Central Park was astounding in the fall. Perhaps this was obvious, Jean-Michel thought, as it was beautiful the whole year round.
In the fall the leaves were a plethora of brilliant colors. In the winter, the snow made for an amazing landscape and, contrary to popular belief, some stunning black and white photographs. The springtime was wonderful because the weather was generally terrific and people were happy to be able to sit outside with sandwiches and drinks talking about their lives or maybe even how nice it was to see green on the trees again. Then there was the wonderful warm summer, with beach balls floating around as seemingly obscure Canadian bands played on the Summer Stage. Many more men wandered around in shorts, bringing to view much more leg hair than Jean-Michel thought any one human being should be forced to endure on any given day. If women were reprimanded for dressing immodestly, why shouldn’t men as well?
Today, thankfully, had enough of a nip in the air that people avoided baring their legs to the public (women and men alike) with of course the exception of the rare type who wore shorts all year round. Jean-Michel was dressed in a way that almost protested this type, in a pair of black non-pleated chinos with a long-sleeved collared tan shirt, along with a coat that was fit for spring but worked now as well. It wasn’t cold enough that a person would complain about how they wished it would get warm again, but it wasn’t the kind of weather that would have the average person laying out to get some sun. It was Jean-Michel’s perfect book reading weather, and he was fully intending on taking advantage of it. October was drawing into November, which meant colder days and less time outside and more time bundled up trying to stay warm. There were nice aspects to colder weather – tea was more welcome in the winter amongst his non-tea drinking friends. Jean-Michel always had found it peculiar that the very same people who would question the drinking of hot tea in the summer would have no problem with an equally hot cup of coffee.
Jean-Michel’s choice of book had some background story to it, as many of his books and things around the apartment did. At a tag sale held around the mid-70’s, near Broadway, a man had a whole set of books by Charles Dickens that he was willing to let go of for what turned out to be less than a dollar per book. This was the collected works of Dickens, hard cover, reasonably good condition – and it was less than a dollar each? It was the summer of 1998, and the man holding the sale seemed to take well to Jean-Michel. “I shouldn’t be selling these at all, but there’s just no room in my apartment for these older books when I have new ones coming in all the time,” the man explained as Jean-Michel picked up the cardboard box. There were so many good counter-arguments to that, but any number of them might have left him without the collected works of Charles Dickens – so he opted not to offer any.
Today’s choice was Great Expectations, of which he did have a few, though not for the novel, as he had previously read it. Specifically, Jean-Michel had last read Great Expectations when he was a sophomore in high school, which was a few more years ago than he wanted to think about. Reunions were therefore to be avoided like a plague of locusts, or a plague of once ambitious people who were suddenly stumbling through life without any sort of direction, working dead-end jobs and involved in miserable relationships. The plague of locusts sounded more tempting. At least with the locusts one wouldn’t have to worry about how to dress, or what to do besides nervously stirring a cocktail with the red plastic straw.
Jean Michel found an empty bench and sat down. This was not for anti-social reasons – rather, he really just wanted to have a little time to himself to do some reason before he got back to his writing. He was now working on an article about good spring-cleaning techniques for cat owners. Being both a cat owner and a careful cleaner, Jean-Michel was thrilled to have an article that required little to no research on his part. Conrad, for his part, contributed cat hair that amounted to approximately an entire kitten. This did not mean that he was going to get co-authorship credit. Well there would be a mention of him in the article, but that was the extent to which he was willing to go. Well, perhaps there would be a can of tuna in it for him as well. Salmon if the article went over particularly well.
The bench had been dedicated to someone. He had no idea who the person was, and suspected that in about one hundred and twenty years, even if the bench was still intact, there would be no one alive who knew who this mysterious someone was. But then, what did it matter who would be remembered in one hundred and twenty years – he certainly wouldn’t be there to be considering the importance of the plaque then. Jean-Michel, too, would most likely also be forgotten at some point – writers who write about removing cat hair from your dwelling aren’t generally the ones who are celebrated years past their passing. Writers like Dickens, on the other hand, were still having their work analyzed and read even now, long past his time of being able to have someone buy him a pint as a result of it. Jean-Michel didn’t remember much of what they had discussed in the class back in high school about the book, but he did remember one particular day in which the teacher asked about the writer’s intent. One person said, “He intended to get more money.”
The teacher looked shocked. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think we’re reading into all of this a little too much,” the person whose name he had of course forgotten said, “with all of this ‘What did he mean by this’ and ‘What was his intention here’ stuff. He got paid by the word! Most of what he was writing was just filler.” There were many giggles to be heard in the classroom that day.
How that stood out over the discussion of the book itself was beyond him.
Correcting his posture, Jean-Michel smiled as he thought of that clever individual in the class who was bold enough to make a statement. It was half-way through the first chapter that a soft voice was heard saying, “Dickens?” Not looking up, Jean-Michel responded, “Pinot.”
“Someone named Pinot wrote ‘Great Expectations?'”
“Someone named Pinot was reading ‘Great Expectations.'” With this , he smiled again, and looked up. The soft voice belonged to a reasonably tall woman, perhaps five inches over five feet. She wore small red ribbons in her hair, a lighter shade of red – and only long enough that any attempt at a pony tail would result in about two centimeters past the tying point, as it were. Dark black framed glasses which suggested that she cared about what she put on her face in front atop her nose. Her hand bag, which suggested “amazing thrift shop find”, looked like it was perfectly full.
She was wearing a baby blue champion style t-shirt, dark blue jeans, and a facial expression that indicated that she was at the very least not offended by Jean-Michel’s quirky remark. “And the copy of Great Expectations that this Mister Pee-neeyoht was reading, would it happen to be the very one written by a Mister Dickens?” She exaggerated the pronunciation of his name by a little bit, perhaps to tease him.
With this, she took a pack of cigarettes out of her hand bag, Marlboro Lights – and offered one to Jean-Michel Pinot, who was still thinking about what to say in response to the previous question. Not that it was a particularly difficult question, of cou
rse, but rather that it seemed to come out of the blue. The blue, like the blue that she was wearing, or the lovely shade of blue that was so clear across the sky, the mobile taking a short break for now.
“Ahm, no thank you” he managed. “Yeah, this would be the same one that Dickens wrote. Do you, ah, do you always talk to strangers about classic literature, or is it more limited to writers of certain time periods, countries of origin, that sort of thing….” He trailed off, as he suddenly realized he had no idea where he was going with this line of inquiry or why he was making it, other than perhaps being the friendly or flirtatious type of person that he was. It had been so long since anyone had even noticed him at all, at least of that gender, and it felt nice to be noticed again.
“You’re cute.” she said in a rather matter-of-fact tone, as one would relate to an acquaintance that it was raining, or in this case, not raining. Unless of course, this was the metaphorical rain that was being referred to, in which case one could almost even say that it looked like a downpour was en route. “I like Dickens.” She paused for perhaps two and a half seconds, at most. Generous. “What’s your name? Pinot?” No words were wasted with this person, he thought. Perhaps too obvious a thought.
“Jean-Michel Pinot, yeah.”
“My name’s Kate.” She smiled.
“From Kate.” A soft chuckle. “I’m going to sit down, if that’s all right. I wanted to do a little reading too. Isn’t this perfect book reading weather? Not all that cold, and not so hot that you think that you’re going to melt and slip through the bench…”
“Great weather for reading. I don’t suppose you managed to fit a couple of cups of coffee in that handbag of yours, did you?”
“Afraid not. But… hey, from what I understand there are establishments which vend coffee – by that I mean, they’ll sell it to you.” She flicked the cigarette, and switched it from one hand to the other. Most people who smoke, who can only use one hand for most things, are ambidextrous when it comes to smoking.
“Are you” he started to say.
“Asking you out? No. You clearly were the asker. As big as my hand bag is, it’s not quite up to holding two cups of coffee. And to answer your question, yes. I’d love to get a cup of coffee with you.”
He looked down at what he was wearing, up at what she was wearing again, and then back at himself again.
“You want to get a cup of coffee?”
“I believe that would be what I said, yes. Do you not?”
“I do. Want to get a cup of coffee, that is.”
Jean-Michel Pinot smiled. It had never been quite so easy to ask someone out as just then.
It then came to pass that Felix Twickson was walking around the mid-80’s on Amsterdam, and he began thinking of having a quick bite to eat. Maybe some tea, even if it wasn’t any good, even if it was mediocre at best, just a cup of tea that wouldn’t be in that apartment of his. For the tea in his apartment was excellent, but it involved being in his apartment to drink it. He just wanted to get away for a little bit, have some change of scene, as it were.
The weather was the perfect sort of coolness for walking, not needing some thick heavy coat, but not being the sort of unbearable heat that would cause people to want to sit in front of their air conditioner all day long. The kind of weather that causes people to have conversations about the weather that last longer than the average “so how about that weather…?” conversation.
The quest for a job was starting to look up, at last. This could have been related to the fact that he was now actually responding to ads in the newspaper that had something to do with his field of expertise – advertising. What he was doing trying to find work in computer related jobs, he had no idea, other than the fact that people were constantly telling him that “all the money was to be had in computers”, things along those lines. Not that the computer wasn’t perfectly useful – it just wasn’t this grand and mighty savior that people seemed to make it into.
There was not all that much in this life, he thought, that was to be all too excited about. What was there? Get a decent job, get married – that was a pretty exciting thing, assuming that a person didn’t fall under the sixty percent of Americans who were getting divorced after getting married. Then there was the lovely thing called procreation – well, not everyone did it. Was it really necessary? Obviously, on a strictly biological level, the continuation of a species demanded that there be some reproduction – but surely, not everyone had to participate.
Not everyone even had to necessarily be with someone. Felix had always been of the mindset in which he really felt that at some point in time, he would be married. There was the standard advice that total strangers felt comfortable giving you – “There’s someone out there for everyone”, something like that. The soul mate theory. Laughable at best, he thought. The sixty percent, were they just not finding said soul mates? Maybe he wasn’t supposed to get married. Some people just don’t ever get married. He could have been one of them.
As per the norm, a shoelace came undone just when it seemed least convenient – as if it is ever convenient for a shoelace to come undone. Kneeling besides a wall to not be in the way – for the sidewalk traffic was all too low, particularly so early in the afternoon. Looking up while tying, he finally spotted what he was looking for. Well, “looking for” was a bit of a stretch at this point in time. A bit closer to the truth was that he had gone out for a walk and only then at some point realized that he wanted something to eat, maybe drink. The tea had crossed his mind before the food had. Regardless, what he had found while kneeling looked as though it would be a fairly good provider of both food and drink – it looked somewhat like a cross between a cafe and a diner. Getting across the street in one piece, of course, was the challenge.
Cigarettes and Tea
It was enough like a diner that there were servers, and enough like a cafe that both Jean-Michel and Kate agreed that there was a strong possibility of getting good coffee there. “One thing I wish more places like this had,” Kate said as they waited for the server to come along to get their order, “is a smoking section. Smoking and coffee go together like, I don’t know…”
“Smoking and tea?” Jean-Michel offered.
“I don’t know about that. I mean honestly, I haven’t ever really been much into tea, but I grew up with a lot of supermarket stuff around the house, so there might be some bias there.”
This was the kind of conversation that would have appealed to the likes of Felix and Sandy, who spent hours debating over the various qualities of the many different kinds of tea that one could find. Sandy was even known to invite people over to her apartment for the purpose of getting them into tea, as it were.
“Let me tell you that when I did smoke, which was a few years ago, I used to love to sit at a nice outdoor cafe table and have a couple of cigarettes with a few cups of tea – or was that a few cigarettes with a couple of cups of tea?” Jean Michel laughed. Kate followed suit.
“You’re fond of tea, I take it.”
“Better to be fond of tea than to like to tease, I say.”
Shifting a bit in her seat, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
“I bet you could, if you made a special effort.” More laughter from the two. Perhaps if there had been a peanut gallery there would have been laughter sprouting forth from there as well.
The waitress came over to the table and, looking at Kate, said “Are you ready to order yet?”
She quickly glanced over at Jean-Michel and responded, “Two medium sized vanilla lattés, please. A little sugar on the side, if possible.” The waitress wrote this down and repeated it just to make sure she had heard it correctly – and she had.
“How did you…” Jean-Michel began to say.
“I guessed,” she quickly interjected.
“Anything to eat?” asked the waitress.
"No, thank you…" Kate told the waitress.
As the waitress walked away from the table, Jean-Michel looked towards the door and noticed a vaguely familiar figure walking in.