How Rabbi ! got his name


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


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


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


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


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

I’m really a fictional character.

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

I’m really not that different from you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lisping Barista at the Epiphany Cafe


The young woman miraculously said yes to the Geeky Guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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.