The Crazy Dog Lady buys lattes for her dogs and a Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat saves the day

Not everyone who came to the Epiphany Cafe that day was an eccentric human being. Several perfectly ordinary dogs patronized the place, accompanied by an eccentric human being. The Crazy Dog Lady of Kenilworth entered with her six dogs. In order of size: a snarling Dachshund, a baying Beagle, a hyperactive Setter with a feathery tail, two Labs with cold noses, and a drooling St Bernard.

No dogs were permitted in the cafe. There was a sign out front, but that didn’t stop the dogs, who couldn’t read, or the Crazy Dog Lady, who didn’t care. There was a leash ordinance in Kenilworth, but the dogs were unleashed. The dogs couldn’t read the ordinance, and the Crazy Dog Lady didn’t care. Let me re-phrase that. She did care. She cared very much about all those rules and made it a point to violate them whenever she could. You see, she was the Crazy Dog Lady and a dog had once saved her life.

The Crazy Dog Lady ordered six lattes with no espresso and, one, by one, bent down to serve them to the dogs, letting them lap from the cup as she held it. The St Bernard was first, because his mouth had the highest elevation. Then she served the rest in decreasing order of size. The Dachshund was always last. Maybe this was why he was always in a bad mood. The Crazy Dog Lady never got anything for herself. She was trying to economize.

After the St Bernard finished his latte, he went over to consult with the Therapist Emeritus, in session with a recovering depressive. The St Bernard lacked the requisite keg of brandy around his neck and he was not the dog who saved the Crazy Dog Lady’s life, but he did what he could to save the Recovering Depressive’s life by licking her hands and making her laugh. It was a nervous laugh, but it was a laugh just the same, and laughs have healing properties of which science is only beginning to appreciate. The Therapist Emeritus had to admit to herself that dogs have healing properties, as well. Even a mediocre dog was a better therapist than the best therapist, but the Therapist Emeritus would never admit it to anyone else.

When the first Lab, a chocolate one, was done with his latte, a vanilla one, he checked out the drug dealer. Chai tousled his ears and drummed his side. The Lab collapsed and showed him his belly. Chai scratched until he found the spot that made the dog kick his legs. I didn’t see whether any drugs were involved with the dog’s ecstatic experience. If they were, the two had made the exchange very stealthily.

The second Lab, who was white, and very hard working, offered to help the Lisping Barista behind the counter, but the space there was very small and they always seemed to get in each other’s way. The White Lab had an affinity for poking her nose up the back of the Lisping Barista’s shirt while she worked. All the rest of us in the cafe had wanted to go up under the Lisping Barista’s shirt ever since we first saw her, but only dogs have license to do what all the rest of us just dream.

The Setter made her rounds, sweeping over everyone at the cafe, dusting the tables with her tail, turning her head to every new thing, and never getting a solid pet from anyone. Rabbi ! rescued his mocha from the tail and watched her make her rounds, seeking G-d’s sparks with an efficiency he envied. The Setter, who was drawn to motion, seemed to overlook one Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker in the corner, frozen in terror, and Googling the route to the door.

The Beagle ignored the Crazy Dog Lady’s entreaties to come get his latte, stood just out of my reach, and bayed like I was a coon up a tree. Perhaps he sensed that I was fictional and wanted to alert the others. The Crazy Dog Lady had to go to him with the latte and interrupt his speech by putting it under his nose. He drank it while keeping one eye on me, in case I did anything fictional.

The Dachshund irritably followed the Crazy Dog Lady when she served the Beagle and, when she was done, padded after her back to the counter. When she bent down to give him his latte, he sniffed it suspiciously, like a cat. Perhaps the cream had just begun to turn or it was made from cows fed antibiotics. At any rate, the Dachshund pronounced it unfit for canine consumption. If only he’d been served first, he could have warned the rest. The Dachshund turned away from his cup and went to find something else that was wrong with the world.

The Crazy Dog Lady put the Dachshund’s cup on the floor in case he changed his mind. She went to talk to the people interacting with her dogs. By now the White Lab was done with her work behind the counter and was checking the tables. The White Lab had the Geeky Guy pinned in his chair and was burrowing his nose into his crotch. After the Geeky Guy had asked the Lisping Barista out on a date, and she astonishingly said yes, he had gone to work on some incomprehensible mathematics on an Excel spreadsheet. The mathematics was no help to him now. The Crazy Dog Lady didn’t grab the White Lab by the collar and pull her away, as anyone else might have done. Neither the White Lab, nor any of the other dogs, possessed a collar, or tags. Instead, seeing the White Lab sexually assaulting the Geeky Guy, she chose to give the man a long-winded lecture. She told him the story of how a dog had saved her life.

“I was a college student once,” said the Crazy Dog Lady to the Geeky Guy, “But, I didn’t know who I was.”

The Beagle, who had finished his latte, took a few minutes to lick his chops before he resumed his baying. This gave the Crazy Dog Lady a chance to begin her speech so that we could all hear it.

“I didn’t have a sense of direction, so I didn’t know where I was going. I decided to take a year off and find myself.”

By this time, the Setter had discovered the Dachshund’s discarded cup on the floor and was helping herself. The Dachshund, who didn’t want the latte, didn’t want anyone else to have it, either, or wanted to warn the Setter that the cream had turned bad, began to snarl.

“I got a job house and pet sitting for the winter on Fisher’s Island, out in the middle of Long Island Sound.”

The White Lab, not finding what he was looking for in the Geeky Guy’s crotch, pulled it out, and noticed the Setter squaring off against the Dachshund. She decided to check for herself whether the cream in the Dachshund’s latte had turned bad. The Geeky Guy tried to go back to his spreadsheet, but now the Crazy Dog Lady was standing over him, telling her story.

“It was just me and Rex, the family’s border collie in the house. We were the only people on the island most of the winter, and it was cold.”

Chai Latte got a phone call, so he stopped scratching the belly of the Chocolate Lab.  The Lab rolled to his feet, wagged his tail, and nosed Chai’s arm. “Go away,” said the drug dealer. “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” The dog nosed him again. “Go on,” said Chai, pushing him away. “Git!”

The Beagle began to curl his lip at me. I maneuvered my briefcase between us. Neither I nor the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker had a clear route to the door.

The Dachshund’s latte fell over on its side, and so did the White Lab, angling for a position to finish it. The Dachshund and the Setter continued to face off, although, by now the Setter had forgotten what she came for. The St Bernard had stopped licking the Recovering Depressive’s hand and had laid down on her feet. He rested his muzzle on the floor, his lips spread to each side, like the skirt of a curtsying courtier, and took a nap. Drool ran in rivulets under the table.

“It turned out that spending the winter with no other human beings on an island in the middle of the ocean is not a good thing for a young woman trying to find herself. I started to get lonely. I fell into despair. I was depressed. I questioned the meaning of my life. Then I decided there was no meaning. It was all pointless. I got suicidal. Nobody and nothing cared whether I lived or died. But Rex saved my life.”

Here’s where the Crazy Dog Lady’s voice began to break.

“I couldn’t kill myself.” She swallowed. “What would become of Rex?”

With all the commotion, no one had noticed that a weather-beaten man in a cowboy hat had strode through the doors of the cafe and stopped to take in the scene. The door swung shut behind him. He looked as though he’d seen a lot, but he had never seen anything like this.

“For the first time, I had meaning and a purpose in my life,” declared the Crazy Dog Lady. “Another person needed me. I had responsibilities.”

The St Bernard began to snore. The Chocolate Lab, getting no more petting from the busy drug dealer, looked for someone else to pet him. He settled on Rabbi ! who was delighted to do so. The Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker took a chance and bolted towards the door, in her haste running into the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. Chivalrous as only a man in a cowboy hat can be, he raised his hat, said excuse me, ma’am, but didn’t step aside nearly quick enough for her.

“I was able to last the winter on that island and, in the spring, when the people came to take over their home, I asked them for the dog. They wouldn’t give him to me, but when I took the ferry back, Rex got on with me. We were together for years, until he died.”

Here the Crazy Dog Lady wiped away a tear. Rabbi !, who had read Christian philosophers as well as Jewish mystics, pronounced her a Kierkegaardian Knight of Faith, willing to put complete trust in herself and act independent of social norms. He was about to expound some more when the Setter, being a bird dog and attracted to motion, took off in pursuit of the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker. She began to flap her arms. She often flapped her arms when she got nervous. The setter saw the arms flapping and thought the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker was a wounded bird. She did what Setters do to wounded birds. The Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker began to scream in pain.

Seeing that the Setter had abandoned the fight for the latte, the Dachshund went to claim his prize and was deeply disturbed to find the White Lab had finished it. No Dachshund was going to take that from a White Lab, so he attacked, and a dog fight ensued.

Meanwhile, the Beagle had taken up his baying again. I must’ve given him the creeps. The St Bernhard awoke with all the commotion and gave a slow ruff. Never wanting to be left out, the Chocolate Lab joined the chorus. Chai Latte, who was trying to talk on the phone, screamed to everyone. “Shut the fuck up!” The Crazy Dog Lady continued to bend the Geeky Guy’s ear, who wasn’t listening. I couldn’t hear what she said, but I had heard her story before. She was talking about how, after this particular dog died, she’d devoted herself to the care and advocacy of all dogs.

By this time the Lisping Barista thought she should begin to enforce the rule of no dogs allowed in the cafe. She stepped from behind the counter, tried to get their attention, and asked the dogs to leave. She couldn’t make her voice heard over the din of the dogs and the screams of pain and anger. Besides, they may not have understood her lisp.

The Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat came to the rescue. First, he separated the Setter from the Dog-Fearing iPhone Pecker, who bolted out the door without ever giving thanks, then he assisted the Lisping Barista, who was looking helpless and forlorn. With the aid of his hat and not inconsiderable cow poking skills earned in windy western corrals, and putting himself in perils of dog bites and unwanted licks, he herded the canines out the door while the Lisping Barista held it open. Seeing the purpose of her life leaving, the Crazy Dog Lady left, too, breaking off the end of her story in mid sentence.

If the Lisping Barista had not needed her job, and if she had not already said yes to the Geeky Guy, she might have ridden off with the Weather-Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat right then. As it was, she gave him a large dark roasted Costa Rican, a chocolate chip cookie the size of a dinner plate, and a job application to complete. She promised she’d give a good word to the manager. A very good word.

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Chai Latte comes in to the cafe with all his fictions

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.

Little Theresa buys a cup of coffee

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There were many uncommon occurrences that day at the Epiphany Cafe; but there was one, about an hour after the re-enactment of the creation of the universe, that might have signaled that life would return to normal. A regular who had been missing for a week returned for her morning cup of coffee. However, what she did with that coffee told us all that nothing would never be the same.

This woman was so thin that she scarcely disturbed the ground when she walked. She was not especially pretty, but had a habit of looking you full in the face, so that it affected your heart. She didn’t make your heart beat strong; she pulled it out of your chest a little, so that you felt more open after meeting her, more expansive, like you were given more air to breathe. She even looked at those people no one else ever looked at and gravitated towards the very ones everybody else avoids. She had even once conducted a complete, but one-sided, conversation with the Waving Man, while he craned around her, looking for cars.

When she was still a child, she had heard about Mother Theresa. Even though she was not Catholic, nor particularly religious, she announced to her parents that when she grew up she would go work with the good nun in India. They were wryly amused and told all their friends the story with a mixture of delight and dismay. Her feelings didn’t change when Mother Theresa died. She wanted nothing more than to travel to Calcutta and clean the wounds of lepers. Her parents would rather she go to college. “No,” she said. “Buy me an airline ticket with the money you would spend on tuition, instead.”

They weren’t going to spend any money on tuition. They were going to apply for college loans and grants, but there were no loans and grants for an apprenticeship in sainthood. Therefore, she got a job at the bookstore next door to the Epiphany Cafe. She worked when she could and saved what she could, but no matter how thrifty she was, no matter how much coupon clipping, budgeting and saving she did, she never raised enough to buy a ticket.

Here’s what the problem was. Her bank was at the corner, down the street from her bookstore and the cafe. Every second week she would cash her paycheck and stuff an allotment of rent into an envelope and an ever dwindling allowance of cash into her purse. Whatever was left over she gave to whoever she passed on the street on her way home. She gave to everyone who asked and those who didn’t ask, even those who said they had no needs. She gave to drug addicts and single mothers, retirees and businessmen, students, and con men; pushers and pullers, pensioners and probationers; the deserving and the non-deserving, alike. She gave as promiscuously as the sun shares its rays on the good and the bad. She gave as if she would never reach the end of giving.

Then at thirty years old, she felt terrible that she had never made it to India.

Her parents, who thought they loved her, said, “You told us you were going to India, but you made little of your life. You work at a bookstore.”

She had a habit of drinking coffee, stopping at the cafe every morning on her way to work. It woke her up. She needed it to get going in the morning. It was her only indulgence. Nonetheless, as time went on, the coffee tasted more and more bitter, no matter how much sugar she put in. With every sip she was more selfish; every swallow was a scalding disappointment.

At last she hit upon an idea. She would stop drinking coffee and put the dollar-sixty-nine towards a one way ticket. Drop by drop fills the coffeepot. By her calculation, it would take a year. Bad habits are hard to break. She made it about a week, the very week before the Lisping Barista said yes to the Geeky Guy.

Maybe if she had come to the Epiphany Cafe that week, the Geeky Guy would’ve asked her on a date and I’d be telling a different story. Maybe then the Moodus Noises would’ve have groaned and the creation of the universe wouldn’t have been re-enacted. Maybe then, everything would’ve gone on as normal, or what passes for normal in Kenilworth. Maybe I’d be dead by now, a forgotten causality of the insensate mill of familiarity.

When she took her place in line, tears were streaming down her cheeks. She was a hopeless addict, a failure at everything she attempted. If Mother Theresa could see her now, she’d be ashamed; if her parents could see her, they’d be ashamed. She was ashamed of herself. When her turn came at the counter, she stepped up and, tears or no tears, shame or no shame, just as she always did, she looked at the Lisping Barista, full in the face. She had her money ready, so no one would have to wait. A dollar-sixty-nine in exact change, the cost of a small Fair-Market Guatemalan to go. She placed it on the counter as she had always done. The Lisping Barista, who had waited on her every morning, had her cup out and was beginning to draw the Guatemalan, her usual, but the slight woman with the reckless gaze said no, she didn’t want coffee this time.

“I’m paying for the next person in line.”

There was no one in line behind her, but there would be, eventually. She stepped away, as awake as a person can ever be. She woke up that morning, even without drinking her coffee. Every morning thereafter, she would return to do the same thing.

One onlooker, a retired teacher and unlapsed Catholic, well read in the lives of the saints, thanked her on behalf of the unknown beneficiary. She called the thin woman Theresa.

“Why do you call me that?” she said. “That’s not my name.”

“It could be,” said the retired teacher.

“Like Mother Theresa?”

“No, Mother Theresa named herself after her favorite saint, Theresa of Lisiuex. They call her the Saint of the Little Way. Theresa couldn’t do any great deeds, so she did small ones: looking at people, giving whatever she could, spending time with everyone, buying them coffee. You’re just like her. Thank you.”

The retired teacher went back to her Kindle. The thin, not very pretty, but open and generous, woman felt that, for the cost of a small Guatemalan, a dollar-sixty-nine cents, she had received a great sum without even asking for it. She was incalculably rich.

Now, she had one more thing she could afford to give.

She gave up her need to go to Calcutta.

How Rabbi ! got his name

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The moaning of the Moodus Noises was not the only uncommon occurrence at the Epiphany Cafe that day. After the Lisping Barista amazingly said yes to the Geeky Guy and before the Moodus Noises ceased their moaning, Rabbi ! entered the building. Then there was a re-enactment of the creation of the universe.

Rabbi !, who presided over Kenilworth’s Reform congregation, owed his exceptional name to his eccentric parents. ! was the name on his birth certificate, both first and last. It was the name on all his report cards, the name he used when he had his bar mitzvah, and the name on his divinity school transcripts. ! was how he signed his checks, his tax returns, and all the Temple correspondence. Among other things, ! represented the victory of persistence over bureaucracy, for every registrar he and his parents came across objected to the designation. Nonetheless, his parents would doggedly insist that’s what they named their child. If the official continued to object, his parents, both Holocaust survivors, would roll up their sleeves, show their concentration camp tattoos, and call the office holder a fascist. That always clinched the matter, for no one wanted to be put in the same category as Hitler over a punctuation mark.

The next trouble Rabbi ! and his parents encountered over his name was that no one knew how to pronounce it. They preferred to say that it was unpronounceable, like the unpronounceable name of G-d, blessed be His name. Rabbi !’s father, who was a rabbi, also, and his mother, who might as well have been a rabbi, would give a sermon whenever someone asked how to pronounce !’s name. ! was made in G-d’s image, and since G-d’s name is unpronounceable, therefore !’s name should be unpronounceable, also.

Everyone said the same thing.

First, they would uncomfortably laugh, “Ha!”

Then they would say, “What do we call him, then?”

His parents would answer, “You just said it.”

“What did I say?”

“‘Ha!’ You said ‘Ha!’ That’s what you call him. Call him Ha!”

And so, Rabbi !’s name was pronounced, “Ha!” like a laugh.

It turned out that giving Rabbi !, the name, !, and pronouncing it, “Ha!” was prescient, and his parents didn’t even know it. That’s because Rabbi ! grew up to be a man who laughed a lot. In fact, he laughed so much that many people who knew him and preferred not to have to explain his name to others, just called him the Laughing Rabbi, instead.

Just to prove my point, the Laughing Rabbi was laughing when he entered the Epiphany Cafe, despite the ominous rumbling of the Moodus Noises in the background. The Laughing Rabbi stepped up to the counter, laughed again, and got the attention of the Lisping Barista, who should have been paying attention to something else. She should have been paying attention to an empty carafe she absentmindedly left on a hot burner. That’s when the creation of the universe thing occurred.

There was an explosion.

Hot glass shattered everywhere, on the counter, on the floor, one acrobatic shard vaulted into someone’s Sumatran Americano. The whole business of the cafe came to a halt while the Lisping Barista swept up the damage with a flashlight and a broom and brewed the flustered customer a gratis replacement.

She apologized to Rabbi !.

The Laughing Rabbi, who was very patient, laughed. Then he stroked his beard and said, “That’s OK, young lady. You have demonstrated what happened when Ein Sof created the universe.”

Then he laughed again.

Ein Sof,” he said when he finished laughing, “is a Kabalistic name for G-d. But it’s not an ordinary name. It’s a name that’s not a name. A name for a nameless being. Ein Sof refers to those characteristics of G-d that are beyond any human comprehension and, so, any name would just scratch the surface. It’s the designation for whatever existed before anything existed.”

He laughed as you might shake a sack to settle the contents, to make room in our little brains for an expansive paradox.

“When Ein Sof made the universe, there was a catastrophe. He poured His Infinite Light into vessels that could never contain it. They shattered. Shards of the vessels and sparks of Infinite Light went everywhere and now they are in every little thing. Whenever you laugh, whenever there is joy, you’re finding debris from Ein Sof’s accident.

“My parents named me ! for the act of finding Ein Sof’s sparks. Our job is to go over the whole world and collect these sparks and put them all together so they can all be whole again. Every time you laugh, you’re finding another one, another little bit of Ein Sof.”

He concluded his sermon by saying his name over and over again.

“Ha! ha! ha!”

The Lisping Barista looked down from her sweeping at the dustpan. Jewels of glass glistened in the dust. And then she, despite everything, laughed also.

The Waving Man waves

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There was one peripheral notable, a prominent Kenilworth character, who did not witness the Lisping Barista saying yes to the Geeky Guy. He was outside, waving at cars, when it happened. If he had seen the miracle, I wonder what he would’ve had to say. I always wonder what he has to say because I’ve never heard him say anything.

This man stood all day, every day, outside the door to the cafe and waved at cars as they drove by. He’s never come in. From a distance, from inside your car, you might think he was a friendly kind of guy or someone who mistook you for someone else he knew better. He couldn’t be waving at you, you would think. Some people wave back. Others drive by in an uncomfortable, unsettled manner. If you were a Kenilworth resident, you would have passed the Waving Man many times; you would say that he just waves because waving is his thing. You would wave back, or not, and never give it another thought. He was just another one of those mysteries you learn to live with when you live in Kenilworth.

A journalist, driving through the town from New York City, came upon the Waving Man and wrote a whole article in the New Yorker, or some such publication, about how much friendlier people are in small towns, using the Waving Man as an example. The townsfolk of Kenilworth knew the journalist couldn’t have actually stopped to talk to the Waving Man, because, if he had, he would’ve said that people in a small towns are no different than they are in a big cities. We have our nuts, too.

Kenilworthians who have walked by and attempted to speak to the Waving Man know that face-to-face contact is a different matter. The Waving Man waves only at cars, never at people. If you walked by, he would look right past you and wave at the car behind you. You might think you were invisible, or not worthy of attention. Having experienced the Waving Man’s slight, you might question whether he was even waving at the people in cars, or the cars themselves. He seemed to prefer cars over people, much as town planners privilege traffic over pedestrians and parking spaces over greenery.

Some townspeople have tried to stop and say Hi, or Good Morning to the Waving Man. The bravest have said, You waved at me before when I was in my car, do I know you? Still others have been known to stick out their hands for a handshake. Invariably, all those people are rewarded with nothing more than a cold shoulder. The waver is all about cars and, if you aren’t a car, he won’t have anything to do with you.

Standing, as he often does, by the door to the Epiphany Cafe, a lot of foot traffic goes by every hour. The morning, when people are on their way to work and picking up a last minute cup of coffee, is especially busy. The waver speaks to none of them, for this is also a busy time for automobile traffic. Many occasions come up when someone is struggling through the door with hands full. The Waving Man could easily open the door for them, but he won’t do it. Nothing will distract him from the business of waving at cars.

The Waving Man has even been known, in his eagerness to wave at cars, to stand in front of the doorway of the Epiphany Cafe, blocking people from getting in or out. This can be especially aggravating when you have your hands full of coffee cups. I once witnessed one harried office worker, laden down with coffee for the whole firm, dressed in high heels and a fancy outfit, push her way through the door, assuming it would open as it always does. She crashed against the Waving Man, trying to catch a Chevy going around the corner. She spilled all the coffee on her dress and swore a blue streak, not fitting for a lady. He seemed oblivious to her yelling, but had a big, hospitable grin for the next sedan.

By the time the Lisping Barista said yes to the Geeky Guy, the sentiment of the people of Kenilworth had fully turned against the Waving Man. They were no longer amused by his friendly antisocial antics. There were mutterings that he should be put away. A good talking to was proposed; a mental hygiene arrest was run up the flagpole; a distant home for the developmentally disabled was floated by. A group of young toughs, sensitive to the opportunities that public opinion affords, had come out of a bar the night before, fueled by countless drafts of beer and righteousness, and decided to teach the Waving Man a lesson. The Waving Man had been putting in extra hours to wave at headlights. He should’ve called it a day. He didn’t seem to learn his lesson, though, he was at his post early the next morning, waving at cars as he always does, looking like a raccoon, with two black eyes. No one in the cafe had any sympathy.

I, for one, did not share their scorn, for I can see the Waving Man in all of us. I have watched, day in and day out, the people of the Epiphany Cafe have brief, perfunctory human interactions and then bend for hours to their machines, more intent on thumbing, pecking, and swiping than greeting, gabbing and granting. They seem to prefer text over voice and the glow of a screen to an actual face. Inside and outside the cafe, I have heard folks express love and concern for humankind, but treat actual people like shit. No, the Waving Man is just like the rest of us, only more so.

The Therapist Emeritus has a breakthrough

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Mother Earth continued to moan and groan for a few long minutes, like the old lady she was; long enough for even the newcomers to get used to it and realize they weren’t going to die. No earthquake followed, even though the scientist-types insisted the sounds were earthquake related. No volcano blew its top, even though the more imaginative envisioned fire and brimstone. If there was an apocalypse, it passed by the Epiphany Cafe. So, the Lisping Barista went back to work. Soon you couldn’t hear the supernatural over the blender.

It took longer for most of us at the Epiphany Cafe to get used to the fact that the Lisping Barista had said yes to the Geeky Guy. The event was as uncanny as wonderful. As dangerous as astonishing. It was the next step in a dark room. A jump into the cold water. If this could happen, then what else was possible?

There was one person, though, who knew it was going to happen. She knew because she had set it up. She knew because she was a master head shrinker of the eclectic school of Narrative Rogerian, Experiential Jungian, Integrated Lacanian, Interpersonal Freudian, ad hoc Cognitive Dialectical Behavioral Family Therapy. She knew more about you than you could ever know, and she hasn’t even met you. She can read your mind and tell you why you did the things you didn’t know you did. She could interpret the dreams you forgot. If she analyzed you, you’d stay analyzed. If she hypnotized you, you’d bark like a seal.

She knew because she, and only she, was the Therapist Emeritus.

There were other therapists in the Kenilworth area. There was a community mental health clinic up the road in Middletown where the staff were so busy that they did their paperwork while you talked. There was a pinstriped psychiatrist who was free with the anxiolytics until you got addicted, then he wouldn’t see you anymore. There was a score of young women in private practice who took more care picking out their outfits and selecting their office furniture than they spent on your anguish. There was a halfway house all the way out in the woods where the counselors would shout slogans by day and take a Bacardi behind a tree at night. There were self help groups, mutual help groups, and groups that were no help at all. There was a whole league of life coaches who would never utter a discouraging word. With its enchanted forests, hills that grind their teeth, caffeine addicted river running uphill, and well-insured, half-mad clientele, the area was a boomtown for therapists, a hotbed of holistic healing. The business of head shrinking was expanding in Kenilworth. All species of psych people flocked to the area, but none like the Therapist Emeritus.

Alas, she had recently retired.

The Therapist Emeritus had taken inventory of her 401(k), took down her shingle, and sold her couch on Craig’s List. She dutifully parceled out her clients to colleagues and planned to take up weaving. There was no special reason to weave, she was already a woolly woman with hair as curly, fine, and gray as a sheep. She thought she would like working with her hands, rather than her ears; spinning fibers into threads and threads into yarn, shuttling between warp and woof. The woven cloth would gather warm on her lap. She could lose her thoughts in its intricacies. Her cat would play at her feet. When it was finished, well, something would be finished. She had never finished anything before.

The Therapist Emeritus liked buying the materials well enough, loading skeins in her arms when she could have used a shopping cart. She insisted on assembling the loom herself and spent the better part of a week doing so, cursing at the instructions written in a language other than her own. Then, when it was time for her to make her first blanket, she found that the blanket would not make itself. She called her friends and invited herself over for tea.

Once she started going to tea, she forgot all about the weaving. Wrapping her fingers around the cup, slowly rocking in her chair, nodding and making encouraging sounds whenever they were called for, seemed to fit her better. She felt more at home doing that than she ever felt on the bench by the loom. On the bench, she had been a strand out of place, a loose thread, a dropped stitch. She was made for tea and trouble.

Because she was a reflective person, the Therapist Emeritus reflected that the way you spend your years changes you. Just as a laborer develops calluses on his hands, and may develop them on his heart, fitting him better for his work, so too, does spending one’s life as a therapist. It made her reflective, for one. It also gave her a capacity to ever so slightly nudge things along and sit and watch the rest happen. Blankets don’t get made that way.

The Therapist Emeritus had a lot of friends, but not enough friends to fill up a retirement, so she started calling her old clients. They were all glad to hear from her and told her stories about their new therapists. Nine colleagues talked too little, six talked too much. One had an annoying thing she did with her pen. Another seemed intent on the clock on the wall. Still another didn’t match his socks to his tie and one shoe was more scuffed than the other. No couch was as comfortable as the Therapist Emeritus’ couch, no one’s tea was nearly as hot, no one’s stress balls were quite as firm. The plants by the windows failed to grow and the books on the shelves looked like they’d never been read. There was something not right about her former client’s new therapists, nothing that deserved calling the ethics board, but still, something not quite right. It didn’t take long before the Therapist Emeritus started meeting her old clients for tea.

It turned out that the Therapist Emeritus liked her clients better than her friends and certainly liked them better than weaving; so she sold the loom and most of her fibers before she even had made a single scarf, leaving a ball of yarn for the cat. She volunteered to see her old clients gratis at the Epiphany Cafe and soon had a permanent spot in the comfy chairs over in the back corner, behind a potted plant. I often set up nearby, knowing good stories would follow.

The Geeky Guy had been one of the Therapist Emeritus’ old clients for years. They met twice a week. Lately, he’d been talking about being lonely, so she began a new nudging campaign.

The Therapist Emeritus was a nudger extraordinaire. She had found that it did no good to tell people what to do, make recommendations, prescribe courses of action. Instead, she would nudge. Soon the Geeky Guy was asking every woman in the cafe out on a date so that the Therapist Emeritus could observe. He thought it was his idea. Every woman turned him down until there was one left, the Lisping Barista. She’d been saved for last. Not because she was undesirable, but because no one thought he’d have a chance.

But the Lisping Barista said yes, surprising everyone but the Therapist Emeritus.

You might say, by knitting people together, the Therapist Emeritus already was a master weaver.

Strange occurrences near Kenilworth

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Stirred from its subterranean slumber in the frenchified regions of northern New England, the waters of the Connecticut River arose, staggered around a little, passed the Green Mountains on its right, the White Mountains on its left, and, as if it could do nothing without its morning cup of coffee, went straight to the Epiphany Cafe. The River didn’t stop for Emily Dickenson in Amherst, it didn’t shoot hoops at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, or linger to light a cigar with Mark Twain in Hartford. It was on a mission for some caffeine.

Halfway down the state of Connecticut, the River did something rivers never do. It had a broad, fertile, populous valley directly in front of it. It could have taken this easy path, discharged into a good harbor at New Haven, and become as famous as the Hudson; but, no; it took an inexplicable left hand turn and cut through some granite hills, willing to flow uphill if needed, so that it could get its double shot of espresso latte.

Many have commented on the mad path the River took back into the hills, but, to my mind, have not come up with a satisfactory explanation. The original inhabitants, no doubt, had a story that may have involved trickery or a giant turd falling from the sky to divert its course. At any rate, the explanation is lost, a causality of the Pequot Wars. We are only left with what the geologists say, something about glaciers, to justify the River’s irrational behavior. I think my coffee idea is as sound as any because I know how good it is at the Epiphany Cafe.

To be accurate, the River does not come straight through the door of the cafe and wait patiently in line at the counter for the Lisping Barista to take its order. If the River came in, no other customers would be able to keep their feet dry; therefore, it courteously passes a few miles away and asks the inhabitants of the little town of Kenilworth to get it some take out.

The townspeople are so accustomed to unusual occurrences that they think nothing of it. A nearby caffeine addicted river is just the start of it. The forests in and surrounding Kenilworth are teaming with fairies, ghosts, and other magical beings to such a degree that it’s commonplace. There are known ghosts that go back to colonial times, four hundred years; and unnamed ghosts older than that. There are fairies behind every rock, and there are plenty of rocks in Connecticut. There are ogres under every bridge, and every place a road meets a stream there is a bridge. Even the trees, of which there are as many as rocks, will stand and wave as you pass by. Despite the abundance of evidence, few in Kenilworth will acknowledge it’s an enchanted place. They keep their heads down into their tablets and mistake the mystical for routine.

For instance, immediately after the Lisping Barista astonishingly said yes to the Geeky Guy, a low, rumbling sound could be heard from the hills across the River. The coffee itself got jittery. The cups rattled, all the newcomers to the region sat up straight and looked for an exit, but the natives of Kenilworth barely missed a keystroke. The Lisping Barista revealed she was not from around here.

“What wa’that?” she asked.

The Geeky Guy attempted to reassure her. “That’s just the Moodus Noises,” he said, as if that explained anything. He went on to talk about unusual seismic activity, tectonic plates, and the verities of the Richter scale. It was just one of those things that could be fully explained by science if we knew the explanation. Nothing to be afraid of.

I believe the very foundations of the earth shifted when the Lisping Barista said yes to the Geeky Guy.