high holy day
A dozen years ago, I spent Easter night by myself at the now-disappeared Cafe Septieme. (Oh, Septieme, two of your three old incarnations are missed. It was Version Two that I loved the most. You died before you died when you painted your iconic red walls yellow. There was no point in returning after that.) Septieme was a wonderful place to be alone among people. I would bring a book, a notebook, a pen and a pack of cigarettes and unselfconsciously spread out in a booth. Daylight would fade to dark, coffee would turn into wine. Watching, scribbling, dreaming, smoking, longing. Septieme worked magic with longing, alchemized it, made it something temporarily harmonious, something pleasant to wear for a while. This is one of the reasons people would stay for hours on end, I think. Everyone you knew gravitated there, too, so you'd be alone for a while, doing the thing you came to do, and then a friend would roll up and join you, and then a friend of theirs would join in, et cetera, until some never-before-seen grouping would have accrued. Then one would leave, and another, and then your friend, and then you'd be alone again, doing your thing there in the airy space between the tall red walls, in your red booth, with its table all covered in white paper.
Easter night, 1998, dark, getting late. Septieme, as usual, has done something nice with my loneliness so I'm reluctant to leave, but I leave uplifted. In my car, the radio is tuned to the classical music station. I don't know what's playing, but it's clearly something holy, and it takes the baton from Septieme and keeps my mood afloat. The world goes into slow motion, a little. I leave Capitol Hill, driving down Denny. At the bottom of the hill, two goth girls are walking hand in hand. From the minute I see them, I'm suspended in some kind of transcendent state. They look to me like angels. I feel overwhelmed with tenderness for them. They're moving in slow motion, swinging their hands. They're friends, or they're in love. Goodness radiates from them, putting the lie to their angry, dark clothes. I'm charmed, spellbound, and from a distance within myself I'm aware that I'm in an unusual state, and I wonder how long it will last. I don't ever want it to end. Stopped at a red light at the foot of Denny, I see the line of cars facing me from the opposite direction, with their pairs of bright headlights. I can feel the presence of each driver, and each one is as good, as angelic as these girls holding hands. An angel at every wheel. I note this, and noting it I get the feeling that this unusual state is going to hold for a while. The quiet joy surges in a little triumphant wave. I'm not going to drive home. I'm going to drive around the city for as long as this lasts. I want to see every person I can. Each person I see is exquisite and makes me so happy.
It's not just people. It's everything. Buildings. Banks! I'm struck with tenderness for the very concept of a bank! The concept of money! People throughout history, putting their heads together, coming up with ideas for how we can do this down here. -Shall we try money? -Where will we put it? -Should we keep it at home? -Wait, I have an idea. -Good idea! -We'll need a building. -Let's get some builders! -I'm a builder. -Me, too. -Excellent. You do the building. It's not just buildings, either. Little planted strips strike me as so joyfully, unnecessarily beautiful, a tribute to the innate goodness of humanity. -What will we do with this in-between space? -Let's plant something in it! -We'll need a gardener. -I'm a gardener. -Great! Have at it. I can feel the presence of so many benevolent hands in nearly everything my eye alights on. An enormous, well-intentioned collaboration. I think, "Oh, look, an apartment building! Who's sleeping in there? Tired angels after their long days. Sleep well, angels! I'm sorry our contact is this short, just me driving by." I'm only sorry it's late on a Sunday night, which means fewer people out and about for me to adore. Otherwise, I drive through Fremont, rejoicing, drive up 99, all glad purpose, curl around to Wallingford, full of hope, and head down 45th. A donut shop. Winchell's. One person behind the counter, one in front bending down to look at the donuts. Pure joy, to the point where I blow some kind of internal fuse and the transcendence begins to wear off. I drive around for another half hour or so, soaking in the residue, beginning to miss this experience already, starting to long for it.
Happy Easter, angels.