The following observational essay is one I wrote TWENTY years ago when I was living in New York. Yikes! That's a long time ago. Anyway, I wanted to share it. Enjoy =-)
I LOVE WEATHER LIKE THIS
It's a cold, rainy November day. For some reason I love weather like this. Everything just seems a little more poetic when it's wet. I'm sitting in an Italian café on Greenwich Avenue watching the day pass by. It's a place I used to come to a lot when I first moved to New York.
On the table in front of me is my notepad, a sugar shaker, an empty ashtray, and a cup of steamed milk with orzata. It is Saturday afternoon, and it's pretty quiet in here. There are a couple of women chatting in the corner, and the man across from me is looking out the window onto the street. Many people pass by, huddled under umbrellas, and some walk by slowly, so as to see their reflection in the window.
young woman of about eighteen years just walked in. She's dressed in
black draping clothing, which contrasts sharply with her fair
complexion and strawberry-blond hair. She has pulled her rather long
hair tightly back into a braid and is wearing a black beret, slanted
slightly to the left side of her crown. She has just sat down to my
left and is pulling a pack of cigarettes and a book out of her large,
black leather bag. The waitress greets her and soon returns with her
order. Sitting there in front of a cup of espresso, lighting a
cigarette, she makes for a rather dramatic figure, which must be her
As I sit here writing, this wooden table squeaks and wobbles under my elbow, which is resting just left of my pad. The table top is make of old, wormy wood and is rather sticky with moisture, probably from many sugary coffee spills and splashes.
Playing in the background is a familiar collection of classical music, a rather appropriate background for this setting. On the wall hang several large paintings, mostly in the style of the Italian renaissance masters. Sometimes the world seems right out of a book or movie. I guess that's because we all read books or see movies and in our own way mimic these slanted portrayals of real life we call fiction. Then again, an Italian café in New York City is probably a more likely stage for such pretension than other places might be.
The woman in black just turned a page, and I can see that she is reading Nausea, by Sartre. As she puts the cigarette, whose ash has been growing in her ashtray, to her mouth, she doesn't seem to fully inhale. She blows out a puff of smoke and replaces the cigarette to its resting place. I recognize the cigarette as an unfiltered Chesterfield. It is a rare brand, and I only recognize it because I've smoked them in here too. She has hardly touched her espresso in the several minutes it's sat in front of her. Each time she tastes it, a slight, almost imperceptible, grimace flushes her face. She washes it off with a quick swallow of water.
The man across from me just ordered another espresso. I'm sure he likes it because this will be the third I've seen him drink without a single spoonful of sugar, gulp of water, or expression of distaste. He must be quite caffeinated by now though.
To my right are sitting three people, a man and two women. The man is being daring; he sits drinking a double espresso while the two women have a cappuccino and an espresso, respectively. The woman with the espresso feeds it with teaspoon after teaspoon of sugar. Their major topic of conversation is learning to drink espresso. It seems to me that if they knew their parts better, they would be discussing much more profound themes. One woman says she started with Sanka and is now able to drink espresso as long as she fills it with sugar. The man explains that he started drinking coffee about a month before he "went to Paris." He apparently became inured to espresso while there. For some reason, the entire conversation strikes me as one that should take place off-stage.
As the day progresses, more people walk in, and the waitress gets busier. She is a small woman with short, dark hair and a French accent, which rather clashes with the Italian decor. She is now making a full pitcher of steamed milk, I assume for the purpose of mass producing cappuccino or orzata drinks. Once she takes an order, she is very efficient, but it is difficult to get her attention.
In a back corner sits a middle-aged man. He is writing furiously on a spiral notepad with a Scripto pencil, the kind where you turn the cap to lengthen the lead. He has been here for a bout forty-five minutes, lengthened his lead about six times, smoked at least eight cigarettes, and I think he's on his fourth café au lait. With each café, his hand writes more and more frantically, and it is fairly shaking right now. He is devouring a pack of red Marlboros, lighting each cigarette with the one before. His forehead is wrinkled with thought. When he looks up occasionally, I can see his eyes blinking nervously through his thick, plastic-rimmed glasses. His wavy black and gray hair is in terrible disarray, as he pulls at it whenever his hand is without a cigarette or his cup of café. Sitting there, he seems as integral a part of the café as the cappuccino machine. If he had been in that corner when I arrived, I would believe that he lives here and is part of the atmosphere, like the music or the paintings on the walls. If he isn't authentic, he is much more proficient in his rôle than any other I've seen in here.
Sitting here watching this scene, I feel my perspective changing. My growing cynicism about this place where I used to spend many hours playing my own part, is becoming increasingly alienating proportionately. The more I look, the more everything becomes a prop, including my own notepad. But at the same time, I realize that everything these people are wearing, doing, and saying is an actual part of their own reality. Any image they might be attempting to portray is a very real part of their personality, as any I might be portraying now or have attempted to in the past is a part of me.
The woman in black just paid her check. The three at my right have just decided to go somewhere else to get some dinner. I've already paid my check and should leave now.
Stepping out into the street, I put up my umbrella because it is still raining and everything is still wet. I love weather like this.