It was one of the best weekends Hank had had in a very long while. As long as he could remember. Ok, so the Cubs lost on Friday, but after the game, he and Lissa took the El up to Davis Street, picked up a bottle of New Zealand Shiraz at Evanston’s First and three slices of pizza at Gigio’s and went back to her place, which, to Hank, the few times he’d been there, always seemed like home.
There was something about the pillows everywhere—all sizes and shapes, tassled and no tassles—and the thick red blanket thrown over the sofa and her things hanging up to dry on a wooden clothes rack in the bath tub. Here and there, the subtle fragrance of Prada perfume, Lissa’s only known luxury. Everything surrounded him and swallowed him up in a confusion of softness.
The next thing Hank knew, he was waking up on Lissa’s couch to the smell of her coffee and the sound of her padding around the kitchen making breakfast. Saturday morning pancakes. How perfect was that?
He remembered that they’d started to talk a little business over dinner, but sitting there, picnic style, eating pizza, got them giggling and so one thing led to another and then another. A few months earlier, a day or so earlier, sensing that pending progression of one thing to another, that sweet slippery slope, Hank would have made up some song and dance excuse about needing to get home to feed Sherman and he would have hit the trail faster than a startled squid disappears in a puff of ink. But not this time. Good old Sherman was the last thing on Hank’s mind.
Over the weekend, the café was busy, but not crazy busy. Sure, business was up. They’d inaugurated the café’s new open mic Saturday Night Story Slam—featuring new short fiction read by local writers—which Helen had predicted would be a huge success, and was, in spite of the weather. People were starting to talk about the Great Evanston Coffee and Barista Challenge that was only a little over week away. But otherwise, it was the café’s first quiet weekend since January, meaning there were, curiously, no new countdown notes and the guy from Yada Yada Java had gone strangely silent.
On Monday morning, the professor stopped by the café for his coffee and the Times. He didn’t seem as gruff as usual.
“Hank around?” he asked Lissa.
“Everything ok, Professor?” she asked.
“You mean other than wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, and book burnings in Florida?”
“Hank’s out back. I’ll go get him for you.”
The professor folded up the newspaper and told Hank that he’d heard Jimmy and Leila’s little theory about how it must have been him writing all those notes.
“Jimmy D. I’ll tell you what that ‘D’ stands for—and it’s not ‘donuts’—it’s Deductio ad absurdum! With his imagination he can spin whole cloth out of old yarns. It’s a Fig Newton of his imagination!”
“He meant well. He was just trying to help. Anyway, take it easy on Jimmy, professor. Leila’s just dumped him and’s gone back to her ex. Besides, that was her theory, not Jimmy’s.”
“You ever hear of Habermas?”
“The German philosopher? Sure. I mean it’s been a while. Why?”
“Over the weekend, I told a colleague about your café and what was going on here and she reminded me of Habermas’ piece, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. He had this theory that three hundred years ago that European coffeehouses provided the perfect conditions for open public discussion, which the German ties to the origins of democracy.”
“I thought democracy started in Greece,” Hank said.
“Look, you’re too young to remember, but in the 1950s and ‘60s American coffeehouses were where poets howled beatnik poetry and college guys with beards played guitars and sang protest songs. Now, there’s a coffee house on almost every block of Evanston.”
“So what are you suggesting, Professor?”
“I’m not suggesting anything. I’m telling you that of all the cafés in Evanston, yours has some kind of spark. There’s something going on here that money can’t buy. Don’t you see it? Good God, man!” The professor shook his head slowly. “Wake up and smell the toast.”
“The roses,” Hank said, correcting him.
“No, the toast,” the professor said. “Judging by the smoke I can see over your shoulder, it looks like a bagel got stuck in your toaster.”
Episode 27 will appear Friday.