—–Often it occurs to me that if I stay in one place for long enough, the whole world will file by, and all options will present themselves, be made available for the judging. I am only sitting calmly with a book, and my notepad, in Twelve Corners Starbucks, that spacious coffeeshop that occupies (I often reflect) the space where Neisers Five & Dime Store was, in my long ago childhood. I am there for only a half an hour with my StarbucksDoubleshot, when already it has occurred to me that I am so situated, and in such a receptive, expansive mood, that virtually anything can happen. People I haven’t seen in years will file by, or materialize right in front of me. Their faces I will update, their names will fly into my mind, and I will address them with mock formality. “How have you been?” I will say, or just casually, “What’s up, Bob?” It will turn out that Bob has gone into real estate, or owns an Athletic Club, and he will flash his business card. No, maybe that scene is now quaint. Instead, his cell phone will ring, and I will deduce what’s up with Bob from the clipped talk, which he cuts short, in order to get back to me. Only to tell me–this is Bob alright– he has to fly, unfortunately, but what a surprise to run into me. “Here?” I think, and almost say, “at Neisers?” I never left the intractable orbit of the local universe I have been trying to figure out since . . . long ago childhood. In some sense that is true, the setting has changed, but the mystery has remained.
—–“But,” Bob says, still standing there, “what has become of you?” Ah, my long lost friend Bob, is asking. But he steps away, even as I am telling him. But that is alright, since I don’t like the way I was putting it. “I became a writer,” I had begun to say, and it sounded like an apology alright, like I was saying, “oh, I dropped out of life, in order to study it.” That is me, ringing up. And right then, this girl Sheila, I see, is casting a glance back over her shoulder. Not at me, and that wasn’t Sheila either. But the idea that the whole place is connected, like on a switchboard somewhere, has caught fire, and suddenly I panic. It is way too much. And then I think, you must be lonely and quite out of luck, to be pretending you are located in a magical crossroads, where all options file by. In fact the thought has now backfired, and made me extremely nervous. Instead of an invitation and breakthrough into larger society, great reunions and opportunities, I am getting the nudge that I should get up and leave. The nudge? Three people have stood up, I feel I am getting shouldered out. I am losing my memory, and my voice. The brush with sociability has reminded me of my other constant companion. My invisible other self, who is in a constant quandary. What kind of word is that, quandary? And this tenor breeds the idea that I have infected the whole place with deadly self-consciousness, and, surely, attracted attention.
—–But of whom? Glancing over my shoulder, I note that I am being watched in fact by several people. Fair enough, I think. I scan them with glazed eyes. But one local madman seems especially trained on me. His eyes meet mine, and they say: we are already conspirators. Well, he looks familiar, maybe I knew the guy and ditched him in some conflicted past, and here he come to remind me. He is one of those Brighton High School drop-out types, “hoods” we used to call them, that I distantly revered, for their rebel status. He still has his instincts, and sees my rebel core. We are the outsiders, and we scorn the ground we stand on, seethe with hate for this very place, with its framed photos on the wall, its comfy chairs, its parquet floor, it’s cheeky people, etc. That is one choice attitude to have–but hold on, fella. I like my Starbucks Doubleshot, it lasts as long as twilight, and has zonked me out, with it’s aroma–I’m not kidding; and not only that, I am only halfway into an important book. A literary masterpiece, that presents with amazing truth the group consciousness, the small societies of people in Paris, between World Wars . . . I am on assignment, and I come here to work. I may have managed to alienate, or at least unsettle a number of individuals already, so now I must not look up at all–lest this one total malcontent think I actually recognize him. I make to emphatically, that is to say decisively, continue reading my book, Men of Good Will, by Jules Romains.
—–The place has not collapsed under my called-off scrutiny. Indeed, there are several groups secure from all intrusion, and many individuals busily employed with their laptop computers, and these will be preserved, in their own reality, and in my estimation. There! I have almost fully recovered. Now, I have to get up and leave, to avoid egging on this crazy fellow, who wants to disturb the peace, which is fragile. A veneer, a polish, a consistency of styles, a repertoire of greetings and goodbyes, a smell of coffee, a sheen of metallic surfaces–an agreement and a pact between all renegades, for we are all outsiders, this theme holds the place together. Enough to think about! I must pretend to have somewhere else to go, and continue my research.
—–Lord! Dusk has fallen upon the mini-plaza. I have other places to go, and errands in real life too, I am fumbling to realize. Fully waking up, I remember that I have to go grocery shopping, at Wegman’s, where I always think I will run into people I know . . . before I pick up my wife downtown at the library. These tailor made Starbucks, they hover and land in small shopping plazas like Twelve Corners in Brighton, where I still comfortably roam–satellite installations especially catering to a current trend, serving a public that is nicely in transit, I think, from one era to another. There! There is the thought that will carry me right out of here! How many ephemeral places do I go like this, like gliding through turnstiles that are to be lifted and removed just a few years hence. In fact I am indulging these nearly idle constructions, to an extreme, milking them for all they are worth, when in fact I move within an established sphere of people, a bolstered, confident world, a literary realm, that precisely allows them to flower, like in their own zones, their milieu. And has furthermore empowered me to study them for what is their blatant obscurity.