“The way to words is short and sharp. Extended narrative is for the brain-dead bottom feeders, sucking in on the creativity of the great, like the remora removing parasites from the great sharks. There is no imagination, only the next effluvium removal, cleaning the so called great authors, and enabling their slipstream to blandness.”
So spoke the creative, sucking in hard on his cigarette and stubbing out the remains in the already overfull ashtray before jamming his fedora, already antiquated, on his head and loping out of the café, heavy grey herringbone flopping around his calves, exposing grey trousers and brogues, in defiance of the rule.
We looked on, feeling like hippies in the recent presence of the President.
“Yeah, well, he’s a revolutionary, man.” Said my companion. I looked over at the fellow, rat-faced would be putting it kindly, somehow he had wooed and won a lady of some class and sophistication, and their first child was on its way. “I don’t do revolution anymore.”
“Your wife is a lawyer, you haven’t rebelled for years.” I rejoined. “You’re part of the establishment now.”
“You ain’t got no call to be sayin’ stuff like that.”
“You ain’t got no call to be imitating ‘the common man’.” I took up my coffee cup, “So I rather think you should desist, do you not?”
“As you wish,” said he, resuming his more polished tones, “it is somewhat galling to be “called out” by a man who couldn’t write more than a column’s worth of prose though. He doesn’t have the exclusive on creativity, though his medium would claim to be exclusive on everything else, given the chance.”
To my greater shame I snorted at this remark, finding it somewhat amusing in its own right, considering the limited qualities of the periodical for which our mutual companion wrote.
My own proclivities for extended dialogue and prose aside, I often felt that the dialogue created by the media was crude and unsophisticated, had I known what was to come I would have held the sophistication of the time to my bosom as a precious jewel; but we cannot know the future, we can only guess at it.
“You’re easily pleased.” Said my companion.
“Sebastien, I have had little to laugh about lately, allow me my amusement. This business with the President.”
“Yes well. It’s all rather serious.”
“That was a terrible speech on television.”
“Yes.” He paused and waved over the waitress vaguely. This was one of two who seemed to be perpetually on shift, and this lady was the archetype of old and sassy, but with dignity; a sharp contrast to the other young and pretty, with big eyes, and almost nothing behind them. I preferred the former of the two, she had a clue.
This clue she had right now was that we were thinking about more important things than food, and as the most cynical of us had left, taking with him his smokes and resultant fog, she came, poured coffee and removed the ashtray. After a moment she came back and wiped the table, and then asked,
“Eating or not eating you guys?”
“Eating.” We replied, in unison. “Please.” She nodded and touched my shoulder in sympathy about our absent companion and then moved behind the counter again, shouting,
“Two writer’s specials!”
“Coming up, Maud.” Came the shouted reply.
Sebastien turned to me again.
“He’s wrong you know.”
“Is he? Shouldn’t we keep it snappy? Isn’t there an argument that says ‘we’re in a hurry, let’s get the information out there’?” I took a breath, letting it out slowly. “I know I get exercised about these things, and I know he’s deliberately provocative, but sometimes I look at the work and think, ‘Wow, how much of my life have I given to it?’”
“Sam, you overthink things, but you’re not like him, you’re reflective, your whole life is about longer thoughts.”
“But people want to know now, the bottom line, the real stuff. People want answers, and I’m not giving them any, not in any of it.”
“You’re not meant to, not according to your own values, and that’s all that matters, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I mean, what if nobody reads it? Is it still worth anything, is it saying anything? What if everyone who picks it up decides it’s too heavy to hold even.” I sipped the hot coffee again, and then drained it because it wasn’t as hot as I’d thought. “I mean, what if no one, absolutely no one reads it, does it even exist after I’ve finished it?”
Sebastien sighed. “Someone will read it. Someone reads everything eventually.”
“Yeah, before the sun burns out I mean.”
“Someone has to read it. They catalogue things at the Library of Congress, don’t they? Someone’s got the read it there.”
“No Seb, they just ask me what it’s about.”
“Oh well, someone will read it.”
“And if they do, will they understand it?”
“Sam, you’re constructing failure here.” He sipped his coffee, and the food came, Maud holding the tray by one edge in her hideously strong grip. Marcie, her companion, always had to hold this same tray by placing her hand underneath it, often holding it high for stability, often looking like a caryatid, holding aloft the sustenance of the world. Maud set out the plates, cutlery and condiments in silence, nodding at each of us as we looked with relish upon the riches before us.
She returned shortly with the coffee pot again.
“Honestly, I don’t know why we don’t just get a pot at the table for you two, you drink so much.”
“Now then, Maud, we don’t get enough of you as it is.” Said Seb, touching her hip. She bounced his hand off with a sharp wiggle and leaned down to run her finger down his jawbone, “Now don’t you get fresh with me, Seb, I know you gotta missus workin’ herself to the bone for to be keepin’ you in reportin’ and I don’t wanna tell her her fellas bitin’ off more’n he can chew.” She was smiling and twinkling as she said it, and I knew she’d be laughing about it with Tina in the morning.
“Yes, ma’am.” Said Seb, but he made damn sure he watched her sashay away as she walked, with extra sass.
“Why do you do that?” I asked. “It’s not going anywhere.”
“I know, and so does Maud, and Tina, so what’s the question about?”
“Appearances. Someone’s always watching in this town.”
“You’re too uptight.”
“Don’t make ammunition for them to tarnish you with.”
“No-one’s paying attention to us, a writer and a hack.”
“Who’s the hack?”
“I’m not even going to grace that with a response.” And for a while, Seb was true to his word, attacking his plate with relish, and some relish on the side. He looked up at me now and again as he ate, but was otherwise silent, working the food into his ample mouth and barely chewing. I took up my fork and cut the eggs, riding atop a bed of pancakes, and bacon into bite size pieces, and then switched my fork, eating the food slowly, while Seb looked for all the world like some sort industrial disposal unit in human form.
A young fellow tried to rob the place, with a gun even, but Maud beaned him with a ladle before he could even finish his announcement. The police came and went, taking the young man with them, loudly protesting his innocence and speak of brutality, certainly Maud was not gentle with the ladle, and the police insisted on taking a picture of the ladle with a tag on it to be admitted into evidence. They did not insist, I noted, on actually taking the ladle physically into evidence as it was clearly felt that some physicality might follow the acquisition of the physical object.
Seb was facing away, but I was required to give a statement.
“That young man there tried to rob the place with that gun and Maud beaned him with the ladle.” I said. The officer asked if I would like to add any more to my statement, how did I know the suspected assailant was going to rob the place?
“The young man started making a speech about how he was robbing the place and how we should all lie down, I’m not sure why he wanted us to lie down officer, because Maud beaned him the ladle.”
And then the officer asked if we were scared or disturbed in any way, and would we like counselling? I replied with the facts as I knew them.
“No officer, we were not disturbed in any way, because Maud beaned him with the ladle.”
He left us alone after that, during which time Seb finished his platter. The young fellow was screaming about brutality and how he was going to get his own back on Maud, who raised the betagged Ladle, evidence, over head for a good swing, and the dialogue changed to one of possible brutality by little old ladies with kitchen implements, and how the police should protect persons in custody from those abuses. The officers seemed disinclined to take too much notice however, and the whining stopped shortly thereafter, but there was no bonging sound immediately beforehand, so I assumed that the young man had merely run out of things to say and not been the subject of further pacification by soup spoon.
Maud came over with the coffee pot soon after.
“Stupid kids.” She said.
“Quite.” Replied Seb. “Have you any of that cake left?”
“Ah,” he said, smiling, “I note that you have chosen to practice your “restriction to just the facts” Maud, after our dialogue last week.
“Well I know you want some otherwise you wouldn’t be asking about it, but until you say so there is no way I’m bringing you cake, you just finished a three-person breakfast. And there was almost an attempted robbery.”
“Surely,” I intervened, “it was an actual attempt, as in, he tried to rob the place.”
“If he’d have been serious, he’d a come when I wasn’t here wouldn’t he?” She sucked at her teeth, “That boy wanted to get caught. What is wrong wit you?”
“And what if he’d come while Marcie was here?”
“Uhuh, that girl is a thrower, boy wouldn’t know what hit him, he was lucky it was me.”
“I see. Cake?”
“I got your cake right here.” She said, loping off.
“She’s upset.” Seb said.
“Don’t say damn fool things to her then.”
“It’s not that bad. I didn’t know Marcie was a thrower. Bet that’s exciting.” I shook my head at this. We’re not tabloid journalists, get your head out of the gutter.”
“Alright Sam, calm down. This sort of thin happens every day round here.”
“I’m quite calm I assure you.”
“What were we talking about before?” I asked.
“You’re a hack, and I’m a writer.”
“Hmm, I’m pretty sure it’s the other way around.”
“You got me.” Said Seb, laughing. “Look TV’s here now, the short narrative in short form, how are you going to compete with that?”
“I’m not.” Maud arrived back with the cake and the coffee pot again. “Reading won’t die, it will change I’m sure, but it won’t die.”
“But if everything’s short form, can we truly say anything important?”
“I don’t agree with your premise.” Maud gestured with the pot and I held my cup up for her. She gave me an old fashioned look.
“Table.” I dutifully put the cup down and she refilled it, saying, “If you want to say something really serious that’s what university is for, isn’t it?”
“But I want to say things to the masses.”
“Then write a novel that fits into a paperback, that’s not short. I love my stories.”
“Everybody makes any good story into movie eventually.”
“That will just make you rich.” Said Maud. “Don’t complain about it, be rich and write more. You can say more and more quickly than Hollywood can shoot a movie I’d say. I’ve heard you both talk at length while sitting here drinking all the coffee, couldn’t fit everything you’ve said into a movie.”
“Well no, Maud.” I began, but truth told I was a bit lost for words. Maud made a good point, it is my view that the written word can never be replaced by pictures on a screen, no matter how many may flicker past in the darkness. A picture is not always worth a thousand words. I must have been thinking aloud, because Sebastien replied,
“I think that’s right, no frame of a cinematograph,” I held a finger up,
“We call them films now you old show off.”
“Yes, well no frame of whatever you’d like to call it can tell the whole story, so I hardly think any illustration could do justice to a well written piece now, could it?”
“And there’s framing.” Interjected Maud. We both looked at her. “What, I read more than the funny pages.”
“Sorry Maud, yes of course you’re right.” She looked at us both and shuffled off, taking the precious pot and a few of our thoughts.
“Point being, right now we’re the gatekeepers, we speak to the masses. There’ll come a day when the masses speak to each other. What will words be worth then?”
“I don’t know, Seb.” I said wearily. “I don’t know.”