Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Productivity takes a holiday.

An old man shuffles into the bakery where I decided to write this morning. He's dressed for colder weather than it will be today, the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head, a grimy white beard sticking out of it.

He spends 10 uncomfortable minutes talking about Osama Bin Laden and fake liberals and how to kill people by making them pick up their phone. He mentioned the Windermere on Wall Street.

Now I am too wary to write. It hadn't been going all that well, anyway. I try to get into a groove, but it's impossible with him talking about killing people.

Finally another customer comes in, and the barista, a pleasant blond girl of about 20, stops talking to him to attend to the customer, so he goes to get his free cup of coffee, talking about how some girl had died on Thanksgiving.

"They did it, those women, they didn't like what she was doing and they burned her alive," he says. It sounds like the sort of tale you spin when you are actually talking about yourself. I wonder what it would be like to feel persecuted.

Then he realizes no one is listening to him. "And no one even cares," he says, starting to cry.

I try to look busy, because crazy people are drawn to me. Just like everyone else, they look at me and they think, "Mother of two, lives in the suburbs, kids are her life. She'll take care of me."

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

But as expected, he notices me, sitting in the back corner tapping away at my computer. "No one even cares!" He says again, but now he's angry, and now he's looking at me.

Just leave, old man, I think. No one wants that much crazy this early in the morning.

"They won't even stop eating their breakfast and listen."

Oh, I'm listening, I'm just trying to look like I'm working. Meanwhile, I am writing down every word he says.

He goes on in this vein for some time. It takes him a long time to walk out the door. When he does, after much invective, he's still talking to me, and I am still typing assiduously, hoping like hell that he will just move on.

He moves on, all right, walking slowly down the sidewalk toward my end of the cafe. He stops right in front of me, talking, waving his hands, watching me through the glass.

This is not helping me write my book.

I wait for him to push his face up against the glass or hit it, make some noise so that I will be forced to listen to him. But he doesn't. After a few minutes, he sits down outside and drinks his coffee, facing the same way as I am.

We're about two feet apart. It's almost like we're breakfasting together, except that he is on one side of the glass and I am on the other.

But eventually, just as I am loosening up enough to forget him and his scrutiny and get some work done, he comes back inside.

"Can I possibly get a roll with some butter and jam?" He asks, and now I see that he has a cane, and that what I thought was a coat is actually a fleece vest with a hole in the back of it.

His mood has improved.

He tells the barista, "Don't feel bad." He compliments the roll. "Look at the smile on that guy's face," he says, talking about the baker. "That is a happy man."

Now he is moving into the back room, the storeroom, still talking. I hope, hope, hope that he does not come to sit at my table. This morning, my faith in my writing is shaky enough without him interrupting me.

"See, that's what people don't understand," he says, shuffling toward a table by the door. "I'm never sad. I'm always happy."

Yeah. Happy was not the vibe I got when he was outside glowering at me.

"Always trying to kill my joy," he says, angry again. "Just can't let 'em get away with it. Someone's gotta do something. I wish someone would. It'd be so easy to solve these problems. I mean, it'd be a lot of work, it's hard, but it's easy to solve 'em."

Now his back is to me. Apparently he's gotten over me not paying him any mind. This is good, since I have just wasted ten minutes writing this. Now I need to get back to my novel.

My novel. It makes me want to clutch my head with both hands. Isn't this what I want to do with my life? Isn't this my calling? Why, then, is it so hard sometimes? Each night, I think I know where I'm going with it now, I think I know exactly what needs to happen in the next scene, and I can't wait for my writing time in the morning.

Then morning comes and I realize my brilliant idea doesn't work.

This book is coming harder than the others. I have too many other voices in my head now. They impede the freedom of ignorance. I miss ignorance. Ignorance was like a warm bath, and now I am out in the cold, spouting crazy things at the Girls in the Basement. "You're going to BURN ME TO DEATH," I tell them now. After all, someone's got to introduce some drama here.

"You know who's in town tonight? The Who," he tells the barista. "The Who. You know how Paul McCartney isn't the same as he was? But the Who! They're the real thing. What's that they sing - - Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss." He ruminates on that for a minute. "And you know who's in town tomorrow night? Bob Dylan. Dylan.

"See, Bob Dylan was the guy who told me. Who told me about the war, about bastards, about killing people. Bob Dylan is a great man. Bob Dylan made it. If I hadn't listened to Bob Dylan, I don't know what my life would have been. Different, that's for sure. What was I - oh, I was going to be a stockbroker."

He tells us he made a lot of money in the market when he was 14. Says he knows how to pick stocks.

"That guy looks like he doesn't believe me," he said, pointing to the baker, who is young and sort of starchy in a kind way, like the barista.

I have a sudden hope that the baker and the barista are a couple. They will make doughy little babies with bright red cheeks and floury blonde hair, little cherubs. I will put them in my books.

The baker turns to go, prompting an exclamation from the old man.

"I'm just back here making lemon tarts, dude," the baker says. "I'm not calling you a liar because I'm walking away from you while you're talking to me. I just have to make some lemon tarts."

Just like that, my image of this kid with the barista is gone. Dude? This is a French bakery. I was hoping he was shy, French, intelligent. Damn it. Still, he is kind, and he and the barista do get on well when faced with the crazy.

And he knows his body language. He gets points for that.

"All right," the old man laughs. I start to wonder if he's armed.

I try to go back to writing, but my concentration is shot. My protagonists don't have tangible goals, and apparently that is a requirement. Here I thought I was flying along, and then someone up and trips me.

The last time I tried to solve this problem, I ended up with the chick lit version of War and Peace. This is not a path I want to tread again. And yet when I try to think of a tangible goal, it feels like making puppets move around on a stage. Nothing makes that little chill go down my spine.

"Good," the old man says. Can he read my fucking mind? What sort of god would allow a sprite like this to happen to me this morning?

He tells the baker he was at the McDonald's by the Space Needle last Saturday night, late, and when he told some guy that God loved him, everyone shook his hand. "Everyone," he said.

"Well, of course they did," the baker says.

"But it ain't a lemon tart, dude," he says. "You know, if you make the best lemon tart in the world, you should advertize it."

"Well, I haven't been all over the world, so I don't know yet. I wouldn't feel comfortable advertising," the baker says.

Well, you can extrapolate, can't you?"

Now I want a lemon tart.

Customers come in, a young scrubby-looking couple, and a guy about my age. It startles me that my peers are starting to look like they're sneaking up on middle age, although of course they are. I am not, but they sure are.

They are in and out quickly, because the man has found a broom and is now sweeping the spotless floor. Just as I am starting to feel kind of fond of him, he burps. Loud.

"Most good things are simple," he says. I shut my notebook, shake my head. It's not worth it. I'm not getting anything done. I should just go. Instead, I take a sip of coffee, a bite of croissant.

Then I get pissed off at myself for being a poetic fucking yuppie, and get my stuff and get out.

At lunch, I tell myself, at lunch I will firm up Chapter 3. I will write Pere's parts first, and then come along behind with Demeter's parts. It will all be fine. I will try to keep it simple. And I will avoid this bakery like the plague from now on.

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