The Absinthe Drinker

The Absinthe Drinker
Victor Oliva, "The Absinthe Drinker"

Mystery of a Smile

Charismatic despite questionable posture. Where at least some part of her leaning is from pure simple height.

Strength of character. Firm in her convictions, determined to preserve her own health and sanity. So she breaks off with her destructive boyfriend of many years, despite the obvious pain in her eyes.

I have her number, but she seldom responds. Where nothing in the world is more mysterious than a pretty barista's smile.

Funhouse Cafe, Brisbane
Funhouse Cafe, Brisbane


Three No's

"No it doesn't it goes up in the front and down in the back." It's a friendly argument. White-haired and dye-haired wives and husbands are debating hair styles. That, and recipes for pesto sauce. They're the Hair And Pesto Debate Club. It's their hobby, they seem to have been at it for years.

"No, my car's a Tesla." He says so, yet there seems to be some dispute. He appears nonplussed when his party all laugh.

"No, I went to Saint Regis." Job interview? Papers on the table, remote office at the coffee klatch, a certain formality, they certainly are meeting for the first time.

My date is late. I'm tripping balls on caffeine, my knee's bouncing, I'm down to run around the block. Thanks for keeping me company on a foggy coastal Sunday afternoon.

Christine Schloer, "Cafe Wonderland"
Christine Schloer, Cafe Wonderland


Movie Star!

"That's him, Mom! In the movies!"

She’s three ish, her voice is playground loud, she’s pointing at your humble author, who at this point in his life is most certainly not in the movies.

"The movies, Mom! That's him it's him it's him!"

Shhhhhhhhh, shushes Mom. Let's not embarrass the movie star with childish adulation. She's looking at me from the corner of one eye, trying to place.

Little girl now whispering, "The movies, Mom. That's him!"

They're gonna have to widen the door for my big fat head to fit through.

Patrick Caulfield, "Cafe" Sign (1968)
Patrick Caulfield, Café Sign (1968)


Charmed, Like Mom

Maybe now I sound like my mom.

Her patronization of younger people enraged me, probably since she also patronized me in her incompetent way, so that all patronization by adults came to both enrage and unsettle me in more or less equal measure.

She'd say, "They're so cute..." Looking at the spooning young couple. Or at the five-year-olds eating ice cream. Same diff. They were younger than her, she thought they were adorable.

She didn't even have to speak. She'd assume her peculiar smirk that was at once delighted and supercilious and swoony. I knew what it meant.

Now decades later I find myself charmed by the young couples. The lesbian college students with their pink and green hair and their septum rings and their pens out marking up Emily Dickinson. The shy Hispanic high school teens on what could be their first date ever, bashfully entwining fingers as they wait to place their orders.

But it's not ageism, I'm charmed by the elderly married couple too, perhaps moving a little slowly yet tenderly solicitous toward each other.

It's not about patronizing them.

It's that they're happy, and I can feel it, and their happiness makes me happy too.

Maybe this is what my mother meant all along.

Javier Losada, "Café-Restaurante Pop Art"
Javier Losada, Café-Restaurante Pop Art


Debit Cards

The cool kids have debit cards.

They’re clearly Junior Theater: their vibe is We’ll be on TV when we’re adult. They march, arms swinging. They’re loud, they take over their corner with stagey bravado. Mom & dad let them do what they want with those debit cards.

Children of privilege, taking up space. Maybe one day they’ll get woke. Not today.

Jacob Lawrence, "The Children Go To School," 1946
Jacob Lawrence, The Children Go To School (1943)