An Eventful Night at the Coffeehouse
I’m sitting on one of the big, comfy chairs at the Happi Cappi scorching my taste buds on a venti “pumpkin spice” (for a limited time only) latte with skim milk and just a pinch of cinnamon on top, while attempting to read some incomprehensible theoretical bullshit for one of my classes, and I have got a pounding headache. I keep reading the same line over and over. And over. And over. Okay I need a break. So after a few exasperated sighs I relinquish my focus, lean back, and stare up at the creamy ceiling way up above me. I’m not trying to eavesdrop, but I simply quit my futile efforts to block out the distracting voices coming from the cluster of chairs in the corner behind me. I figure that it must be Oprah’s book club or something.
“….Well, [and I can tell by her tone that this woman’s all fired up and really onto something] I couldn’t help being at once amused and disgusted with this place. After handing over eight bucks to get in, everyone files in and squats onto the little floor up in the middle of this pitch black room, where a voice on a loudspeaker gives a sad excuse of a background history for the witch trials.”
“Oh boy, a history buff,” I said to myself. She continued:
“Then there’s a tour of glass-enclosed displays, with life-sized figures that are supposed to represent different versions of witches. The Wicked Witch of the West, the witch from Hansel and Gretel, and finally a couple of modern-day Wiccans. I mean, the museum gives the impression that it’s going to give a history of the witch trials. (Sighs). They try I guess.”
I look over my shoulder to get a glimpse of the group of five or six. Heads of her colleagues bob, shake, and sniggers sound in disapproval of the place.
“This town thrives on tourists that flock every autumn to feast their senses on this ‘wicked’ place. Anyway, I find myself wondering, how many people here are aware that Salem is not the only, perhaps not even the most significant sight of 17th century witch trials?”
woman goes on to talk to her colleagues about the
“So as you can
see, [she recaps condescendingly to her
friends] the number of prosecutions in
I hear a couple of men and women mutter a fatigued response. “Yea, that’s right,” or “you’re right, it’s incredible.” I get the feeling they weren’t at all ignorant of these facts, precisely because this woman has reminded them of it numerous times before. Anyway I’m getting kind of tired listening in, so I make a few unsuccessful attempts at finishing the last few pages of a chapter. After a while, someone else takes charge of the conversation. The old, deep voice speaks slowly, taking the edge off the atmosphere. He’s a wise grandfather, and I’m the content little kid in the big comfy chair anticipating each next word of his story.
“What I find
painful about visiting
[His audience is intently listening, mesmerized in a way, as am I. The same woman’s voice speaks up again.]
exactly. The idea of ‘witchcraft’ is
romanticized in our culture, as something dark, mysterious, and unknown;
something we will eat up at every given chance.
I hear another man interrupt. “Excuse me, but I couldn’t help but overhear your intellectual discussion over here.” I guess I’m not the only one. I hear the man shuffling and pulling his chair over to the circle, uninvited. “And, well I hope you wouldn’t mind if I just throw in my two cents?” I glance over my shoulder again and I see the man with an evil smirk on his face, leaning on the back of his chair in a ready-to-attack position. He lets the question hang in the air for a moment, although it didn’t sound as if he really cared for the answer.
“Oh yeah, sure,” the group sheepishly answers. “Okay let’s spice this discussion up a bit.” Grandpa urges, trying to be amicable and optimistic about the addition. I feel a bit uncomfortable for some reason, witnessing the breaching of this conversation to the strange man. There’s an awkward mood arising from the intrusion.
“Now, I don’t want to be rude, [the rude man begins] but do you honestly believe that the witch trials only deserve to be represented in some sort of noble genre? Should this specific history be placed and protected in an enclosed glass case and only be put on display under a certain light?”
The group seems a bit shocked at his accusatory tone as well as the intense scrutiny this outsider had put their discussion under. Responding to the bewilderment on their faces, he attempts to explain himself.
“Well, I teach history you see, and I am assuming that you as well are in the profession. And so I took a particular interest in your dialogue. I’ve analyzed the ways in which historiography has failed to evolve since the nineteenth century. Long gone is the time when we can believe that historical representations are a mirror of actual past events.
It is now
implausible to believe that ‘history’ presents an objective account of ‘facts,’
whatever those are. History is constructed, and attempt to tell a story of the past. You may find it sickening, my friends, but
glamorized representations of unfortunate past events are now acceptable ways
to tell those stories. However, it’s not as if history is now an
aimless free-for-all. For the
He finished with his rant, and he looks around at the scowling circle. Peering over the back of my chair, I can tell by their faces that they hadn’t exactly been in the mood for a fiery debate. He then adds, “My suggestion might be to….lighten up,” he says with a dramatic shrug of the shoulders and another evil grin. Screw it, this is too exciting. I’m finally turned around in my chair now, watching a mess unfold.
The woman stands up with a grimace distorting her face. After glaring at the intruder for a moment or two, she glances down at the hand on her hip that’s holding the cup. Then of course, she throws her coffee in his face. “Rude son of a bitch,” she declares before walking out.
After watching the gaping-mouthed reactions from the grandpa, the rest of the circle, and the coffee covered offender, I turn back around and slump down in my chair, giggling to myself. But then I start to consider their short lived debate.
I have to admit that I agree with some of
what the rude son of a bitch said. I
mean, is there anything inherently wrong with
Persecutions such as the Red Scare,
Japanese internment, and most recently, racism and violence against Muslim
Americans after September 11th are modern versions of “witch
hunts.” This convenient term serves as a
reminder of the irrationality of scapegoating and challenges any justification
for it. If Salem wasn’t notorious for
the witch trials, if Salem simply took the route that Hartford did and opted
not to celebrate its dark past, would this moral lesson be paid any mind? Of course, we would give a superficial
recognition to the event as we passed by it in high school history courses, but
the romanticized notion of witches that
Feeling a bit enlightened, I decidedly get up to leave and get some fresh air after a few hours of taking up space in the busy café. I head towards the door, facing the grumbling man who is still soaking up his coffee-drenched shirt with a couple hundred napkins. I pause for a second, shrug my shoulders, and before heading out the door, toss the remainder of my (cold by now) pumpkin spice latte with skim in this familiar man’s face. His book was giving me a headache.
Lindenauer discusses the statistics of the
 James Scrimgeour, “The Route,” in The Route and Other Poems (Normal, IL: Pikestaff Press, 1996).
Scrimgeour alludes to this commodification of the witch trials characteristic
 Dr. Linenauer discussed the modern romanticized notion of witchcraft in the presentation and how it is misrepresentative of the women who were persecuted during the trials.
 Hayden White discusses the notion that some historical events are thought to presume a serious or noble genre in Figural Realism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 27-42
 Hayden White explains in “The Problem of Truth in Historical Representation” that “such glamorizing representations have become increasingly common and therefore obviously more acceptable over the last twenty years or so.” White, 27-42.
 “For unless a historical story is presented as a literal representation of real events, we cannot criticize it as being either true or untrue to the facts of the matter.” White, 30