A wiry nervous woman in a long purple jacket paces outside on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. She hold the cigarette with long outstretched fingers which gives her the look of performing a very delicate procedure. She wears a large black hat with the short brim turned up in the front and the back. The hat has a deep bucket shape and reminds me a hat that a woman in the late 1910s would wear. The front of the hat sits so low on her head that it sits perched on her glasses. The glasses–in turn–sit slipped down on her nose, forcing her to peer downwards in order to see anything. She turns her head roundly on her neck, peering down through the glasses to look around. The lenses look cloudy and smudged by careless fingers so carefully smoking. She doesn’t seem to have any eyes just a thin pale mouth. She is a all hat, most, and nervous rigid fingers.
With her long sharp nose that protrudes from her face and her tendency to see the world with a stooped head, the woman looks like a mole. Only she is a mole who is too nervous to dip down in the ground again. Instead she sits above ground in the dim light of a rainy afternoon biting at her fingernails. Her right knee is propped up on the left one and bobs up and down relentlessly. She stares at the table, sips her coffee, bobs her knee, looks up, then tilts her head back in a desperate gulping action, as if she still has dirt caught in her throat from her last reluctant underground foray.
She talks to herself outside when she smokes. She cuts the air in half with a stiff arm that sweeps downwards and stops in front of her. It is a decisive gesture. An emphatic stopgap against some plea to go back underground. She holds the hand there. Mutters something. The cigarette smoke becoming air around her. The point is made. The rigid fingers return to butt end of the cigarette to her mouth.
With her large hat and nervous manner, she reminds me of a suffragette, ready to blow up a mailbox for her cause. Only this woman is possessed by demons who gurgle up from underground and take on an ambiguous shade of concrete. They are so unseen and no amount of staring will see them out. And she will not go back underground. She’s been choking on clods ever since. Now she has blown down the block; though I see her pause making one last emphatic gesture before the voices pull her underground again against her will.
We called it the smoking room and filled it up with the smoke of cigarettes burning from end to end in an endless succession. The room was sealed off from the coffeshop by a hollow door and a large portrait window. Someone had tried to paint the smoking room black then red. For some months the walls were covered in a hideous white and black fur. I waited day after day for the white of that fur to turn brown. I would lean into the wall, purse my lips and blow a trail of smoke into its wild nap.
The floor was bare concrete. There were mismatched formica topped tables but my obsession with those tables didn’t begin there. There was a raised platform at the back of the room with an old coach that was collapsing in on itself like a blackhole. I never sat on that couch unless I was squeezed out of a spot on a cold, snowy, wet day that had brought people indoors to puff away at their smokes.
The smoking room looked out onto the street. There were tall floor to ceiling windows and a glass door, split in the middle. We would open the top portion of the window sometimes to let the air in or talk to people on the street. It was absurd, yes, leaning on the half-door puffing away at a cigarette, confined in the fifty cubic feet or so of space. But there were hippies and transients and rabid college students on those streets. It was much saner to stand there in a fishbowl staring out than to be out there swimming in the current of all that.
Danny Reinhardt once said that everyone who walked up and down that street was mad, insane, under the influence of the magnetic fields that ran under that patch of earth. He said something about the old nuclear weapons facility some twenty miles away or so. Danny Reinhardt had cut off his left index finger and knew obscure programming languages. He was a wine drunk and claimed that port was the only thing to get drunk on. I swear some weekends his teeth gleemed an insane red color. Most of all though Danny Reinhardt was a transient mystic who studied Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. He had studied these esoteric Russians and was convinced by their doctrines. He often performed a parlor trick in the smoking room (even a prophet has to have stupid tricks to entertain those around him) where he would hold your wallet or purse up to his check, close his eyes, tilt his head upwards and reveal things about you to yourself. I never felt entirely comfortable with the fact that Danny felt that wallets were the thing with which to contact one’s true essence behind that hid behind the screen.
Danny always wanted to reveal things about you to yourself. I remember him telling me that I was vain, ruled by vanity. I am haunted by this to this day. So for some time I looked out of those windows at the world the way that Danny Reinhardt did.