Monday, July 25, 2016

Noises off

 When you spend times at coffee shops or other public places, your frequent mission is to surround yourself--in the luxurious company of decent coffee or your favorite lager/Pilsner type beer--with the ambient and often friendly voices of individuals engaged in quotidian conversation.

More often than not, you'll have gone to such places for the ambient voices rather than the coffee or beer, aware your level of concentration is not quite at the desired level wherein you hear other voices, the voices of men, women, and children in novels and short stories you''ve read and admired, and of course to the voices you hear of characters in your own narratives of hyperreality. The latter are also voices you need to concentrate on if you are to hear them to the extent that you can extract story from their exchanges.

This morning, you sat in a French bakery in. among other things, a tourist destination. Were you to be sitting in such a French bakery in the city where you've lived going on half your life, there'd be no doubt the bakery would call itself a patisserie, for, indeed, the bakery where you spend some time in Santa Barbara calls itself Renaud's Patisserie, and does not require you to do it for identity. You are now in Morro Bay, some two hours and a county away from home, with a demographic surprising in its difference from home.

You were sitting in the bakery for the coffee and fresh croissant more than for the ambient noise you would need to concentrate to overcome in order to her the ambient noise of some of today's scheduled work you'll be engaging. 

Directly behind you, a group of seven men have moved two tables together in order to take their coffee as a single group, much as you might do on a given Sunday morning when you join Jim, Ned, Toni, Steve, Stuart, and Melinda.

The seven men are more or less your contemporaries, all of them wearing baseball caps, which somehow reminds you, however you might be tempted, to wear a baseball cap. For a moment, the baseball cap tends to remove the features and individuality of the men and their voices, but then the subject of hearing aids stumbles on stage, followed by tales of prices spent, the awfulness of product, and some of the amusing self-deprecating experiences that follow.

The men become more invested in their stories to the point where one of them has apparently noticed you, pen and notebook in hand, then, thinking to be considerate, tries to quiet the discussion. The one in every crowd who responds as this individual does, turns to you, "Excuse me, sir. Are we disturbing you?"

You, who don't have to be the one in every crowd when you can be yourself alone cups his hand, seashell-like about his ear, "Sorry. Could you repeat that?"

By the third repetition ot the "Excuse me, sir," the other one of whom there is one in every crowd says, "Mort, can't you see he's pulling your chain?" Whereupon you are invited to slide over, make it an even eight, which you do, finishing your coffee and croissant with the voices of camaraderie. 

True enough, when they find out what you do, the conversation experiences a long, thoughtful silence before one of them, also of the sort who is in every crowd, asks, "You have no trouble making a living at that?" Which produces another round of silence, until the one who chided the one who asked if the group were disturbing you with their loudness, throws red meat out for the crowd.  

"Hey," he says, "How about that Trump? Ever see anything like that before?" Now, we are all talking at once, which is a convivial and pleasant thing in terms of socializing, taking the stranger who is you into the group, and being conversationalists.

Plenty of time to enjoy, finish your coffee, shake hands all around, then depart to your nearby room, where the new ambient noise is the constant conversation of seagulls, mingling with the internal voices you are hearing of the individuals of whom you have read.

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