Sunday, February 24, 2013

Conversation in a French Bakery

A combination of convenience, curiosity, and temporal circumstances brought you to The Xanadu Bakery Coffee Shop, a frequent stop when you lived in the neighborhood.

You were forty or so minutes early for a meeting with a potential client, hungry for coffee and what you considered the Xanaduy's signature pastry, the raisin-cinnamon swirl.  Armed with a fresh copy of The New York Review of Books, you staked out an outside table, spread your various implements--iPhonbe, laptop, notepad-then settled in.  When the coffee arrived, you noted an improvement in its present flavor and aroma, perhaps a reflection of new ownership.  The raisin-cinnamon swirl also seemed somehow better, more flavorful, reflective of its yeasty dough and the plumpness of the raisins.

Between sips of latte, a forkful of the pastry, and a few paragraphs of the NYRoB, contentment settled in, until you were aware of a presence, standing before you, silently requesting your attention.  The presence was male, thus your survey of him was quite different than had he been a woman or person younger than the range of your university students.

He was about your age, but an immediate sense of superiority settled in because you reckoned you had weathered your years better than he his.  By his clothing and posture, you guessed him to be somewhere between comfortable and borderline affluent, someone used to getting his way some of the time and giving way at other times.  He did not seem to be dressed as though there were a woman in his life or directly in his hopes.

"You,"  he said, approaching accusation, making you wonder, retired attorney.  "You used to come here often."

"Moved,"  you said, wondering in fact if the server with whom you'd carried on a flirtation were still employed here.  "This is more or less off my radar."

"Don't I know it?"

You took a sip of latte, straightened an imaginary wrinkle in the NYRToB.

The visitor did not budge.


"You're not going to invite me to join you?"

You gave this some thought.  Be rude all at once or by degrees.  "Expecting a client."

"Client,"  he said.  Definitely a lawyer.

You then asked him where it was that you'd met.

He sent a loud hoot into the afternoon before addressing the assembled array of outdoor tables and chairs, all of them unoccupied.  "He wants to know, where did we meet.  He wants to know, how is it I think I know him."

You told him the answers to those questions would be helpful.

He pulled a chair away from the table, eased himself into it.  "You're not touching your raisin roll."

Not to be intimidated, you wanted to know, "What do people call you?"

"That's rich,"  he said.  "You, of all people, don't know my name.  Okay, then.  Okay.  Call me Phil."

"Phil."

"Anything but Ishmael."

"What do you want, Phil?"

Again to the unpopulated chairs and tables in the courtyard.  "He wants to know what I want."  He pulled off a strand of the raisin-cinnamon swirl, which he bagan chewing.  "We are not so different as you might think,"  he said.  "We are more alike than you imagine."

He did not sound as though his goals were financial or religious or even politics.  Chewing his strand of pastry with evident satisfaction for a few moments, he rose.  "Recognition,"  he said.  "Is that asking so much? "

This was a sunny, near balmy day between two cold storms moving through from Alaska, then finding their way more or less along the route once referred to as Route 66.  On such a day, your first thoughts were that you did not wish to recognize Phil, or whatever he called himself.  You wanted to enjoy the coffee, read your journal, discover if the waitress were still here.

You wanted a bit more time alone to enjoy the small things of the day, not to be pestered by a man who wanted some conversation.

Wrong.

Against most of the things you'd come to recognize from the times you'd begun having conversations with yourself.

You pushed the pastry plate at him.  "Here, take some more."

Phil met your eyes for a moment.  "Thanks, kid,"  he said.  "Thanks a lot.  Don't have the time now.  Your client is here.  Maybe another time, huh?"


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