Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The World "Out There"

Yesterday afternoon: 

Made myself leave the house. It seems a struggle, but, . . I went to the car wash. Brave. A young Black man stood at the cashier's counter, waiting, when I walked in. The cashier came back and asked the young Black man when he could come back for an interview. "Thursday," he said softly. After thinking for a moment, the cashier told him that Thursday wouldn't work, that so and so wouldn't be there. "How about Wednesday?" the cashier asked the young Black man. The young Black man said he could come after court. "What time?" the cashier asked him.  After an awkward pause, he said, "It starts at nine." "Wednesday afternoon, then?" asked the cashier. "O.K." replied the young Black man a little unsure.  

The walls of the car wash were lined with rows of car fresheners and doodads of little note. A soda machine with a blinking green light. A giant gumboil machine with a long, spiral track to the bottom of the chute. I'd heard that the carwash hired work release prisoners. "Kriminal KarWash," I thought would be a better name than "Octopus." I didn't understand why they would make this fellow come back for an interview when the manager was just behind a cheap, flimsy wall. I wondered why the young Black man was going to court. I wondered a lot of things. It was a lousy job, I thought.  

I went to Fresh Market to buy a spicy tuna bowl with avocado, cucumbers, ginger, and brown rice. Thinking it wasn't enough, I picked up some Asian noodles, too, and a small bottle of cheap sake. I wandered around a bit but passed up the huge candy section. At the register, I gave into temptation and picked up a "Bartender's Mix" of pretzels, peanuts, and Chex. As the young cashier was ringing me up, I tossed in a tin of ginger mints, too.  

I took the groceries home, then came here, to the Cafe Strange. Old habits. The crowd looked the same, the odd and the weird and the dejected. The girl working the counter wore a chunky septum ring and plenty of tats. She was short and thick and had cut her hair like Mo from the Three Stooges. She took her time with the order before mine, dour and surly. When she finally recognized me, I ordered a mint green tea. It will make me skinny, I thought. She steamed some water and filled a tall paper cup, then dropped in a handmade packet of tea. Behind her was the kitchen. A sign advertised "Kitchen Help Wanted." A sad, skinny Black man in checkered pajama pants was making nachos and a Cuban sandwich. The kitchen was ancient, dirty. The room was too warm.  What the hell, I thought, and I left the girl a big tip. Not big, but big for the joint, I thought. Maybe. 

I walked through a doorway across the dirty floor to a sticky table in a large room. I sat down and opened my Moleskine journal , looking around. I had joined the disinherited, I thought, the left outs and the losers, men being obvious about working on computers, a woman painting watercolors in an artist's notebook, and young couples, boys and girls, sitting together in open booths. I sipped my tea which was surprisingly good.  

At the far end of the room is a red curtained stage with a large, twinkling blue star and strings of red lights hanging in parallel rows. I would like to photograph the patrons of this cafe on that stage, I thought. It would be wonderful. I could see the pictures unfolding before me. They might do it, too, if I asked them, but I won't ask them. And therein lies the difference. Between what and what, I queried? It was an answer I knew all too well. 

In the passageway, there is a Photo Booth. A young couple steps in. A bit later, a strobe flashes, then again and again. The couple emerges laughing, waiting on their photos. I want to ask them to stand on the stage.  

Two girls, tall and thin, walk in imperiously wearing tube tops that expose their flat, white bellies. Sure. I'd ask them, too.  

And now. . . it is time for mother's. 

On my way out, I ducked into the Photo Booth.  Four black and white photos.  They were cool, but the results were disappointing.  

I chatted with mother as usual and did a few little chores and then went home.  I mixed a drink and lit a cheroot.  The feral cat came around the fence per her habit, for there is no longer any need.  She could simply cut across the garden, but she continues ancient ways.  

"There you are," I hailed and got up to feed her.  She has been cool with me lately, standoffish and jumpy.  But the old darling still comes to be fed.  

While I was up, I went over to look at the garden.  My zinnias have begun to bloom.  It is a good, wild garden.  I grabbed my phone and made a photo.  Much easier than asking people to pose I chided myself.  "You're a photographer of flowers like all the goofs standing around the photography store."  


I do food, too, I laughed.  I brought out the first course.  As she does, the cat became interested.  "No morsels for you," I said.  Not noodles.  I took a picture.  What the hell.  I sent it to some friends.  "I'm tired of eating alone," I thought.  Fuck it.  

C.C. is in Ohio.  He was hired to do a play at a well-known fine arts university there.  He sent me back a note.  "Better than the burger I wolfed down," he said, including a photo.  I cooked it up and sent it back to him.  

As I've said, everybody is elsewhere and I'm kerflumpt.  

Second course.  

I remembered that the chopsticks were a gift from an old colleague.  I decided to send the picture to a mutual friend with a note.  

"You are so cosmopolitan. . . even Harlemish, 21st century," she wrote back.  Her Ph.D. is in African American lit.  Though we seldom see one another any longer, we maintain our long friendship.  I was enjoying my dinner with friends. 

Was it late afternoon or early evening?  The days are so long now, I can't decide.  Dinner over, I pour a drink.  Might as well share this, too, I thought. 

Replies from two far away friends in North Carolina and in Virginia.  Replies, too, from friends on vacation, one in Provincetown, one in Savanah driving back from Manhattan.  

Back inside, the emptiness is palpable.  I pick up reading where I left off.  Not long after, I fall asleep in the chair.  I am conscious that I am sleeping, but I cannot wake up for a long while.  The phone dings.  It is Red in her Vegas bathroom showing off her suite.  I get up and drink some water.  

Reading this now, I can't tell which verb tense I meant to use.  I am too lazy to go back and correct it.  The entire thing needs editing, additions, revisions. . . .  No matter.  I did what I intended and focussed on the "outer world."  Mostly.  I'm trying.  Climbing out of the hermetic mess that I've called my life.  Less solipsism.  More action.  

Let's see.  

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