When I was getting up to leave Vivace, I noticed a quiet table where a woman and her two kids were sitting, reading silently. The woman was flipping through a magazine, the kids – a boy and a girl – had old mass market paperbacks. I didn’t see the covers, but the books seemed to be relatively advanced for the kids; neither of them could have been older than eight. I watched for a second, expecting something to happen – one of the kids getting bored and kicking the other, or just one of them squirming in his seat. (Somebody yawn!) But they just sat there contentedly, engrossed in their books. The boy just turned a page without throwing a crayon across the room, exactly the way you or I would have. I’m not exactly sure why I thought the scene was such an anomaly.
“What I like about the historical – or I might better say, the evolving – view of vital phenomena, is that it does not lead to self-satisfaction, but to a bracing discontent. On the purely humanistic score, it leaves us no sneaking hope that because we are next in rank to the angels we are predestined as a race to salvation. Rather it reminds us how new we are. It gives us, if not certainly free will, the opportunity to impose our will upon the future – the opportunity, and the fateful responsibility for so doing. On the biologic side, instead of closing the subject it opens up questions. This, the aim of all science, is the bane of all dictatorships, whether hierarchical, political, or pedantic.”
-Donald Culross Peattie, An Almanac for Moderns
My across the hall neighbor Tom is up ahead, walking up from Broadway past Jack In the Box. He sprinkles a handful of bread crumbs onto the sidewalk and a crow hops over to investigate. I greet him from a few paces away. He shifts his cigar to the corner of his mouth and says hello, the stubby cigar holder clicking against his teeth. He tosses a Cheez-It cracker into the street and there’s another pair of birds fly in to fight over that morsel. I walk by, into his wake. There’s a trail of birds flurrying around for the half a block behind him.
Gary Locke, Washington State’s Governor, will be reading the Democrats’ response to Bush’s State of the Union speech tomorrow. Earlier, the least newsy of the local news shows opened their show with a rundown of the day’s big headlines. For the State of the Union, they showed a graphic that involved a photo of George W. Bush on the right side of the screen and a photo of Locke on the left side of the screen. The newsreader’s twenty second blurb climaxed with the phrase face-off and the photos of Bush and Locke suddenly jolted together and there was a THUMP, the sound of a boxing glove hitting its target. It made me laugh out loud.
I’m doomed. The thought I had right before the infographic thumped was, “When did Gary Locke start wearing glasses?”
Returning to my seat at the coffee shop after using the restroom, I had to squeeze in behind a pair who were finishing up a personal conversation about rough times, lost love, and holiday depression. The word “suicidal” was used casually. This was happening just a few feet away. And I was sitting there trying to write a paragraph about the stray sesame seed stuck to the side of my scone – what do I know about anything?
I bought a DVD drive on a whim yesterday. Installing the hardware was quite pleasing since I had to flex my problem solving skills a little bit, but not too much. (I learned that my PC manufacturer shorted me one IDE cable. Yesterday morning I didn’t even know what an IDE cable was.) Finally, I rented Human Nature to test it out.
The first thing that happened after I put my first DVD into my first DVD player: An installation wizard opened up and I let it walk me through the installation of a friendly little piece of spyware called InterActual Player.
Installation Wizard: “This InterActual Player software application allows you to access additional content and features on the disc and from the Internet.”
Me: What? I already installed a DVD player. Okay, whatever. (Skims through short license, clicks “Install”.)
Installation Wizard: “Please provide us with anonymous demographic data so we may optimize your software experience to serve you better [, chump] . . . The InterActual Player collects and uploads anonymous product usage and viewing behavior information to be used and provided to third parties by InterActual for marketing purposes.”
Warner Bros: (Figuratively holds up hand as if to wave hello, but extends middle finger instead.)
PS, Human Nature is a good movie. You should see it.
She had pink hair one of the times I talked to her a few years ago, at a different coffee shop. She hadn’t been extra careful with the hair dye. Her fingers were also stained pink – her hands too, probably. I couldn’t see her hands. The sleeves of her sweater were pulled over her hands, only her fingers were poking out. Her mug of hot cocoa was smeared with swirls of pink fingerprints. I turned into a jittery bundle of nerves as soon as she came up to me, just as I had the couple of other times I’d talked to her.
Today I wasn’t certain that it was the same girl at first. It had been a couple of years; she looked different – longer hair, glasses, a little older. I was standing in line at the counter trading light conversation with an acquaintance and when she looked up I gave a sideways wave hello. She reacted with a look of discomfort and confusion and my wave withered into a vague directionless pointing gesture. I sat down with my tea, humbled. She came over a few minutes later to chat. It was her and I turned into that same stuttering bundle of nerves from three years ago. We had a short conversation, both of us pretending to have forgotten the details of our confusing past correspondence – though it seemed like we both remembered everything. (We remembered each other’s names and the details of our couple of email exchanges.) She went back to her seat, where she was perched over a chessboard, and I sat and wrote for awhile. When I looked over at her again, she was leaning back in her chair with a chess book open in front of her. The sleeves of her sweater were pulled down over her hands, just like before.
I wouldn’t have remembered the way she stretched out her sleeves if it hadn’t been for the pink fingerprints on the hot cocoa mug.
At first the most remarkable thing about the old man who was walking by, slightly hunched over but moving at a comfortable pace, were his long white whiskers (not beard, definitely whiskers), and his stained-blond mustache. But just as he passed by, I noticed the glasses taped to his head. The lenses and the front of the frames were intact, but there were two strips of blue masking tape stretched between his temples and the outer edges of the lenses.
A pack of twelve or fifteen kids, probably all under ten years old, were running around in the stairs that lead down through Pike Place Market. A couple of the kids stopped to look down at the daycare’s colorful playground. “Hey guys, look!” The rest of the kids came running back to admire the slide for a minute. A couple of adults eventually regained control and began herding the group further along toward their destination, and a passerby stopped to make small talk with a woman who was coaxing the last few stragglers along.
He said, “That’s quite a crew! Is it a school group?”
“No. It’s a Christian school,” the woman answered.
I was about to cross the street at a quiet corner a few blocks from home. I would have been jaywalking, except that a tall curly-headed guy ran up in front of me and stopped just one step away. He had come out of nowhere, as they say. He quickly closed the narrow distance between us, almost brushing up against me. I took the space back again by making a half step backward. He looked me in the face and said with contempt, “This shit doesn’t work, dude!” He was referring to the little vial of clear liquid that he had just stuck up under my nose. I took a couple of more steps back, shrugging – slack-jawed and stupified. We had a three second standoff, ending when my new friend had gotten a good look at me. His agressive posture slumped and he said, “Oh. . . . I thought you were someone else.” He gave me an apologetic smile and turned to head back the way he came. I hesitated before resuming my interrupted street crossing (this time legal) and turned toward home. The two of us were walking in the same direction, on opposite sides of the street. He looked over a couple of times and said something, I didn’t hear what. About fifty yards up from the corner, he got into a sports car that had apparently been parked hastily – It was pointed against traffic and had one wheel on the curb.