Thursday, May 28, 2009

The song-and-dance team

Sit down. You there, me here. Fill the glasses with tap water -- this is New York, after all -- and bring the wine list. Look at that person sitting over there -- you know who it is? Looks familiar, but no, not really. Okay, here we are. What next? Order the wine -- a Muga rosé on a muggy day sounds perfect -- and pick at a breadstick. This is it, this is how adults behave. We sit in a neutral space and stare into it while the bustle goes on around us. We smile at the waitress and she smiles back. We smile at the busboy and he smiles back too. Life is full of smiles, isn't it? The menu is big, awkward to handle. We study it. Is there anything sillier than studying a big menu? We already know what we're having -- a medium burger, a Cobb salad. Uh-oh. The waitress is back to tell us about the daily specials. But we've already made up our minds. The recitation is pure ritual. She might as well be whistlin.

You have the scene arrange itself -- effin Eliot -- like a cat in a stream of sunlight. The possum plays dead. The little gatekeeper goes snoozing. The hands on the clock stop moving. We listen to one another with incredible energy. We pay attention. We don't interrupt, we don't interject. We wait and let the words sink in before responding. Is this really how adults behave?

The waitress takes our order -- a medium burger, a Cobb salad, dressing on the side. The busboy refills the water glasses and brings more breadsticks. Outside, sirens, the rattle of a jackhammer, the grinding acceleration of a garbage truck. Nothing penetrates our little cocoon except what we let in. Books we've recently read. Children and animals. Tracing the geography of travel. Shadows moving across the face of the earth. Human love is a delicate flower, as another poet wrote, and, yes, the bloom fades fast. The waitress brings our food. We eat slowly and drink slowly. Let the gatekeeper sleep, let the clock stay stopped. The burger tastes like a burger, the salad the way it should, no mean feat these days. The waitress comes by and asks how everything is. Everything is fine.

Everything is fine. The cat stretches in her pool of light. The gatekeeper only pretended to be asleep -- one watchful eye stayed open. We have eaten our fill. The busboy takes the plates. The waitress crumbs the table and brings espresso. No, no dessert. "The fire that stirs about her when she stirs." Yeats. "I am not a man who understands the void." Zen. But wait, we're not done. Sit still. Let me ask you a silly question. Do you think we should sing in the void? Yes, we should sing until our lips are pale.

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