As chance would have it, the very next person to enter the Epiphany Café, and benefit from the munificence of Little Teresa, was Kenilworth’s leading drug dealer, wearing an unseasonable knit cap, battered jeans, and a UConn sweatshirt.
How did I know he was a drug dealer?
It’s simple, I’m acquainted with everyone’s fictions.
The drug dealer, whom I will call Chai Latte, after the only words I have ever heard him speak, was swarming with fictions, like maggots gather on a rotten piece of meat.
First, there was the fiction he would have us believe. A simple University of Connecticut alumni or basketball fan, as proclaimed by his sweatshirt, he comes to the café every day to drink his favorite drink, a Chai Latte, signifying urbanity and sophistication. He graciously accepts the free Wi-Fi that keeps him in touch with friends across the whole world. He’s generous about sharing his table with people of all ages who sit briefly with him, without a word, and then hastily whiz away.
Then there were the fictions he told himself. He was one who shares the keys to the portals to the spiritual realm; a kind of shaman, respected in other, more enlightened cultures, but disreputed in this one. Other times, he told himself he was a shrewd businessman, giving people what they all wanted, no different than the score of respectable burghers that line Kenilworth’s main streets.
There’s the fiction the town police constructed. A relatively harmless fellow, more danger to himself than anyone else, and besides, the son of Kenilworth’s First Selectman, what passes for a mayor in small Connecticut towns. Freakishly loyal to those higher on the drug dealing food chain, the police said Chai was not worth squandering their limited resources.
Rabbi !, no doubt, thought of Chai Latte as a dying ember from G-d’s foundry, despite being a Goy. He would laugh when he saw Chai Latte, laugh again when he heard what he was up to, and laugh a third time to hear what he said about it. To Rabbi !, it was not important that Chai Latte was a drug dealer, a basketball fan, a shaman, a businessman, or the son of the First Selectman, since all things contain a shred of G-d hidden within. What was important, was that Chai was another piece of the puzzle.
Chai’s mother knew him as darling little boy, the apple of her eye, the nut some squirrel carried far from the tree. His father thought of him as one who’d do well in California, or any place the hell away from here.
The Therapist Emeritus thought she knew him well. To her, he was a single, unemployed, 28-year-old white male college dropout, living alone in an apartment, with a history indicative of polysubstance dependence, complicated by sociopathic and narcissistic personality traits. His father had given him an ultimatum to get into treatment, but Chai stopped coming as soon as the father stopped paying attention.
Little Theresa would be pleased to hear that her dollar-sixty-nine went to Chai Latte. Anyone was more worthy of it than she. The Waving Man would have no opinion of him, but, if he ever spoke, he would have a lot to say about Chai’s souped-up Honda Civic and how, when it drives away, it’s gone before he has a chance to raise his hand.
The Lisping Barista thought of him only as a nickel bag of Hawaiian Skunk Weed, delivered daily when her boss was never around, in exchange for a free large Chai Latte, to go, in case he had to run. He was also granted unmolested seating at a table the other side of the potted plant from the Therapist Emeritus. Today she gave Chai just a few more thoughts than usual when she considered whether it was right to give a free drink to someone who paid for it in barter. She decided it was, so as to not draw attention to their arrangement.
So, you can see, lots of Chai Lattes showed up that day at the Epiphany Cafe.
Which, of all these fictions, was the true Chai Latte? No single one was authentic, by itself; but, they all were, collectively. Every person is a congregation of fictions, some known by the person, others only beheld by others. It takes someone with keen observational skills and imagination, like me, for instance, to patiently assemble them all and not have a bolt or a washer left over. It takes someone who knows he’s fictional. It takes one to know one.