A New Bench at Vox Pop

For the past two weeks, we have been reveling in the latest addition and upgrade to our local cafe. This is my story on how the installation of a specific, well thought out bench could change the entire perspective of a struggling coffee shop.

To call Vox Pop a coffee shop is actually to undermine it. It is way more than a cafe. For the past 5 years, Vox Pop has been a community gathering place, a home for political banter and speakouts, a chance for people to meet community leaders, a place for us wayward and reclusive musicians to finally come out. It has been a forum for writers and poets. It functions as a networking space for everything from stay-at-home moms, compulsive knitters, tarot readers, entrepreneurs and artists. For me it has been an opportunity to display my musical abilities as well as offering a space for BFS fundraisers.

But Vox Pop also comes with a history fraught with problems. Bad former management and the karma that goes with it. Fortunately, after the departure of Sander Hicks, Debi Ryan stepped in to elevate this neighborhood institution. Mr. Hicks had a great vision. To put a left wing cafe in the midst of a struggling commercial strip. The intentions and the basic idea were good. Bring music and left wing politics together with coffee and you have the basic ingredients of a positive force in a neighborhood that needed it.

But lack of business experience were his undoing. First the NYC Dept of Health came in and closed the place shortly after Deb took over for unpaid fines from the previous management. Then came NYS Department of Finance for back taxes. Then ConEd shut off the lights (I played guitar to a dark and candle lit store). Amazingly, Debi rallied the community and was able to reopen. Shares were sold, concerts were held, money was raised. But once again NYS Taxes came back in April and shut them down again. And once again Vox Pop pulled through and reopened. Tenacious to say the least.

I don’t really want to give an entire history on Vox. What I really want to speak about is the new bench, and how I see its effect on the energy of a cafe. It is a reflection on what Feng Shui is and how we are all part of an energy that needs direction.

So after all of the woes I have stated, Debi had my friend and expert carpenter John Webber create a new bench for the outdoor eating area of the cafe, which sits out facing Cortelyou Road here in Brooklyn. I was sitting with John reflecting on how this bench changes the whole sense of energy that flows into Vox Pop. John was not so receptive, at first, to my suggestion that it was good Feng Shui. Many people feel that Feng Shui is a word that is bandied about, and rightly so, without any real meaning. But this blogger has done a little reading and studying. I have known at least one expert in this very ancient Asian art, who practiced it from the standpoint of it being passed down by generations of old healers. But my explanation is simpler. It goes like this:

Everything is energy.

Energy flows by the cafe all day long. Most people pass the place and are indifferent. There have been many who have vocalized their opinions on other blogs as to how they either hate the place, find it shabby, don’t like the people who go there or do not agree with the apparent political leanings of the store. That said, there are still hundreds of us who find in Vox Pop the local hub for meeting our neighbors. Sheryll and I have made many, many new friends there. People who share our views on politics, food, spirituality, literature, music, family and on and on and on. But what Feng Shui is, is the understanding of moving “positive” energy toward you, while trying to keep as much “negative” energy away. My old friend and healer, Ken Kobayashi called this “bringing happiness in through the front door.”

So how does the bench change all this?

If you look at the before and after pictures, you can see in the before picture how the front area was simply open to the world. It was kind of funky and uncontained. We liked hanging out there, but there was no sense of protection from the outside forces.

Before
After

Now look at the after picture with the new bench. John has created a truly functional work of art. The bench now contains the area with a strong solid presence. It creates a kind of protective wall against the outside flow of traffic, which from a Feng Shui perspective is negative. It acts as a barrier or filter to the rest of the world. Yes, the negative forces are out there. But now there is a defense to their vibes. Also, another piece of brilliance here are the flower boxes that sit inside the back of the bench. The flowers send a positive energy back out to the world.

Now when you sit inside this area, you feel at home. Especially with the wonderful weather, one feels welcomed into this space. And sitting there, freely, you feel obligated and inclined to go into the store and buy something. And the inside has been rethought and continues to be.

The statement that everything is energy goes deeper than just a bench. But the bench is a good representation. There is a reason why I have been reflective lately.  Last week, while sitting outside on the bench and playing scrabble with my son, my wife came out to tell me that a good friend and mentor, Dr. Jon Rothenberg had died. The fact that I had seen him just a few days before in a glowing and radiant state, having just met with him just a few weeks before, was a shock. I attended the memorial where almost 350 people showed up, and I am still in a bit of a shock. (http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=jon-rothenberg&pid=142692448)  Jon was a man with a big presence in every way. And he was a generous and guiding influence to my spiritual world. The suddenness, and the unforgiving fact that nature can be ruthless, has caused me to reflect on my own purpose,  my own trek toward the final moment.

But one of the readings at the memorial has stayed with me. It was a quote from Jean de Salzmann, the most famous pupil of GI Gurdjieff, that “life cannot die.” And life is energy. Life is the energy that animates us. It causes our minds to think, our hearts to feel and our bodies to move. But we are well aware that the world has become blind to this simple fact. We do not live in accordance with the inner forces that are unseen, unknown. Therefore, the strange manifestations of the outer world grow ever stranger each day. Rather than supporting life, we as a society take part in rituals of greed and fear, which result in war, pollution, poverty and starvation. Organized religion uses this fear, but does not offer any direction as to how we can re-balance the world.

As this applies to education, it is the same. If you guide a child away from their inherent nature, their natural state, then you are beginning the process of human disenfranchisement. A disconnection from who and what we are.

And for the sake of closing this article, a simple piece of woodworking genius has illustrated to me, the divine truth that is possible for so many other things that govern our lives. I need a good strong bench for my heart. I will leave you with one more quote from the memorial. It comes from Dr. Michel de Salzmann, a man I knew and loved.

“He is rich, who has something to give.”

We can only try.

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One Comment on “A New Bench at Vox Pop”

  1. kris says:

    Beautiful post, Bruce! I agree with you regarding the new bench at Vox Pop — it does feel more protected, more harmonious. I love sitting out there!


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