One of my favorite cafes has a slightly fancy-schmancy name. I am generally anti-fancyschmancyness, but some things must be forgiven in favor of redeeming qualities like, well, food. And the internet. Let us not forget the internetS.
I discovered the place one morning in early January, after I had hand-written a letter to Maddie on green paper. There is yummy food here, and free wifi and late hours and a multitude of power outlets, amenities lacking at big-name places like Starbucks and Borders.
My only complaint is that it’s too damn cold in here. Under my purple nailpolish, my fingernails are blue, I am sure of it.
My first morning here, fascinated by the colors and textures, I knelt on the sidewalk outside the cafe and took several photos of the numbers and letters etched into the concrete. Later, Somayya would remark dryly, “I’m so glad you can now remember where you parked, Yazzo.” Usually, though, I park in the public garage over half a mile away, and meander through the streets, smiling to myself at the sights.
Every morning, walking down the street, I pass a woman playing the piano in the window of a music store, her back to the passersby.
A man in a waiter’s white apron dashes out of the Persian rug store and over to the French restaurant half a block down, arriving, not in the least bit out of breath, to take the lunch order of a smiling woman seated in the outdoor patio.
Once, I walked all the way down to the cafe, then doubled back to sit for a few minutes on a bench in the sunshine and read a few pages of The Alchemist, sent to me as a gift from a friend in Toronto. I finished it sometime in February, I think. It’s May now, and I feel I need to re-read it again. Perhaps it will provide me some clarity and a sense of purpose; I am lacking in both these days.
At the cafe, I try to decide between the dozen flavors of Italian soda. Decision-making has never been one of my strong suits, much less food-related decision-making. In case you didn’t know yet, I am nothing if not the most indecisive food-decision-maker in the world. I have proclaimed this on facebook. Therefore, it is true.
“It’s a crazy world, isn’t it?” laughs the guy at the counter as I stare at the options, completely baffled.
“It really is.” I smile back. “Especially when it comes to food.”
In the end, I decide on a chocolate-covered macaroon and cherry-flavored Italian soda, then make my way over to a table against the back window, where I fold a few post-it notes and place them under the errant table-leg, in order to steady the wobbly table. I can’t help but think MacGyver would have been so proud.
Two teenagers the next table over are collaborating on a powerpoint presentation. The current slide reads, “How Can Stoichiometry Be Used?” I remember all those college chemistry classes I took; the only enjoyable parts were the stoichiometry conversions and the math involved in calculating acid-base titrations.
The woman at table in front of mine is using the same distractions I am: GMail, GoogleReader, and news websites. I’ve also got flickr, so that complicates matters.
There is a little boy sitting closeby; he has a loud, high-pitched voice. As I return to my table with the Italian soda, his voice escalates in volume if not clarity, and, out of the corner of my eye, I notice him looking over and gesturing excitedly. I turn my head just in time to catch his mother replying back in a calm voice; our eyes meet, and she explains, “He was saying how your eyeglasses and mine are almost the same.”
“Oh, yeah!” I realize. Red and black frames; my favorite color combination. I look at the boy. “Quite spiffy, aren’t they?” He nods back gravely.
My iTunes is now playing Beth Orton’s Central Reservation, the Ben Watt remix. Nearly five years later, I still remember reading a post about that song on a weblog I used to follow regularly at the time. I specifically remember the bit about her driving over the Bay Bridge while listening to the song, and because is it still one of my favorite posts anyone has ever written about music, I had to go hunt through Sarah Hatter’s archives to find it just now. Is that highly stalkerish? And is it scary and/or ridiculous that I still remember that post five years later? I’d even used a line from the song as a post-title during those heady last days of my fourth (but not final) year of undergrad, the glorious June when everything seemed to finally click and I realized the beauty of work and studies and conversations that I enjoyed and felt inspired by.
I log out of GMail and flickr, close the BBC and NPR and tumblr websites. I tell myself I need to stop with the self-destructive distractions, remind myself of how, just a few months ago, the feeling in my heart towards deadlines and everything else I had to do was a succinct, “Oh, fuck it”; how I kept putting off working on that fellowship application until, one morning, inexplicably in the middle of washing my hands at the sink, I found myself stringing together phrases and sentences in my mind, felt the mental excitement of formulating paragraphs for my statement; how that moment made realize with surprise and a re-discovered sense of urgency, This IS what I want to do and I couldn’t dry my hands and get back to my laptop fast enough.
I need to have that feeling, that moment back, so I can re-motivate myself. That This is what I want to do insistence that will see me through whatever the hell I’ve started. Meanwhile, someone in the UK found my weblog through a Google search for “lack of direction in life,” which makes me sigh, and smile with wry self-recognition, too, because if that’s not me as well, then I don’t know what is. But I’ve gotten myself to this spot, this situation, this temporary parking meter of sorts, and now – if you’ll forgive the horrible analogy – it’s a matter of making sure I’ve got enough pocket change to get through the limited time I have, the days or months I’ve allotted myself, this temporary reprieve – already overextended – I’ve been granted from the “real world.” Time is not on my side here. It never is, and if I’m honest, that’s my own fault; I’ve no one to blame but myself.
The clock on the wall says it’s time to go, Sam Cooke sings through my headphones. Walking out of the cafe that night, I see two men greeting one another exuberantly with that quintessentially male half-hug-and-slap-on-the-back. “How’ve you been, man?” one asks the other, except he says it so quickly, as if in a rush to sidestep the small talk and get down to more exciting things, that it instead sounds more like, “Hey been?” I like this, and I think I will steal it.