Rabbi ! enchants his congregation

I walked the most likely road the Lisping Barista took out of town. It was a perfect route for someone on the run, with woods on both sides in which to hide whenever a car came along. She was, after all, fleeing from both the Drug Dealer and the Geeky Guy, as well as any number of private demons. I had not gone a mile until I realized this was the road to Gillette’s Castle. The caves the Lisping Barista visited with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat were nearby.

I predicted the Lisping Barista would find a cave and hide for the night; so, I ended my walk, and went home to get some sleep. Yes, this fictional character needs to sleep. I’m not a superhero, after all. I may have exceptionally keen hearing, the ability to hack into laptops, and an active imagination; but, in every other respect, I’m just like you and would never choose to walk ten miles, when I can spend the night in my bed and drive it the next day.

In fact, I was so sure that I would find the Lisping Barista right where I thought she would be that, it being Shabbat, I decided I would visit Rabbi !’s synagogue and see what he had to say. I never got a chance to hear his sermons anymore, since the Epiphany Café was closed. While the rest of us migrated to Dunkin Donuts, the laughing Rabbi would never set foot in there, for the donuts were not kosher. Not that he would even eat a donut; but, being a rabbi, he could not give the appearance of eating one. Not that the baked goods at the Epiphany Café were kosher, either; but, it being a coffee shop, and not a donut shop, appearances weren’t so apparent.

I expected that seeing Rabbi ! in his natural setting, he would be different than observed at the Epiphany Café; and, indeed, that was the case. I was surprised to find that he seemed more himself at the café than at the synagogue. The difference was as dramatic as coming across a tiger in the wild, where it can pounce on you at any moment to deliver a sermon, versus seeing one caged in a zoo, performing only at feeding time. Furthermore, in the wild, one would hope to not come across a tiger; just as we often groaned when Rabbi ! entered the café. On the other hand, one may travel to a zoo especially to see and hear the tiger; as these good people arrived, all dressed up, for the rabbi.

After an hour of singing incomprehensible songs in a foreign language, marching around with a scroll, and chanting, also in a foreign language, the daily portion of the Torah; Rabbi ! was, at last, permitted to speak to us in English.

“What really happened that day in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?”

The congregation didn’t seem to know. At least, they didn’t answer. They seemed to think he was about to tell them.

“I think that Eve took a big bite out of that apple and found a worm! No, half a worm! That’s how she discovered Evil!”

Nobody asked him, but the man behind me said to someone in his row, “I wouldn’t have eaten that apple, I don’t even like apples; but, if it was a rugelach. Oy, I wouldn’t have been able to resist a rugelach.”

“Evil never looks like Evil on the surface,” continued the Rabbi. “It always looks good; but disgusting underneath. Evil ruins every good thing we come across! Life is a good thing! But then there’s death. Health is a good thing! But there’s sickness. Kindness and compassion are great things! But they are only needed as an antidote to cruelty and grief. Every one of us has bitten the figurative apple and found the figurative worm. Blah!”

If he were delivering this sermon at the café, he would have actually spit something out on his plate. Here, he had to make do with pantomime.

“Eve said to Adam, ‘Check this out! Do you believe this?’”

“Adam said, ‘God wouldn’t ruin an apple like that! Let me see!’ He plucked another apple from the tree and took a big bite, himself! Blah! He got another worm!”

It was about then that a thought struck me. The Lisping Barista will be hungry. I could find her cave, bring her food, and get the real story about why she left the Geeky Guy, if she would tell it to me. No apples, though. After this, I’m not getting any more apples.

“Together, Adam and Eve said the same thing at the same time. ‘How could a good and gracious God permit worms in his apples? Why would He plant Evil within the very Garden of Eden? It must be that God is not as good as he says He is.’”

The congregation may then have started to regret coming to synagogue this Shabbat. They may have wanted an easily digestible sermon. What they got was theodicy, the theological equivalent to a stomach ache.

“Now, to be fair to the worm, the worm was no more evil than Adam and Eve! He was doing the same thing they were. He was eating the apple! A worm’s got to eat, too! He just got there first!”

The congregation laughed, along with their laughing Rabbi. That’s what they liked about the Rabbi. He could bring them even the perspective of a worm.

“No matter where Evil was, in the worm eating the apple or in the human eating the worm, they still found Evil in the Garden! They looked around and saw imperfection everywhere! That’s when they sewed fig leaves together to cover all the ugly parts of their own bodies.”

That’s a good thing: people generally look better clothed than unclothed. A few look better with no clothes on, but they’re usually photoshopped. The Lisping Barista, on the other hand, is the exception. She looks fine, unclothed. I’ve seen it. I’d like to see it again.

“We have a word that describes what happened to Adam and Eve: they were disenchanted.”

The sermon had taken an unexpected turn.

“That evening, when it got cool, they heard God walking around. But everything was different, now. The Garden seemed different. It was no longer the Garden of Eden! It was just an ordinary place! They were no longer happy to see God! Their feelings about Him had gotten complicated! The spell that made everything special was broken.”

I was thinking about the Lisping Barista, alone in a cave, without even the thought of peace, love, and understanding to comfort her. In every one of her apples, a worm.

“That’s precisely the situation we’re in, my friends! We’re living in the Garden of Eden; but we don’t know it because, as a whole, we’re disenchanted with God. We’ve posted our own angel guarding the gates of Eden to prevent God from entering! This angel is called Rationality!”

We’re living in the Garden of Eden? Why hasn’t anyone told us?

“Being enchanted, or disenchanted, changes everything! Everything has meaning when we’re enchanted! Without it, the Garden of Eden is nothing but a natural resource to be extracted and used for our desires! It’s stripped of its sacred character. We’ve treated each other that way, too. When we’re disenchanted we fail to recognize the holy in each another. When we allow ourselves to be enchanted, we treat all of creation as something strange, wonderful, mysterious, and surprising!”

This is when I realized something about the Lisping Barista. She may be disenchanted, but she was still enchanting.

I didn’t stay till the end of the service.


S. Harry Zade explains madness

I can tell, dear Reader, that the one problem you’re going to have with my story is that you don’t understand why the Lisping Barista would run out of the house in the middle of the night, with no shoes, no jacket, and no three-hundred-thousand dollars she had risked so much to take. You might be more inclined to believe the neighbors’ account of the event: that the Lisping Barista had been hanging around the haunted house too long, came under the spell of the Witch, and became frightened by the headless ghosts of her parents. The simplest theory is often the best, except when it must resort to supernatural beings to explain things away.

I am in possession of a bit of backstory that may spread light on her behavior. Where did I get this backstory, you want to know? What you are really asking is, have I pulled it out of my ass? No, it didn’t come from that part of my anatomy. It’s elementary, my dear Reader. I got it from a process of deduction. It all came from the operations of my mind.

Let’s start with what we know. The Lisping Barista caught the Geeky Guy red handed in bed with his sister. That, by itself, is horrifying. Few people, who have discovered this about folks they were visiting, would want to stay. No, they’d be getting a hotel room as soon as possible. If both guests and hosts are like fish, reeking after three days; coming across incest is like tripping over a skunk. The stink is immediate.

Despite the Geeky Guy’s protestations, it really doesn’t matter whether he and his sister’s embedded embrace was as chaste as he claimed. We do not know whether the Geeky Guy was naked in that bed, but he was nude enough to need a sheet to cover himself up. That’s coming pretty close to the act of incest, whether they took it all the way, or not. If you get that close to something that unthinkable, your disgust detecting device needs an adjustment. We residents of Kenilworth have always known that there was something strange about those two.

As off putting as incest may be, it’s still no reason to run out of the house in the middle of the night, without shoes, jacket, and lacking three-hundred-thousand dollars that you took the time to count each day. The jacket is easy to explain. The Lisping Barista had no jacket when she entered the house, days before, having been shot by the Geeky Guy, so she had no jacket when she left. Leaving in the middle of the night is to be expected of someone on the run, as she was from the Drug Dealer. She would cherish the cover of darkness. As for the three-hundred-thousand dollars and the lack of shoes? Gathering them up before she left would have involved the Lisping Barista going back up the stairs and cornering herself in the attic. No, she had a clear route to the door, so she took it.

After she hit the street, I did my best to catch up. I had shoes, but was no match for her. The Geeky Guy broke off his chase after about three blocks because his feet hurt. It took about the same distance before I stopped, hands on my knees, blowing my guts out. After I caught my breath, I continued at a walking pace. I couldn’t see to follow her, but I had an idea where she would go. She would head out of town, by the most direct route possible.

When you encounter seemingly inexplicable behavior, like being in such a hurry to depart that an otherwise rational person leaves three-hundred-thousand dollars behind, it helps to start with the assumption that you can explain it and then try to imagine what would. Aside from ghosts, the first thing that came to my mind was that the Lisping Barista was a victim of childhood sexual abuse from her own brother. Such a thing, I’m told, is far more common than realized, it being always on the hush-hush. The thought is riveting and repugnant. It sheds a light on so much, yet raises so many questions.

Let’s imagine that the Lisping Barista was the youngest of many children, born to parents more interested in making babies than watching over them. Competition was fierce among the Lisping Barista’s siblings, a dog-eat-dog nursery in which she was the runt. All punishments were passed down, like clothing that no longer fits, from eldest to youngest. Any favors received by the youngest were bitterly resented by those ahead in line. Elder siblings were given parental responsibilities, with none of the authority, which they tried to make up for by force. The normal inhibitions that govern interactions between close relations, namely, that one does not have sex with them, was overcome by increments; for here is nothing so grand, or atrocious, that can’t be accomplished bit by bit. The urge to have sex was introduced to the elder siblings, perhaps in the natural way or the unnatural; but, at any rate, they had the desire, but no legitimate means to carry it out. Small transgressions were overlooked or rationalized away, paving the way for larger transgressions. Small children were silenced by prohibitions against tattling, or they simply lacked the words to describe what was going on. Innocence was exploited, and cooperation harnessed by small gifts. Then the younger sibling’s shame was put into play. She blamed herself for what happened, just so she could feel more in control. If she did speak up, she was disbelieved because the cure, which would involve the dissolution and public shame of the family, was perceived to be worse than the disease. Things went on like this for years, the little sister pushing her dresser in front of her door every night, until the big brother went on to others, or she moved out, went mad, or drew a knife.

Now let’s imagine that she grew older and left home. She put these memories into an inaccessible filing cabinet and hid the key. She developed a fondness for tattoos, cutting up her body, and grew dreadlocks incongruent on a blond, white woman; showing an eagerness to change whatever she was given. The Lisping Barista developed a certain, shall we say, enthusiasm for initiating sex, together with an indifference about following through. A victim of sexual abuse might be expected to either disavow all interest in sex, with men, at least; or to advertise her appetite for the activity, as a way of compensation; sort of like whistling in the dark. However, once she initiated sex, all the memories would return, and she’d freeze; sort of like someone whistling in the dark, until she realizes her whistling tells the lurkers where she is.

As the Weather-Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat would say, her brother’s ghost accompanied her wherever she went. As the Reverend Abraham Pierson would say, she had a demon. As the Therapist Emeritus would say, she had flashbacks and all the indications of a post-traumatic stress disorder. As the rest of us would say, she was bat-shit crazy, but we loved her anyway.

If she was crazy, her craziness had a reason. It was too much for her to see the Geeky Guy in bed with his sister. It brought up all the memories of not having any choices. She was a kid when it happened to her, after all; but, she had choices now. She could run out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving behind three-hundred-thousand-dollars, and nowhere to go if she wanted to. It may not be the most sane thing she ever did, but she was taking a step, if not running headlong, towards sanity.

The Lisping Barista loses her shit

“It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell.”

That’s all I heard before the cat took off. The High Street Witch’s black cat, which had my listening device slipped under her collar, reckoned hollering was about to start. Humans would begin to yell, flail their arms and stamp their feet. Things would be thrown, and objects would be broken. Cats would be kicked, their tails stepped on, and their feline feelings miffed. Therefore, the cat took off, tail high, until it found a place to hide, and waited out the storm, its shining eyes looking out from underneath, witnessing the human equivalent to a cat fight.

The cat, with my listening device, was not so far away, or hidden, that I could not hear the voice repeat himself, “It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell. Honest. You’ve got to believe me.”

It was clearly, without doubt, the Geeky Guy whom the Lisping Barista caught in bed with his sister. He could have explained that, since their parents died, this was how they comforted each other. The world is a lonely place when you’re an orphan, you have no one to hug you or to hold you. Yes, we were sleeping together, he might’ve said, but we were actually asleep. He could have said his sister was jealous of her, resentful of her, and threatened to tell the Drug Dealer where she was hiding. He was doing it all for her.

If the Geeky Guy had said all that, and the Lisping Barista believed him, we’d have a different story to tell; but all the Geeky Guy could do was repeat what he had already said, ineffectively, over and over, again.

“It’s not the way it looks. She was going to tell.”

I could not hear what the Lisping Barista said back. I pictured her standing and staring, with the same inertia that she had that night in the bus; the immobility she had in the cave with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat; the fixity of a person whose mind wasn’t there. It had already gone somewhere else, and she wasn’t listening to anything he had to say.

The sister, for her part, was already out of bed and had left the room, abandoning her brother to his futile explanation.

If Lisping Barista’s mind was not there, where had it gone? I have a theory that, when the Lisping Barista saw the Geeky Guy in bed with his sister, her mind excused itself and went into a back room of the brain, where the files are kept. It fingered through the cabinets until it found something that could help in this situation. It took a long time searching, for the folder was hidden away, where it could not be found unless she was really sure she wanted it. When she pulled the file, and opened it, she found documentation that everything that was happening now, had happened before in a similar way. No, it wasn’t a perfect match, but it was a close analogue to it. The file told her what she had done then and how it turned out. She was determined to do things differently.

By the time the Lisping Barista’s mind returned, she had a plan. It wasn’t a very well thought out plan, but it was a plan that had to be executed immediately, decisively, before she changed her mind. I could tell this was happening from my post in the lilacs because the activity inside the house seemed to have paused for a long caesura, as if it had held its breath, waiting to see what she would do. Then, when the Lisping Barista’s mind returned with an ill-conceived, but definitive plan, the house sprang into activity. I could hear feet pattering and stomping on the floor. Lights were turned on. Doors were slammed shut. The hollering, as the cat predicted, began. Nothing was said that illuminated anything. Just more, it’s not the way it looks, fuck you, she was going to tell, and when you’re done thcrewing your thister, go thcrew yourthelf.

A scuffle could be heard. Towers of papers were toppled. The cat abandoned one hiding place, to find another. Something broke. The sister grabbed her broom to clean it up. The Lisping Barista emerged, none too well dressed for the outdoors, without shoes, without jacket, and without a bag that might have contained three-hundred-thousand dollars. A foot fell through the soft spot on the porch, and she was launched out into the yard. The Lisping Barista tumbled a single summersault, sprang to her feet, and ran down the road. The screen door flung open, again. The Geeky Guy emerged, wearing a bedsheet over his head, like a hood. “No!” he said, “Nooooo! Don’t gooooo!” The screen door banged shut and he followed her down the street, as best he could, unaccustomed to bare feet. The screen door opened again, and the High Street Witch emerged, still carrying her broom. The cat made its escape. The door banged shut. The Witch began to laugh.

When the commotion had begun, I could see that the neighbors heard. Their lights switched on and they peered out their windows to see if they needed to worry. When the screen door began to bang, they came out, just in time to see the Lisping Barista running barefoot down the street, a headless ghost, chasing after her, wailing, “Ooooo! Ooooo! Ooooo!”, and the High Street Witch, cackling to herself, with her broom and her cat. Any suspicions they had about the haunted house of High Street, were confirmed that night. They had a story they would tell for a long, long time.

S. Harry Zade fudges a little

With the Epiphany Café closed, I had to go somewhere else to find my stories. Therefore, your intrepid reporter has been lurking in the lilacs outside the Geeky Guy’s house. This location does not have the advantages I enjoyed in Kenilworth’s finest coffee establishment. I could sip the take-out from Dunkin Donuts and sit quite comfortably on the ground, with my back against a trunk, but the rain could get me wet and spiders liked to size me up for their web. However, a fictional character need not fret about the weather if his author doesn’t mention it and he will never get bit unless it advances the plot, so I was happy to spend hours in the lilacs gathering information to share with you.

I’m sorry to say I had little to go on. I could not directly witness the proceedings inside the house. I had planted a bug by catching the witch’s black cat when it was let out, slipping it under her collar, and waiting till it was let back in. She now was purring at the foot of the witch’s bed, along with whomever her companion might be, while I sat outside with a set of earphones on and a receiver tucked underneath my jacket. I could just make out the creeps and groans of the floor as the Lisping Barista came down from the attic to go on her exploration. I could see shadows cast to the inside of the curtains, and I could use everything I knew about the characters involved to assemble a reasonable narrative of what was going on. However, I must confess that most of what I have already told you about what happened in that house is constructed from the little bit of data I have gathered.

Some more meticulous readers may object to my rendering scenes I did not observe. Wait just one cotton pickin’ minute here, they might say; although I’d doubt it, few people say cotton pickin’ any more, if they ever did. Wait a minute, they would repeat, you mean to say that everything we just read as written by the Lisping Barista was made up?

Yes, that’s right, I would answer. Everything since she left the Epiphany Café is entirely my own creation. I have learned to mimic both her patterns of thought and her writing style by studying her closely. Then, I used my imagination to present to you what is, strictly speaking, a story that blurs the lines between what you call truth and fiction.

Don’t get me started on what you call truth. You know my beliefs about fictional characters and the ones who are said to be real. I shouldn’t need to repeat them here. I can summarize them by saying everyone is fictional, anyway. The same goes for events. Every bona fide event, even those reported by the Associated Press, or some other highly respected source, is fiction. That is to say, the event as it occurred was cut and pasted, photoshopped, proofread, and edited for your consumption. You see, events don’t come with a narrative; we create a narrative for them. There is no beginning, no end, and no context. The things world leaders utter in their own language are nicely translated for you. News photos are framed to exclude extraneous distractions. Soundbites are fashioned to get right to the point. There’s nothing between the lines, for there are no lines. It’s all just blooming, buzzing confusion until us storytellers nicely package it for you.

What I have done is akin to an archeologist who finds an ancient manuscript with four out of five words missing. He fills in what he supposes is there. It’s like an astronomer who takes a reading of a star one day, another reading a week later, and traces the line between them as the path the star had traveled. It’s no different than Darwin studying the birds and beasts of the Galapagos and constructing a tale of how they got to be so different. It takes imagination to see the truth, so I should not have to apologize for using my imagination.

I was in the lilac bushes, explaining this to you; explaining it to myself, really, for you, dear reader weren’t there, except in my imagination; when a passerby, walking home from the bar, stopped because he thought he heard someone who sounded like a professor of literature lecturing in the lilacs. He listened for a while and peered through the bushes, to see if he could make out a classroom, a podium, and a tweedy, self-absorbed instructor, surrounded by sleepy students, staring at their phones. I halted my hectoring, sat very still, and counted on incongruity to hide me better than the bushes ever could. In the end, he pulled his eyes away, shuddered his head, and staggered on, carrying an amusing anecdote to tell his wife when he got home. She wouldn’t smile at the story, but she would renew her efforts to get him to stop drinking.

Returning to our imaginary conversation, the meticulous readers might ask, how is it possible to tell truth from falsehood? Is it all fake news anyway?

I believe stories can be tested for truth. Truth is not correspondence to things in themselves, for the things in themselves can never, ever be adequately represented on a page. You know truth by a different test. It has a ring.

For instance, the story the passerby would tell his wife, that he’d heard a literature professor lecturing in the lilacs on High Street, did not have the ring of truth for her. The story that his wife would tell herself, that he’d heard voices because he was drinking too much, did. If only he had said he found a homeless man, camping out on High Street, talking to himself, then that would’ve been a story that could be believed; but it would’ve been a story so unremarkable that it would not have been worth telling.

The ring of truth is not something that can be explained; you know it when you come across it. When a story has that ring, all the parts harmonize together. The characters sound like human beings you might have heard speak and the plot flows out of things they might have done. You can trace their history up to their present situation and their conflicts are something you would care about, if you were them. The setting has enough details to make it seem like an actual place and the conclusion is not dropped out of the sky, but it emerges as a natural consequence of what has happened.

Let me tell you what happened next with the Lisping Barista, so you can see the ring of truth in action. You will read a work of imagination, constructed from few actual facts. Then you tell me if it has that ring I’m talking about.

The Lisping Barista goes exploring and finds something she wasn’t supposed to see

I’ve been in this attic for, like a week or two and I’m going crazy. Boooooring. Yea, I’ve got the oxies, all the stuff in the attic, three-hundred-thousand useless dollars, no place to spend it, and my gratitudes for company, but that’s not going keep a girl like me happy for long. I’m used to doing things, seeing people, going places, and doing my little part in bringing peace, love, and understanding into the world. Sitting around, waiting for my guy to come to in, just for nothing to happen when he does, seems like something my grandmother might think was a good idea and she had her cooking, sewing, and bridge parties to keep her company. All I have is a bunch of old stuff no one wants, or I can’t use, and a guy who doesn’t seem to want me.

Yea, that’s right. He doesn’t want me. Most guys are all over me; but we’re like an old married couple, never having sex. He just wants to cuddle, but I push him away because it’s too aggravating. He complains as much about that as I complain about not fucking. There’s something unusual about that man.

So, it’s the middle of the night when I wake up and he’s not there. I haven’t been too good with time and there’s no clock anywhere in this attic. There’s no noises in the house. All there is, is traffic outside. It must be no one’s home. It’s the perfect time to go exploring.

I’ve got this reoccurring dream where I’m walking around in someone else’s house uninvited. There’s always some weird things about the house that seem perfectly normal in the dream, like there’s a giant hole in the roof over the living room that looks like it belongs there. Something unexpected always happens and I’m always worried I’m about to be caught. Walking around this house is a lot like that. In this case, every room is jammed to the ceiling with junk and there’s only one path I can take, and I have to walk sideways to get through. None of the doors can open all the way and the windows might as well not be there, they’re blocked by heaps of stuff.

If you’ve ever been in an antique shop, filled to the ceiling so you can’t move around or even see what’s there, you might have an idea of what the inside of the house looks like. Only it’s mostly electronics and piles of old newspapers. Not anything that anyone would ever buy, so it keeps piling up and up. I wouldn’t know how people could live in a place like this, except that I’ve been doing it for the past week or two, maybe three.

I’m feeling on edge as I creep from room to room. I’m not supposed to be here, which is strange, because I came into the house invited and the guy hasn’t wanted me to leave. He sets me up in the attic and tells me his sister wouldn’t want me around, so don’t go down and be really quiet. It was all good to me because I need to be hiding out from Chai Latte anyway and don’t want the witch getting pissed at me and telling him. He brings me everything I need and keeps me as content as a caged bird.

So, I’ve been having lots of time to think. You know how I’ve been changing my mind about love? You remember, I decided love wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Well, I’ve been thinking that way about peace, too. I’ve had nothing but peace up here in this attic.

There’s no weed, but I get all the oxies I want. There’s no sex, but there’s plenty of cuddling. For once in my life, I don’t have to work. I can’t do everything I want, but there’s nothing much I want and, if I wanted anything, I’ve got three-hundred-thousand dollars to buy it. There is the fact that Chai Latte would be wanting to kill me for taking the money, but, if he hasn’t found me yet in this attic, I don’t think he will. I may be kidding myself, I did read Anne Frank’s diary, a chick I can now relate to, and I know how it ends; but, if she can fight with her parents, fall in love, and believe in the hidden goodness of mankind, I can find peace when I know someone is looking to kill me.

Here’s the thing though, once you get peace, you’re not going to want it anymore. It’s fucking boring. You’re going to want to stir some shit up once and a while. You’re going to be compelled to explore a haunted house, poke around through someone’s belongings, and maybe get caught. You’re going to want some danger.

So, that’s why I’m creeping downstairs, looking for what I might see when I think they’re not home.

I get into one room and it’s so dark I run into the bed. When I reach down to stop from falling, I touch something, and it moves. It’s a body. Then it wakes up. I can tell it has long dark hair. It’s that witch, the sister. Then she says something, loud and clear. Too loud to be said in the middle of the night.

“So, now you know.”

Only, I don’t know anything. All I know was that I got caught creeping around the house I’m hiding in. Hiding from her. Really, she’s the one who knows now. She knows I’m here. What am I supposed to know?

Then there’s movement in the bed beside her. It’s a small bed, just big enough for one person. The sister must have someone she’s fucking. That’s it. That must be what I know. But who would want to be fucking that witch?

The person sits up suddenly. I can’t see who it is. Then he says something.

When I hear the voice that says it, that’s when I know. Knowing, and understanding, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either. There’s some things you don’t want to know. So, now I’m three for three. Peace, love, and understanding, all gone to shit.

The Lisping Barista finds her people

What a difference a day makes. The rest of the Epiphany Cafe, as well as the general mental health of the Kenilworth area, was far worse after the Therapist Emeritus retired. But the Lisping Barista, on the other hand, seemed well rested, collected, calm, and back to her happy self. She had all her piercings in. Her tats glowed with a vibrancy they have not had since she first got them. She could be overheard singing a song from the Spellbinding Fish Fry. How could this be, after working a double? Was it especially restful, sleeping in her car?

I had to wait most of the day to find out, when she finally had a chance to write in her journal and I had a chance to snoop.

I had underestimated Chai Latte. I thought he was just a slimy drug dealer, but he’s a nice guy. He let me stay last night in his apartment.

Nothing could be more gratifying for me than to see she had the same name for him I did: Chai Latte. But, she’s a barista; why wouldn’t she?

I was really hoping that cowboy dude would show up yesterday. One, I needed him to work his shift, so wouldn’t have to work a double. Two, I would’ve asked for the keys to his place, so I could get some sleep. I was going to make it worth his while, but he never showed up. Then, when I’m done with his god damn shift, I clean up and take out the trash. He’s passed out, shit faced drunk, by the dumpster. I nudge him with my foot. “Wake the fuck up,” I say, but he groans and turns over. “Whatever,” I say. Too late to work for me, anyway.

I was getting ready for another night in the old car, when Chai Latte drives by and asks me, what’s up? Normally, I’m like, fine, keep it rolling. I don’t need to get messed up with a drug dealer’s shit on top of everything else; but every problem, when you look at it in a different light, looks like a solution. So, I tell him I’m having a fight with my roommate. Can I sleep on his couch?

He says, sure, and I say cool; so I follow him over to his place. He shows me the couch and I play him some Spellbinding Fish Fry. He doesn’t even roll his eyes when I tell him the Deep Fries are going to save the world. I must have been tired because the next thing I know, I don’t know anything. I’m passed out on the couch.

When I wake up, he’s playing some shred rock and there’s a bunch of guys sitting around with beers, passing a joint over me. I know them all from the cafe, like I know everyone, but not their names. I’m a little embarrassed because I’ve been sleeping. When I wake up, I slurp a whole gallon of drool from the pillow, but they’re cool. They pass me some weed and offer me a beer.

I’m not big on beer, but I like weed an awful lot. I take both to be sociable. One guy is talking about how he’s been in the hospital. He still has that plastic bracelet they put on you. That’s their mark. His girlfriend had called the ambulance when she found him passed out. Passed out just like I just was and passed out like the cowboy dude. Anyone else would just say, whatever, like I did, or pass a joint over him, like they did, but this girlfriend calls the ambulance and they bring him to the emergency room.

“Bitch,” says one guy. That’s all I ever heard him say, other than “Honduras black”.

Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up at the emergency room and goes all ape shit on them because he was supposed to have been to work hours ago. He’s on an asphalt crew, which he doesn’t need to tell us about. We can smell it on him. They’re not going to let him out until they ask him a million questions. He doesn’t like that one bit and charges at the security guard, who used to be a bouncer at a tough club in New Haven and probably should still be there.

The bouncer bounces him right back to his room and, in no time, they have three out of his four limbs immobilized. A doctor shoots him up with Haldol and Ativan, but it doesn’t take effect before he lands a right cross on the doctor’s jaw with the one free limb.

By the way, Plastic Bracelet Guy didn’t know they shot him up with Haldol and Ativan, I know because I’ve been shot up with it before, at an emergency room, as a matter of fact, under very similar circumstances. Since I knew this, I contributed by informing him.

“Haldol and Ativan,” I said.

“Bitch,” says Honduras Black, looking right at me, like I just said something wrong. But, I could tell he wasn’t talking about me. He was still talking about Plastic Bracelet Guy’s girlfriend.

When Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up a second time, it’s late at night. The shift at the hospital had changed and he missed a whole day of work. He’s probably fired because this isn’t the first time. He’s still tied to the bed, so he starts calling, but no one hears him. He starts to try to get out of the cuffs, straining this way and that, till he succeeds, not in getting out, but in tipping over his hospital bed. That’s when the staff comes with another shot of Haldol and Ativan.

“Bitch,” says Honduras Black, again. All this is still the girlfriend’s fault.

Right about now, I notice another guy in the room. I’ve never seen him at the cafe and, all night long, he never says anything. I call him Silent Bob, after the guy in the movie named Silent Bob, even though he looks nothing like him. Silent Bob keeps his eyes on me, only it’s not creepy. It’s kinda nice, like he’s got a thing for me, or something.

Plastic Bracelet Guy wakes up a third time, but I don’t have to tell you what happened. I’m not sure how many times he woke up and they kept giving him Haldol and Ativan, but it was enough that I lost count. The weed starts to take effect and I’m on my second or third beer by the time he’s home and chewing out his girlfriend, who started all the rigamarole in the first place. She calls the cops on him again and he runs out of the house before they get there. He skips over telling us the reason she had to call them.

“Bitch,” said Honduras Black.

I was about to bring up some important questions, something like: did they release you from the hospital or did you escape? Why did your girlfriend call the cops? Are they likely to show up here, looking for you? Or will the guys in the white coats come by, with another shot of Haldol and Ativan?  I was interrupted by a knocking at the door. I almost jumped out of my skin. They all laughed. All but Silent Bob, who just smiled.

It was just a geeker, looking for some cocaine.

“Awe, Man,” said Chai Latte. “Look at yourself. You’ve had too much already. Let me give you something else to bring you down.”

The Geeker didn’t look at himself, but I looked at him. He was a mess. His hair was a mess. His eyes, which pointed in two different directions, were a mess, too. Even his clothes were a mess. That’s when I changed my opinion of Chai Latte. He isn’t just a  drug dealer. He’s a nice guy, too. He cares about people.

The Geeker takes something into a corner and shoots up, sitting on the floor, like he’s been in a geeker world so long he forgets what chairs are for.

Chai’s friends stay the night. Plastic Bracelet Guy crashes on the couch next to me. Honduras Black glowers over his last beer until he falls asleep. Even his snoring sounds like he’s saying the word, bitch. Silent Bob nurses his beers and stays awake long enough to watch me and Chai go in the other room. I give Silent Bob a smile as I go.

Here’s another thing about Chai Latte. You know how I can’t even follow through with fucking anyone without some crazy shit going on? Well, Chai is the one guy who has the decency to get me drunk first so I don’t think about it too much. That shows consideration.

For the first time in forever, I fall asleep without crying myself to sleep first. In the arms of Chai Latte, with violent Plastic Bracelet Guy, misogynistic Honduras Black, a mollified geeker, and Silent Bob in the next room. I’m finally with my people, a tribe of misfits who have the good sense not to judge.

The Waving Man gets picked up and a Nigerian Prince gets coffee

While the Lisping Barista was writing her account of aborted sex in a cave, another marvelous wonder occurred just outside the door of the Epiphany Cafe. A second one, unconnected, would soon follow. Some, with seats by the window, witnessed the first. They scarcely believed what they saw. They tried to tell the rest of us about it, but we scarcely believed them.

“Someone picked up the Waving Man!” they said.

You remember the Waving Man, dear reader. He was the guy who stood just outside the door of the Epiphany Cafe, day and night, waving at cars. He never said a word to anyone, even when they asked him a direct question. He never came in. Little Theresa used to try to buy him coffee, but he never would take it.

At first we thought he’d been abducted. He was too friendly, some said. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

“No, no, it wasn’t like that,” they said. “He knew them. They got out of the car and went up to give him a hug. They started talking. Then he got in the car and went away.”

You mean the other people started talking, we said. The Waving Man never talks. He just waves.

“No, no, he talked! I saw him talking a mile a minute.”

Did he continue to wave at other cars while he was talking to the people in that one? We’ve never seen him miss a car.

“No, no, they were talking for a good five minutes before they left, then I could see him still talking when they drove away.”

Get out, we said.

“No, no, it’s true. We saw it with our own eyes. The Waving Man talks. He talks! And it looks like, all this time, he was waiting for someone.”

We agreed it was an astounding development, if true. The Waving Man. Who would’ve known?

As marvelous as that wonder was, the second was equally extraordinary.

A real, live Nigerian Prince walked in through the door.

We could tell he was a Nigerian Prince by the way he was dressed. He was dressed like they do in Nigeria. He had one of those hats they wear with no brims, one of those tunics they wear, with things embroidered. He had an accent like they have in Africa. He introduced himself as Prince Somethingorother. He didn’t pronounce it Somethingorother. He pronounced it they way they pronounce it in Nigeria, a way we can’t pronounce, proving he had to be genuine.

The Nigeria Prince Somethingorother ordered a cup of coffee; appropriately an African Arabica. He was a friendly chap and took his coffee from table to table to introduce himself. Many of us were skeptical that he was real, until we heard what he had to say. Once he spoke up, then we had no doubt he was authentic.

He asked everyone for money to return to Nigeria.

He had been in exile for years, forced to flee because of political trouble in his country. Things have changed there, though. Very much improved. It is promising. He can now return to his home and claim his title and property. He is very wealthy there, but he has no money in this country to pay his airfare. If you could only be willing to help a little bit, then he could return to his country. He will write down your name and address and send you back the money, with plenty of interest. He can afford to be generous because he is very, very rich.

So, you see, he had to be the real deal.

Almost everyone gave a little bit, if only because we admired his hustle. We liked the way he had it all down, right to the smallest detail. He was the complete Nigerian prince. He told us everything we expected to hear. You’ve got your ordinary, everyday hustles; but this prince was the king of hustlers.

You know the drug dealer hustle. Chai Latte had it pretty well. There’s the barista hustle. The Lisping Barista, with her piercings played it good. There’s the cowboy hustle, personified by the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. The saintly hustle of Little Theresa, the geeky guy hustle of the Geeky Guy, and the scholarly hustle of Rabbi ! are all well known and accepted. The Therapist Emeritus has her therapist hustle. Therapy is nothing but a hustle, anyway. The Dog Fearing iPhone Pecker has a hustle, too. She hustles out the door when the dogs come along. The Crazy Dog Lady has the Crazy Cat Lady hustle, only she does it with dogs. The dogs have their hustle, too, even if they don’t know it. All they have to do is act like dogs and they get their food dishes refilled. Hustles abound. They’re cheap, they’re easy. They make life simpler than it has a right to be.

The beauty of a hustle is that, if you play the role you already know how to act and people already know what to do with you, then, you’re understandable, rational, and predictable. There have already been paths made to take you where you want to go. There are already people there to meet you. They’ll say that you’re good at whatever it is you do because you look like someone who ought to be good at it. If you look and act the part, they’ll overlook your actual performance.

We thought the Waving Man had been doing the waving man hustle. We thought we knew him: an addled man, friendly to all. Little did we know he was actually waiting for someone and someone actually wanted to see him.

By the way, there’s also the lady hustle and the slutty girl hustle. That’s what the Lisping Barista was trying to avoid. Both of them. Like trying to keep your wheels out of the ruts in a muddy, dirt road.