Ah! Ironic coincidence! I’m sitting outside on a gray overcast day, having just picked up Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast from the little used-book shop down the street. Hemingway tells of sitting in a fine Paris café, writing in his notebook with a pencil, and Miller’s once-banned classic is set in the same city. And here I am, on the “sidewalk” in a suburban substitute for the cozy cafés of Paris, writing in my notebook with a pencil, and drinking the not-quite equal of Hemingway’s café au lait.
It’s quiet on this dreary day, even with the chiming church bells from across the highway, the constant stream of traffic, and the bouncy pop music blaring from the Starbucks speakers.
There are signs of life: commerce, travel, building, eating at the fast-food drive-thru window, the big box store across the way. People have computers inside. They are huddled around the tables, discussing this or that, reading the latest romance novel, and computing on important-looking projects. Not exactly the cultural center of the Earth, but likely a prime example of what passes for culture in our day and place.
I’m anonymous at the table. At least no one lets on that they know me, and I happily leave them alone as well. In my imagination, they probably look at my little notebook and little black pencil and say something like, “Look! There’s a new Hemingway, writing something profound in his notebook!” I could be a writer, I guess, except for the fact that I can’t write.
I wonder if there’s an Arby’s across from the fine Paris café where Hemingway sat and wrote and drank. I wonder if the fall of Miller’s second year in Paris included a Wal-Mart parking lot. I wonder if either of those observers ever thought of the kind of impression their presence was making on those around them.
I wonder which is more interesting – the traffic outside or the people inside?