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CROSS TALK

Edward Williams

Month

June 2010

Ultimate Mirror

Downtown-- it is a panel of mirrors, each with their own scene. Where am I standing!

THE FACE OF OBSCURITY

——I am always dashing into Starbucks Coffee, either the one on Monroe Avenue or the one at Twelve Corners in Brighton, and ordering an Ice Coffee, and then as I am waiting  I always run into somebody, like Andy Dunning, or Richard Maxwell,  so I am induced to pause there and talk, and seriously I am always wishing I had more than just a cheery update, I almost wish I could break down, blow up, and report the momentary crisis I am actually in, any given moment. But we here are trained, and by-and- large rightly so!, to be  always generalizing, to exist behind a screen of normalcy, and even if Andy, say, is downcast, or Maxwell frazzled,  or vice versa, Dunning dizzy with news and Richard very reflective, these encounters are, anyway, officially accidental, not much of a storyline can be squeezed out of either party, and each will take greater import from the fact of the encounter, than whatever specifically was imparted, or fleeting impressions grabbed.  Of course though I always act like I am in a hurry, and am quite willing to continue to act that way, right up until I get back to my car and face another set of alternatives, more often than not I would not be stopping at Starbucks, mid-afternoon, if I wasn’t precisely not busy.
——See, I’d gone flying out of my office at home because I felt like a small group of fawning friends, would-be critics (as friends will be) were standing behind me, watching me select and cross- out sets of adjectives that were marching around in my mind in twos and threes. These well-wishers, these referees always step in, when I slow down, but I know how to manage them, and my time; the quickest way back to work is to flagrantly waste an hour or two, or the rest of the day entirely, if I can’t write without an audience in my head. Materializing at my back. Gone when I whip around to chastise them! Jumping in my car and heading off for Starbucks, notebook in hand, is a way of slipping out of that cacophony–though of course sometimes if you go into Starbucks it turns out to be precisely the wrong turn, since you run into one of the very people you were writing about!  It’s a dangerous game I am playing. The very person you just crucified, or vainly appealed to as a supplicant. Then you have to stand there and talk to them, and try not to mention that their significance has only recently been established. I mean in the one contingent universe of your own life, which is, compared to their own perhaps death-centric system, advantageously still open. Good Lord, and watch the religious overtones, please.
——But it was awhile since Scott Cole had been in orbit, when we crossed paths at the Monroe Ave. Starbucks, I was hot-footing it out of the place actually when I practically got knocked over by this huge fellow who had stepped in front of me–see that is what happens when you hurry for no reason, it’s better to segment these episodes into small parts and perform them one at a time, which is why, if I might digress, I like the way they set up the amenities stand with the packs of sugar, etc. at Starbucks, so you take your iced coffee, or your more pricey concoction half a room away to work on it, which provides the opportunity to survey the tables and see if there is anyone in the joint you’d like to accost, or avoid this afternoon. One of my concerns this afternoon was trying to shake that formal style I had employed in the section of the book dealing with the dead I have known and lost.  It was Scott who nearly knocked me off my feet, I always feel like a little guy in his presence anyway, so that is apt. I lurked in the corner near the window looking out on a rubber tree plant, if you can believe it, and waited for him to get served, then we end up sitting at this table and Scott is telling me a full-fledged anecdote about how he saw a copy of my novel Black Forest, that beautiful volume published three decades ago,  in the disorganized back storage room of a certain used bookstore in a bad inner city neighborhood.
——“Cool,” I said, “you want to slow that story down and tell it piece by piece?”
——“Piece by piece?” my gargantuan friend, and constant flatterer, said.
——“Yeah, you know, frame by frame, like it were being directed by Alfred Hitchcock.” And as he was considering this smart request, I added, “keeping yourself as the main character, please.”
——It was out on North Street, he says, at Small World Books, and the thing about this copy of Black Forest was that it was signed by the author. For some reason this jolted me, but I acted casual, I said, “well it makes sense because practically everybody that has one, if it is in Rochester, must be someone I personally gave it to.
——“Well, that is the thing, isn’t it,” Scott said. “Whoever you gave this one to, doesn’t have it anymore.”
——“They must have died,” I said.
——“Right, they must have died,” Scott said. Then he said, “Actually it was signed to two people, and I wish I could, I am trying to right now, remember the names.”
——I immediately thought I knew who it was too, and I couldn’t remember names either. A particular couple jumped into view, they came over to our house for dinner, in what is now ancient history, a white-haired woman who was quite an authority on everything she knew about, but who had very strict, and niggling interests (that’s the way I summed her up), and her husband who was indistinguishable from a mouse.
——“You wrote something to them, too,” Scott said.
——“Did I now!” I said, astonished at myself. “I can only imagine.” Signing a book for people you are giving it to in your own house seems a little . . . ridiculous to me. I mean inscribing a book on a transatlantic journey, to a person you will never see again, there!– my hand would flourish a rare signature.
——Meanwhile, amidst these images, I was thinking here in Starbucks, that I wouldn’t actually be surprised if that particular couple had found it in their hearts, so to speak, to coldly sell their personally inscribed Black Forest, as they packed it in a box with other books they had no use for and cast off the whole lot for three dollars to that place where it still was kicking around.  But Scott had some urgent reflections of his own here, and he was following my directive: to make it about himself, not me. I hate stories where I am the center of attention, unless I am telling them.
——“Seeing your book,” he said, “put me in a slight quandary.”
——“Quandaries are never slight,” I said, “but I am listening.”
——“I couldn’t decide whether I should buy it. On the one hand,” he says, “buying it would be appropriate to keep up my collection of your writing, as an archivist.”
——I nod to that, and rattle the ice cubes in the ice coffee.
——“And on the other hand not buying it leaves it for someone else to discover,” he says.
——This is fantastic, I think. It totally shows where I am, in the mind of one of my most ardent, outspoken fans. A fortuitous discovery by what could only be a desperately wandering solo reader, searching thither and nigh in crumbling corners . . .  Until I can escape residence in Scott’s mind, so to speak, surely I am doomed to be waiting to be discovered–whatever that is supposed to mean, to a gawking gallery. I feel like I am maybe three or four people down in a line waiting for execution.     Yet, this is exactly what I said in the distinction that began this very book and it’s free ranging considerations of . . . fame and fortune.
——“Yes sir, I often think,” I say like a true sage, “my work stands as most accessible to the one who randomly discovers it.”
——Particularly that book, I want to say–but just go on with the general theory.  “Yes, I must be encountered free and clear of any encumbrance, and if you, who have already found me (and we can talk about your case later), if you take me out of circulation, though circulation in this instance means, um, let’s see how to put it: situational oblivion, that’s good, and in low light, around four thirty in the afternoon, scrambling, whatever, then–”
——“Whatever, indeed,” Scott says, “go on.”
——“Then it might, it surely must, be another generation. Of course that Small World Books won’t be there, that whole North Street neighborhood is . . . a forbidden zone, will be erased, I never go there. That’s clumsy, but one thing is clear.”
——I wanted him to torturously consider what that could possibly be, that one thing. So I said, “but the story is yours.”
——He didn’t say anything. Analogies were burning me up, I thought of that guy in the Midtown Parking Garage who takes your ticket receipt as you are leaving, and how the flimsy arm of the barrier is raised up as you pull up to hand him that receipt, but he doesn’t even activate that, it’s automatic I think, but I always thought this  guy would be a good one to start a rumor with, that would result in a revolution.  I am always thinking of a man in a log cabin, pacing from window to window, and I am thinking of solo acts of kindness.  I wear the face of obscurity.  Surely, I am thinking, as we are sitting in the window at Starbucks, it is like winning a lottery: the one thing is the person that buys that particular copy of my now forlorn, once heroic publishing venture, in days of yore, surely that is the person who will . . .
——I couldn’t think of what went next.
——“Are you being sarcastic?” he says.
——“What!” I was jolted back into pleasant, all encompassing reality, “are you reading my mind!”

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