Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, December 05, 2005


...are starting to come in. Two so far. One phone interview (very low stress, as these things go), and one that will require me to decamp from the (relative) warmth and comfort of the Southland and head for the winter now-so-wonderland of Washington D.C. and the nightmare that is the Modern Language Association conference. Sympathetic shudders will be appreciated at this point...

An odd cross-cultural moment the other day. The radio in my car doesn't work--antenna's f**ed up and I'm too lazy/disorganized/cheap to get it looked at--so I listen to a lot of Books On CD (unabridged only, thank you, for those who're planning on buying me Xmas/B-day gifts)--and I was wending my way through Austen's (well, who else's?!) Pride & Prejudice. (Rather than see the movie with that flesh-toned praying mantis Keira Knightley, I thought I'd just let Miss Austen speak for herself, you see.) So I'm driving home, in my little utilitarian Nissan, listening to a lightly gravel-voiced woman (a voice with 'character,' so to speak) read, with clarity and vigor, the clear and vigorous prose of one of English's master stylists. A small, unassuming car, shabby little white-bread me, a quiet voice speaking beautiful notes of language in my ear. Got the picture?

I stop at a red light, and suddenly I'm side-by-side with a huge, seriously pimped-out 4x4--chrome wheels, hydraulics, running lights, the works. And from on high, the African-American gentleman (who was clearly no gentleman, though he could certainly have put me in my place, if he'd had a mind to) was blasting from his speakers (all 38 of them) what I'm fairly certain was 50 Cent at the usual filling-rattling decibels one associates with such men in such vehicles.

Me. Him. My car. His. Austen. 50 Cent. Side by side at a red light in L.A.

And for just a moment, all of Western culture looked at us and shook its head in wondering contemplation that two such souls could live in what really is essential harmony in the same nation, the same city, the same neighborhood. Was there a meeting of the minds? No, and I'm not so benighted as to think there really could have been--had we looked at each other, our first impulse would have been to sneer at the other. (I wouldn't have, of course, because I am a snivelling coward who has allowed popular culture to ingrain a sense of mindless racism into all my dealings with The Brother. Which would be sad, if it weren't so funny.) But still--there we were, and neither cancelled out the other. There was the tolerance of indifference. Which is some kind of historical progress--and in a world in which misanthropy is invariably the correct perspective, possibly as good as such cross-cultural interaction will ever get.


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