Café Society

I pointed out fengi’s site to eyeteeth, who immediately found a wonderful quote I’d missed, that he pulled from Dawn Powell. It sums up why I hang around coffee houses, and why so many friends of mine do also.

There were people, and Dalzell was one of them, who were born café people, claustrophobes unable to endure a definite place or plan. The café was a sort of union station where they might loiter, missing trains and boats as they liked, postponing the final decision to go anyplace or do anything until there was no longer need for decision.

One came here because one couldn’t decide where to dine, whom to telephone, what to do. At least one had not yet committed oneself to one parlor or one group for the evening; the door of freedom was still open. One might be lonely, frustrated or heartbroken, but at least one wasn’t sewed up. Someone barely known might come into the café bringing marvelous strangers from Rome, London, Hollywood, anyplace at all, and one joined forces, went places after the café closed that one had never heard of before and never would again, talked strange talk, perhaps kissed strange lips to be forgotten next day. Here was haven for those who craved privacy in the midst of sociability, for those whose hearts sank with fear as the door of a charming home (their own or anyone’s) closed them in with a known intimate little group; here might be the chance companion for the lonely one who shuddered at the fixed engagement, ever dodging the little red book as a trap for the unwary. Here, in this café, were blessed doors strategically placed so that flight was always possible at first glimpse of an undesired friend or foe’s approach. Here was procrastinator’s paradise, the spot for homehaters to hang their hats, here was the stationary cruise ship into which the hunted family man might leap without passport or visa. Here in the Julien it was possible to maintain heavenly anonymity if one chose, here was the spot where nothing beyond good behavior was expected of one, here was safety from the final decision, but since the doors closed at midnight sharply, a bare two hours from now, Dalzell began wondering from where his solution would come. At this very moment in the dining room there might be someone he had known and forgotten years ago, now risen to great consequence in the world, and this person would pause at the café entrance to cry out, “Dalzell Sloane, as I live and breathe, the very person I’m looking for!” Or a theatre party, dropping in at the last minute for a nightcap, would carry him off to someone’s apartment for midnight music, and one o’clock would pass, two o’clock, three o’clock—he would have missed the train, not the first time his future had been determined by negatives. But then what about tomorrow? Ah well, even if nothing else would be accomplished, at least he would have closed a door.

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