Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Scene From "The Last Cafe"

Some of the scenes in my novel, “Wilderness”, happen to take place in the “The Last Café”. I’ve been working hard on the novel again, and will post several more completed chapters in the next few days. Check back to see if they’ve been posted. In the meantime, here is a small excerpt from the new chapters.

Part of Chapter Nineteen:

The new artwork that had been sitting on the floor near the storeroom in the back is now hanging on the walls of the café for our enjoyment. I say enjoyment because the work truly is enjoyable. Abstract dogs and cats. Acrylics, it looks like. Not portraits, like artists usually do with animals, but dogs and cats in natural movement, in motion, some in conceptual poses, with personalities and emotion; bodies stretched, arched, and twisted in mid-stride, like if you were to pause a Nature Channel DVD, and then paint the screen.

The only thing that’s not natural is the colors. No gray’s or brown’s, no white’s, no beige, no yellow labs. But lots of offbeat colors on offbeat cats and curious dogs. Reminds me of some of the creatures I’d see with the good acid we used to do back in the 60’s before they started cutting it with Meth, and other sinister additives.

These creatures are truly dancing off the canvass, engaged in full-body celebrations of animal life. Celeste, an artist whose name I’d never heard, is also an artist I will look for in the future. You know how every once in a while you’ll find an artist you’d really like to meet? You may not even know why, just that you’d like to meet him/her? Well, I’d like to meet Celeste. I won’t be trying to meet her. I’m just saying. But I will ask Darla about her tomorrow. I’m very curious. Very curious.

Darla’s got about ten or twelve pieces of her work hanging around the cafe. I’m struck by the strength of their attitude, casting a frivolous demeanor across an, otherwise, somber afternoon. Wall to wall brilliance, lifting me like a kind of telepathic elevator, raising me up, it seems, out of my psychic delirium.

There’s a bemused bloodhound hanging near me on the wall, Cerulean-blue belly to the sky, draped unceremoniously across an old chase-lounge on the lawn, blending with it, into it, one back foot on the ground, and three flopping free like a monkey might lay on his back across a branch, or an otter on a rock. A Fuchsia kitten on the sparkling wet ground, pink, tinged with purple, rear end in the air, two front paws having caught the dog’s one earthbound foot as if it were a mouse he’d cornered by the fence. A second colorful kitten, poking fun, her scarlet nose burrowed deep inside that big overgrown puppy’s ear. The hound’s other ear is draped soft across his own eyes, protecting them from the blinding glare of a merciless afternoon sun. There’s an elated look on the old dogs face, a look that anyone might like to wear were it accompanied, also, by the pleasurable feeling that would have inspired it in the first place.

Darla’s put John Prine’s ‘Souvenirs’ album on, and Mr. Prine has been serenading the clientele this afternoon. Hearing him is like listening to grandpa sitting on a stump outside the barn, telling stories about when life was a little slower, and people were a little more important to one another than they are now.
His songs put life, and the struggle for equanimity, in a dramatic, but embraceable, perspective. “Fish and Whistle,” for example.

“Father forgive us for what we must do.
You forgive us, and we’ll forgive you.
We’ll forgive each other till we both turn blue,
then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven.”

They are also the best photographic collection of the human condition that a man could ever hope to find. Snapshots, all of them. “Far From Me” gives an intimate glimpse of many of those humans, concluding that there is remarkable beauty in even the most callously disregarded among us.

“And the sky is black and still now
up on the hill where the angels sing.
Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle
looks just like a diamond ring.”
But it’s far, far, from me.

Jessie and Collette are both behind the counter today. That always makes me happy. The soul of John Prine permeates the café, casting a subtle, subdued, truth across the room. People put their pencils down to listen. They eat their cake, and sip their coffee quietly. There are no utensils clanging on plates. There is no mindless chatter. There is no scuffing and shuffling of feet, just the sound of Prine’s solitary voice, . . . . Don’t let your baby down . . . . . . . ”), and his conspicuous acoustic guitar. Simple songs, sometimes with bass, accordion, or piano, but not complicated by pretentious arrangements, or unnecessary instruments. Some people are whispering quietly, but even then, you can tell they’re whispering about the songs, or maybe how they used to wake up every morning lying next to somebody they loved. Until Marty entered my, otherwise, innocuous life, it’d been about a thousand years since I woke up with somebody like that. And John Prine reminds me. He sings,
“. . . . Down on the beach the sandman sleeps, and time don’t fly, it bounds and leaps. . . . . . .”

Brad and Angelina are here today as well. They’re usually pretty over-the- top demonstrative with each other, but a couple of songs ago “Far From Me” turned even them inward for the time being. Some people are looking up at the speakers hanging just below the ceiling in the corners of the room. It’s like people want to see the voice they’re hearing. I can totally understand that. And I can almost see his voice when I close my eyes, if you know what I mean.