Chaos ensues at the Epiphany Cafe and God weeps

Those of us who spend a lot of time tapping on our laptops at the Epiphany Cafe know that the mood there varies according to circumstances and the characters who walk in through the door. It’s most often energetic, ebullient, and elated; seldom staid, sluggish, or sleepy. It has the personality of an over-educated grad student home to see his parents; someone who has plenty to say, but can never be understood. As a gathering place, the Epiphany cafe will never be mistaken for a barbershop where events of the day are combed over, or a diner, where they’re chewed over. Those places process the things that happen; the Epiphany Cafe makes them happen. They’re like your great aunt who spends more time cleaning than making a mess. The Epiphany Cafe is your two year old nephew, who’s just learned that he can reach the shelf where the knick-knacks are kept. That is to say the the Epiphany Cafe is always a little bit chaotic; but never like it was immediately after the Therapist Emeritus announced she was retired.

To be fair, before she left that day, the Therapist Emeritus referred every one of her clients to someone else. Before abandoning her people in the middle of multiple simultaneous nervous breakdowns, she gave them all a number they could call, negotiate a fee, and get an appointment with a stranger, two or three weeks hence. It was the least she could do, as a medical professional.

The telephone crew had come in for coffee when she first broke the news. They spread it to everyone else. They had little else to do, since no one used landlines anymore, but get coffee and spread gossip. Within an hour, all the neurotics and psychotics in the Kenilworth area were streaming into the Epiphany Cafe to get their number, too. Not since the last Emo concert had so many people who needed therapy ever been in one place at one time.

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got referred to a colleague the Therapist Emeritus didn’t like, for no shrink likes to treat a patient who actually needs it. The Geeky Guy got someone who specialized in geeky guys. The Dog Fearing iPhone Pecker had already pecked her iPhone, found someone else, and was out the door before she could say goodbye.

The Therapist Emeritus didn’t leave the Epiphany Cafe without first saying goodbye to everyone, except me, of course. Like I said, I’m a fictional character and might just as well be invisible. Rabbi ! gave her a blessing. The Waving Man, had he been there, despite the fact she wasn’t a car. The Therapist Emeritus even had a word for the homeless Lisping Barista, who, by that time had worked all day, not slept all night, and was a hot puddling mess. The Therapist Emeritus asked how she was getting on with her journalling and encouraged her to continue, ignoring what any therapist emeritus might be expected to see.

Just before she left, Little Theresa came in the door to buy her daily cup of coffee for someone else. Little Theresa didn’t even make it to the counter before she stopped in her tracks. She looked around, got a feel for the place, and began to cry. She didn’t know why she was crying, that is, she couldn’t tell anyone what was sad; but she did know why she was crying. It was the only reason she ever cried, except whenever she barked her skins on her Landlady’s coffee table. She was crying the tears of God.

You see, God can’t cry on His own. He has no tears, nor eyes to weep them. He has to use the tears that Little Theresa provides. She doesn’t mind, even though this kind of crying is just as painful as any other. It’s the least she could do. It’s something that needs to be done.

Just before the Therapist Emeritus left, she stopped to say goodbye to Little Theresa. Then she made an error that, perhaps, demonstrated that she was right to retire. She made a serious mistake that showed that she had lost her diagnostic stuff. She mistook Little Theresa for someone who needed therapy.

The Therapist Emeritus did not sit down right then with Little Theresa and shrink her head. She was retired. But she did give Little Theresa the number of a colleague she could call, even though Little Theresa had never been a client of her’s. She then bid the Epiphany Cafe farewell, forever.

Despite all the hours we spent at the cafe together, I had never spoken a word to the Therapist Emeritus. I was always afraid she would see right through me. Still, I was sorry she was gone. I had depended on her to draw out the stories of many of the characters I met here. Moreover, I was losing more than someone else’s shrink. I was being abandoned by a literary device. My imagination would henceforth have to compensate for the loss of data.

You never know how much good a therapist emeritus is doing until you don’t have one anymore and chaos takes over what had been an orderly arrangement of specious interpretations. By the time she left, the nerves of Epiphany Cafe were already shorting out and blowing a fuse. The drug dealer, Chai Latte, enjoyed a sudden spike in business. The quick exit of the Therapist Emeritus did more to jazz up and jangle the nervous system of the Epiphany Cafe than gallons and gallons of coffee ever could.

The panic stricken state of mind was not any more obvious than it was with the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. His eyes darted under his hat, as if he was being surrounded by a posse of ghosts. They had their guns drawn and had him dead to right. There was nothing more he could do than to run out of the Epiphany Cafe and flee to the grave of the righteous Reverend Abraham Pierson. There he would fruitlessly ask for an intervention, saying that he had confessed his sins already, couldn’t he catch a break? But the good Reverend Pierson did not appear. Perhaps he was off duty, sleeping late, or preferred to haunt at the stroke of midnight.

The Lisping Barista was sorry to see the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat go. She had been counting on asking him for a place to stay. It was true she thought he was crazy and his running out of the cafe seemed to confirm it, but the Lisping Barista wasn’t afraid of crazy. She was also sorry to see him go because he had been scheduled to work the next shift and it didn’t look as though he’d be back soon. Dead tired and homeless, it looked as though she was fated to work a double and then sleep in the car.

Without comprehending why, Little Theresa – so sane, she might be mistaken as crazy – sat in the middle of the cafe, face up, tears streaming down; doing the only thing that could be done: crying the tears of God. When she was done, He felt so much better.

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The Therapist Emeritus makes a decision

The further the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat got in his story, the wider got the eyes of the Therapist Emeritus. She could hear the whole thing, the things he was not saying, as well as the things he was.

He seemed to be telling the story of some boy who had witnessed extreme violence between his parents. This boy responded to his father’s abandonment by pretending to be a sniper and going on a killing spree. The boy had shot most of a neighboring old man’s dogs until the old man, believing he was next, decided to kill himself.

This story was gruesome, horrible, and ingermane. Why would a man, consumed by guilt and tracked across the country by ghosts, interrupt a session, and deliver to his therapist a story about some boy, as if that boy had anything to do about anything?

Why, indeed, but for the fact that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had been that boy, now grown to be a man haunted by ghosts. I think we, at last, have discovered the secret sin the old Puritan preacher had alluded to. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was a killer.

I don’t know if the Therapist Emeritus had the same problems with this story as I did, but it was evident from her wide eyes that she had problems with something. I thought it was strange that the creatures the boy had killed weren’t the ones haunting the grown man. He wasn’t being pursued by Old Man Jenson and his kennel full of baying hounds; they seemed to outsource their haunting to others. I didn’t know ghosts did that; but clearly the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought so.

It was also odd that the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat thought he could admit to something without actually admitting to it and release himself of guilt by confessing in the third person. Maybe, though, this was just his opening bid; he would try a half-assed non-apologetic apology, but would be willing to go full strength if he needed to. I suppose I can’t blame a guy for seeing what he can get away with, even if he is a mass murderer.

Here’s another thing about the story I’m not sure I get. So, the boy kills a bunch of dogs. He shoots them down with a powerful rifle while hiding under cover. That’s pretty bad, but at least dogs aren’t people, right? He’s not really a mass murderer, technically, because murder, unless you are a member of PETA, is the killing of humans. Here’s the thing, though: as he was shooting, he was imagining his victims were humans, not dogs. So, what is he guilty of? Killing humans, as he intended, or dogs, as he actually did. I know, in a court of law he would not be tried for murder, but are the statutes the same in the spiritual world, where ghosts have their citizenship? I think, in a spiritual sense, he is guilty of murder because he imagined the dogs as people. He’s no different than those people who, from time to time, show up in public places with automatic weapons and kill humans, imagining they are dogs. For that matter, he’s also guilty of the killing of Old Man Jenson, who, strictly speaking, killed himself; for Jenson would not have done so if the boy had not besieged him and shot all his pets.

Oh, I can hear you saying, the boy imagined he was at war. War excuses killing. To my thinking, war may or may not excuse killing, but, in this case, imagining he’s at war excuses nothing, for he was not in a war, or, at least, not in the usual sense.

I can also hear you say, give the guy a break, he’s insane. He had a dysfunctional family, an abusive father, a violent mother; he was poor, the product of a broken home, and lived in a trailer. He was young and didn’t know any better. His parents failed to keep an eye on him. They didn’t lock up their guns. The guy needs therapy, not condemnation. That may well be, but it is not my opinion that is condemning him; it’s those ghosts. Ghosts don’t care about whether you’re insane. As far as they’re concerned, a state of insanity is where they want you to be.

But, enough about me and what I think. It’s not my assessment that matters here. I’m just a fictional character. What really matters is what the Therapist Emeritus thought. She was the shrink, after all. Did she have a flashing insight or a searing diagnosis? More importantly, what did she do? Did she have an intervention that freed him? What therapeutic model did she apply? Did she prescribe medication? No, like I said before, she didn’t have a license to prescribe medication. Did she teach her client the difference between catharsis and decathexis, fixation and delayed gratification, parataxic distortion and narcissistic coenaesthetic expansion? Did she deliver an anomalous paradoxical intention? Not this time, she didn’t. How about all those skills she learned: NLP, CBT, EFT, DBT, ACT, and EMDR? Did she go all Albert Ellis on him? No, she didn’t have a good impression of Albert Ellis. Did she suggest he go out on a date? No, she already did that. She did the best thing a therapist emeritus can do in the circumstance, an intervention all of her therapist friends would secretly approve of, even as they said her actions were unethical.

She decided it was time to retire.

Yes, the Therapist Emeritus decided to retire. She had once done so before and it didn’t stick, but she was serious this time. She would go on that cruise, take up that hobby, see her grandchildren, go out with a bang. She would stop seeing clients in a coffee shop and volunteer at a soup kitchen if she was bored, or, maybe a dog shelter. She would never again listen to anyone speak more than three sentences at a time. She would say to everyone what she really thought, without obfuscation, discombobulation, or bewilderment. She would never again nod her head and say go on, unless she meant it. More importantly, she would make the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat someone else’s problem, and all the people like him.

She actually said, “I’m retired.”

“You’re what?”

“Retired, don’t you know what retired means?”

“You weren’t retired when I came in and interrupted a session.”

“You noticed that, did you?”

“When did you retire?”

“When you were about halfway through your story. About when I figured out the boy wasn’t really a sniper and he was really you.”

“You can’t retire now. I need help.”

“You’re right, but I’m not qualified to give it.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m retired.”

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat tells his story

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat began telling his story to the Therapist Emeritus, interrupting this time a session with the Geeky Guy. He didn’t even stop when they objected, saying they would be done in fifteen minutes. He didn’t even seem to care that the Geeky Guy was his boss, now, and might be accorded some respect. You would’ve expected him to wait in line, take a number, put in his reservation, but he budged in, as if he had a bad case of diarrhea and his story was a good shit. The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat spoke strangely in the third person, in an obvious attempt to distance himself from the protagonist of the story and disavow the actions he took.

I won’t tell the story to you as he told it, for the stories of overwrought people are really not that good. Their stories have plenty of angst, but lack the organization, comprehensibility, and polish that you, dear reader, have come to expect in these pages. Therefore, I tell you the story as I would tell it. Sit back and listen, or, rather, read, and know that no deed is without consequences, even if no one else is left alive to see it.

You never would have thought there was a war on to see the towering masses of clouds reviewed by the late winter sun. They were indifferent to the three bodies that lay, unmoving, a hundred yards from the sniper. A fourth writhed in pink snow. The sniper shivered as the clouds blocked the sun. He bit his sleeve with his chattering teeth, lest the sound draw them to his position. He hadn’t moved for an hour. After his first shot he had been surprised at how easy it was to kill. He followed the first with three more and then stopped, thinking they would see the flash of his rifle.

He was really just a boy in a hurry to become a man. Sniping came natural to him. It was in his blood. After the Big Fight and Dad left, his Ma would lie in bed for hours without moving. Once he thought she was dead until he pulled the covers from her head and revealed her pink, black, and blue face. Only her infrequent blinking told him she was still alive.

He busied himself with his Nintendo outside her door. The bright sunshine slashed through the cracks of the curtains, drawn over the trailer windows. He kept watch for hours. So long, in fact, that, when he stepped out of their metal box to go to school, it seemed as though he was leaving the real world to enter a fantasy.

Days later, when Dad returned, Ma was up and feeling better enough to complain about the Nintendo. She stood by the stove and he continued playing as if he didn’t hear her. They both made like they didn’t hear the door open. Dad came behind her and cupped her breasts with his hands as she stirred the boiling spaghetti. He let go when she lifted the pot to dump in the colander in the sink. The boy watched them out of the corner of his eye. Ma held the boiling pot in front of her and Dad reached his arms out, as if offering to take the pot from her. His arms were splotchy with tattoos. Dad cooed to her, but he could see from the stubborn set of her jaw that she wasn’t having any of it. She dumped the boiling spaghetti over the tattoos. A moment later, vapor roiled where his Dad had stood while the man ran, screaming from the trailer.

Ma pulled the plug on the Nintendo and ordered the boy to clean up the mess his father had made while she toasted bread to put under the sauce.

A dozen more targets stood between the sniper and a ruined house. One man, who commanded the rest, came out of the house to look over the dead bodies. He had a rifle with him. The rest pretended not to notice as he lifted it and took aim at the one the sniper had crippled. As the sound of his mercy killing rang across the hills, the man scanned the landscape, looking for the sniper. The sniper might have plugged him right then, but he had sport in mind. Instead, he took aim at the one nearest and got him through the ear. The commander scurried back to the house.

Some time after Dad left for good, the boy sat outside the screen door of the trailer and asked his Ma if he could have a pup. He could see her outline through the screen, sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette. She could not see a pup licking his hand. The boy had found the mutt dumped by the side of the road.

“We can’t afford no dog,” said Ma. “I just got rid of one worthless beast and I won’t be getting another.”

The boy took the pup to Jensen’s place at the top of the hill. He had a dozen dogs already and he wouldn’t notice one more. As the boy approached, a platoon of dogs set up a howl and the pup would go no further. The boy picked him up and they marched on, gravel crunching under his steps. Old Man Jensen lived in the two or three rooms that were left of his house after a fire. On one side stood a bare utility pole, like the house’s scepter, the wires taken down. The wall facing the pole was gone except for charred studding, through which Jensen stepped, loading a rifle.

“Who’s there taking one of my pups?” Half of Old Man Jensen’s face was burnt like his house.

“I ain’t takin’ it, sir, I was just…”

“Don’t give me none of your backtalk. Just leave it there and go away.”

The boy ran on home, half burning with shame, half with anger. The pup ran after him, but its legs being short, it could not keep up.

A column of smoke arose from where the boy’s trailer was. When he returned, he saw his Ma had lit a fire behind the garage and was burning up his Dad’s clothes. She had also thrown his Nintendo into the fire. The boy got there just in time to see the plastic warp and shrink before catching.

“You’ve been sitting around too much,” she said. “I want you to get out of the house and start doing other things.”

He might have complained that night, but she was making spaghetti again.

The sniper fired mechanically, reducing every creature in front of the dwelling to a pile of meat. When the sound of the last of his shots died, the clouds continued on their way. The warmth-less sun glared down on him still. The only sound: a wailing from inside the house.

The boy followed his Ma’s advice and stayed out more. He lingered in the garage, going through his Dad’s tools and sitting in the driver’s seat of the disassembled Fairlane they had meant to fix up. Standing by the wall were Dad’s guns: a .22 with a plastic stock, a shotgun, and a hunting rifle with a telescopic sight. The boy sat in the driver’s seat with the rifle, pressed the butt against his shoulder, and examined knotholes through the scope. The dark, woody stock was as muscular as Dad’s arms. The bolt, which could pinch a child’s fingers, had the same oily sent as his hair.

Days later, the boy watched from the garage as Ma left to get groceries. Then he snuck out with the rifle and a backpack full of ammunition. He spent an hour shooting at trees in the woods. When he returned, the Fairlane was on a flat bed truck and Dad was hauling the last of his tools out of the garage, his arms swathed in bandages. Ma had returned and the car was filled with bags.

“You seen my rifle?” he said.

“Is that all you can say? Your boy’s been wanting to see you. As if you care.”

“All’s I got is a room in a boarding house. You know I can’t have no boy there. You got the trailer. You keep him, unless you want to give me that trailer.”

The boy returned to the woods without ever being seen and loaded up the rifle. With a gun in his hand a boy’s not a boy anymore. A squirrel chattered in the tree above and he took aim at it. It took a minute before the end of the rifle settled down on the target; he had never taken aim at a living thing before. With a slow squeeze of the trigger, he knocked the squirrel down from the tree. With a gun in his hand, no boy feels rage anymore. All he feels is power.

At last, the sky above the sniper went dark. The towering masses of clouds snuffed out the stars. Snow was starting to drift behind the twenty corpses he had made, as if the late winter wind was on burial detail. The sniper hoped that more snow would come to cover his deeds. He could not brag of this to anyone. There was nothing to brag about, killing so many that could not return fire. After hours of lying motionless, he rose. He expected a bullet to fly right through him; he half hoped it. The sniper crouched and ran to the side of the building and listened for a while. It took a minute before he could hear something other than his heartbeat, and then he had to contend with his mind. There was only one thing he could do to say he was brave. He had to stand before the one remaining and invite being gunned down. That was the only thing that could make it right. The sniper’s heart began to pound again as he entered the building and looked for the remaining man.

The boy had waited till dark fell before returning home. Ma had brought in the groceries by then and she was in bed already. She was awake, though, and called him in her room.

“Your Father left us with nothing,” she said. “I don’t know what we’re gunna do. He even took the Fairlane that he said he was fixing up for when you turned sixteen. I asked him when he was gunna see you, and he just started talking like he wanted the trailer, too.”

The boy had hid the rifle in the garage and took a bullet with him. He went to bed and sucked on the bullet, hoarding its metallic taste. When he closed his eyes he saw the squirrel through the scope and marveled at how he could turn it into a cold corpse with a squeeze of his finger. He imagined biting the bullet’s firing pin and sending the lead through the roof of his mouth. Death must be a lot like sleep, he thought. One minute you’re awake, smelling smells, tasting metal, watching your father, and listening to your mother; and the next minute you’re asleep.

The first room the sniper entered had no furniture. One wall had collapsed during some calamity and the roof teetered, unsupported over his head, threatening to dump a load of snow into the room. The second room was filled with old hunting magazines and a duct-taped recliner. He wheeled suddenly to face something that moved from behind the recliner, almost forgetting his vow not to fire. There was the pup he had dropped off with Old Man Jensen two weeks before. It licked the boy’s hand as he scanned the room again, the rifle butt resting on his hip.

The room was getting too dark to see anything. The boy decided he would bring it on. He called out, “I’m sorry I shot your dogs, but you had a lot anyway. You can get some more. You can keep that pup I brought you. I can’t have it. My Ma won’t let me keep it.”

No one answered back with either a shout or with a bullet. As the boy circumnavigated the recliner, he discovered the reason for the silence. Old Man Jensen was lying on the floor, holding his rifle, like an oversized lollypop stick, in his mouth. He was lying on his side and, when the boy turned him over, one side of his face was covered with burns and the other side was covered with blood.

A Stone and a Fly come into the Epiphany Cafe

Just about the time I finished reading about the Lisping Barista taking a bath, the door to the Epiphany Cafe opened and another customer walked in to get a cup of coffee. The identity of this person is unimportant. It could have been anyone. The important thing was that he brought two others in with him: a Stone and a Fly. The Stone had somehow gotten into his shoe and was irritating his foot. The first thing he did, even before he got his coffee, was to take off his shoe and empty the Stone out. The Fly flew in when he opened the door and irritated him by buzzing around his head. Both the Stone and the Fly were irritants, one at each end of this man’s body; but, in both cases, when he dumped out his shoe and shooed away the Fly, he gave them no more thought, as if they had never existed.

The Stone was not concerned that he was ignored. He had existed far longer than the man and would continue to exist on this earth long after the man was moldering in the grave. The Stone was a typical example of a schist from the Bronson Hill Anticlinorium, consisting of micas, chlorite, talc, hornblende, and graphite all smushed together and baked deep within the furnace of the earth. Magma had forced our Stone upward, just as a pimple is formed, till it became exposed to the weathering effects of water, wind, glaciers, the roots of trees, and the treads of road construction machinery. It was then that the Stone broke free of the rock that formed it and became an individual that can fit within a hapless man’s shoe. All this took lots of time, but the Stone had plenty of time, for it measured its life in eons, rather than decades; and the time it spent within the man’s shoe, to the Stone, was less than an instant.

To the man, the Stone had been bothering his foot for what seemed to be forever. It wasn’t forever, of course, not for the man, still less than for the Stone. In fact, the Stone might have had a better claim to being bothered by the man’s foot overhead, the sole of his shoe, underneath, and the smell all around. We assume that stones are insensible to such things only because we don’t sense their reactions; but they could very well be reacting, as strongly as we, but in stone time. We, existing in human time, don’t have the patience to listen to stones. It’s like when you visit your grandfather after he has a stroke. He takes so long to form the words, you figure he has nothing to say.

The Stone had plenty to say, if anyone would listen. He had seen a lot and understood mysteries that elude the most rigorous scientists. He knew, for instance, the cause of the Moodus Noises. They were, in fact, the voices of other stones, brothers of his, who had together formed a righteous rock group and sang songs that spoke to the depths of our stone’s soul. They got him. They were the real deal, man; authentic expressions of his own experience.

The Fly, for her part, flew through the cafe with as much solemnity as if she were royalty; which she was, in fact; although none of the humans present recognized her majesty, much less her sovereignty. It’s true that all the humans who happened to be at the Epiphany Cafe at that time were Americans and had as much use for royalty as they did for the metric system, but that’s not why they failed to bow and scrape at the fly’s dignified entrance. They thought she was just a fly.

While the Stone existed in stone time, the Fly buzzed around in fly time. It all came down to the fact that a stone has plenty of time and a fly doesn’t. This Fly, for instance, would fly around the cafe until closing time, smack itself silly on the plate glass window, feed on muffin crumb that had fallen to the floor a week ago, have sex in the air with her courtiers, lay her eggs on a moldy cookie, and rest in state by the time the cafe opened the next day. One day is not a lot of time by our standards, and it’s an instant according to the Stone; but, to the Fly, it’s a lifetime. Perhaps that’s why humans have so much trouble swatting flies, for the action of a swat must take, to a fly, the better part of a year; which is plenty of time for a fly to put in its thirty-day notice, contract with the movers, and vacate its lodgings on the back of your neck before your clumsy and sluggardly swat ever gets near him.

Time, to the humans at the Epiphany Cafe was far more variable. Human time never gets as slow as stone time, nor as quick as fly time, but it can go fast or slow according to circumstances. If you ask a toddler to wait five minutes, you’re asking her to forsake a large portion of her life and she will rightfully have a cow; but five minutes to an eighty-year old is barely enough time for a nap. This accounts for the dissimilarity in attitude and behavior.

We humans are also graced with a kind of variable transmission that shifts our sense of time according to the load placed on the engine. The Lisping Barista, for instance, since her bath, had been experiencing time somewhat as a fly does. There have been so many events crammed into a short period that a single full day seemed to go on forever. Her journal, as I read on, documented that she did indeed get evicted by her roommate and she slept that night in her car. As we will see, time will continue to labor in first gear as she experiences one catastrophe after another.

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat experienced time more like the Stone. This was because he was stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day-like reiteration of events. Despite being quite well traveled through these broad United States, he never seemed to get anywhere. The entire past ten years, or so, was devoted to the single annoyance of these pesky ghosts. They buzzed around him like a fly. They irritated him like a stone in his shoe. He just about had enough and was dedicated to doing whatever it took to be rid of them.

The Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was the next to arrive at the Epiphany Cafe following the man with the Stone in his shoe and the Fly. He ignored the Lisping Barista and didn’t even get a cup of coffee. He went straight to the Therapist Emeritus, intent on telling his story.

The Lisping Barista takes a bath

After the commotion settled down, I got a chance to read what else the Lisping Barista had written before I was interrupted by the Waving Man doing something uncharacteristic and a Nigerian Prince doing something characteristic. I’m glad I did. I got to see something of the Lisping Barista I never would’ve suspected.

What’s a girl got to do to get fucked in this hick town? I said to myself. Well, if I can’t get fucked, then at least I can get fucked up. An hour later, he drops me off back home and I lock myself in the bathroom so I can think. It’s something I like to do. Run a bath, light a joint, and wallow in self pity.

I lay there for a good long time, letting it soak in that I’m a loser. Then there’s a second thing I like to do. I borrow a razor from my roommate’s stash. You know, the cheap kind, with pink plastic handles. I take it apart, let the plastic float away, and hold the little blade like it’s a fly I just caught in my fingers.

I’m working on a design on my outer thigh. I roll over on my side to study it and decide where I want to put the next line. I thought it was going to be an angel when I started, but I’m not that good an artist, so now it’s just some modern art, I guess. I decide I have a thing for parallel lines. They never get closer, never touch, and never get in each other’s way. That’s just the thing I want to see, so I make the cut.

I have a lot of metal and ink. This is the same, but it’s different. It’s the same in that I’m making improvements. It’s the same in that it hurts, but feels good at the same time. It’s different in that it’s all mine, my own creation and my own thing. I don’t let anyone see my cuts, not people who fuck me, not even my tattoo artists. It’s a way I have of opening up and taking care of what’s inside. I don’t let people see my lungs, my spleen, or my liver, so I don’t let them see my cuts.

I have cuts on my wrist, too; but they’re entirely different. I make them when I’m shit faced, full of rage, and wanting to punish someone, anyone. I don’t mind if you see those because I want you to feel bad.

It’s strange how it takes a while for the blood to run, like it had been sleeping and had trouble waking up; but, then, when it comes, it’s redder than I remember it. Pretty soon, the bath water is stained as pink as the razor handle, so that I can’t even find it.

I look at my cuts and I’m about ready to cry, not because I feel bad, but because they’re so beautiful. Artistically, they’re no big deal. My work is at the level of a kindergartener, but it’s mine. I do it for me. No one can judge. No one sees it. It’s just me. As real as I can be.

I’m just beginning to forget about all the shit in my head when my roommate starts knocking on the door. Apparently, she needs to pee. Well, I pay rent here, too, even if I’m not on the lease, so I have as much right to the bathroom as she. I run the water to drown her out. I know it’s mean, but this is my me time. Besides, the bath is cold. When she she hears the water, she starts threatening she’s going to evict me. Yeah, right, I thought, I’ve heard that before. I hold my breath and go under, blowing bubbles. All I can hear, besides the bubbles, is a distorted wha, wha wha sound, like the grownups in a Charlie Brown special.

When I come up for air, she’s still at it. She’s really starting to kill my buzz. I was just beginning to get comfortable with the perfect mixture of pain and bliss, but I get out, carefully drain the pink water, wrap myself in a towel, and unlock the door. She has a cow when finds her clothes in a heap on the floor. I borrowed them to go on that sorry excuse for a date. I don’t have anything that nice.

She picks them up and looks them over all the while she’s still jawboning me, saying that’s her stuff and she never gave me permission to wear it. Yeah, and she had to pee so bad. Right. We must have got the skirt dirty on the floor of the cave and the Cowboy dude may have popped a button when he he was groping my breasts. She goes apeshit when she sees the missing button. I’m like, chill bitch, they’re only material things, but she’s all into fashion and shit like that. One of those types.

Next thing, she decides that’s her towel I’m using, too. Pack up your shit, she says, you’re moving out.

I say, fine. I’m going. You can keep your fucking towel. I bunch it up and throw it at her. By now we’re in the living room, the curtains are open, and the neighbors have started to gather to see what all the brouhaha is all about. My tits are flopping around and my ass is hanging out for the whole world to see, but I don’t care. Have a good look, people, this is what tits and ass looks like. This is what that bitch, and all the other bitches and pricks, have reduced me to.

I could tell my roommate and all the neighbors are more embarrassed than I am even though I’m the one who just got evicted and was standing around as naked as the day I was born. I think about strutting my stuff and doing a little dance just to rub their faces in it, but then I see what they’re looking at. They’re not looking at my tits even though my tits usually get plenty of attention. They’re not looking at my ass even though there’s many who admire a piece of ass. They’re not even looking at my ink even though I’ve paid a lot of money for it. They’re looking at the design I‘d been etching on my outer thigh.

I wish I could say why I felt more humiliated about those people seeing my cuts than I felt about my bare tits and ass. I didn’t even care that they witnessed the scene with my roommate kicking me out. She was acting the fool, not me. But, my cuts, that’s different, that’s private, that’s like you’re looking right at my soul. I felt naked.

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.

The Lisping Barista and the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat visit Gillette’s Castle

I couldn’t wait until the Epiphany Cafe opened the next morning, so I could hack into the Lisping Barista’s laptop and find out what happened on her date with the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. I had no prurient interest. I was not looking to be tantalized by accounts of sex. It’s just one of the many things I do for you, dear reader, because you might have prurient interest and a taste for sexual tantalization.

The Lisping Barista was late. All the early morning coffee drinkers were lined up by the door by the time she got there, looking as though she had been up all night. The odds of being tantalized seemed pretty high; but, by the time she had opened up and filled the backlog of orders, it was mid-morning before she could get down to any writing.

That dude with the cowboy hat asked me out yesterday. We’re both new here and didn’t know what there was to do in town, so we asked around. Go to Gillette’s Castle everyone said. It’s so romantic. Some rich guy built a castle on a hill by the river. He died, so now it’s a state park. Pretty cool, I guess.

Indeed, Gillette’s Castle is the Kenilworth area’s major tourist destination. The castle overlooks the Connecticut River, high on a hill. You’d think you’re in Europe. It’s the perfect place to take a date. It’s got everything: scenery, historical interest, picturesque architecture, private nooks, and forested bolder-bestrewed grounds in which to do some serious necking. It was built by the actor, William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, so we take the ferry and walk around this castle and talk. He’s good looking and he has that cowboy thing going on. I guess he’s an actual cowboy, not just a guy with a hat. He’s been out west and seen places I never even saw when I was following the tour. He’d never heard of the Spellbinding Fish Fry, so I tell him all about them. He samples a few tracks from my iPod and seems to like them. He’s into listening, both to me and to the music.

Actually, he’s a perfect gentleman, holding doors open for me and stuff like that. The castle was beautiful and all the trees and the river, good to look at, but I think, something’s not right. Things are too perfect. Nothing is supposed to be perfect this way, except maybe music.

Perfect things make me nervous. Like when you’re visiting your grandmother when you’re a kid and it’s not childproof. There’s a glass coffee table, a white carpet, lots and lots of things to break, and nothing to do but listen to the grownups talk. You know there’s going to be trouble and you’ll be the one that’ll be blamed. If it was me in that situation, I’d just go ahead and break the coffee table with some valuable figurine just to be done with it. When you’re a kid, there’s no sense in being bored out of your mind and careful for, like, hours, only to break something at the end. Just get it done with and be out of your misery.

Anyway, so we’re walking around this castle, talking about the Fry. We get in this tour group and this guide shows us around the place. It’s like the opposite of my grandmother’s living room. Nothing is delicate. It’s all rocks, antlers, and velvet cushions. The tour guide is rattling on about how many stones were used in the building of the castle, how much the windows cost; you know, stuff no one cares about, and everyone is listening politely. I get to thinking, I hope the cowboy dude doesn’t think I’m a lady. If he thinks that, he’s going to be disappointed when he finds out otherwise.

A picture of the Gillette guy who built the castle is hanging on the wall. I stop to look like I’m studying it and let the tour group move on. Cowboy dude stops with me and looks at the picture, too, like he’s really interested. I suppose he thinks I’m interested, so he has to be. I’m not, though. As soon as he gets in reach I hook my arm around his neck, pull him close, and duel a bit with his tongue. I follow that up with cupping his ass and moving my fingers down his butt crack to where the balls hang.

I think he got the idea I wasn’t a lady.

I don’t want to make this sound like I wasn’t into it. I love fooling around and sex is the second best thing to do, after the Fry. I did it out of principle. I don’t like being put into a corner and expected to act in a certain way. I like to be free, unpredictable, and a little crazy. I like to keep my options open.

He didn’t seem to mind.

We do some more kissing and cupping and exploring fingers down cracks until the tour group loops around and some prissy crone with her grandkids lets out a gasp. The tour guide stops talking about windows and rocks and tells us to take it outside. The cowboy dude already has his hands on my breasts by then and I’m not pushing them away. He grabs my hand and we run outside, straight into the woods, and find a cave like we know where we’re going.

Woods cover the entire state of Connecticut and caves abound in the area near Kenilworth. You can hold hands, go in any direction, and run into the woods and find a cave.

Anyway, so, one thing leads to another. We’re in a cave. He has my shirt off and I have his pants off, then he goes for my pants and I’m after his shirt. We get to the point where there’s nothing more to take off, except his hat. Apparently, he never takes off his hat. This is about the time when my madness sets in for me. You see, I started jumping his bones because I didn’t want to be typecast, in this case, into a lady. I want to be free. But, once I jump his bones and get something started, I find I’m getting typecast into something else. A slut. I don’t want to be a slut any more than I want to be a lady. I want to be a slut as much as I want to be a lady. I actually want to be both, sometimes at the same time, or at least to be free to go from one to the other.

This is where I don’t know what to do because, if I try to stop things now, bad things happen. It’s like stopping a runaway train. You get run over. This is when I check out and go fuzzy.

I know, I’m a flakey, cock-teasing bitch. A real piece of work. That’s what I’ve been told.

Anyway, so, at this moment, I’m on my back with my head towards the entrance of the cave and he’s on his knees facing it. He’s ready and about to put it in. I’m all divided inside and getting ready to just let my mind leave so it doesn’t have to deal with what’s about to happen. My cunt can deal with it, but my mind has to avert its eyes.

He’s the kind of guy who can’t look at me when he fucks me, so he looks up through the entrance to the cave. He thinks he’s going to just see leaves and trees and maybe the river. He’s going to dream he’s fucking a supermodel while he’s fucking me. I’m going to go off to never-never land while I’m getting fucked. It’s going to be so fucking awesome for both of us.

Anyway, so, he’s about to stick it in and he looks up. He sees something that makes him go soft in an instant. I don’t know how they do it. It’s a mystery to me how they can get so hard so fast and so soft just as fast over just a little thing. At the same time that he goes soft, he starts yelling. Here I am, getting ready to be fucked and drifting off into wherever it is I go and he starts screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Go away. Can’t you guys ever leave me alone!”

I turn around and look. I don’t see anyone, but I figure they went away when he started screaming. I also figure he knows them. I ask him who it is.

“William Gillette.”

Yeah, that’s right. The guy in the picture we pretended to be looking at when we started messing around. The dead actor guy who built the castle.

And I thought I was crazy.