Sitting in Panera, August 10, 2007

I’m in my Panera again. It seems very familiar to me now. It is odd to think that I’ll be going home in two weeks. I’m exited, but a little sad about it too. I bought another overpriced cookie, and once again, didn’t much regret it.

As I was getting water from the fountain machine, one of the workers looked at me, and said “Oh, you’re back!”

Because she was young, female and (honesty demands I mention) attractive, I assumed she wasn’t talking to me. But there was nobody else around, and she was waving at me in a friendly manner, and so I cautiously waved back. When she didn’t give me creepy-eyes, I was emboldened enough to say hello. And then, because this didn’t seem like sufficient conversation, I asked her how she was. She said she was doing very good, and I said I was glad to hear that.

Then I sat and ate my cookie, and she went about her work. I don’t know her name, and unless I have forgotten about a conversation that would, in my book, be significant, she doesn’t know mine. Even so, I am much happier for it.

In Houghton, everybody knows one another. Everybody smiles, everybody waves, everybody says hello. This summer, the thing that has dragged me down more than anything is the unspoken rule to avoid eye contact, to not speak to anyone you don’t know, and to avoid getting too close to strangers.

Earlier this summer, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would want to be so isolated. In the spirit of fellowship, I nodded hello to the first person I met on the street, and even waved a little. He was drunk, and asked me for money. I told him I didn’t have any, and went on walking. I didn’t talk to the next person I passed; I didn’t even look at him. I held my eyes stiff, and I walked past him without acknowledging his existence. It has become a habit for me: I don’t know who my neighbors are, I don’t know many other people in the office, really. Sitting in Panera, if my gaze lingers on one person too long, either in curiosity or just out of idleness, I turn away quickly when they look my way.

So, when someone says hello in a restaurant, or gives me a two fingered wave from around a steering wheel, I feel somehow refreshed. I wonder how far I—we—have fallen when it is a bit of friendliness that strikes us as odd, and we expect people to be mean or, at the very least, aloof. What are we, when we’re all terrified to say ‘hello.’

The words that have passed my lips the most for the past month have been “excuse me,” whenever I bump into people, and even then it seems like I’ve broken some sort of etiquette my saying so much.

In any case, within two weeks, I’ll know my neighbors again, and be able to smile at anyone I meet without fear. I’m looking forward to it very much.

Last night, I started the formal writing of Artifice.exe. The Blurb I posted just prior to this post was a good exercise, even though I’m already going to have to change just a bit of it. I actually ended up using a fair amount of the short story The Glory of God in the opening passage, because it was interesting and effective, and I think I have a good twist to use down the road using the same idea.

It has been almost six months since I last worked on a fiction of any length. Since February, I’ve been taking time off to write poetry and reflections (which have eventually turned into these Journal entries) and short fiction. I feel I’ve gotten the benefit that I’ve needed from the break, and now it’s time to start work again. Otherwise I’ll forget what it is to write something that isn’t self contained to a single blog page—a danger that I do fear actually.

I saw Stardust today, like I intended. It was far better than I was dreading, although not quite as good as I had dared to hope. They’ve made some obvious changes from the text of the book, but only one of them really annoyed me, and that’s a good record by anyone’s count. I’ve read what Neil Gaiman himself thought of the thing, and he didn’t seem displeased, so I don’t feel I have much of a right to be either.

In any case, I also happened to get the novel read before now, as well. It was fantastic. One of the things Neil does best is… Well, I was going to say is fairy-tale based things, but then I realized he’s also ‘best’ at doing just about everything else. Neil Gaiman is one of the best writers I’ve read in a while—every bit as good as Terry Pratchett, and for those who don’t know of my love affairs with the works of Mr. Pratchett, that is one of the highest compliments I give.

Stardust the movie is very good. Stardust the book is much, much better–if you have twenty bucks to spare, buy the book, and then go see the movie. If you have only ten, buy the book, and go see the movie when you are richer.

I’ll be signing off now, because Panera will be closing soon. I hope you all have a good night—say ‘hello’ to someone, sometime. It might be a drunk, true, but it also might be someone like me, who really appreciates it.


1 Comment

  1. P said,

    August 14, 2007 at 5:39 am

    Hey David –
    Interesting post. I work in an office and lately I’ve gotten tired of knowing people by face, but not by name. I’ve never formally introduced myself, they’ve never introduced themselves to me…so it’s a tit for tat in that regard. But lately I’ve grown tired of that and when I passed one fellow in the hall, I stopped and introduced myself. It felt good. I’ll do that with the rest of my neighbors at some point.
    I hang out a Panera sometimes myself. (Free wi-fi)


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