Saturday, February 10, 2007


I sat down in the Hungarian Pastry Shop. It had been a few months since I’d been there and I missed it. They don’t have computers for checking email, their pastries are so-so and their weak tea is served in small cups, but it has something no other place has. Itself. When I’m there I feel at home.

I sat at the end of three little tables pushed together. A young man sat at the end of the threesome, up against the wall, his head down, plugged into an Ipod, scattered papers and a couple of notebooks giving him a fevered appearance.

A young woman joined him. They sat across from each other. He handed her a notebook right away and for a couple of minutes she read silently. Then she handed it back. “It’s pretty dark,” she said. “Isn’t it supposed to be love poetry”

“That’s just the beginning,” the young man said quickly. “I’m telling where I come from.”

The young woman opened up a lap top. They talked back and forth for awhile – she sitting up straight and very confident. He pretending to be.

She said she had to finish her play. “And when will I be able to read it” he asked. “Oh, any time,” she said. “A lot of people have read it – you know, friends and stuff – and they all say they liked it, but yesterday I had the best experience. Peter sat down with me and went through it word for word and told me how to make it better and what really worked.”

She starts typing. He is reading and writing. He wears a colorful knitted cap with long ear flaps.

“Isn’t this a great word?” she says, and tells him a long unfamiliar word. He copies it down. She reads him the definition from her computer dictionary.

“Have you read Bukowski?” she asks him later during another talk break. He says he hasn’t, not much. “He’s got this great line in one of his poems – something like, ‘beware ordinary men, beware ordinary women, they seek only ordinary love.’ Isn’t that great?”

She goes back to her typing after he says something like, “Writing a poem is crazy. Until it’s not. That’s all I can tell you about writing a poem.” He says it with a wry little laugh, and then adds that he goes nuts if he doesn’t chain smoke. He goes out for a cigarette and when he returns she starts spontaneously reading to him from her screen. I can only hear every other word or so. I can tell there’s an emphasis on lush language, something like this: And are they princes or are they whores these beasts that curse us underfoot, that crawl and crawl and do not ask for consequences…” Stuff like that. There are several mentions of the word “whore” spoken in lilting suburban tones.

“Did you write that?” the boy asks.

“Yeah,” she says casually, “But it’s hard, you know, how when you change one thing in a play then you have to think about how it will affect everything else.” She says this again two or three more times using slightly different words.

The boy says, “I know what you mean. More than I can say.”

During all this I am reading the Times. I write a few pages about the depression that keeps crashing in on me, and then I read a friend’s manuscript. I wear ear plugs so I can hear only what I really want to.

Her cell phone rings. She dives for it, has a quick cheery conversation with an invisible person and then leaves.

It’s time for me to go too. “Do you know a place nearby that has internet access?” I ask the boy and we look at each other for the first time.

“Do you have a student ID?” he asks. “You could go to Butler Library.”

“No,” I answer. “Not for thirty years.”


Chris Howard said...

There is something about this one that really got inside of me, this intimate portrait of three people. I fell like I know all of them

Anonymous said...

The Times and the idiot writers talking and the menition of depression -- it leaves me with such a stong feeling for the narrator. This is art!

Claudia Ansorge said...

In Best American Non-Required Reading,there's a section for the best opening sentences in literature. This opening paragraph, in the Hungarian Pastry shop, grabbed me like the best of them, at all different levels, and I was in for the read.