Sunday, January 10, 2010

the hell we don't know

At halftime of yesterday's Jets-Bengals game I decided to conduct what I loosely refer to as research. I went to the shopper's cafe, the establishment I attended now and then on Sundays during football season to watch the games and the assembled who watch them. I thought the clientele yesterday would be different from the Sunday crew and I was correct. No sighting of the Tampa Bay zealout, the Detroit Lion fanatic or the table of diehard Cleveland Brown fans. It was somehow symbolic that the Cincinnati Bengal husband and wife team-- who would come each week in their Bengal jerseys--also was not in the restaurant. This was symbolic because anyone who watched the Jets Bengals game yesterday knows that the entire Cincinnati Bengal team did not show up for the game yesterday.

Despite the absence of the Sunday regulars, the Shopper's Cafe was busy last night. There was a table or two open in the restaurant section but no vacant chair by the bar. I waited a stretch behind the seated spectators and noticed that in the corner a man seated one seat from the wall got up and stumbled away from his perch. I moved to take his seat when he left and asked the neighbor to the right if the other fellow was indeed gone. "He is gone alright" muttered the fellow. I did not know what to make of that, and more significantly was concerned that this perch did not afford me a good view of any of the several televisions mounted on the wall. So, when another chair became available three seats to my left I grabbed it and was staring straight ahead at a screen.

A moment later in stumbled the man who had initially vacated my former spot. He got to the stool and before seating leaned over and politely made a request to the dimunitive woman who was tending to that portion of the bar. He asked for a royal crown and soda. "Uh uh" she said. "Sorry, no more for you. I think you have had enough." "No more?" he said. "Uh, uh no more time to go home." "Okay" he said politely and sat down on the barstool.

I turned and got a decent look at the fellow. He looked like trouble and troubled. He just sat there on the stool staring holes through the head of myself and other patrons. When the bartender again asked him to leave he said he would, but just stayed there. I glanced at him again. He stared back. I looked to my left and the patron on that side of me was also gazing at the squatter. My new neighbor chuckled and said what I was thinking, "This is the kind of guy who comes back in an hour with a shotgun." He really did have that kind of untethered maniacal look. Finally, the fellow stumbled out once again. I heard another bartender mutter, "thank God, he's gone."

This morning I was up early and decided to take a drive to a bakery I know that opens early in nearby Brookline. This bakery, Kupels, reminds me of the places that seemed to anchor nearly every street in my six block radius when I grew up as a kid in Brooklyn. Sweet rolls, bobka, bagels, and some half pieces of something or the other on the counter for sampling. The smell itself is delicious and heady. So, I drove to Kupels and hit every light on Commonwealth Avenue until I got to my destination. There, I snared a bag of bagels and a poppy seeded danish and hamentashen. The fellow in front of me completed his purchase and then paid for his order. The attendant said, "Have a good day." His polite response. "It will be a good day if the Patriots win." She gave him an "I can not relate" look and walked away. The exchange made me smile. That's how I often feel. I said "go Patriots" to him when we were both in the street and then hustled into my car, because I knew this guy would regale me for twenty minutes in ten degree weather if I gave him an opportunity to talk about the game.

I took my hamentashen to a nearby Starbucks still smiling thinking of the fellow whose day would be made if the Patriots were to win later this Sunday. There, at Starbucks, I waited for my "tall" coffee for which I needed a loan and which was, in fact, the smallest size that was offered. While I waited I heard an angry exchange at a nearby table. It was an otherwise quiet and sleepy morning so this bickering was out of place. I turned to see what the combatants were fighting about and noticed that there were no combatants. There was just a fifty year old woman with a paperback book open who was furiously deriding somebody who was not present. A bag of who knows what was on her table, a coffee cup by its side, and there she was berating nobody at all while keeping her paperback open. Having had it with the absent other, she slammed the table--very loudly--barked one last criticism, and to the relief of others in Starbucks, picked herself up and stormed to the exit.

So, now it is a little after 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. For much of what is called Patriot Nation, today is a big game. If the Patriots prevail there will be joy. If they lose there will be gloom and fans will, literally, hang their heads and feel depressed. Two people I encountered in the last 24 hours should feel such depression. When most of us consider our trials, we have no idea, I think, of the hell that has brought a lot of other people to the edges of normalcy and maybe sanity.

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