Review: 'Welcome to Cappuccinos', by Graveyard Greg
Graveyard Greg explains in his Foreword how he came to write this novel. Firstly, there was the Second Life virtual-reality world, for which he created a jackal persona with a red Mohawk wearing black jeans and red sunglasses. Secondly, there was his brief job as a barista at a Starbucks. Thirdly, there was John “The Gneech” Robey’s series Fictionlets: The Extremely Brief Adventures of Bridgid and Greg, each of 400 words or less. Fourthly, there was his own imagination, which blended them together, named his jackal Venti and gave him a job as a part-time barista at a Starbucks clone, and he was off and running in a series of short-short-short chapters of one page or slightly over each. Voilà; Welcome to Cappuccinos! (exclamation point optional).
Venti is a jackal; nine feet three inches tall, incredibly ripped, and gay. His co-worker Damon is a bear; ten years younger and also gay. In fact, this Cappuccinos Coffee House (with a water-horse kelpie logo) in Reno is a regular gay hangout; not with any outright eroticism, but just studly guys hanging out together and trading gay innuendos. When they’re not at the java joint, they’re working out at Max’s nearby Ironhorse Gym. “They” are Art the lion. Haavard the dog. Otis the otter. Adrian, a frog. (“Frogger!”) Max, a stallion. Collin the wolf. Charles, another bear. Blair the badger with a bad heart. Singa the cheetah who dyes his fur a metallic silver and paints his spots in a rainbow pattern. A crazy nameless old ermine who has invented a gun with Styrofoam bullets.
Venti’s hours at Cappuccinos are being cut, so he has a second job – well, source of income – posing in body-building poses that leave nothing to the imagination, if you know what I mean, for a web-cam feed; and is considering a third, real job modeling for an art class.
I semi-lied. The cast keeps it inside their pants in public, but get intimate in private. Venti and Damon become gay lovers. When Damon becomes jealous combined with self-consciousness about his “inadequacy” compared to Venti, and leaves, the embittered jackal and his buddies experiment with each other. Venti appreciates their friendship, and finally develops deeper feelings than just friendship with Art.
Welcome to Cappuccinos is a slice-of-life soap opera in which all the characters are gay. Nothing dramatic happens, unless you count the old ermine shooting one of the guys (non-fatally) with his Styrofoam bullet, or Venti’s exasperation when his hyena foster-mother insists on visiting him without any warning, even if she is extremely open-minded:
[Venti introduces Art.] ‘He’s my boyfriend, Mom. We have sex on a regular basis.’
The sense of doom exploded through [Art’s] innards with renewed self-justification. ‘Venti, I don’t think your mother wants to hear that.’
‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘I don’t mind at all. Why, I accepted the fact my baby boy was never going to give me any grandchildren when I found him on the patio, pants down to his ankles, having sex with his boyfriend back when he was … Dear, how old were you at the time, eighteen?’ (p. 76)
Venti considers a more reliable and respectable career when Haavard gets him an interview for a librarian position, but before he even accepts a job offer he is asked to become a lead model for a new magazine, Muscle and Fur …
Well, I could go on summarizing developments, but as I said, nothing really dramatic happens. It’s all little stuff. But it’s realistic stuff. Venti may be a nine-foot anthro jackal, but, yes, “realistic” fits him well. If Welcome to Cappuccinos lacks much drama, it is full of heart. You will care what happens to Venti, to Art, to Otis, to Singa, to Venti’s mother and his kid brother Ted, to most of the characters. (There are a few unlikeable ones. That’s what life is like.)
The ultra-short chapters (180 of them in a 246-page book) make this an easy novel to read in bits & pieces rather than at one sitting.