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Whatnots by Ulf Cronquist
Recital by Author
'The Smokers' by X-8

'The Smokers' by X-8Greek Conversation, Take 2

He sits down with a large shoulder bag slowly sinking toward the floor to his left as he bends his knees and straightens his back into the uncomfortable café chair. As he presses his forefinger against the middle part of his sunglasses to correct their position on his nose, the waiter appears. He pulls down his glasses with the forefinger and orders a small cup of instant coffee. He straightens his back tightly once more in the chair and looks out at the ocean beneath the café and remains with the blue distance. Pulling out his left arm to his side, he brings it down to the bag to adjust a side-stripe and then pulls the strap tight. With his other hand, simultaneously, he reaches for his cigarettes in the breast pocket of his shirt. He holds the pack out together with a light blue lighter and bends backward, lets go of the strap of the bag and bends backward further, puts the cigarette in his mouth and lights it up. Every move so far has indicated presence. He continues to smoke the cigarette while watching the underside of the parasol as if looking for a weave of new possibilities in there, one or two flies jumping in the white and red pattern, maybe escaping from their true insects’ mission for the moment.

The waiter appears with the tray balanced on his left hand. He puts down the coffee cup on its plate, a bowl of sugar and some milk, a glass of water, and the bill under the ashtray. As he is about to leave, the man nods at him and asks him something. He puts his head to the side, waiting for an answer. The waiter nods, head tilted slightly to the other side. He begins to speak, lips moving fast, bald head shivering at the speed of speech. “Yes, the ferry leaves at twelve thirty.” And: “Yes, it is a wonderful day because our football team won their game yesterday…” He says phrases like these and then the conversation continues where the waiter talks slightly more than the sitting man.

“And here,” Kurtz said, “it is here that we must begin to be very careful with the details.” He froze the video film of the man and the waiter and then let it advance in stills.

“Authentic needs are those needs that are always met by the universe.”

Kurtz read the lips of the man having his coffee at the table.

“Did you see that?”

“Yes,” I murmured. “It’s like he is waiting for his soul to catch up with his body, like he is waiting for his speech to catch up with what he has said.”

“It is a concrete comment. Nothing can be more serious or spiritual than to purify your soul before you open your mouth.” Kurtz froze the picture again.

“No, nothing,” I murmured.

“And yet these are only the words, the words, that we can notice. Let us now look at some of the bodily movements.”

He started the still advance function again. The waiter was talking, his lips were moving, and we could not see what he was saying now. He stood still on the concrete tiles, both feet firmly against the ground. The man sipped his coffee, smoked his cigarette, he adjusted his sunglasses, nodded, talked a little, put his head sideways.

‘How come then — the almost spiritual content of this situation?’ I whispered to myself.

The man sipped his coffee, smoked his cigarette, adjusted his sunglasses, nodded, talked, put his head to the other side.

‘Perhaps he is just paying attention to the here and now?’ I whispered to myself.

The man sipped his coffee slowly, smoked his cigarette, adjusted his sunglasses, nodded, talked a little, put his head sideways.

‘How come…?’ Kurtz nodded.

There was nothing else going on in this scene, so naturalistically taped by Kurtz, and so filmically edited that one could hardly guess that it would have any documentary worth at all. It just depicted two ordinary men.

“Look now,” Kurtz said. “Now — can you see his watch? It is a Rolex or a fake Rolex. That does not matter. But look now — at the shimmering glow.”

Rays of sun illuminated the watch so that its glow shifted into a triangular shape that beamed up into the face of the waiter, into the wrinkles on his upper lip and his left cheek. The flash lasted only for a fraction of a second and I wanted to reach out and catch that moment — thinking that now my own authentic needs were going to be met by the universe.

“How can that triangle be so light?” Kurtz said and pressed the OFF button.

I looked — with my left eye first, then both eyes — at the blackout.

There was nothing. Kurtz looked at the OFF button, then at me.

“Be careful with that axe, Kurtz,” I said. I knew that that was not exactly it. And somehow I kept thinking: ‘How pale and ugly and fat Kurtz will look as a middle-aged man.’ Kurtz pretended that he knew nothing. And that is the way things remained between him and me.

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last update: November 19, 2008