me. People poured me plastic cups of my favorite Brut Champagne, especially Ted, declaring, “That oughta kill the bug that’s up your ass!”
By summertime I had befriended a bevy of Evergreen State College professors: LLyn De Danaan, Anthropology; Sally Cloninger, Filmmaking; Marilyn Frasca, Visual Arts; and Marge Brown, Media and Audio Visual Services, plus Marge’s partner Helen Thorton. Then there were state workers aplenty and and business owners from the neighborhood. I had a crush on Pete Lea who serviced my VW when needed. His shop was only a few blocks away. He came in occasionally for a perk.
Laura May ran the Rainbow Restaurant at the end of the block on Columbia and Fourth that became a common meeting place after I closed the Cafe for the evening. Laura was quite a character in her own right. The first owners of Radiance Herbs and Massage down a few doors were good customers as well. I continued to offer occasional musicians on weekend evenings and even a lesbian standup comic—the place was filled with chortling women while a few men hung out in the doorway looking most confused.
On July 3, 1979, I was under the weather and went down to the Eastside Tavern after closing to visit my customer friend and bartender Peterson Took. He was too busy to listen to my hitchhiking story in France, but a handsome man with gorgeous black curls sat a stool away from me and seemed to be taking an interest in my travels. He moved down a seat and introduced himself as David and we conversed in front of the men’s room, which I found rather charming. We talked about everything from Europe and coffee and beer to yeast infections of all things! Must have been the relationship between brewing beer with yeast, but his candor struck me so much I realized he could be the ONE. On our first date, he told me such a hysterical and salacious joke, I succumbed to an hypoxia of laughter and collapsed on a table in the Falls Terrace lounge where we were sitting.
Fast forward to May 18, 1980 right when Mount Saint Helens blew for the first time. We had seen the trail of smoke in the distance from the Cafe. It was the following week on May 24, when David and I got married in the Saint Martin’s Abbey church, officiated by the priest who had once been David’s high school English teacher. Our reception was in the old Olympia Hotel Ballroom with loud music, champagne, and a poorly decorated carrot cake. “Looks like hell, tastes like heaven,” one of the guests marveled. That night, the volcano blew again, dropping a healthy layer of ash on I-5 and Olympia and its environs. David and I merrily sailed off from Seattle to Victoria in the old Princess steamship the next morning, unscathed by ash until we got home a few days later. Many of our out-of-town wedding guests were stuck in Olympia overnight since I-5 had been closed down.
At the end of that summer of 1980, I made another pilgrimage to San Francisco with David and left the Cafe in worthy hands. Jane and Catherine and Peterson Took happened to be there at the same time, so we met up at the Cafe Roma and later frolicked in Golden Gate Park before perusing the hippie flashback district of Haight-Ashbury. David and I also wandered the Harvey Milk haunts of Castro Street where he was oogled and ahhed whenever he tipped his beautiful curls inside a rollicking good leather bar.
As autumn set in with its usual wind and rain and the Cafe windows sweated as usual, I developed what I called my “Cafe Mono.” My swollen glands lingered on until early December and I took a few days off while Jane and Catherine ran the store. Just as I was getting better, David came home on the night of December 8 and told me gently, “John Lennon was shot in New York.”
I burst out from under my bed covers and painfully squawked, “Is he OK?”
“No,” David answered plainly. “He’s dead!”
I had to go to work the next morning just to see what kind of a pall had fallen over the otherwise cheerful Cafe Intermezzo. I played my Imagine album continuously, along with the latest John and Yoko Double Fantasy. “How can this be?” people moaned over their steaming espressos and foamy cappuccinos. I later composed a short story about the Beatles based on a dream I’d had that fateful night. It started out with my swollen glands, and ended up with their miraculous healing in spite of my sorrow. It included John and Cynthia in their early days along with his cranky Aunt Mimi. The other Beatles were dressed in the dark green velvet suits they had worn at their 1966 concert that I had seen in the Seattle Coliseum. It was their last tour as a traveling band and good riddance to cramped hotel rooms with twin beds and no privacy! Somewhere along the line I was serving them cheesecake from the Blue Heron Bakery and asking them why they didn’t want espresso instead of tea.
In February 1981, after I had been well for over a month, I got the happy news over the phone that I was pregnant. This was before the days of peeing on a stick. I told David later that day when he came through the Cafe door after his work and he said, “Great! I gotta go!” and headed straight to the bathroom. I thought I had been getting a little queasy and that the aroma of grinding coffee beans had become rather strong and almost unpleasant. I started drinking very weak Earl Grey tea with lemon instead of my beloved cappuccino.
I managed to work daily throughout my pregnancy, except for a dangerous heat wave one August afternoon when I closed early. I had been forced to wear wet dish towels over my head and shoulders as the Cafe had no air conditioning. Still don’t know why I didn’t invest in one. Probably because by this time the Intermezzo’s finances were on the tenuous edge. I’m sure my leaving early did not deprive too many folks of an iced coffee or an Italian soda. Everyone was on a lake or the sound. By this time I was selling cup-sized Haagen-Dazs ice creams and hoped the freezer motor would hold up in the heat.
As my due date drew near I had already chosen a name for the baby if it was a girl. I had always loved Ludwig Bemelmans’s Madeline books as a young girl and vowed I would name my first daughter after her. And my affection for Jane/June Kaufman/Hoffman (a reporter’s error when doing an entertainment story on her band) dictated that I choose Jane for her middle name. They went together so well. On Tuesday, October 27, 1981, I arrived at the Cafe with a lot of cramping. But I had just been checked at my Ob/Gyn who told me “It’s going to be two weeks before you have this baby!” I was three days overdue. Customers came and went with the usual “When is it due?” question and since ultrasounds were rare in those times, I didn’t get one so the sex had never been identified.
By the end of the day I was still cramping when David came in and I complained that it was almost closing and I didn’t feel up to doing a mop job, hoping he might offer although he was tired too. “Then don’t!” he exclaimed, and headed home way out to Kamilche Shores before I did so he could start some chicken soup. I tossed and turned on the couch while it was simmering, and when David brought me a bowl and spoon, I spilled it royally. Pretty soon things progressed and I announced that we should call Marty Butzen, one of the midwives who had offered to help me at St. Peter Hospital, where David and I arrived around midnight.
In spite of the pains, I had not dilated one iota, but we had come so far from Kamilche the labor nurses didn’t want to send us home. We watched late night movies with Woody Allen and later Thunder Road with the Johnny Cash theme song that entertained me as I sucked on ice chips. Marty arrived early in the morning and later my masseuse and customer friend Teresa Scharff showed up just in time. They were able to help hold me upside down to turn the baby’s head from the posterior position. I was in back labor and quite a wreck. Jane and Catherine took turns minding the Cafe and the next door Budget Tapes and Records where they also worked with the owner, Marty. David made an occasional phone call to keep them abreast of my progress or lack thereof. Finally I was rolled into the delivery room after a shot of Demerol allowed me to relax and dilate. I pushed for over an hour and forty-five minutes, which is rarely allowed these days. Pitocin usually gets administered after half an hour. “HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO LET ME GO ON?” I yelled at the doctor. There was a quick episiotomy and Madeline Jane LaFond was born at 10:39 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, 1981. She had ruined my plan to work at the Cafe on Halloween as a pregnant cheerleader.
I have only revelled in this portion of the Intermezzo’s life span because I ended up bringing Madeline to work almost every day except whenever my mother could watch her. She soon became known as “the Cafe baby” and the Olympia womyn’s community was thrilled that I had birthed “a baby womyn.” She was a bit of a mascot for them which was fine with me, and customers often showed up mostly to see her, not to get an espresso coffee or a pastry (although I would gently press the issue). Madeline stayed mostly in a second-hand bassinet my mother had found at a garage sale, or sitting propped up in a little plastic chair placed dangerously near the Cimabli and behind the counter by me. I became proficient enough to nurse her on one arm under a dish towel, while I foamed a pitcher of milk with the other hand. I look back on this as a frivolous danger to my child, all in the name of keeping up with business! David always showed up promptly after his work at 4:00 p.m. to kanoodle her and then whisk her away in our diesel Peugeot with the baby seat, while I followed later in my steadfast VW after closing up. Sometimes we all went down to the Rainbow for dinner and then caravaned back to Kamilche.
By Christmas 1981, I realized that running a business and mothering an infant were two diametrically opposed undertakings and I got it in my head to start looking for a Cafe buyer. By now, the layers of paint in the Cafe had totally squelched the growth of mold from the cornmeal I had stupidly added for “texture,” even with the winter sweating from the steam and breaths of customers behind the big front windows. I did observe the Cafe’s fourth anniversary in early January 1982. There was champagne and dancing as usual, but I felt rather solemn knowing I was reaching the end of my barista career. At least my Cafe had been included in a recent guide book of Best Places in Washington.
After an entire spring with ads to sell a “charming espresso bar and cafe,” I never found a buyer for my beloved Intermezzo into which I had poured my young adult blood and tears. I decided to liquidate all my furnishings and inventory, and face whatever loss I would have. But before I did, a fabulous shutting down party had to occur, and invitations were spread discreetly by mouth. David brought Madeline into town that last Saturday in June 1982 to greet her public and the espresso flowed one last time while Jane performed a sterling striptease beyond compare, all the way down to her undershirt and shiny shorts. I can’t remember the song we put on but it might have been our favorite, Donna Summer’s Bad Girls. This display, of course, was the highlight of the party.
I was open for a few more days after that to liquidate and was surprised that the oversized bench and long table went as fast as the silverware and dishes, getting cut down with a skill saw by John Erickson. He carted it out the door instead of through the large window that, by now, had cracked and had to be replaced. The real window with Cafe Intermezzo in gold leaf lettering had long since been beveled and transferred to our garage at Kamilche and now remains leaning against the far wall in my basement in town on Eighth Avenue. An employee of a new espresso machine company in Seattle came down and carted my beloved and well-used Cimabli away. The pistons already needed new washers to stop the leaks. The note that I left on the door that late afternoon to say goodbye read something like this: “Well, Madeline and I are tired and going home now. It’s been a great five years” (I included the time remodeling in 1977).
One of my customers, Shannon Osborn, found out she was getting an inheritance and reopened the address of 212 West 4th Avenue, under the name the Smithfield, which had been used as the first call letters for early Olympia telephone numbers. By the time the Smithfield got up to speed, I was expecting a little sister for Madeline.
Shannon lasted about two years and then sold the Smithfield, name and all, to Stewart J. Boyle, the tall customer who had first remarked on my fabulous taste in disco for coffee house music. He towered over me at the cash register during one of those first weeks in 1978 while I was playing some very funky, thumping pick of a song, and inquired, “Do you really LIKE that kind of music?” He was almost catty in order to provoke my answer.
“LIKE it?” I coyly replied, “I LOVE it!” Then we both did a little boogaloo.
Cafe Intermezzo witnessed many cultural and political events in its heyday. Its first summer in June 1978 saw an influx of protesters on their way to Elma next to the Satsop nuclear plant that was being built. A group of them were arrested for trespassing and one of my customers, attorney Chuck Caldart, had started arranging interviews with possible witnesses to testify at their trial the following year. He asked if he could meet with them in the Cafe as a neutral territory. I heartily agreed. He spoke to fellow protesters plus a well known epidemiologist, Sam Milhem, who had studied the relationship between radiated waste and cancers in people who lived near such nuclear plants. That testimony would have topped the trial off in favor of the trespassers, protesting “a greater ill.” Ironically enough, the trial was scheduled for the day after the July 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, and the charges against the protesters by the State of Washington were promptly dropped! Chuck was a bit crestfallen. It would have made such good reporting and TV news. It barely was mentioned on that evening’s broadcast.
I often invited fellow writers and poets to do readings at Cafe Intermezzo where I sometimes included a few items from myself. Mathew Kangas, a Seattle arts writer and poet, did a sterling performance of witty verses, one that mentioned “a Japanese maple from a haiku about a Japanese maple.” Ferron, the Canadian feminist song writer and singer, had stopped in one day on her return to B.C. from San Francisco and told me she’d love to do a show in my intimate Cafe. I reminded her that the cover would have to be around a hundred dollars per person for it to be worth her while due to the small capacity allowance. I’ll never forget her gorgeous, long auburn hair.
Jean-Vi Lenthe, an Evergreen graduate, did a poetry reading on a Sunday when I was absent so I am glad I had already read a lot of her work and was familiar with it. She and I had a similar sense of humor, such as the time I visited her after she moved with her lover to San Francisco and the three of us galavanted from coffee house to coffee house. As the fog was burning off the bay, she gleefully proposed, “Let’s drink espresso ‘til our gums bleed!”
Ted Roisum did a wonderful improv kind of scenario on an armchair and under a lamp which had the place chuckling if not laughing in spurts. I would, many years later, see his entire huge, bald head on the big screen when he got a speaking part in the film Mr. Holland’s Opus. He played the audiologist who informs Mr. and Mrs. Holland that their son is deaf and should learn lipreading instead of sign language, which had not yet reached its dominant popularity. Recently, while wondering what had become of him, my daughter Madeline googled the name Ted Roisum only to find he had died in 2015 of some kind of lymphoma. We were quite saddened by that news.
And last but not least, in the spring of 1982 a small group of film buffs approached me to ask to use the Cafe after hours as their planning space to organize a local film society. This took several weeks, and by then I was getting ready to either sell or liquidate. The film group had already set up an impending location at the old Capitol Theater and was studying which films to rent and show. Thus, the Olympia Film Society was formed and in November 1983 the first Film Festival was held while I was busy with my new baby Anna and her big sister.
I invite any former patrons, hither and yon, who remember their time at Cafe Intermezzo to share their memory of the days at this wonderful enterprise, the days without automatic espresso machines, electric cars, cell phones, or the Internet.