Outside, a warm rain sweeps down the sidewalk, offering the promise that spring on the way. So, despite the damp sting, one flirts with optimism. And to think that only two weeks ago I was smashing tennis balls shirtless in the sun of the San Fernando Valley. The whiplash of modern life.
Two Hopkins girls are camped out at the next table with a half-eaten blueberry muffin standing on a plate between them like a Roman ruin. And two neglected mimosas. I’m impressed at how slowly they can consume. My oatmeal cookie was history in three minutes flat.
The backs of their laptop screens, nearly touching, tremble slightly as the girl’s fingernails dance on the silver Chiclets. The taller one, a chatty blond who often tugs at the string of her hoodie, will occasionally, begrudgingly, glance at the massive textbook to one side but she’s far more interested in the updates on her Facebook page which disappear at times but never for more than a few minutes.
I think about that need to broadcast all the details. We communicate too much while living too little. The image of drunks at a still comes to mind. The thirst, of course, is for connection. But how deceptive and unsatisfying this kind seems to be.
There are more immediate matters at hand, to be honest, on this One World Cafe Sunday, dressed in my Boulder-bought clothes which have traveled to meet me in several ways: crammed in suitcases, mailed in boxes, and wedged into the many (if you look for them) cavities of my car.
Indeed these threads have come a long way. Our relationship has become strained. Of course, the clothes are neither important or noteworthy — shirts and pants I could have gotten anywhere. In fact, I did. They trail me like a lover who does not yet know the relationship is ended.
Not far from the Facebook girls, the stocky guy in the army fatigues sitting at the bar, who had been reading Proust when I arrived, has metamorphosed into a wiry fellow in tight jeans and Converse low tops. Outside, the glow of the streetlights tells me afternoon has become evening.
Two weeks ago people were slender and bronze-colored, and believed that the makes and models of their automobiles were critical information. Now, people are compleckted in shades of anemic white and bonemeal gray and wear flannel shirts and page through textbooks as thick as bricks.
I am in Maryland again, the Old Line State, where history oozes from every stone and brick in far different ways than it had in the flimsy wood and stucco West. There it hardly mattered what had come before. Not here. Oh, no. Here the 19th and 20th — and even the 18th and 17th — centuries reach out and grab you and get right in your face and demand that you acknowledge them. And you do, or try to, because you think then it may let up. But the truth is, it never does.
There was this thing about Boulder that I had not encountered elsewhere. No one wanted anything from you. In fact, quite the opposite. The well-to-do alpine folk of that squeaky clean town were content with their lives exactly they way they were and didn’t want them changed at all, thank you very much. So you never got the feeling of being pulled into anything. The REI clad people strolling the Pearl Street Mall didn’t send out tendrils of need, didn’t try to psychically probe you the ways some Angelenos did (unbeknownst to them; I will give them that).
In Los Angeles, in just about any public place you often felt a certain segment of the population reaching out with their eyes and minds and wills and desire, wanting something. What was it?
I wondered if those newly landed here had that something that the jaded, exhausted locals hungered for so much— optimism? hope? unjadedness? — and we were so alluring simply because we hadn’t been there very long, hadn’t lost it, and the time hadn’t yet arrived when we would start to want it and seek it in others, too.
Another morning at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, observing: Two pregnant woman showing bare bulging midriffs and looking stunning in that tanned, fit L.A. way; a seventy-something woman in a charcoal-colored bathrobe staring unabashedly at them; a man and woman in full motorcycle leathers; and all the usual attention-getting faces and bodies — the plentiful blond, sunglass-wearing beauties and square jawed hunks from the Midwest. And the old guy, Bill, snoring gently in a deep leather chair, the L.A. Times on his chest rising and falling gently with each breath. And the sour faced fiftyish guy paging angrily through the classifieds.
Despite the diversity of exteriors, motivations, situations and origins, there is a cooperation here that is evident if you look for it. It’s as if these people instinctively understand there are just too many on the flat, wide open and dry land, and the best course is just to, well, get along. The population problem creates a necessity of concession, a community and a joining together that makes people, who wouldn’t otherwise feel a part of a larger whole.