Saturday, July 08, 2006

Uncomfortable, then disgusting

For the last year or so, every Saturday and Sunday morning I go to a nearby coffehouse and read for a couple of hours. Right now I'm on Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky.

The place was unusually empty this morning. It draws its share of characters. It's the closest thing to an Ann Arbor coffeehouse that I've found in New York.

It also serves alcohol.

There were three other people there this morning when someone sat directly next to me. He looked about sixty. It was 10:30 a.m. He ordered a bottle of Budweiser and belched. I was in deep-read mode, and not psyched that he elected to sit a foot away from me in the middle of the empty establishment.

After twenty minutes, he turned to me and asked loudly, "Can you help me with this?"

I looked down and saw that he was holding a loose, gold-chain bracelet. He wanted me to hook it around his wrist.

Strange, but it was the second time in 12 hours that I was being asked to put a bracelet on another dude. The night before I went with a friend to see his brother's band. The band was pretty good. One of its gimmicks was to hand out neon snap-bracelets to friends and fans.

So, having helped Peter with a neon bracelet the night before, I similarly fumbled with this dude's bracelet, not able to work the hook. Laughing, he mocked me, and said, "Come on, a guy like you must have a girlfriend."

"I'm not into jewelry," I said.

"Wow man," he said, "you're cold."

After much confusion, I successfully helped him with the bracelet.

I turned back to my book.

Loudly, he ordered a vodka on the rocks.

Five minutes later, he turned back to me and said, "What are you reading?"

"It's a book," I said. Realizing that I should clarify before the next question, I said, "It's about World War II."

"Ah, history," he said. "Let me ask you something. Do you think they really killed six million Jews?"


"Really?" he asked. "Because you hear so much controversy about that."

"I don't think there's any controversy," I said, in my most deadly serious, clipped, even-toned, do-not-argue-with-me voice.

He got my message, but mumbled, "The controversy is everywhere."

"Yeah, I don't think so," I said.

Apparently disappointed that I wasn't up for playing ball, he turned away and looked out the window. I wasn't up for explaining that Nemirovsky was in the middle of writing the War and Peace of World War II when she was taken out of France by the Germans, shipped to Auschwitz, and killed within days. That what she left is an unfinished yet near-perfect novel, and that her book suddenly seemed too melancholy to put into words.

I made a swift and early exit before the conversation went further. There's no teaching an old, jewelry-loving, Holocaust-denying drunk at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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