XIV. "Quiet Fights with Hemingway's Fame"
A couple sits across from me in a café.
While peering over Times and tea, I watch
them quietly fight. They don't speak, they
just ignore the hard gestures of each other.
"You're a bastard," says a reaching arm.
"Fuck yourself," say long fingers, holding teacups.
Quiet fights are quite ordinary. Split
a relationship to see its odd rings.
I put down my paper and turn to watch.
They are fine, they are in the midst of love,
when a touch tells more than a mouth,
when indifference tells more than a fuck.
Their tea turns cold. He reaches for her
hand and speaks quietly. She smiles, laughs.
I was sitting in a café yesterday morning, out on the sidewalk in Greenwich Village's version of a Parisian patisserie. Down the row of wrought iron tables and chairs was a couple quietly pushing each other's cups of tea further and further away from their respective sides of their table. They were having an argument, quietly, in that type of arguing where it seems possible for a third party to sit down and later say, "You could cut the tension with a knife."
I was reading the newspaper, just out on a weekend morning, sitting down after having gone to every record store I knew in search of the new Sufjan Stevens record — the version with the original artwork, before DC Comics' cease-and-desist order. I took a seat at a random café on MacDougal Street and ordered a cappuccino. I watched the couple down the row of wrought iron. They were not speaking. Even their breathing seemed involuntary, directed in any direction but towards each other.
My thoughts drifted. The couple wasn't violently angry. They were simply resigned to a disagreement. To be angry, to hate in a fashion where words are unnecessary and body language is so strong it can translate to a foreigner, that exists only in the finest of relationships. To hate someone so much that strangers know of your hate, but without saying a word, that is true love. This couple was fine. They were timeless. They were a black and white photograph of young versions of grandparents.
After a while, I noticed the couple get up to leave. They seemed somehow happier, and when the man whispered something to the woman, she laughed and smiled. They walked down towards Bleeker holding hands, swinging their embraced arms like one pendulum.
A couple minutes went by. Then I heard a man of about sixty with a loud voice point past my shoulder and announce, "Here we have Café Reggio. It's a very famous café, as Ernest Hemingway and his literary crowd would spend their time discussing and arguing the various rules of writing out front and in winter, in the back rooms. It became a favorite or theirs in the thirties because of its reminiscence to Parisian cafés." Behind the man was I assume his family, and he was taking them on what seemed to be quite a professional tour of the village.
I made eye contact with the "tour guide" and nodded hello to him as the group passed. I heard them next door talking about a falafel restaurant.
Had I known the café was famous I never would have gone there. It would have made me feel trite, pretentious. I would have felt like I was going there just to go where Hemingway used to hang out. "I want to build a place of my own" I would think. "I don't want to hang out at a café that is famous because it's where someone else did exactly what I am doing."
But I had picked the cafe of my own accord. The cappuccino was excellent. There were interesting people to watch. That made me feel better. The Hemingway fame wouldn't matter today if I made the café my own.
I would probably never go back. I decided that taking a pen out of my shirt pocket and writing a poem in the margins of the New York Times was exactly what would complete the day. If it turned out to be even remotely good as a poem, it would make my stay in Hemingway's old seat somehow acceptable.
So I wrote a poem. I gave up on the Sufjan record. Somewhere, the couple fucked loudly on a kitchen counter. Loud, violent screams.
"I love you!"