I have to do this right away or I’ll change my mind. You know, Option #7; the clobber Chai Latte with a baseball bat one. As soon as he leaves, I get the bat and wait by the door.
While I’m waiting, I got this song going through my head. It’s from the Spellbinding Fish Fry. They call it, One Heaven. It might be my favorite. It goes like this:
One Heaven when everything’s done.
One place for everyone.
Arabs and Jews,
Folks that’s got and ain’t got shoes.
Black and White,
Folks who’s wrong and folks who’s right.
Young and Old,
Shy and the bold, the tame and uncontrolled.
One Heaven when everything’s done.
One place for everyone.
So, we’ll all have to get along.
Yeah, I know. You got to be there. The song goes on like that for a hundred verses with all kinds of categories. Every time I go to a concert, they got more. They don’t call them spellbinding for nothing. Anyway, it’s a feel good song. They’re all feel good songs. They promote peace, love, and understanding.
The first time I went to hear the Fry I was meeting friends. I couldn’t find them, so I make my way to the stage, turn around, and work outwards, you know, so I can see faces. Everyone’s smiling and I start to get paranoid because I think they’re all laughing at me. I’m about to lose my shit right there in the middle of the concert; but, then I realize, hey, it’s feel good music. All these thousands of Deep Fries are just feeling good; that’s why they’re smiling. They’re not laughing at me.
I used to think I could be down with peace, love, and understanding. One heaven for everyone was good for me. Now I’m not sure.
What’ll I do when I get to Heaven and Chai Latte’s there? I hate it when he comes home. I hear his key in the door and I wonder how he’ll be. No, I can’t see spending eternity with Chai. A couple weeks is bad enough.
For that matter, what about Hitler, or Stalin, or Attila the Hun? How’d you like to be in heaven with them? That would be totally whacked, sitting on a cloud with Osama Bin Laden and strumming harps with Vlad the Impaler.
I know what you’re saying, they got Hell for that kind. They don’t let them into Heaven. St Peter turns them away at the door. It makes me feel real good thinking of Chai at the end of a pitchfork, getting roasted with his feet in a block of ice. I like that. But then I think, if I like torturing him so much, doesn’t that make me as bad as him? What’s worse, beating up your girlfriend a couple times when you’re drunk, or clobbering a guy with a baseball bat and wanting to fry him in Hell forever when you’re stone cold sober?
No, I’ll have to get my shit together before I show up in Heaven. They won’t let a bitter, vindictive type up there. Otherwise, I’d be like the one guy at a Spellbinding Fish Fry concert not smiling, arms crossed, scoffing at how naive everyone is, not even taping my foot, much less dancing in the dusty infield.
OK, so, maybe I don’t have to send Chai to Hell. God’ll do it for me. Or St Peter, or some other bouncer dude they got up there. But that doesn’t work either. Then you got God not smiling when He’s supposed to be the host. You got St Peter checking off from a list of wrongs, scoffing at people, because they’ve got the balls to line up for Heaven. You got a bouncer dude standing around with his arms crossed, saying with his eyes, just give me an excuse to kick your ass.
That doesn’t sound like Heaven to me. Heaven, to me, is like a Spellbinding Fish Fry concert. Everyone’s happy and loving everyone except, maybe for a few walking around, thinking everyone is dissing them. Hilter, Stalin, Attila, Osama, Vlad, Chai, that whole evil crew, getting uptight and paranoid because they can’t imagine a place where everyone’s happy.
I’m about ready to forgive Chai Latte and plan on smiling at him when we I see him in Heaven; but then I hear the door. I’m standing behind it with a baseball bat. If I don’t clobber him, I’m fucked.
The next day it started raining, tentatively at first, like a long-silenced wife who, for the first time, is asked what she thinks. Soon the sky was packed tight with clouds and the drops got bigger and bigger, until the rain filled the world with a heavy beat, suggestive of a long-suffering wife smashing the dishes. It was like a disease of rain, dull in its unvarying monotony, smothering as a fever, cruel as suffocating phlegm. It fell over all of Kenilworth; over the Head Surveyor, whose transit fogged; over the Town Cop, whose brim ran rivets; over the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, who huddled under his dumpster; and over the Crazy Dog Lady’s dogs, who saved their shaking till they got inside. It inspired Rabbi ! to write a sermon about Noah. It pockmarked the Connecticut River and gave it strength. It flooded Abraham Pierson’s grave and dampened Chai Latte’s drugs, but it did not extinguish the Geeky Guy’s desire.
The Geeky Guy still grieved over the one he regarded as his wife, the Lisping Barista. No little bit of rain, or ocean full of rain, would dissuade him from what he thought was right. He would go to her, claim her as his own, and set her free. He had a gun and could make it happen.
Perhaps we should pause for a minute, if only because he failed to, and examine why he felt this way. We should ask the question of him that the Therapist Emeritus would have asked had she still been there. We should seize hold of the Geeky Guy, hang tight to his sleeve, and demand one thing of him before he goes.
Just what do you think you’re doing?
We won’t ask him this, though. You won’t because you are just a reader and cannot leap into the pages of a book and affect its outcome. I won’t do it because it’s raining outside, the Geeky Guy has already left, and I don’t want to get wet. It wouldn’t do any good, because the Geeky Guy wouldn’t know how to answer and, if he did, he wouldn’t know how to say it right.
You see, it was not the Lisping Barista that he was trying to save; it was the meaning of his life. It was not a relationship he needed to preserve because, in truth, he had no relationship except that of employer to employee. The Geeky Guy thought his life had no meaning other than the Lisping Barista. It had no meaning before she arrived, and it would have no meaning if she left.
Having meaning in his life never seemed an important thing before she had said yes. He used to go to work every day and tinker with his engineering projects without one. He’d come home and tinker with his electrical projects without one. Days, years, and projects came and went without the Geeky Guy ever thinking about their purpose. But when the Lisping Barista did come into his life, bearing its meaning, he began to believe it was an essential thing.
A meaning, you see, is very powerful; more potent than a gun. A gun can only kill you, but a meaning can affect your whole existence. Without meaning, he came to believe, there was no reason to have been born.
The Geeky Guy should have been more careful about where he had found the meaning of his life and what he did with it. He shouldn’t have found it in the Lisping Barista, who was a fickle thing. He should have found it in his engineering, which was built to last; his electronics, which kept a charge; or even his sister, who rarely left the house. He could have taken up charity work, written the Great American Novel, or found a cure for cancer. Any meaning of life would have been better than adopting the Lisping Barista as the meaning of his. It was bound to end badly.
He should not have acted as though the meaning of life was so precious that it needed to be hoarded whenever found. He could always find another. In fact, meanings of life are quite plentiful, like stones on a Connecticut hillside. You can’t walk a hundred paces in any direction without stubbing your toe on a dozen of them. To put it another way, each meaning of life is like a lungful of air; no sooner are you done with one when another comes along to replace it. The Geeky Guy was acting as if he had come upon a fine lungful of air and had to keep it because he might not get another.
He also made the mistake of thinking that the meaning of his life was like a riddle that had a single answer. The meaning of life is not like a problem in mathematics, which either adds up or doesn’t. It’s more like a design problem; there’s a million ways it can be solved. There is no right answer and there was no one but him who could give him a grade.
At least the Geeky Guy did not make the usual error people make regarding the meaning of life. At least he didn’t fret over whether the meaning of his life was worthy of his life. Perhaps he felt his life was not that valuable and that any meaning would be good enough and better than none at all. At any rate, she was a sufficient meaning and he was determined to keep it.
Having a meaning of life meant something. It meant he had something greater than life, something he could exchange for life. It meant he could die, for if his life had meaning, so would his death. It also meant he could kill.
- Tell Chai Latte I’m moving out and he can’t stop me. Have him beat me up because he wants to give me a going away present. Get an apartment where he’s a permanent fixture, peering in my window. Get stalked for years until I decide I’d rather have him next to me in my bed where I can keep an eye on him than maybe around the corner in a dark night.
- Call the battered women hotline and get put on hold. Talk to an undertrained volunteer who is manning, or womanning, the phone to comply with court ordered restitution. Get a room in a woman’s shelter with a snoring roommate. Get kicked out because I tried to suffocate her with a pillow. End up homeless, living under a dumpster like that cowboy dude.
- Lie back, spread ‘em, and take it, like I’ve taken many before. Whatever he says, say, “yes sir,” right back. Hope he doesn’t think I’m being sarcastic, or ingratiating, or robotic, or too much of a wishy-washy wuss for his taste. Get privately bitter until the Stockholm Syndrome takes over and he trusts me to leave the house. Let him use me to recruit another poor girl to replace me, so I get jealous that he doesn’t hit me and rape me as much as he used to. Go on like this for years until the cops raid his house and I get hauled to prison for being an accomplice.
- Play the Spellbinding Fish Fry over and over again, hoping that the song I’m playing syncs up perfectly with whatever song they are playing at whatever concert they’re playing at. This will make our vibes resonate so that I’m transported bodily to the front of the stage, leaving behind this shit hole and the people in it. Find out the hard way that it’s not humanly possible. Have Chai Latte get so sick of listening to the Spellbinding Fish Fry, even the little bit that leaks out of my headphones, that he rips the buds out of my ears and smashes my iPod all to hell.
- Bat my eyes and flirt with every guy who comes by so they’ll want to save me. Risk Chai seeing and beating me up like he never did before. Listen to a hundred guys repeat what Silent Bob said: “Bros before bitches, dude; bros before bitches.” Find out that the only guy who can stand up to an abusive prick is another abusive prick. Jump out of the deep fat fryer into the searing flames of hell.
- Sneak out late with as much as I can carry in a bag and push my car silently down the block to where I don’t think he can hear it start. Drive like hell in a direction he’d never expect me to go. Run out of gas somewhere in the woods of Maine. Get chased by a moose and a bear until I come upon a trapper’s cabin. Ask him if I can use the phone, only to be told there ain’t no phone. Ask him for directions to a gas station, only to be told you can’t get there from here. Spend the rest of my life tanning hides and missing whatever happens on the Walking Dead.
- When Chai is out, stand behind the front door with a baseball bat. Then, when he comes home, jump out and bonk him over the head. While he’s still passed out, douse him with gasoline from the can he keeps by the mower. Throw a match and watch him wake up to find himself covered in flames. Laugh as he staggers around the room, tripping over the coffee table and banging into the walls. When he sets the curtains on fire, run out of the house, and get hit by the fire engines coming the other way. Have a good looking fireman jump out and give me CPR. Die happier than I ever was in my lifetime, but thinking it really sucks I can’t go home with him.
- Go on doing what I’ve been doing, hoping Chai Latte will change. Enjoy the good days and try to keep my head down on the bad. Nurse my bruises, take a lot of Tylenol, and try to find a good dentist. Take up drinking so I can sleep at night. Count down the days, or years, it takes for Chai to become an old man and need me to take care of him. Then, kick his walker out from under him and, as he lays on the floor with a broken hip, tell him how I really feel. Steal all the money he keeps under the mattress and go to live in Aruba.
I’ve considered my options carefully. It looks like the best one is #7. I’ve always had a thing for firemen.
Little Theresa had been an ordinary teenaged girl, but then she saw the stars.
The stars had always been there, obscured by Connecticut trees; but she had never been to the beach at night, before that night. She had been to the beach when her mother took her, along with the crowds, carrying their beach towels and playing with a Frisbee; when the sea was a gentle playmate, the sand, a new toy, and the sky, a watchful parent. She had never been to the beach at night, until one night, she was. Then she saw the stars for what they really were, some things that were totally indifferent to her.
She had thought she was someone important, after all. She was a pretty girl, a child of God, someone who gets taken care of. But the stars didn’t care. They went on blinking as if she wasn’t there.
It wasn’t just the stars that were aloof, the sand was, also. The sand would move under her print, but it was just as happy to move back, should the water wipe it clean. The sea that evening was no longer a gentle giant, reaching forth to lick her legs and then shyly withdrawing back into itself; the sea was a raging beast which would eliminate her without a single thought if she got in its way.
At first she thought it was the night that did this to the stars, the sand, and the sea. Something about the night made everything so heartless; but she realized that Night followed the dictates of Time. Time couldn’t care less for her, as it went on and on, day in and day out, whether she was there or not, bringing the indifferent stars into being each day.
Little Theresa might have gone back home and left the stars, the sand, and the sea to the night and let Time devour them all, but her parents had been fighting. She had left to get out of reach, not only of their yelling, but also whatever it was that transformed love to indifference. It wasn’t the hate they had for each other that troubled her, it was the indifference they both had for her that would make them yell at each other in front of her, not caring how she felt.
Her parents, in their indifference, were no different from the stars or the sand or the sea or Time in their indifference. It was indifference she had discovered that night when she saw the stars, an indifference that would change her forever, even though Time wore on, day arrived, the stars withdrew, the sand sparkled in the sun, and the beach repopulated with beach towels, Frisbees, and little girls playing in the waves. Even though her mother made her breakfast in the morning and, when he went to work, kissed her father goodbye. Even though everything should have been better in the morning, it was not, for she had seen the truth behind the bright smiles, that she was just an object in an indifferent universe of objects, and had no claim to special regard.
Little Theresa arrived at this true knowledge of the nature of the stars, the sand, the sea, Time, and her parents not only by looking at them, but by interacting with them. She spoke to her parents when they were fighting, but they went on fighting. She screamed at the stars and threw sand at the sea, for she was enraged by their indifference. The stars went right on blinking as if they couldn’t hear. The sea registered small splashes but went right on being the sea, and even the sand she threw would, in time, make it back to where she picked it up. It was as if she had no voice in the roar and no presence in the vast emptiness.
For some time afterwards, nothing escaped Little Theresa’s disapproval. She found the whole world to be indifferent. Gravity pulled everything down whether it wanted to or not. Heat heated everything up. She took physics in school and found in its formulas and principles more evidence of callous detachment, the uncaring machinery of the universe. Math repeated the same lesson, squared. Gym was wordless physics. English was fairy tales told to children so they wouldn’t notice indifference. History might have told her the truth, but it repeated the lie that there were great men and forgot the many crushed under the wheels of greatness. Little Theresa, a future saint, even turned on her Sunday school teacher, for she hadn’t become saintly, yet. No, the future saint said, God was not love. God, if He even existed, presided over indifference.
Little Theresa might have gone on like this and progressed from being a gloomy teenager to a nihilistic college student. She might have become a hard bitten business woman with no thought of anyone but herself. She could have taught herself to pretend to care; but, as it worked out, she didn’t have to. Something happened which was an important exception to universal indifference. She saw, for the first time, the nape of a neck.
The nape belonged to a new girl who had forgotten her lunch. Little Theresa had taken up wearing black clothes, the better to blend into the night. She dyed her hair black, and wore it to cover her face. She had to cover her face to feign detatchment; for, if the world was going to be indifferent, she would pretend to be, also. It was not that she thought anyone would notice her face and tease her; she knew they would not, for they were indifferent; but she would know and would be out of step with the world.
From behind her hair, Little Theresa studied the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch. When she thought someone was looking, the face of The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch said she didn’t care. I’m indifferent, the face said. Just like the stars, just like the sea, I don’t need to have anything to eat and I don’t care if I sit alone. When she didn’t think anyone was watching, the face revealed that she cared very much.
If Little Theresa had just seen the face, she would have gone on just as before, but she also saw the nape of the girl’s neck. The face told an inconsistent story, so Little Theresa could go right on believing what she tended to believe. But, The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch could not conceal the expression on the nape of her neck. The nape said, I’m vulnerable, I’m exposed, I can be hurt. I can’t see what’s coming behind me, so my safety is up to you.
The nape changed everything for Little Theresa, just as the stars had before. She had found something in the universe other than indifference, both the nape and her response to it. The nape of her neck was so defenseless, she wanted to protect the girl. Little Theresa knew she had a nape of the neck, too. She felt responsible. She moved over, said hello, and gave her the rest of her sandwich.
This simple gesture was the beginning of Little Theresa’s sainthood. From that moment on, she pulled the hair out from her eyes and looked at people full in the face. She had always been confused about the face, but the nape of the neck taught her what to believe. From that day on, she saw the need written on the face, the weakness, the vulnerability; she learned to pay attention and, paying attention, she saw the truth.
The stars, the sand, the sea, time, and even her parents may be indifferent; perhaps they, like the girl, feigned indifference. Perhaps the stars, the sand, and the sea were the hair in front of God’s face. Behind that hair, God cared very much. Perhaps the The New Girl Who Had Forgotten Her Lunch was the nape of God’s neck: the way that God revealed His vulnerability, exposure, and willingness to be hurt.
That’s how Little Theresa went from being an ordinary teenage girl to the extraordinary saint she is today. Caring was the only thing that makes sense to her; everything else was meaningless.
The Geeky Guy was not the only one who thought he was married to the Lisping Barista. So did the drug dealer, Chai Latte; only it wasn’t exactly marriage he thought he had. He thought he had something that’s often confused with it. He had possession. But, don’t believe it from me. Let’s let the Lisping Barista tell it.
Chai’s been really, really generous. Whenever I need money, he gives it to me. I get all the drugs I want. He gets me some clothes and some jewelry I never thought I’d have. I ask for some money to fix up my car, but he says I don’t even need a car. I ask him, “Do I need to work?” But, he says, “Working’s important for your self-esteem, Baby.” He’s right. He has a good work ethic and lots of self-esteem. He goes to work every day, right there with me. He never leaves my side.
Chai’s got lots of friends and they’re OK, but they’re not my Chai Latte. There’s only one I don’t get. That’s Silent Bob. He intrigues me because he never says anything. He just looks at you. His face says it all; but, not quite. You still want to hear what he has to say; not because you need to, but you want to have the satisfaction. I get turned on by coaxing words out of Silent Bob. At first, I just get one at a time. At this stage, whenever he says anything, it sounds weird; not because it actually sounds weird; but it’s weird he says anything at all. It’s like when the couch or the chair or the refrigerator speaks up and says something. In that case, you really want to hear what it has to say, even if it’s nothing intelligent; but because you want to hear it do it and because you want to be able to say you made it talk.
Anyway, so, days go by with me getting one word at a time out of Silent Bob. Then everything comes all at once. It’s like that old movie about Helen Keller where she finally learns how to talk and then you can’t get her to shut up. Well, not quite like that. Silent Bob is still what you might call reticent; but it felt that way.
My breakthrough came when I asked him where he was from.
“Yoopee,” he says.
I don’t know where that is. I failed geometry; but, before I can ask him, he adds, all on his own, “I’m a Yooper.”
“What’s a Yooper?” I ask.
He tells me he’s from the upper peninsula of Michigan. He shows me with his hands. He makes a mitten with one and a claw with the other. He comes from the claw.
I ask him how he got here. That’s when he really gets talking.
“When I was a kid,” he says, “I used to look ‘cross lake and see land, other side. Door County, Wisconsin. At night, lights. We call them Foggy Cities, eh? I always wanted go Foggy Cities.”
“So, did you like the Foggy Cities?”
“Nope, Foggy Cities just like Yoopee. So, I keep looking eh? But, I take wrong turn.”
There’s something just so adorable about Silent Bob, looking for his foggy cities. We all have our foggy cities. The things that get us going, but we can never find.
But, there’s also something else.
“I like the way you talk,” I say; and I really do. It’s different and it makes me think about words. There’s so many ways to say the same thing. When you find a different way, it makes you think about all the others.
He looks uncomfortable and embarrassed. I know why. I know exactly why.
“I don’t like the way I talk,” he says. “I sound stupid; but, I can’t change it.”
So, he feels the same way about his Yooper accent as I feel about my lisp. I want to make it all better for both of us, so I do a dumb thing. It’s the right thing, but dumb.
I lean over and give him a kiss, right on the lips.
That was the exact moment Chai Latte decides to walk in the room and see us. That’s how I got this black eye. No, it wasn’t falling on a doorknob like I tell everyone. The next thing I know, Chai tells me I’m quitting my job. Only, now, I don’t want to.
In his mind, the Geeky Guy was already married to the Lisping Barista. No marriage license was necessary. That’s just a piece of paper. No ceremony had been held. That’s just for the relatives. There was no reception, no ring, no gown, no honeymoon, no corsages, no awful gowns for seven bridesmaids, or ill-fitting tuxes for seven groomsmen. They’d just be a waste of money. In his mind, there were vows; but they were never spoken. Anytime the Geeky Guy tried to say anything to the Lisping Barista his throat got small, his head began to whirl, and his heart took up tap dancing. But, no need. Vows never need be spoken when love is involved. Vows, paper, and ceremony just get in the way when two spirits are joined. Love is an understanding, fireworks, a little bit of chemistry, people on the same page, tuned into the same frequency, with a certain amount of simpatico. Love is commitment; and, boy, was the Geeky Guy committed.
The Geeky Guy was most certainly married to the Lisping Barista, in his mind; but it was a secret marriage. No one knew; not the general public of the town of Kenilworth, nor even the best customers of the Epiphany Cafe. Rabbi ! never blessed the union and the Town Cop never questioned it. The Therapist Emeritus never analyzed it because the Geeky Guy never told her. One couldn’t be sure whether the Lisping Barista, herself, his very wife, his better half, the love of his life, knew she was married to him. She might’ve, but they never talked about it.
His sister, the High Street Witch, didn’t know; she, especially didn’t know. The Geeky Guy was on the outs with his sister, with whom he lived, over nothing less than this association with the Lisping Barista and his impetuous purchase of the Epiphany Cafe. He and his sister lived in the same dilapidated house, stuffed full of newspapers and electronic discards from the neighborhood, but they seldom saw each other, much less spoke to one another. It was easy to avoid seeing someone in that house, a maze of clutter. It was easier to avoid speaking; for having a long-established routine, the business of the household didn’t require much consultation. It wasn’t easy to feel the icy chill of sisterly disapproval, though, and the implication that, if their parents had been alive to see it, they would have had something to say.
The Geeky Guy knew he was married to the Lisping Barista because she was all he ever thought about. From the time he woke up in the morning to the time he went to bed, she was in the front of his mind. From the time he went to bed to the time he got up again, she might as well have been at his side. Like some wives, she had never been to his workplace; although he had pictures of her, snuck by his iPhone, appearing in a slideshow on his computer. Whenever he wanted, and he wanted to quite often, he could toggle back and forth between her photos and his spreadsheets and CAD programs. Unlike most wives, she had never set foot in his home; but they spent their time together most of the other hours of the day. The Geeky Guy spent every available hour at the Epiphany Cafe, nursing his cappuccino, watching his wife work. No one thought this was unusual. As the owner of the Epiphany Cafe he had a right to the comfortable chair by the potted plant, with a low table close at hand, and a good view, both of the cafe directly and the street through the plated glass window. No one thought he was married to the Lisping Barista because he rarely ever spoke to her, except a few words pertaining to the business of the cafe.
The Geeky Guy had to be married to the Lisping Barista, even though they could never be seen kissing or touching each other. Plenty of kissing and touching occurred in his imagination, and, being the kind of guy he was, he might not have kissed or touched in public, anyway. They never even looked into each other’s eyes, but the Geeky Guy seldom looked directly at anyone. He was a geeky guy, after all.
Most would scoff if they heard the Geeky Guy was married to the Lisping Barista in those terms. No kissing, no touching, no sex. No cohabiting, no talking, no pet names, no sweet nothings whispered in any ears. But there were also no arguments, no broken china, no visits by the in-laws, no shattered promises, and no tragic misunderstandings. It was a better marriage than most conventional marriages. If only every marriage went so well.
The Geeky Guy was most certainly married to the Lisping Barista, in his mind, and, in his mind, he believed she felt the same about him. After all, the Lisping Barista did say yes to him when he asked her out on a date. He only had to ask once and she had an answer right away. She drove him in her car and they went to hear a band she picked out. He met her friends. They kissed and groped and she had put a very private part of him inside a moist part of her. In doing so, they had performed almost the very consummation of marriage.
So, the Geeky Guy considered himself married to the Lisping Barista. That’s why he couldn’t understand why she continued to go out on dates. Oh, the Geeky Guy knew about the dates. It might be said, he had gone on them, as well. He followed behind, at a discrete distance, when she visited Gillette’s Castle with the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. He paid the admission fee and looked at them looking at the painting of the actor and builder of the castle, William Gillette, famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. When the tour guide had caught them kissing, he had caught them kissing, too. He followed them as they fled, hand in hand, through the woods and into the cave. Peering from behind a tree, he saw again the white flash of her breasts and a pink nipple, before they were covered by wide hands not his own. He was even there to see them leave the cave; the Weather Beaten Man with a Cowboy Hat had the embarrassed look of someone who had seen something he wasn’t supposed to see, and she had the look of someone who had seen him see it.
The Geeky Guy was not present when the Lisping Barista had been evicted from her apartment. If he had been, it would’ve gone quite differently. She wouldn’t have had to stand naked in front of her neighbors. Oh, maybe for moment, but he would’ve been there, taking off his shirt and covering her with it to spare her the shame he would’ve seen on her face. She wouldn’t have had to spend the night in her car. None of that would’ve happened; or, if it did, it would’ve been the kind of story they laughed about afterwards.
The Geeky Guy did see her get picked up by Chai Latte and taken to his house. He watched from across the street as people arrived and left the drug dealer’s place. He saw the bedroom light go on and the two pass through the doorway. He witnessed her smile at someone as they left in the room.
When he was at the Epiphany Cafe, watching the Lisping Barista, the Geeky Guy heard her talk. She would go on, to anyone who would listen: Chai Latte, this, and Chai Latte, that. No one could be better than Chai Latte. She was glad she gave Chai Latte a chance. No one understood what he was really like. She didn’t know what she ever did before meeting Chai Latte. Then, one day, the ultimate happened. The way things were going, it had to happen. The Lisping Barista failed to come to work. She had done so before when she was hung over, or sick, or slept late; but, this time it was for good. In her place, Chai Latte had sent a note. She wouldn’t be coming anymore. She was his.
Was this any way for a wife to act?
The Geeky Guy was confused. You’ve got to remember, dear reader; that the Geeky Guy did not know as much about women as you and I probably know, even though we are likely to not know much, either. The only thing he knew about women, he got from his sister – a strange bird, too – and a pair of books left over by his parents.
And so, the Geeky Guy went to those books. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex was not very helpful unless he needed to know the number of days in a woman’s cycle or the exact placement of her fallopian tubes. When it came to the expectations a husband may have of his wife, it was as vague and non-specific as the section that failed to describe how the penis penetrates the vagina.
The second book, Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott, was much more helpful. In this Victorian romance he found, not an exact match to his particular plight, but one that was pretty darn close. The heroine, Amy, had run off with a cad of a man. The hero was in pursuit. Since the Geeky Guy figured himself as the hero, and not the cad; he knew what he had to do. He would do what the hero did in the book. He would confront the cad, in this case, the drug dealer, with the point of a sword. The Geeky Guy didn’t have a sword; but he had something better. He had a handgun his parents left in their nightstand.
When he wasn’t killing or not killing his cat, Schrodinger, the eminent and perplexing physicist, wrote a book that defined life. A living being, he said, was a pocket of order, surrounded by chaos. What’s more: living beings grow more orderly as they evolve; in the same way that everything else gets more disorderly. Life is the exception to the second law of thermodynamics; at least as long as it lasts.
By that measure, it was not entirely clear whether the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was a life form or not, at least by looking at him by the Epiphany Cafe’s dumpster, as he slept off his remorse.
Every morning began inside the Epiphany Cafe as they all do. The customers went about their business of re-ordering the world. They tapped their phones and drew and digested sap from the virtual tree of knowledge. They chewed pastries and converted starches and sugars into inspiration. They filled blank screens with little lines of meaning. They sloshed their drinks, saw it was good, and rested from their labors.
While, the cafe, itself, was a tiny pocket of peace; outside, by the dumpster, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat had abandoned himself to Chaos. Beset at every turn by the hounds of guilt, the reptiles of regret, and the hissing snake of shame, he wrapped his arms around the legs of Mother Chaos. She offered a dangerous safety from the murderous, madding crowd. A forlorn foundling, he curled in her lap and suckled her shriveled, pendulous paps; not until he was full, for there was nothing there to nourish him, but till he could suck no more. She stroked his hair; not to comb it into regimented rows, but to twist it into cow licks, tangles, and split ends. She told him stories that made no sense; sightless shaggy dogs that lost their way, imparting no moral, and revealing no truth. She rocked him with a syncopated sway that had no swing and deserted its beat. She carried so much everything, that she gave nothing; but, her nothing was plenty, plenty more than he could handle.
He had tried doing it the other way, the way most recommended. He had come to the cafe, carrying his secret, and laid it trustingly at a therapist’s feet. But she handed it back to him. He tried doing it another way, a way fallen out of fashion, but possessing the authority of tradition. He brought his confession to a holy man, the most respected figure in the town’s long history, the Revered Abraham Pierson, Puritan preacher and founder of Yale. But Revered Pierson was a dead man and, when the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat kelt in front of his tombstone and told the story a second time, he heard no response from the inert rock. Therefore, he did it his way, a way that had worked before. He entered a liquor store, carrying no disclosure but what was printed on dollar bills. This offering was readily accepted. What he received in exchange was not sanity or forgiveness, but forgetfulness, and a sloppy embrace with the aforementioned Chaos.
Thus, from a confusing current of impotent thoughts that had flowed unceasingly through his mind, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat bobbed to the surface. Unmoored from any anchor of self respect, the current took him and he was swept away, unencumbered by dignity. It may be that every ghost that he had ever known visited him that night, but nothing they could say could get a grip on him before he was pushed away by the surge. If guilt was a rock, he glided over rocks. If regret was a maelstrom, he eddied till the exit. If shame was a cataract, he took the plunge into deep pools below. When he, at last, reached the end of the mad cascade down the mountain, he was pushed out to sea and drowned himself, far beyond observation, intervention, or memorial.
His way worked, at least until he awoke. Then, he would do it again.
Inside the cafe, in the tidy pocket of order, we began to be aware of the body by the dumpster. We would never have recognized this man, but for the cowboy hat fallen from his head, tipped open like a imploring palm. We knew him as the former barista, not our favorite, the Lisping Barista, who moved effortlessly between the cash register, espresso machine, and fridge; but the other one, the one who didn’t know how to make fancy coffees, but never stiffed you in your change and gave you all the refills you wanted. We knew that man, but we didn’t know him. We only knew the hat, the self conscious drawl, the little he could do for us then, and the much he demanded now.
He was just a body by the dumpster. He had became as much an apparition as the ghosts who haunted him. We watched him intently as we averted our eyes. As the days went on, his body shrank more and more, while its effect grew larger. It spoke through the set of silent lips. It looked at us through the impertinent scorn of a blank stare.
There was much debate, within the Epiphany Cafe, over what should be done. Some counseled compassion. Through him, they said, we became human. We understood his fears, even though he never told us them. We sympathized with his refutation of everything, even though we would never do the same. It was as if we had been initiated into a mystery. We exchanged meaningful glances, pleased with ourselves, as if we had performed some trick for an eternal reward. We were a chorus of affirmations to everything we imagined him asserting. We spoke of him with the air of obsequious sycophants, so our flattery compensated his humiliation. He influenced the moral tone of our world as though he had the power to distribute honors, treasures, or pain; but he gave us nothing but distant, unuttered contempt.
Others objected to the body’s presence. It was an affront to our acceptability, a risk to our security, a burden on our property values. We looked to Kenilworth’s Town Selectman to do something about it. The Town Selectman looked to the Town Cop. The Town Cop looked to the Geeky Guy, who was the owner of the property near the dumpster. The Geeky Guy looked to the Lisping Barista, not because she possessed any authority, but because he was always looking at the Lisping Barista, and would never want to do anything of which she would not approve. The Lisping Barista looked to Chai Latte because Chai Latte was her new boyfriend and she thought he could do anything. Chai Latte, who was the ne’er-do-well son of the Town Selectman, looked at his father and felt relieved that, for once, someone else was a bigger pain in his father’s ass than he was. He said he should be left alone.
“Don’t hassle the guy,” said Chai Latte. “He’s just trying to live his life.”
“There you go,” said the Lisping Barista, “I told you Chai Latte was a nith guy. Everyone thinkth heath juth a drug dealer.”
Was it even possible to tidy the mess by the dumpster, or was the very presence of a dumpster a concession that there were some things that could not be fixed? We had it good here, in the Epiphany Cafe, everything was finally right. Perhaps the only thing that kept it in order were the walls that kept the chaos out. As Schrodinger might say, a stalwart membrane is necessary for life.
While everyone was busy looking at everyone else in the Epiphany Cafe, most failed to look at the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat and consider what he really needed. Some brought food, but with the dumpster nearby, he didn’t need food. Some tried to get him to go to a shelter, but the dumpster provided shelter. Some even tried to talk, but the dumpster’s hulking presence was all the company he needed. Its cardboard boxes became his clothing. Its decay his perfume. As the buffalo was to the American Indian, as the seal was to the Eskimo, as a Salvation Army Thrift Store is to an urban hipster, so was the dumpster to the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat. But there was one thing the dumpster did not have. It could not provide alcohol, the one thing he most needed.
Fortunately, there was one person in the Epiphany Cafe who knew what he needed. She knew because she knew how to pay attention. She knew because, by crying the tears of God, she had acquired the generous, libertarian sensibilities of God. Every day, instead of buying a coffee at the cafe for a random customer, she would buy a bottle of vodka at the liquor store and leave it anonymously by the dumpster. She reasoned: just as God provides seeds and worms for the birds of the air, and soil and sun for the flowers of the field; He made vodka for those who need it.