The cafe we meet at is one of those old meet new italian cafe's in North Beach: marble table tops with beige wicker chairs lined up outside the window; clean faced and freshly cut waitresses and waiters; salami or some kind of italian meat hanging by a thick white string from the ceiling, presenting itself to the streets like a ***** in Amsterdam; thick egg white ceramic coffee cups with thin saucers underneath them to catch whatever mistake may happen during conversation or solitude. Hanes was just sitting there. I ran into him. He never called me. His sunglasses are on - usual of him - and he seems startled when I sit down, as if he doesn't recognize me. I can see that it takes him a second to remember that he had called me at all, soon after making sense as to why I'm sitting there at all.
"Sup?" I ask him. There's a tiny glass filled with a frothy, light brown espresso inside. His right pointer finger is wrapped inside the small handle, resting there like a crow on a branch.
"Hey," he says, looking at me, unsure where his eyes actually are, "Thanks for coming to meet me."
"No problem," I say while trying to catch the waiter's eyes. The waiter's a tall, skinny, handsome italian guy in the typical pressed white button up, black dress pants, black apron, and jet black pointy shoes. Why his attire and build is of any interest at all makes me curious. Maybe I'm jealous? "No problem at all," I say again,"I was in the area."
"You should get the food here. It's good."
"I rarely hang out in North Beach, so I have no idea where to go. Have you been here before?"
"I've been to a couple of these places. Framed City Bookstore is right down the street."
"Yeah," he nods, taking a sip of his espresso, "They're really nice in there."
"I always assumed they would be pretentious literary types. Never went in there on that assumption."
"Some of them are, but there are a few that just like books and write and hold no entitlement from that."
"That's nice. That's rare."
"Very rare," he says, taking another sip. He looks over his shoulder to try and catch the waiter too. "I want to get some food, too. Starving."
"He give you the menu's yet?" I ask, looking around and under the table.
"I told him to wait until you got here," he says, still looking for him.
We finally get the waiters attention. He apologizes and tells us they are very busy. The inside is nearly empty and we are the only two sitting outside. I'm unsure what he means. But it doesn't matter. We order the same thing, panini on sourdough bread with chicken breast, tomato, pesto, and arugula, with a few thin slices of prosciutto on the side. Hane orders a side salad and I order a pumpkin soup. It's cold outside - even with a coat - and the soup, I know, will do me good. I also get a regular drip coffee, which he brings immediately after we order. We exhale, glad to have gotten it out of the way. Then, there is that silence after one orders at a restaurant; that matter of getting down to business and discussing why we are even there in the first place. I wait for Hane to begin, but, because of his lapses in memory and general awkwardness, I start, watching him run his finger around the circular edge of his espresso glass as I do.
"Claire...," I pause, on the edge of stammering, "She left?"
Hane takes off his sunglasses at my question and sets them on the table. He looks down at his lap and blinks, rapidly a few times and says, "Yeah. She left. Back down south. LA or further I think. She said something about San Jose, but I have no idea why she would ever go there. She doesn't even like hockey. I've never heard her talk about it before."
I drink my coffee, looking over my glass into his eyes, acknowledging that I heard him, that I understand, but I say nothing. Everything all seems too sudden, too planned out, like Claire was scheming this from the beginning of everything. I was searching for someone to blame for everything, but then Hane starts again.
"If I think back on our problems, I can see why certain things that I did drove her away. There were a lot of things she did that forced me to get away, in my defense. But," he reaches for his sunglasses on the table and slips them back on, "To her defense, I had my days, ****, I had my weeks, where I'm sure I was pretty unbearable to be around."
"Why is that?" I ask him, "What were you doing that would upset her to the point of leaving for good?"
He turns his head toward me that was before gazing out on the street, "I never said she was leaving for good."
"Ok. What were you doing that would make her leave at all?"
"****, I don't know. I would go out. I would have fun. I would do things that I knew I wasn't supposed to really do, but I did them anyway."
I push my chair back a little to stretch out my legs, getting comfortable. Dark, grey clouds have gathered over head and everything is starting to look like a very depressing circus. I finish my coffee and can't wait to order another. It's an endless cup.
"I know what you mean," I agree. I feel him pulling away, defending himself of actions he's yet to specify to me, "Sometimes you just need to go out and get a little weird."
"Exactly. I was doing that. I was going out and getting a little weird, even though Claire wasn't always for it."
"That's norm..." I start, but he cuts me off.
"And you know what? Sometimes she would even want to come with me to wherever I was going, but I really didn't even want her coming along. I needed to do whatever I was going to do alone certain nights. Don't ask me why. Some nights I just needed for myself to get away from my life that I set up for myself to feel satisfied or fulfilled or..." Hane looks up into the clouds like he wants to float up into them, "Acceptable, if that's even the word."
I can see what he means and I can see why he feels the need to get out. Being in a relationship is hard. One builds up these walls, these boundaries, and then asked to follow the rules of said relationship according to one's social surroundings. Two people making an arrangement most likely based in feeling and sexuality, both of which, as Bukowski put it, Like a fog you see in the morning before you wake up, before the sun comes out. It's just there a little while and then it burns away. Nothing lasts and I'm amazed to see certain things last so long.
I give him a solicitous look as I let these thoughts ramble around in my head, but he doesn't see it. He's still looking up into the sky, looking for something to give him a reason to look other then the clouds. He could say just that and I would be fine with it, but he's looking for something. An answer, maybe. A solution. A color for a painting he's started a million times, but never finished.
"Who knows if we've ever really gotten love?" I ask profoundly, dripping in clichéd of philosophy.
"Who knows?..." he trails off.
Our food comes. The waiter puts it in front of us quickly, asks me if I want anymore coffee and I nod yes. Hane says he's alright for now, but maybe later.
"Who knows?" he laughs lightly, shaking and bowing his head. The waiter gives him a confused, awkward glance, then walks inside for my coffee. I feel bad for him for some reason. Waiters have it bad. All they get is **** all day and most of the time it's from crazies. I'll have to tip him an extra buck or two, I tell myself. Looking down at my sandwich, examining to make sure if its even what I ordered, I see Hanes already started to eat. I watch him as he peels the toasted bread away from the arugula, the tomato, the pesto, and chicken with the mozzarella clinging to it all like great white tentacles. He heavily salts and peppers the guts, plopping the bread back down and squishing it with the palm of his hand. All of this is done very quickly, very violently, and like he's done it many times before. I remember Hanes talking about how he would eat panini's everyday in college. Now I can see he wasn't lying.
I take a bite of my sandwich. It's good. Not great, but decent. Hanes has not said a word and is nearly done after my second bite. I take a sip of my coffee and then another bite. Hanes is done, looking around for the waiter, wondering where the hell he went off to this time.
"You getting another drink?" I ask.
"A drink drink," he says, "Like a ***** soda."
"I'm game. Ill get a beer."
"Ahh," he moans, "Get a drink drink."
"Like what?" I'm amused by his pushiness.
"Like a whiskey or a ***** or something."
"Beer is so boring. All of it tastes the same."
"You really think so?"
"Yeah, I do." He raises his hand, catching the waiters eye. He comes over and Hanes orders us two ***** sodas and two Pernoi's. Light beers. The waiter nods, takes Hanes plate, sees that I'm still eating, and leaves me to it. "There's your beer. Happy?"
"Good." Hanes coughs, smirks, lights a cigarette. He blows the smoke downhill, away from me.
"I'll get the beers, you get the vodkas."
"It's only 2pm. We have all day," I say.
"Good and good," he says.