Welcome to where the seeds of dreams are planted--where one can sip from the charmed chalice of life & meet interesting folk through (hopefully) intelligent conversation.

One never knows nor can expect who will sail into the fray--what we do know is that no soul here is perfect no matter how we try. So let us celebrate & raise our mugs to the idiosyncratic nature of life--to the Kramer's & Norm's of the world, the Roseanne's & Allan Poe's. Some old, some lost, some tortured, some blessed, all souls sharing a drink at the same time in the same place. The ensuing tales are authentic with names trending towards monikers. The flag waving on our doorstep means we're open, so come perk your curiosity in Le Harbor Bungalow Cafe.

Bonjour! Mesherfin! Hasta la vista! Your barista.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Off to Argentina: Rest in Peace, Otts

The sound of birds tweeting turned the barista’s head on his pillow.

“Call me when you get up…it’s about Otis.”

Jennifer’s text message was foreboding.  During the returned phone call, the sad, inevitable news was delivered.  Otis had passed away at the weathered age of 79.

Thin veils are worn by many characters here at le Harbor Bungalow Café to respect and maintain a certain amount of privacy.  Just as bungalow is a mask for row home, Otis has been a mask for Otts (or Autz, as I’ve seen it spelled both ways).  Now, as Otts passes into the afterlife, the thin veil known as Otis will be checked at le café door.

Like many retired, single men, le café was a second home to Otts.  A retired merchant marine and jazz musician, Otts came of age at the Point called Fells.  He was Jennifer’s very first customer when she opened her shop six-and-a-half years ago.  One of the first things our barista learned on the job was to set Otts’ morning paper cup of coffee (which was served with a dollop of whipped cream) aside behind the counter, so he could re-use it that afternoon when he returned from the neighborhood Good Will.  Often, Otts would return with a second-hand treasure—but only if he scored a good deal on it.  The barista remembers an electronic keyboard, an African mask, a gemstone necklace and never before has he seen a couple of fellows so excited about a hardback, unabridged Bible-of-a-dictionary like the one Otts found and gave to Frank.

“They don’t make these like they used to,” Frank said at the time.


Two years ago, not long after the barista first moved to the Big Crabcake and landed the position at le café, he found himself scrambling for a place to live.  Misplaced trust earned him a place living out of his backpacker’s tent in a spare bedroom—which one had to walk through to get to the bathroom.  While living there, the barista never realized so many English-language words had meanings opposite of what he learned in school.  Words such as loyalty, promise, contradiction and faithfulness were used as if his girlfriend was running for political office.  The old-timers’ unabridged dictionary was deemed irrelevant. 

“What would you think about house-sitting at my apartment,” Otts said.


“I’m going to travel to Argentina soon,” said Otts.  “I’m just waiting for a good deal on a plane ticket.  Probably some time around the holidays.  I have a lot of things that I’d like to have someone keep an eye on.”

“What will you do in Argentina?”

“I’m thinking about opening a café.”

The barista was taken aback.  Was fortune finally smiling down upon him?  Was Otts serious? 

The old-timer checked the fluctuations of his stock portfolio on his laptop computer, placed it behind the bar and retired for the afternoon.  “Think about it,” he said.

The barista picked up the telephone and dialed Jennifer.

“What do you know about Otts and Argentina?”

“Ha!  He’s been talking about that trip for awhile,” she said.  “So long it’s getting harder to take him seriously.”

Other patrons heard the story as well.  One even went as far as to suggest Argentina was a metaphor for the afterlife.  The barista was desperate and had nothing to lose so he visited the old fellow’s place after his shift one, gray afternoon. 

Only a few blocks from le café, the old Polish community hall had double glass doors and a buzzer at the busy sidewalk entrance.  A few minutes later Otts appeared, and with his hands shaking as if he were reaching for his morning cup of coffee, he pushed open the doors for the barista.

“Come on inside.”

The building was large and smelled like a retired folks home, which it seemed to have morphed into over the years.  They rode the elevator three or four floors up to a wide, dormitory-style hallway with high ceilings.  This was no row home.  Otts keyed in his apartment door.  The first room was the kitchen with a view of the bedroom behind it—a studio apartment at first glance.  Items were stacked and cluttered on the dining table and counters.  The walls were covered with paintings and African art.  The floors were filled with shelves, coffee tables, end tables, speakers, turntables, an entertainment center and his bed—like the barista’s, a simple mattress on the floor.  Walkways were narrow.  It truly looked like a Good Will outpost.  If not for the high ceilings—10 or 15-feet high—one would feel swallowed up. The barista didn’t own many things at the time, but the few he did wouldn’t fit—or would get lost—in this joint.

“Here’s another room,” Otts said.

Ah, ha!  The bathroom, the barista thought.  But it was also a bedroom—packed with more stuff: musical instruments—including an upright bass—shelves, trinkets, cool, unique souveniers—enough to open up a shop of his own.

“So is most of this stuff staying here when you travel?”

“I can move a few things to my storage unit,” said Otts. “But for the most part, yeah.”

The barista was grateful for the offer and thought hard about how this could work, but in the end he politely declined.  His situation carried more urgency and he was able to land a nice private, empty space even closer to the café a few weeks later.  His patience was rewarded—the same patience, with the same definition as the one he read about in the old timer’s dictionary.  The barista’s mind was at ease.  


Soon after his move, the barista again found himself in the old man’s apartment.  This time it was a sunny day.

“See, I accidentally knocked it off the table and the dust cover cracked,” Otts said as he toyed with one of his three turntables.  “If you want it, it’s yours.”

The barista lost a few things in his hasty move, two of which were a turntable and stereo receiver. (He managed to rescue his vinyl collection.)  He gave Otts fifty bucks for a receiver and Otts generously gave him the functional, dust-coverless turntable.  He then drove the barista to his new home down the street.

Otts never did make that trip to Argentina.  For that, the barista was sad.  But to get a fleeting glimpse into this man’s life—a man who lived a full life and who reminded the barista of his own grandfathers, was a pleasure. 

“Top my coffee with some whipped cream today.  This one’s for Otts.”

The day before Jennifer broke the news of Otts’ passing, the barista learned that Art, another former daily patron and musician passed away.  Two days prior to that, he learned skin cancer got the best of George.  The barista fondly remembers George as the man who would ask for his receipt and take the numbers on his bill to play the lottery at Royal Farms.  He promised he would share his kitty with the barista when he won. May they, too, rest in peace.

For more about Otts, see the previous post What’s Shakin’.

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