March 31st, 2009


Magic in Starbucks

So I'm sitting in the Starbucks at 52nd and 8th Ave, brooding over the pacing of Chapter 3 of The Freedom Maze when an old guy in the fringes and black hat and coat of a seriously Orthodox Jew. He sits down at the next table, smiles beatifically through his huge white beard at me, and says "Hello!"

Nothing daunted, I say "hello" back.

"I am from Tel Aviv," he says. "Here for conference."

"That's nice," I say. "My aunt lives in Tel Aviv"--it's Ellen's aunt, but never mind, this is polite conversation, not Truth or Dare.

"Sprechen zie Deutche?" he asks anxiously.

"No," I say. "French, a little."

"Ah. French. You are teacher?" gesturing at my notebook and the papers spread out on the table.

"Sometimes," I say. "This is a book I'm writing."

"Thank you," he says, beaming in a way that makes it crystal clear he hasn't understood a word I've said.

There follows a rather surreal conversation, in which I try to tell him that I'm a writer and he inquires after my marital status and whether I have any children (apart from those I obviously teach). Finally, he holds his hand out to me, palm up and flat, and indicates that he'd like me to do the same. When I do, he takes it, examines the palm, presses briefly with one broad, extremely clean finger at the base of my thumb, "Hmms" like a doctor taking a pulse, grins broadly at me, says "Light!" And then gets up, thanks me gravely for the conversation, and departs, without, as far as I know, ordering so much as a glass of water.

This kind of thing does happen in other cities, right? To other people?