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Curious Cheetah

Café

“When the rebellion comes, how do you know that you will be ready?”
Steve Borman and I were sitting over cappuccinos in a small cafe in the old part of town. A quaint odor of pizza, beer, urine, and fried potatoes was floating over us from various directions. The sun was bright and high in a cloudless sky, and the traffic on the narrow street next to us was light, an occasional beater slogging along over the potholes.
The sidewalk had its usual midsummer tourist squall overrunning its metaphoric banks. A woman caught her high heel in a crack in the sidewalk and fell, spilling to her knees and dumping her bags out. She looked at me and I saw myself, Escherlike in distortion, staring at me from her sunglasses. My cappuccino cup was poised, frozen, between my hands, and the pseudointellectualism of my own reflection nauseated me. How had I become this? And had I become this, indeed, or was this merely the illusion of a headful of caffeine on a blistery day?
The squall absently separated to flow around the fallen woman, who now scurried to collect up her bags, blowing back a bright red wisp of bang that had disobediently squirreled its way of its ponytail. Her bags collected, she stood hesitantly, nearly toppling again when the heel broke off, its system integrity having been compromised by the sidewalk crack. She gave me a parting glance, and there I was again, the foam of my cappuccino floating like an ambivalent cloud against a brown sky.
Then she disappeared into the river of pedestrians, limping like a lame racehorse felled before the competition is over.
I looked at Steve, who was watching me expectantly and suspiciously. It was a look that I knew all too well from him, a look that was busy concluding that maybe I was the enemy, after all, as vile as the politicos who even now were planning the demise of none other and none more specifically that Stephen Andrew Borman, Steve to his friends, Saint Stephen (titter, titter) to his less amicable acquaintances.
“What?” I asked defensively.
“The rebellion. When it comes will you be ready?”
He furrowed his brow to indicate his displeasure at having to repeat the question, even though it was one that I’d already answered countless times with a decisive and unequivocal “I don’t know”. This time I merely shrugged.
Saint Stephen was the founder and currently the sole member of the PoMo Party, the Party for Generation X. This seemed to make perfect sense, that a party for Generation X would be so incredibly incapable of getting its shit together enough to even draft a second member, and I wondered over long sunsets on the bay how many other PoMo Parties there were, how many more Gen Xers so incredibly inept at finding each other let alone a clear path for the political future of this country. I looked over at Steve now and wondered how many more pairs there were just like him and me, an Ultramoderate libertarian cynic who’d decided the only way to fix things was to flush them all away, to take a map of the world and tear it into pieces (to quote Gen X rockers of the nineties and the eighties) and a moderate liberal existentialist who patiently submitted to his partner’s fruitcake schemes just so long as it meant free cappuccino and a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine.
The Beavis and Butthead of the Intelligensia. Huh huh huh, you said, “political reductionism”, huh huh huh.
“What sort of preparedness is a shrug?” Steve demanded of me. “When the Feds come in with their guns ablaze, and their thumbscrews jangling, you’ll greet them with a shrug?”
I shrugged again and ran my hand through my hair, noticing myself as I did so in the window of the cafe. If I’d been an Escherian God before, a distorted phantasm of my own egotism, now I was a pathetic GQ wannabe, Hugh Hefner at 28 but without a bevy of beauties with flotation devices implanted permanently in their mammaries, clinging to my elbows wanting to fuck me until my dick was blue, Antonio Banderas without the long hair and without the permanent suntan. I’m an attractive guy, to be sure, but with my hand like that, paused at the top of my hair, I looked so pathetically beautiful that I wanted to splash my cappuccino on my reflection... which I did, or tried to do, but it fell flat and splashed on the paint at the base of the cafe. My reflection looked down at the cappuccino and laughed at me, or at least that’s what I guess that’s what my reflection did, since that’s what I did.
I looked down at the street, imagining a woman with too many bags galumphing through the madding crowd, making her tedious way back to her hotel. My heart went out to her. There had been something in that pool, behind M.C. Escher’s dreamscape, that had stirred me into action, even though my body was still sitting at the cafe with Steve wondering how he, by himself or with the band of Gen X ruffians that he managed to rally together, would overthrow the monolith that was the collusionary bipartisan megacorporation known as the United States government.
Steve considered the brown stain that was pooling up next to his foot and shook his head. “I’m not sure the PoMo Party needs vandals such as you, whose response to calls for action are mindless violence.”
I stood up then. “Look, I really have to go now, I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Steve looked down the sidewalk, and for a minute there was nobody on the sidewalk but the lame racehorse, two blocks down now, as if Steve in his overwhelming disappointment in me had cleared out all of the obstacles. But when he looked back at me, his lips pursed, his eyebrow raised, the masses were back in full force, pouring out into the street as they passed the cafe, then back on the sidewalk.
“Fine,” he said. “But tomorrow, be ready for the rebellion. We can’t wait forever.”
I smiled insincerely. “Sure.” But we would wait forever, wouldn’t we? Or, at least, we’d wait until we thought the idea of a rebellion wasn’t so great after all. Just like every generation before us had. We were Generation Redux, after all, and Generation Excuse, and as long as it was somebody else’s fault and as long as we were doing what every generation was supposed to do—quietly rebelling while publicly assimilating—we were safe in our delusion that we were somehow different and safe in our security that we were somehow the same.
I tossed a quarter down on the table for the waitress, noticed the stain on the wall and threw down another quarter out of conscience, and made my way into the crowd, getting swept up easily into their faceless mass. A force of entropy on roller blades slid gracefully against the stream, giggling apologetically as she slammed into my shoulder and then slipping off towards the cafe.
I turned to watch her disappear, realizing with a growing sense of unease that she was a good decade younger than I was. Her shorts and T-shirt (tied together just above the pierced belly button) became black burlap robes, and I swore I was blinded by the glint of the scythe in the sunlight, but I blinked and it was gone. She turned once, feeling my eyes on the back of her head, and licked her lips playfully, leaning on the light pole just feet away from Mr. PoMo Party himself, and I sensed my eyes going unwillingly to her breasts, which pouted, being unrestrained by a bra and wishing to be similar unrestrained by the T-shirt. My mind went even further down, to the V at the top of her crossed legs, and for a moment the scent of her musk filled my nose.
It was about the time that I realized she’d wrapped her leg around the light pole and was gratuitously fucking it while staring at me that it struck me that when I first lost my virginity—in the back seat of Mr. Hemphill’s Caddy, with Belinda Hemphill excitedly impaling herself on me, my semen eventually trickling down under the upholstery—this Goddess on Roller Skates was just still teething, and my premature mid-life crisis swept over me, my growing erection turning flaccid in response to the faintness in my head.
The vixen threw her head back and laughed, before skating on against the tide.
I shook my head to clear it, realizing self-consciously that I’d been standing still in the middle of the crowded sidewalk.
I turned back and continued into the swell, fearing that my heelless gimp had somehow eluded me now, despite her diminished pace. The tortoise had evaded the hare. Then again, I had no real sense of how much time had elapsed in the real world, my thoughts stretching time out or shrinking it down as it suited them.
Moving swiftly through the crowd, I thought I caught sight of the red hair bobbing unevenly a block ahead when a voice caught my ear.
“Hey, bud, how’s it goin’?”
I stopped and turned to the storefront. Aleek’s Fruit Shop, it was. Home of the freshest exotic fruits in the city: kiwis, starfruits, mangoes, cactus pears, pomegranates, guavas, gooseberries, even some fresh and illegal lychees in the back. Aleek himself was standing out front, leaning against the apple stand and munching a yellow delicious.
I smiled politely and moved my head to indicate that I was in a hurry, but he either didn’t see the movement or chose to ignore it. “C’mon in, friend,” he said, “I have something for you.”
His accent was thickly Mediterranean, and in that accent and that inflection, his statement would have seemed ominous if I hadn’t known Aleek so well. Nonetheless, my thoughts fled to the hit awaiting me, one of Aleek’s cronies waiting with a silencer to blow out my brains for some arbitrary reason, or some mistaken identity.
I smiled politely again and shook my head. “I’m sorry, I’ll be back later, I really need to hurry.”
He shrugged and tsked. “You won’t need them later. You need them now.”
I looked at him again. The fear that pervades portions of my generation is that we are somehow trapped in a Scott Adams Adventure game, that everything is scripted out and if we don’t spray the marble frog with lemonade then it won’t hop away and drop the key that is tied by a filament around its neck, and then we’ll never be able to get into the white room and find the paint roller that the ogre wants before he’ll give up the asparagus spears. It echoes through our movies, carefully structured plots wherein the villain doesn’t attack until the heroes have the correct gun. In the characteristic film, Falling Down, the antihero protagonist gets progressively larger weapons in a surreal vision of Doom in realtime. “We are not the same. I am an American. You are a sick fuck.” But is there a difference, in the end? Is there really a difference?
And in saying that I became a member of Generation Detox, Generation Exile, wondering in the final decantation if the reruns hadn’t gotten so dull that the posing nonsense of redux and deconstructionism had eaten themselves up like the snake at the end of the universe that bites its own tail and in so doing holds the world into shape. We’re so lost that the lost generation can’t find us, my mind going back to Steve sitting at the cafe table thinking the same impure thoughts about that eminently fuckable teen rollerblader but unable to generate enough of an aura to even attract her attention.
And after it all here was Aleek, whose eyes did not fill with the sort of post-apocalyptic stream of consciousness mine did, just trying to get through his day, his Greek fuzz peppered with gray, offering me something or other with the tone of voice of a Ceasarean mystic warning me of Brutus’ blades. Would I, like the ill-fated Julius, turn from the soothsayer? No, I chose not to, and I silently followed Aleek into his shop.
“I see you running,” Aleek was saying as he led me in, his rich accent flowing into the noise of the crowd. “I think to myself, what would a man like him be running for? I know this is the time you sit at the cafe, that it is not yet time for you to leave.” He turned to look at me, smiling. “And then, I know what it is, it is lust in your eyes, that you chase a woman.”
I shrugged my assent.
He turned forward again as he moved behind his cash counter. “And I have for you today these samples, a new and obscure fruit, that I have set aside. So I think, this would make for you a nice gift for the lady, no?”
I frowned, a little suspicious as he handed me a small paper bag from behind his counter, but I took it nonetheless. I started to open the bag when he put his hand on mine.
“No, let it be a surprise for you as well as for her.” I looked at him but he smiled sweetly, and my trust in him replaced my concern that this was some sort of trick. “Now go,” he directed.
So I thanked him and slipped back out of the store and into the sidewalk, sensing again that feeling that I was in an adventure game, that somewhere there was some pimple-faced teenage boy typing out my actions, each of which has been carefully orchestrated by a full cadre of pimple-faced teenage programmers.
I found myself asking what my final goal was. What precious jewel had I been sent to get? What great dragon was I to slay? What alien invasion was I to deter, or was I instead the aliens sent to elude Earth defenses?
Then I bumped into a woman looking at an antique marble frog at Rebecca Silverman Antiques and More, and I was startled back into reality. I apologized under my breath, and she cast me a look that would have burned a hole through a brick, such was its ferocity. I caught my reflection on the flat chrome of her brooch, and I seemed so very small in that moment. Her nostrils flared, and her hand shifted as if she were about to throw the frog at me not for the crime of having bumped into her but for the crime of disrupting her deluded reverie that the frog was instead some Prince Charming and that she wasn’t a middle aged biddy but was instead some Cinderella.
So I muttered another meaningless apology and dodged back into the crowd and she slipped back into a fairyland vision. As I turned away, I swore I saw her wearing a red hood and carrying a basket, and a swore I saw the glint of wolf’s eyes hovering in the window of the antique shop, but it was just a rabbit stole, or maybe it was Rebecca Silverman herself, adjust the display in the window and overseeing her small empire of the aged and the aging.
At this point, I’d abandoned all hope of finding my gimp. Certainly her STEP-step STEP-step STEP-step gallumphing had led her any number of ways now, down any number of tourist laden streets, and I hadn’t even a name to call out to her.
For the first time, I wondered why it was that I felt so compelled to find her. There she had fallen, a fish from the river of pedestrians flopping on the airless sidewalk, gasping for air before righting herself and getting swept back in. I remember sitting in the park once, watching a squirrel chittering in the trees above me and marveling at the gracefulness of the beasts, their ability to pace along the narrowest and weakest of branches. I was pulled from my reveries when I heard a thump on the picnic table next to me. I turned, surprised, and there was the squirrel, on its back, the tree which it had fallen from still dancing back and forth. The squirrel chittered at me menacingly, as menacingly as it could in its sheer embarrassment, and then dashed off into the bushes.
The fallen woman hadn’t even bothered to chitter menacingly.
So why was I following her? Out of pity? Or had Aleek been right, was there lust in my eyes? Maybe I had gotten so sick of listening to Saint Stephen and his Plan for National Redemption that any diversion at all was a welcome event. Following a woman with too many shopping bags and lacking a high heel, but only one high heel, was certainly a diversion, but I couldn’t deny that Aleek had also been right, that I was finding myself somehow seduced by the imperfection of it all, the missing heel, the wisp of disobedient hair, the sunglasses which sat not quite level on her nose. I had wanted her, or someone like her, but it was not right for people like me to admit that they had any sort of real love for the universe. Women, like everything else, existed in a postmodern world of fuck ’em and leave ’em, push them off and let them roll away on their rollerblades to the next dumb fucker.
And the redhead was not the sort of woman that you fucked and left. She was the sort of woman you seduced, or who seduced you, and then you made love on the beach... made love, not sex. The mantra of a generation before had been “Make love, not war”; the mantra of Generation Sux and Generation Exhausted was “make sex, not love”. The world was to be used up and thrown away, and bleary-eyed in the morning, we asked ourselves aloud, in a PC haze, who it was that was using the world up and throwing it away. We were the mocking cynics who were destroying the world through our own indifference, and we were the mocking cynics who wondered who was consuming it. First sex was violence, and then there was no more sex in our violence at all. We were burying ourselves in graves that we had dug, and we were bitching about it. When people run in circles, it’s such a mad world.
And processing all of these thoughts, I came to the same conclusion that every other member of my generation would eventually have to come to: deconstructionism is paradoxical, just like meta-anything is paradoxical, because the best practitioners are just as redundant as the people they’re deconstructing, and the whole process becomes hopelessly circular.
We’d taken the act of copulation and made it a political protest, a philosophical protest, a societal protest, an act of vandalism in the Gender Wars where some women actually had the audacity to say that no woman in the history of the universe has ever enjoyed he sexual act, and some other women actually had the tenacity to make the first group of women famous, and men actually had the pure temerity to ridicule all of those women because deep in their overly sensitive hearts (hearts which the ballbreaking Feminazis, as a pudgy politico wannabe who couldn’t get laid without being famous called them, said didn’t exist), they were afraid that no woman had in fact ever wanted to have sex and that men were in fact rapists, one and all.
It was in this emotional stagnation that I found myself wallowing, convinced with everyone of my comrades that sex, like politics, was something best left to the cynic.
There comes a time in every stagnant pool that one swimmer or another finally shouts out, “Enough bitching!” and swims to shore.
And so I actually stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and shouted out, “Enough bitching!” The crowd squalling around me burped a little as a few of them considered me, some alien lifeform beamed down to disrupt their daily and touristly affairs.
My next urge was to throw the paper sack in my hand through the nearest window, and as I turned, I lifted the sack over my head and spied myself in the glass of the shoe store window. Here I was, enraged, Michael Douglas with his gun high overhead in a McDonald’s, wanting breakfast at a minute after ten, caught up in a world of hyperbole.
And there she was, right where I should have thought she would be: Main Street Shoes, trying on a pair of black pumps, her crippled high heel shoe sitting on the chair next to her, next to her sunglasses.
I laughed aloud, which seemed to elicit more fear from the sidewalk swell than the exclamation moments earlier had.
I imagined myself making a dramatic entrance, standing in the doorway like a postmodern Errol Flynn, but now that I had found her, it was just as it had been before: my feet were cemented to the concrete below them.
She stood up, tentatively bouncing on the pumps before pacing over to the mirror to look at them, then back to her seat, then a few times across the store. The clerk looked expectantly at her, then noticed me and said something to the redhead, who turned to the window and squinted at me before shaking her head and looking back at her feet in the mirror.
Now I felt like a pervert, a peeping Tom who had a foot fetish, and I felt the eyes of every other person on the sidewalk staring at me, which made them peeping Toms as well, except that that thought didn’t really comfort me. I felt as if I ‘d been cast into a late season Twilight Zone episode.
But when I looked around me, everybody seemed oblivious to my very existence, except for their occasional attempts not to run into me.
I stepped forward then, and watched in hesitant surprise as the world tilted away from its normal angle, my left shoulder searing in pain as something hit me, and then my right one screaming as it hit the pavement. Aleek’s bag rolled through the mass of legs to the patch of grass right next to the landing of the shoe store; I didn’t roll anywhere at all.
I turned to my back and blinked up into the sky. A vaguely familiar face smiled at me.
“Heya, sexy, whatcha doin’ lying in the sidewalk?” It was the rollerblader.
I blinked again, my head spinning mildly. “Pardon me?”
“Oh yeah,” she laughed. “I guess I knocked you over. Let me help you up.” She held out a hand, which I took, but as she pulled, she toppled over, her wheels slipping out from under her.
She laughed, sitting on her butt in the middle of the sidewalk. “What’s that, cutie? Trying to seduce me right here?” She threw her head back and spread her legs out playfully. “Well, all right, loverboy, if you want, I’ll do you.”
I stood up, brushing myself off. “Get up,” I told her. “And don’t be ridiculous.” In my mind, I was already pounding away at her, her hands clutching at my headboard as I made her scream with orgasm after orgasm, her jaunty breasts flying around madly. “I don’t want to sleep with you,” I said.
“Sure, pops, whatever. I guess that’s why you keep running into me.” She hopped to her feet and pirouetted on one wheel. “Well, pops, if you ever change your mind, knock me over again.” She winked and rolled off into the crowd.
I watched her roll away, adjusting my clothes, watching her ass as it bobbed with each sweep of a foot. Another voice brought me out of my daydreaming.
“Excuse me,” it said. “Did you drop this?”
I looked to the voice. It was my redhead—for she had become my redhead—holding Aleek’s paper sack. I looked at her, and this time Escher didn’t look back. Her sunglasses hung from her blouse.
“Yeah, I did, but...”
“But?” She looked at me curiously. She shifted the bags which she now held on one arm.
“But they’re yours, actually.” I looked down at the sidewalk.
“Oh,” she said simply, considering it for a minute. “Interesting.” She shrugged and opened the bag. A moment later she smiled. “Cherries! I love cherries!” She looked up at me. “How did you know I liked cherries?”
I looked in the bag and furrowed my brow, then looked at her. I bit my lip thoughtfully. “So, do you want to go get some espresso or something?”
She shrugged and closed the bag. “I could go for some iced tea right now, sure.”
I privately raised an eyebrow. “Interesting,” I said, and we were off.