All about me, S. Harry Zade


Since I’m unlikely to ever meet you, I’m going to tell you something I never tell anyone. They all think I’m an English professor because I favor a tweedy look and have more books in my bag than electronics. When someone asks me something, I answer in a thoughtful, but incomprehensible manner, as if it were more important to be clever than clear. I tend to privilege sound over sense, erudition over having something to say. I let them think what they think because they would never believe who I was if I told them the truth.

I’m really a fictional character.

That’s right, I was created by a man in dirty sweat clothes who hadn’t washed his hair in four days, gone punchy from too many hours at a word processor. He’d just screeched at his wife because she knocked on his door to ask if he wanted breakfast. What was so important that he couldn’t be disturbed? He was conceiving me. He gazed at the screen, cupped his hand ever so gently over the rounded form of the mouse, fondled the keyboard, and brought me into being. The imperfect man to whom I owe my very existence is a perfect prick.

I’m really not that different from you.

You may think that you’re really special, being real and all; but what is real? It means that you don’t know you’re a fictional character, too.

Just think of the many poses you take. Sexy with your boyfriend, prim with your parents; studious with your teachers, goofy with your friends late at night; a hard worker, a lazy slouch; fun in Facebook, serious in LinkedIn. Which, out of that expansive cast, is your true self, anyway? The one you go to bed with at night? Do you look the way you think you look when you look in the mirror in the morning? Buddha said it best: the self is an illusion. He might as well have said a delusion, a painted smile on a sad clown, a fudged report, a generalization, a weak end of a flashlight beam, shaking on the trail where the woods are full on monsters.

It’s true that being fictional means that I can’t actually eat or fuck or sit on a purple cushion and pick my nose; but I can imagine doing those things very vividly. Rather, my author can imagine it and, presto, I’m doing them.

Let me demonstrate. There. I just let loose a silent but deadly fart into the cafe. It felt good. There was a sensation of relief and a passive-aggressive vanity in the action, sort of like the surreptitious satisfaction boldly giving birth to a bursting baby bubble. At the same time, I’m pleased that its arrival was not accompanied by trumpets that would’ve blown my cover. I took clandestine delight in watching my neighbors crinkle their noses and look slyly around. They shifted uncomfortably in their seats, hoping no one would suspect them. They weighed the pros and cons of packing up their laptop and moving, versus waiting for the smell to dissipate.

So, you be the judge. Did I capture the experience of furtive farting? If so, for what do I need a body?

From what I can tell, no one who has a body seems to know what to do with it. The Geeky Guy, for instance, moves around as jerkily as a marionette. All the scribes at their laptops around me seem to have forgotten that they have bodies as they squint into the virtual world, drink too much coffee, and hold their arms in uncomfortable positions till they get tendonitis. Then there’s the Lisping Barista, who seems to have fought a war against her body, as wonderful as it was; defacing it with permanent graffiti, revising it with piercings, and slicing it to ribbons with a razor. It seems as though these so called real people are doing their best to be disembodied and making themselves into fictional characters; as if they weren’t already.

As a self-knowing fictional character, I can claim an advantage all the rest of you don’t have. I know the purpose of my life. It’s revealed by the name my author has given me. If you sound it out, S. Harry Zade becomes Scheherazade, a clever allusion to the story teller of Arabian Nights. Apparently, I’m supposed to tell stories or die. Perhaps it’s this very virtue, the ability we fictional characters have of knowing the meaning of our lives, that has caused you real people to fictionalize yourselves. I enjoy a good measure of clarity and singleness of purpose you guys don’t seem to have.

Be that as it may, it is the narrative imperative that has given me anxiety, for I’m not allowed to have writer’s block like any normal human being. Failure to produce a steady flow of entertainment can send me to the chopping block. I can be rubbed out and made to disappear more easily than you, for it’s not necessary to dispose of a body when one can be done in by a delete key.

So, like a shark that must keep swimming or else it dies, I must continuously tell stories. This is what brings me to the Epiphany Cafe. A writer has contradictory needs of both solitude and fellowship. I must rub elbows with my fellows to pick up some experiences. I need constant stimulation, a steady flow of material, story leads, and compelling characters; and then I need you all to leave me the hell alone. The Epiphany Cafe is just the place for me.

This is why it meant so much to me when I overheard an attractive young woman, the Lisping Barista, say yes to the Geeky Guy, even though she was not saying yes to me. I knew I was witnessing a story.

The Lisping Barista at the Epiphany Cafe


The young woman miraculously said yes to the Geeky Guy.

I’m sorry to have to start in the middle of the story like this, but you should be used to it by now. In real life, stories always start in the middle. When you were born, the tale had already begun. It’ll continue after you die. At times it will seem to go on without you, even if you think you’re still alive.

Then there will be times when your story seems to go nowhere. It had been like that for me. I was a forgotten novel in a drawer, a half told tale, a shaggy dog that lost the scent. My life had stopped while my author went on a long digression, a parenthetical parable, a superfluous sermon. He piled and piled metaphors on me till I couldn’t move. Alliterated allusions abated my breath. I was sitting there, waiting for an editor to cross me out. But then something happened. Some may call it inspiration, others might say it was transformation, still others believe in transubstantiation; I like to think of it as a revelation. I was cut and pasted, rearranged, restated, and put where I belong. I found myself at the Epiphany Cafe, overhearing a fetching young woman miraculously say yes.

By outward appearances, it looked like a perfectly ordinary coffee shop. Not the kind from your parent’s generation where the buxom waitress calls you honey; but of the class of expensive whipped concoctions, hip baristas, and scribes arrayed at table tops, heads down into their manuscripts. A place where no one knows your name, but they know how you like your latte. Please don’t imagine it was a chain: a Starbucks, Seattle’s best, Tim Horton’s or Dunkin Donuts. It was one of a kind. It could be anywhere, but you could never open one again, anywhere else. It was at the perfect location: the intersection of Inspiration and Perspiration; over by where you get off, and on, the Ego Highway; before you get to those housing tracts, where every where looks the same.

The young woman was the conductor of the espresso machine, standing where she always stood, when the Geeky Guy approached her. She was a craftsman of crushed beans, an artisan of whipped milk, a master of macchiato; and she also crushed, whipped, and mastered our hearts. Women and men, we arranged our laptops so we could peer over and watch. She was a clash of artistry and awkwardness, bangles and chains, purity and piercings. She had enough tattoos so that, if you knew the language, you could read her life. By means of the cuts on her arms you could see right into her and know she was in pain. You would just want to take care of her, but there was a counter in the way. The closest you would get would be the tip jar, which overflowed when she was on shift. But then the Geeky Guy, who no one expected, rose up, went forth, and asked her out on a date. He suggested coffee, which didn’t seem bizarre till later, and she said, so that we all could hear, yes.

To be precise, with her pierced tongue, it sounded more like, “Yeth.” That’s why I call her the Lisping Barista.