la parte entre cafes

There are always series of cafe scenes, and it would be better to gather them all together at once, because the nature of time is such that it does work more like memory and less like a train wreck.  The train wreck of history is unbearable because it reminds us of our own lives, but it's also incomplete.  The successions of losses and disillusionments that make up a life are only one side of the dice, and it has more than six sides, 256 in fact, but that's too much to give away right now, before the ceremony that teaches us who we really are.  There are more sides, always.

It would be easy, then, to go in a kind of train wreck order, that is to say, chronological, but that would be incomplete, and never as much of a train wreck as we like to think.  It would be much harder to gather all the loose threads together, gathering them together by color, colors to represent the 256 themes, and there are enough colors, certainly, but no easy way of spilling it out so that the patterns are all visible.

However, this is perhaps more an aesthetic consideration than anything, this is a succession of scenes.  There will be more.  There are always more on the way.  And even though sometimes we like to think there is nothing happening in our lives, the scenes taken out of context start to add up to pictures that are much larger, and we always find that there was more going on beneath the surface.

It would be better to start at the bottom of the sea, because this is where he always goes when he dreams, because this is where he always goes when he is about to get born.  Every rebirth is a quotation of the first one, and the first one goes back much much further than our birth certificates say.  Every document is written by a liar who doesn't realize the weight of what they are documenting.

In the first cafe, at the bottom of the sea, he is talking to his friend, a compaƱero in the revolution that started in 1848, or much further back, and for them at the moment, it started when Che got on the back of the motorcycle, and it started when Cesar decided to try talking with the farmers in California, and it started when certificates and the laws they proclaimed stopped making sense to so many people who were trying to stay alive.

It's ten o'clock at night, and I'm parking my motorcycle.  The cafe chairs and tables are spilling out in the street.  I am already a half an hour early, and I decide that I might smoke and write something short that I can use for an introduction next weekend.

He is already there, so I abandon those plans and take up the original plan, to meet with Michel and talk about art and love. 

"I got here early," he says, "and so did you.  This is important."

"I was going to write my introduction," I say, because it sounds important and almost French, the way French people are always writing introductions to important things.  We have important things, too, Michel reminded me, and this is important.

"Your cap is pointed at the top like an elf," he says.  "You'll need to adjust that, so we are like revolutionaries, and not subjects for mockery."

Oh, Marcel, you make me adjust my cap in the middle of the revolution, because you know, somehow you know, how do you know? you always know. 

When we talk, it is as fluid as the coffee that pours, and as rich as the cream, and as hot as the French woman who brings the coffee.  Except she is not that at all, but more like a man, because there are always men with important beards in this cafe, doing important things with their beards and their caps.  It is always easier to imagine there are French women here, because of the nature of our meetings, and our lives, and I don't want to talk, but he corners me, like a cat, or a bull, or perhaps somewhat like both, a cat dressed up as a bull, ready to fight, knowing it will always land on its feet.

"What is it, Odysseus?" he asks, cornering me, like a cat in a bull suit.

My name is Odysseus, or something just as important and heavy as cream.

I can't answer.

"You are pausing, and it's going on endlessly, and it needn't be so entirely painful."  He pours sugar into his coffee, and lights a cigarette, even though one is already burning, but it's for effect, and a good one, too.  "You can't hide your heart from me, because we know each other too well."

And it's true, so true, so very very so true.  We do.  Indeed we do.  And we laugh like men at a bullfight, even though we are the cat we have come to harness.

My confession spills out like coffee beans from the mouth of a bull, a bull with its mouth filled with coffee beans.  "That woman," I tell him.  "She is only half-French."  And I cry, because that's what we goddam do.

"The one you're seeing now?" he asks.

"There is no one I'm seeing right now," I say.  Which isn't entirely true.  There is one, one or three, who has my heart in her mouth, like a cat, only I haven't told her that, yet, because I can't decide between the one or the three, but they each play out in my imagination, so vividly, and it's so very tender and furious with each of them, and so filled with exasperating complications.  But, because these scenes of such beauty and terror have only happened in my mind, I should not count them as real, because my therapist advises me not to, because I get into trouble that way.

"Oh," he says.  "Then the one from this summer?"

"No, before that.  The one before that," I say.  "The second one before that, I mean.  She was only half.  Half."

He cries and I cry, because that's what we goddam do, and then he tells me that this isn't important.  Because her other half was also interesting, so terribly interesting that half was, and he is right, and we are right, and we are full of coffee, and there is no more fear.

He then goes on to brag, endlessly endlessly, about his latest conquests, and they are so filled with desire it makes my heart choke, but there is nothing French about these conquests, and I think they shouldn't count, but I would never tell him that.

"Women keep us young," I say.

"Agreed," he says, "except that I am young, and you are kind of old."

It's all true, more true than I could ever admit, but I don't feel the least bit tired, but there has been so much coffee that I will not sleep this night.  During the moment when he was distracted by a string of text messages, I had time to think about mortality, and lost love, and the way cats have of pretending to be something they are not.  I also had time to think that these moments with Michel reminded me that we were involved in a complex performance of living, an experiment where memory and experience could interlock and form connections that made sense.  We both knew that we were living in a strange time, and in a place that did not nurture its generations, and we understood that we had to nurture ourselves, and each other, and find the threads that might make sense, and keep us from taking ourselves too seriously.

By the time the third espressos came, we were ready to talk about art, while shadowy figures were running through the streets, looking for something they could call home.  We are not as alone here as we think. 


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