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.

All about me, S. Harry Zade

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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

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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.

An Update for All of Harry’s Fans

While we all await the publication of Intersections, Harry has been busy complying with the narrative imperative. He is preparing to fill this blog with all his madcap meanderings once again.

Watch this address. Next week, Harry, the Lisping Barista, Cowboy Tom, Chai Latte, and many others, will return to the Epiphany Cafe in a new form for new adventures. You should, too.

Tell stories or die.