Well, by popular demand I've decided to commit to paper... virtual paper that is, the incredibly bizarre conversation I endured tonight while sitting in a cafe in NYC. As I begin, I tell myself it will only take a few moments to jot down.. I know it will take vastly more time than that. But, here we go anyway...
I'm impetuous. As many of you already know, I'm something of a workaholic and at any given time, I have about a dozen different projects on my plate. An album, a novel, a film and some toy projects loom above me most of the time... there's just always a ton of stuff going on. But what you may not know is that a lot of these projects happen very spontaneously. In a flash I will get an idea and I don't find a reasonable place for it like an intelligent person, I don't plan ahead to get started on it at some later date... I just.... GO!
So, tonight, I was sitting at home after a fantastic meal of lobster and oysters at The Smith on 3rd ave. After taking oh... five minutes to digest, I jumped into packing CDs to ship to Dragoncon. About half way into it, it occurred to me that since the new album (Raised by Bats) and the new book (The Legend of Candy Claws) won't be done in time, it would make some sense to create postcards to hand out for each of those projects. Each could have an eye-catching piece of art on the front and some information about where to find updates on the back. And as it often goes, that flash of an idea became a moral imperative and in my mind, it had to be done immediately!
Now, as it happens, there is no internet access in the Lair of Voltaire. This is by design. The fact is that if there were internet access, I would never leave this dark tower. So, I was forced... by design... to take a walk to a local cafe where I could sip some espresso while creating some art on my laptop and then upload it to 4over4.com, the website I'd be using to print the postcards.
I made my way to The Bean on 1st avenue and 9th street, a local haunt. I grabbed an Americano and flipped open the laptop. I didn't have much time. It was 11pm and The Bean closes as midnight. Only one hour? It almost seemed like a challenge. Could I create both sides of two postcards, upload them to the 4over4.com website and place my orders within one hour? There was only one way to know. The challenge was accepted.
Yes, folks, this is what I call excitement on a Friday night in New York City, in case you are wondering...
I was able to start and finish the postcard for the Candy Claws book fairly quickly, get it uploaded to the site and placed my order. I was rather pleased with myself. Then I looked at the time. It was about a quarter to midnight. Hm... not much time to work on the Raised by Bats postcard, but I would try anyway. I opened the template and started dragging in the cover art by Michael Komarck.
Suddenly, a couple sauntered through the glass doors of the cafe.
"Here! Here is the perfect place!" bellowed the woman. She pointed at the table next to me, more specifically at the electrical outlet under it. The man followed her as she sat beside me. He plugged the charger of his cell phone into the wall socket to my right and took the seat across the table from her. They were a black couple. The man was tall and handsome and it later occurred to me that he was dressed like a dapper academic in a pressed white shirt with a lovely vest that had some pattern I didn't completely fix my eyes on. His female counterpart was a light skinned black woman, possibly bi-racial, with freckles and tawny curls that made me think of Shirley Temple. Her round frame was wrapped tightly in some kind of pastel sweatsuit. I'm not sure if that's what people call them these days now that there are "designer" sweat suits. It may have been by Juicy or some other brand, but I do believe the intention was NOT to appear to have come straight from the gym, but rather to be tuned in to what's happening in the world of fashion. Perhaps.... I'm not really qualified to judge.
He instantly began, "Tell me about yourself in ten words."
She guffawed. "I can't do that! I'm a writer! You know I'd need more than ten words to describe myself." I thought that odd. Both parts actually. Asking someone to describe themselves in ten worlds seemed really.... well, hokey. But the answer was just as perplexing. Claiming to be a writer and then insisting you can't distill something down to its essence in ten words is like saying, "Sorry, I haven't mastered writing to a point where I can be CONCISE!" She clearly never heard of a haiku.. or Twitter, for that matter.
"Well, in that case..." his voice was soft and measured. "Vanilla or Strawberry?"
"Strawberry!" She smiled. It reminds me of a beautiful summer day.
"East Village or West Village?"
She grinned. "I like the West Village. But I also like Harlem and the Upper East Side, Gramercy park and The Lower East side."
He leaned in. "Describe New York City in one word."
I was plugging away on the Raised by Bats postcard when she answered. "Fake."
I stopped typing.
"Fake?" asked the man with a raised brow.
"Yeah, you know. Everyone here is so fake. They are so phony."
I don't think I even realized that I had turned my head toward them or that I had opened my mouth until I heard my words leave it. "You've obviously never been to L.A."
She threw her head back and let out a husky, loud burst of laughter. Yet, there was something in her eyes that told me that she didn't actually understand what I meant.
Her toothy mouth eventually closed. "Well, I think New Yorkers are phony," she finally uttered when the laugh subsided.
"I disagree." I don't think looking back that I looked angry when I said it... but I probably did look somewhat shocked. "I think New Yorkers are incredibly honest. New Yorkers will tell you straight out if they like you or not. It may seem rude to others, but it's a quality I admire. You always know where you stand here. I would definitely not call that fake or phony."
She narrowed her eyes as if thinking. "You know what I mean... I mean people here are fake. They focus on stuff that doesn't matter."
It was at that point that I finally caught myself. "Oh, wow, actually, I am being really rude. I didn't meant to eaves drop, but we are sitting so close I couldn't help but to hear. It's really not my place to jump into your conversation."
They waved off my comment with the kind of gesture that is the correct thing to do in polite company when one would much rather say, 'yeah, stay the fuck out of it'.
Her date was a slick one. He asked his next question not to her, but to both of us. He knew this game. He knew it VERY well. "What do you guys think makes a person phony?"
I pretended not to hear and stared intently at the giant bat carting off a baby carriage on my laptop.
She turned her head to the ceiling for a moment and contemplated. "You know, people in New York, they are all focussed on stuff that's not real, not important. You know what I mean?"
Her date folded his hands as if he was conducting some sort of interview, "What else don't you like about New York?"
The answer came from her lips very quickly. "The food. It's terrible!"
I froze as if I had been hit by lightning. Every part of me wanted to scream about how New York city is a world class culinary center. We have 35,000 restaurants and some of the world's greatest chefs. I wanted to rattle off about ten different restaurants I've been to lately where the food could change your life, but I held myself, locked in stasis. It was then that I started to realize that maybe, just maybe, none of what I loved about New York city was anything this women could appreciate or even grasp. I wondered where this women had been eating that she thought the food was so terrible.
"The food here, you know, it's not... wholesome. It's like the people. You know, I've always dreamed of moving to the midwest because I bet the food there is really good and that people there have wholesome values. I bet they focus on what's really important in life. But unfortunately, the Midwest is culturally bankrupt so there's no point going there, right?"
I was having a seizure by this point. If this woman thought New York had bad food, what could she possibly know about what the city had to offer culturally?
Her date crinkled his eyebrows, searching for her meaning. She continued. "It's like... there's supposed to be all of this diversity and stuff here in New York City, but I don't see it."
I am Cuban. I was sitting next to a black man and a bi-racial women across for a blonde-haired, blued-eyed girl working the counter about ten feet away from a group of Asians. I swallowed... HARD.
She continued with her monologue on how New Yorkers are superficial... at least I THINK that's what she meant. "In the Midwest, people are wholesome but there isn't any diversity. But here, it's supposed to be diverse and stuff, but the stuff New Yorkers focus on, it's just not really important. Not real. It's not wholesome stuff that makes us human." And then she had an epiphany, or what she thought was one. "I can answer your question now. I can describe myself in one word. Genuine! Everything about me is genuine."
I'm pretty sure if I hadn't been frozen like a statue that I would have spit my coffee across the room.
Her date continued the interview. "What are a few more words that describe you?" He was smart. Well, he was smart in the sense that he knew this game. Keep a woman talking, ask her questions, keep her talking about herself and when the night is over she will know nothing about you, but she will remember you as kind and attentive and very interested in what she had to say. Women LOVE this, well, the ones who fall for it, anyway. It's a clever little trick, but it's a parlor trick. It has no substance. As I watched him work, I thought this guy was like a Parchisi master. I thought, it's nice to be the master of a game... but at the end of the day it's not chess or go, it's PAR- fuckin- CHEESY!
"What's that?" asked the man.
"I'm intelligent. In fact, my friends are always going on and on about how intelligent I am. My friends say that even when I try to act dumb, what comes out of my mouth is pure genius!" This is a direct quote, I shit you not. I thought to myself that if she was indeed that intelligent, it might make up for her incredible lack of humility. Then came this zinger. "But you know..." Her voice became melodious and rose like a haughty song, "... what can you expect when your IQ is 70 points?" She threw her head back and bellowed riotously practically shaking the glass walls around us. I found it incredibly ironic that she followed a bragging statement about her self-perceived intelligence with a laugh (and facial expression to match) that resembled something one would expect from a barnyard animal. Truly, I do believe if her laugh were to be put into words, the onomatopoeia of it would read something like "HEE HAW, HEE HAW, HEE HAW." It was nothing short of shocking. I didn't dare move for fear that if I did, the retching horror I was experiencing would show in my demeanor or on my face.
Her date, meanwhile was cool as a cucumber in his smart vest. "Did you go to college?"
"Oh yes!" She brushed some curls away from her face. "But I dropped out. Let me tell you something. I'm very, very intelligent... but school is definitely NOT for me! I refuse to be told what to learn and when to learn it and how fast to learn it! I don't need any of that!"
I think my mouth was frozen open at this point. Every muscle in my face was working overtime to try to keep my expression one of quiet contemplation on the work that was on the screen before me.
"I was going to go to Harvard," she cooed, "but what's the point, really?"
"Well," asked the gentleman softly, "do you have any special interests? What moves you?"
"Gosh, so many questions!" She giggled. She wasn't REALLY protesting, mind you. "Why so many questions?"
"Well," said the man softly, "your profile really didn't say much. I'm trying to get a sense of you."
She smirked, "That goes both ways, Mister!" Then she laughed like a hyena or maybe a donkey being rammed in the ass by a hyena.
Oh my God! It's a FIRST INTERNET DATE FROM SOME INTERNET DATING WEBSITE! I'm dying at this point. I realized that I hadn't taken a breath in about ten minutes.
Her voice turned lyrical and girlish. "I would have to say..." She twirled a curl and glanced at the ceiling. "... that I'm a conspiracy theorist."
"RUN! RUN!!!" I'm screaming at this poor chap at the top of my lungs... somewhere deep inside of my body. But no words leave my mouth. I'm paralyzed. I've lost the ability to move. I can't even blink anymore.
Her eyes narrow, but this time it's for effect. "Let me tell you something..." She leans toward her date. "There are some very, very serious things going on in this world. You know, like with the government and stuff... like the Illuminati and all of that. And here's the thing, things are much, much worse that you even thought they were." She is deadly serious.
Her date, who I'm assuming would still have the same dumb, placid grin on his face if she suddenly starting shitting out of her mouth onto the table between them, remained completely unchanged.
"But...." she takes a deep breath, "that's where my faith comes in." Yeah, it gets worse.
In the same soft voice of a psychiatrist he whispers, "Tell me about your faith."
"Well, you know, I believe in God and God knows everything and eventually will take care of everything. So..." Buckle up folks! ".... I don't really feel like I have to do anything about all that conspiracy stuff because God will handle it." I swear, I'm not making this up. Are you ready for this one? She said, "I don't really feel I need to contribute to the world...." Yes, that's a quote. Her date STILL doesn't show any sign of being befuddled, confused, surprised or even concerned. At that point I was figuring that the man was either brain dead, a complete master of this game or so completely focused on hittin' that ass TO-NIGHT, that absolutely NOTHING was going to deter him. "You know," she continues, "some people feel they need to contribute in some way to the world and a lot of the time, they end up doing more harm than good. Do you know what I mean?"
Deep in my bowels, my now completely extinguished ability to react was yelling NO!!! NO, I DON'T!!!!
"That's why I don't really feel I need to contribute in any way to the world. I can just live my life in whatever way makes me happiest and God will take care of the rest."
If I was able to move at that point, I would have killed myself with a coffee stirrer.. but alas, my soul was completely defeated.
"Ladies and gentlemen," yelled the blonde-haired, blue-eyed barista at the top of her lungs. "The Bean is going to close in five minutes!"
The interview amazingly continued. "What ethnicity do you identify yourself as?" I was starting to think this man worked for the Census Bureau.
"Well," said the lady, "I identify myself as black, but I'm bi-racial." Bingo! "One of my parents is black and one of my parents is white. But you know how it is..." The man only raised an eyebrow so she filled in the blanks. "When you're black but you are highly intelligent like I am...
WOW! I cringed. As if being black and being highly intelligent were mutually exclusive.
Tragically, she went on, "and you talk the way I do..."
You mean with your mouth? I wondered. But clearly she felt she was incredibly eloquent.
"...people treat you different, like you're are trying to be something else."
I knew what she meant. At least I think she meant she interpreted other blacks as seeing her as trying to be white or trying to better herself. But the saddest part of the whole thing was just how profoundly ignorant she actually was and her complete and utter lack of ability to properly assess herself. And then there was her total obliviousness to just how dense she sounded. Coupled with how incredibly superior she clearly thought she was to everyone else, it was TRULY nothing short of ... depressing. That's not hyperbole. It actually made me want to cry.
None of this phased her date. Finally, he shifted the focus and when he did, I was in a state of complete disbelief that he used not just any phrase... but THE phrase!
"Well, let's see now.... what about me?"
Holy shit!!! People actually say that? I overheard some idiot say that very same line once to a girl he was trying to pick up and I was so completely blown away by the sheer, unabashed, ballsy, unsolicited nature of inviting yourself to recite your own resume, that I actually used it in a commercial I directed in 1996 or so. I think my eyes actually widened, finally cracking my stony countenance.
"Well," he continued in a very pleasant voice, "I was adopted at the age of two."
The woman cried out. "Oh, I'm so sorry." Because I guess being adopted by people who actually want you is a bad thing?
And he went on. "I was adopted by a white family."
The women howled. "Oh no, you poor dear!" Meanwhile, I'm no more than two feet away and thinking, uh... I'm RIGHT FUCKIN' HERE, YOU KNOW! I can hear you loud and clear and despite being Hispanic, I'm sure I look plenty white to you! And wait... Hold on just a minute... isn't one of YOUR parents white? I'm just completely stupefied at this point at why being adopted by white people is a fate worse than death.
He went on. "I love dachshund dogs. I always have." He giggled pleasantly. "Funny story, actually, I was adopted from the zoo and my parents got a dog the same day..."
"WHAT?" The lady nearly jumped out of her chair. "Those white people bought you from a zoo?"
IF THERE WAS A FUCKIN' JUKE BOX IN THE PLACE, I ASSURE YOU THE RECORD WOULD HAVE SKIPPED RIGHT THEN AND THERE!
I think I peed a little despite myself. I know I definitely swallowed about twenty minutes of saliva in one gulp right then and there..
The woman looked like she might die on the spot. I know I wanted to, and frankly I would have loved to have left at that point, but if I had, I would have gotten on the floor and crawled out of the place and that may have just made things more awkward.
"No, no..." explained the man. "The social worker thought that it would be best if my parents didn't pick me up from the shelter. She felt it would be best if they picked me up from somewhere fun after having a great day. So we all went to the zoo and they got me a dachshund dog and it was a really great day. Really!"
The woman across from him was gutted for him, despite him expressing that the experience was quite the opposite of what she imagined. She just shook her head as if imagining some old white couple picking out a dog and then as an afterthought, buying some black kid from a cage at the zoo.
Needless to say, my jaw was on the table in front of me and let me tell you... I did NOT get very far on that Raised by Bats postcard! LOL! All I could think to myself was, I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.
"I had a good childhood, I can't complain, " said the man.
"Did you go to college?" asked the woman.
"Yes, in fact, I have five degrees."
(Holy shit, Batman! That explains the vest! As well as the Hannibal Lecter-like cool you've got going on!)
I saw the woman's expression mellow for a moment and part of me wondered if she had a moment of revelation. Maybe, just maybe, she realized that she was sitting across from a person who was ACTUALLY black and was ACTUALLY intelligent. Maybe he would not so easily fall for her bullshit like perhaps some have in the past (though clearly not for long, hence the internet dating). And then she yelled, "Let's go have dessert at Veniero's!"
"Actually," said the man somberly, "I really have to be going. I need to get back to work."
Yes, I thought. Get back to work... at midnight. Of course you do.
"Well, how much time do you have?" asked the woman. "I mean, if you want we can just sit here and talk some more."
I guess when the blonde-haired barista SKREECHED "The Bean is closing in five minutes!" about seven minutes earlier, the lady next to me must have been too busy pondering how eloquently she speaks and how intelligent all of her friends think she is or perhaps how the world is being destroyed by subversive forces, but as long as she gets her hair did and goes on internet dates, God will take care of the rest...
"Is my phone charged?" asked the man.
There was some mumbling and some fumbling. It seemed to me the woman was eager to take the party elsewhere but the gentleman with the five degrees had other plans. They walked out of the cafe and stood and talked for a couple of minutes outside of the glass doors before dispersing like mist.
I stood in the bright cafe bursting with emotion, finally able to move, finally able to speak. I thought to yell to the barista, 'Holy Shit! Did you catch that conversation????'
But she had gone into the basement, no doubt to do some after-work chores. I found myself standing there alone, with no one to tell.
So I went home...
... and told you.