UNITED STATES—Part of the mystique of Cafe Om was for people to gather at this hole in the wall and know people by face and remain ignorant of their resume. Which goes contrary to what is usually so up front here when it comes to small talk: what project are you doing? What is your goal?
There’s something nice about saying hi to people and not even know their name for years. Case in point: I saw her for months working intensely on her laptop at the crow’s nest corner table. She had a very regal manner, straight neck, pale skin contrasting with raven hair, silky shimmering scarves, the matchless poise of a ballerina. I fantasized that she was a witty New Yorker fashion correspondent out on assignment, roughing it in a West Hollywood flat. She was doing serious work, even as she sometimes wore a boa draped around her thin neck, work that would be published and be read by people whose opinions matter in cafes such as this in world capitals.
Out of love and respect I let her be as I toiled at the bar. Otherwise we’d meet and where would the charm be? It would dissolve and clumsy commonplaces would get in the way of our work. It would just be a dreary conversation between two writers. In my opinion, it’s nice simply to be together, on opposite sides of the same room, a variation of that fine patina of the best friendships known as being able to gladly endure mutual silences.
She has since left and perhaps one day I will know her name or if she constructed the outline of my life while working away in the corner.
Another staunch regular was a gentleman who came religiously to the old Om, usually in a wide-wale corduroy jacket, sometimes a woven beanie on top depending on the season. About 2011 Prassan, the owner, sold the cafe to a young couple from Turkey, and Raymond the regular continued to come. I’d see him, backpack slung to his shoulder, walking long distances en route to the cafe. It was a big part of his life, as it was mine, and he’d recline on the divan by the plate glass window, drink lattes and chortle periodically as he was viewing cat videos or porn. Who knows? I never scrutinized the screen, I just know that hysteria punctuated his time on the divan. To Raymond’s credit, he didn’t force the source of his merriment on others.
Tolga and Nesrin’s business grew. One morning Raymond came and saw the crowd, filling the divan and every chair in sight. “There are people here,” he cried aghast. He was upset by it and stopped coming.
Those habitues I got to meet and know more about were the one’s who shared the bar with me. There was a definite phenomenon: it seemed that whenever I had a question or quandary, somebody with the answer was right there at arm’s length. I met a literary agent that way. Tolga was great for connecting people and parental wisdom. Nesrin too. The editorial team for my first book, The Grady Diet, came out of Om. A motley but soulful crew. I had a proofreader who never got around to reading the whole thing, but what she did get around to saying improved the book, on both a spiritual and factual level.
And she demanded that I back up assertions with examples. For instance, she called my shallow assertion that laughter is good and that’s why comedians live so long. Of course I’m thinking centenarians like Bob Hope and George Burns. Laughter is still good, but after considering the likes of John Belushi and Lenny Bruce, I deleted that part of the book. The marketing whiz I met at Om had harsh but true things to say. I listened with an open ear and implemented what I could. I couldn’t take to heart certain things, like the criticism that the cartoon drawings cheapened the book. Maybe it did. The book had already been four years in the making, and the crude drawings stayed. Still, I appreciated his exceptional discernment. In the end, I am a James Thurber kind of cartoonist, and using those drawings epitomized the gospel of self-acceptance that pulsated through that book.
Anyhow, I’m still chewing on comedians and depression. Rodney Dangerfied said, “Comedy is camouflage for depression.” Listen Rodney, just because it is true sometimes, don’t mean it isn’t funny!
To be continued…