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Monday September 18, 2000, 23:21

This story could begin in many ways. It would eventually come around to the same ending any way I told it, but it would set the reader up for an entirely different experience each time.

It could start with my eating a bowl of Cheerios, watching the shadow of my hair casting shadows against the far wall of my apartment, the only light coming from my monitor in front of me, and a small light, not nearly bright enough to act as the reading light as which it had orginally been purchased. This cereal eating is important to note as it is currently almost midnight and I had not eaten anything since the cous cous lunch in the middle of the afternoon. Also of note is that I went grocery shopping today, which meant that I had both Cheerios (which I had been missing for some time now) and milk (without which I could have neither Cheerios nor macaroni and cheese, the staples of one who does not have the patience to cook for himself).

The explanation for this late meal starts with the returning of a video that was due this evening. Early last week, I had the desire to see "Clear and Present Danger" and had, on the way home, rented it and watched it. Alone. For many of the activities in my life right now occur alone. The video had to be returned and I found myself walked out the door realizing that I should really have a book with me as I went to return the video. Exactly what purpose this would serve was quite beyond me, though I was not willing to argue with myself at the time. Perhaps I was attempting to be more collegiate, books in hand, forsaking the not-quite messenger bag slung across one shoulder as too heavy and unwieldy.

I walked down the street, the block and a half to the video store, book and movie resting in my left hand, the mail tucked inside the book as I had not retrieved the day's mail until this point. Also realize that, as chance would have it, I had forgotten to return the video earlier in the day when I went grocery shopping, a fact that will not be lost on those observant enough to note that I do not leave the house much at all unless absolutely necessary. I am ever cynical about my surroundings and tend to write them off as merely bar-filled and none too interesting. I would find, as the night progressed, that this was mostly the case.

I stood outside the video store, about to walk home, when I realized that I did not want to return home and realizing too that my subconscious had realized this before I had and had made me bring along a distraction, i.e. the book, with which to occupy myself when I was not going home. Now all I had to do was find somewhere in which I could with my book not return home. I flipped open my mobile phone and began cycling through the numbers, noting outloud "Who am I kidding? I don't know anyone in this city" before calling my one friend who might actually want to go out. He was, of course, not home.

I began to walk, tracing the path that I used to take to work, when I was still doing that sort of thing. I knew that there were many establishments that I would pass by every day that were closed during daytime hours. These might, I decided, provide some place for me to go in my determination to not go home. I realized in walked down the main road that my previous conclusion about bars was fairly accurate and I found nowhere that I could sit and read that did not involve vast amounts of neon, television activity or alcohol (or any combination thereof).

I walked to the Chinese restaurant that had been named by someone without a firm grasp of the English language and as such was missing a crucial apostrophe. I walked in and ordered a spring roll. A small order, I noted, as I had with me three dollars. The spring roll cost me $1.60 and I pocketed the forty cents change and sat and waited for my food. "Only one spring roll" he reminded me. "I just want a snack" was my explanation, which was only partiaully true. I did want dinner, I just did not want to pay for it. I waited, and read a short story about a man building an observatory that could see into the past.

The spring roll was hot and greasy and just what I expected. That is all there is to say about that, other than the fact that it would appear that any Chinese restaurant that caters to a mostly non-Chinese clientelle tends to provide an abundance of duck sauce with their meals. This was further reinforced by the fact that the woman who entered the store to pick up her order asked for more duck sauce. "Just don't drink it" said the owner of the restaurant, and they both laughed.

I left the restaurant, mouth steaming from the spring roll, and found myself outside of the only thing resembling a coffee shop in my town. It is an ice cream parlour and it seemed relatively quiet, which is what I needed. I walked in and I asked the girl behind the counter what I could buy for a dollar forty. Or less.

This is the alternate point at which I would have started this story, if I was so inclined. Most likely it would have begun as a conversation, where I asked her what I could buy for the amount of money I had remaining in my pocket. I would note that this was the same girl that I had noticed on the train a couple of days prior and whom I would have liked to compliment on her hair, but didn't as it didn't seem right at the time. The girl had the beginnings of dreds on the top of her head, with straight hair dyed a bright yellow underneath giving it an interesting polished vs messy look. A conflict upon her head.

I would note that at this point she looked at me and told me that I could get a kid's sized ice cream which would cost me one dollar, and I would note that this did not seem like the right thing for me at the time. I asked about the availability of a brownie and she informed me that yes, they did have brownies, and that they cost one dollar and twenty-five cents each. This was the appropriate thing for me to eat at the moment and so I reached into my wallet and handed her one not-so-crisp one dollar bill and reached into my pocket and pulled out one quarter. I did not take the time to notice whether or not the quarter was a new state-sponsored quarter or whether it was just an eagle quarter. It did not seem important.

Now if I had begun the story that way, I probably would have started it in the first person and there would have been that feeling of being in the moment as it was occuring. Perhaps I would have effectively conveyed the feeling that something was missing from my life at the time that was slowly being filled by the experience of purchasing a chocolate brownie and paying for it, leaving me with four subway tokens, a nickel and a dime. But there wouldn't have been the background of the cereal and the light and the scenario of the author actually writing this piece (shadow of hair coming from not-so-bright light) which is as important as the actual events that lead up to this point, and while those details could have been filled in after the fact, that is, right here, it may have lacked the same effectiveness of the setup. On the other hand, it could have been more interesting. Just something that should be kept in mind while examining the progression of the events and of the events describing the events.

I sat on the bench by the window, next to a girl in a white hooded shirt. She was eating chinese takeout and ice cream. She was doing her homework. A girl walked up to the bench and told us that we were going to have to rearrange ourselves as there was going to be some sort of musical activity taking place and that we were sitting, effectively, on the stage. We all moved, and I noticed that the girl sitting next to me could have been no older than 16. A high school student I noted, a fact that was nearly confirmed in my mind as I watched her proofread her paper, with a header consisting of her name left-justified at the top of the page, the date right justified on the same line, and the title centered, on the following line.

There were two singers that night. The first, with a sound influenced by, in his words, Ani DiFranco and Dave Matthews played a short set of fifteen to twenty minutes and I remembered why it is that I love coffee house music. Or rather, I remembered that I did love it. The why is a bit more vague and is approximately the fact that I love people with talent who are doing a thing because they have to do a thing, because it is a part of who they are, and not merely a thing that they do because someone pays them for it. I am seeking passion in my life and am encouraged when others find it. I also like folk music.

Following was a young woman, the regular in this particular time slot on this particular night of the week (this night being Monday) and a woman (girl?) who had been making gestures at me earlier noting that we had a common bond as she had the same pen as I did. A pen that I had been, at the time, twirling between my fingers and sucking on. A Uniball pen. A lovely pen at that.

Songs were sung, and after, I approached the singer and told her how much I enjoyed her set and was afraid that I had no money to give her as all I had remaining from the night's adventure was a dime and a nickel. I paused, and, as planned and as had never been successfully executed before, I offered her the two cranes that I had folded from a job finder website advertisement that I had pulled from under the chair of the high school student sitting next to me as I had been listening to the first singer and had needed something on which to write down his web site address. "Cool!" she exclaimed, or something similarly enthusiastic enough to make me feel like I had at least given her something of interest.

We spoke a bit more about our pens and I almost stole her's until she stopped me.

And as I left the shop I felt a shiver run through my body. It could have been from the rapidly dropping temperature as Autumn has decided to slip in without telling anyone, but I would like to think that it was something more. That I had gone out this evening with nothing in mind. With the notion that I had wanted some sort of adventure, and not necessarily anything on the order of a Don Quixote-style quest, impossible dream stuff, but rather a break from the monotony of life. Something to get the mind moving again1.

That was the third, and final possible starting point for the story. That would have involved a discussion of the walk home, the temperature dropping and leaves rustling in the cool autumn air. Looking back to possibly connect more with the singer and realizing that I had gone out this evening with the mindset that there would be no set path, and while I had made many attempts, both simply in my mind and actually following through on the action, to contact my friends, what I really needed to do was to spend some time realizing that there is life outside of my apartment. It would be quite upbeat start to the store, slipping into a bit of despair with the bit about wander the streets aimlessly and ending up with a spring roll and a buck forty in my pocket.

But it would end where it started (as most things do if we believe the old saw "what goes around comes around"), coming full-circle with the realization that this could become a more common recurrence and that next time I might have enough money for an ice cream cone.

1. Another line that I had written in my head as I was walking the streets of my town was something along the lines of "I'm not a very creative person. I require stimulation from the outside world in order to get my words to manifest themselves for me." Actually, the only bit that was actually conceived of on the walk was the first sentence, and the second bit just seemed to work. But it is true. Kafka had said that he would produce the most brilliant works if he could be locked in the middle of a windowless cellar with no interactions from anyone or anything outside, just letting his mind wander freely. I'm afraid that my creative spirit would dry up and die without interaction. My creativity feeds off of the actions of others. I've always been an observer and rarely a participant and I fear that in recent months and years, as I've taken a more active role in my own life, rather than letting it simply form around me, that I've lost some of my observation skills and as such, some of my writing skills.

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