He felt awful. He wasn't sure if it was the half-pound of greasy chicken that lay in his belly from a hurried lunch, or the chapter of Nietzsche that he just read.
Perhaps it was his claustrophobia. The smoky haze of the dark cafe—dark from the three broken lights and the detritus that had amassed over the course of decades—did not help.
Neither did the fact that he was meeting a friend. That made no sense to him. She was a good friend of his, in a Platonic way. She was just one of the guys, having put up with the endless stream of puerile male humor for the past eight years, to which he contributed a sizable amount.
But she was a she. He never could wrap his university-educated brain around that.
He couldn't help but crack a wry, self-deprecating little smile. "I'm so uncool. So fucking uncool." Higher education had expanded his mind, but old habits were hard to break.
The music was much too loud. He hadn't noticed it when he had been reading, but now the metallic blare of the horns was aurally assaulting him. The house band played with sincere emotion, but he wished they had a little more talent.
Nietzsche was an talented man: born 1844, appointed to full professorship at the age of 24 (unheard of at the time), his entire corpus written before his mental breakdown in 1889, when he tried to shield a horse from a coachman's whip. What a way to go insane.
He was no stranger to insanity. It seemed like all his friends were. Or possibly on various controlled substances. Of course, none of them were legitimately insane nor were they on drugs; it just gave them an excuse to live out their tired old lives. They were all in their twenties.
"I need a fucking girlfriend." He smiled again. The wording amused him to no end. A fucking girlfriend. A girlfriend to fuck. He was in a hurry to reach old age. Then he would be the socially-acceptable old lecher, instead of the lonely young man he faced every day in the mirror.
She was late. Not surprising. Her boyfriend was rather... clingy. No, that wasn't the right word, he thought. Plastic wrap is clingy. Clothes machine-dried without anti-static sheets are clingy. Her boyfriend was attracted to her by forces stronger than static electricity. In a more romantic time it might have been called love.
He regretted not bringing his tattered copy of Nabokov's Lolita with him. "The only convincing love story of our century," according to Vanity Fair. It certainly was a better read than musty German philosophy.
It was coming up on half past eight. They were supposed to meet for cocktails at 7:45 and then meet up with some old friends for dinner.
She must be getting laid, he thought. Good for her. Hopefully she would finish in time for dessert.
He stood up stiffly, gathered his things and went to the nearest telephone booth. He loved the old fashioned rotary pay-phone in this particular cafe. The thought of carrying a cell phone, those hideous triumphs of form and function, appalled him. He always was a sucker for the technology of bygone eras. And any pretty face that walked down the street.
He gave his friends at the restaurant a ring. Those three were raucous as usual: through the ancient Bakelite receiver he caught a snatch of a vulgar joke here and a mad humming of Mozart there. He was not surprised that they had started dinner without him. Gluttony certainly was one of their favorite sins. He personally preferred lust, though he never had the chance to capitalize on it. Maybe he'd get into heaven after all.
He stepped out into the bright, snowy night. He always missed winters in the city while at school. He hailed a cab. Old habits were hard to break, and he never did get his driver's license.
Good food, good friends and good old times awaited him. And there were still miles to go.
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