Wednesday, January 2, 2008

File-Card Method

Happy New Year, Happy New Blog. I'm thinking about the history of Café Tor and recalling some of my more... interesting café experiences. Being the last stop between reality and invention, there are bound to be strange people wandering between the tables. For your enjoyment, here's a little tidbit that got slashed from my novel. Just remember, don't get too wrapped up between what is real and what is fiction; there comes a point when the distinction is immaterial.

Sometimes sitting in the apartment is a comfort, but sometimes the voices of my stuff press in on me, and I can’t think. Café Tor, at least, offers escape. I suppose that’s why I wrote my Master’s thesis here.

I took notes using the tried and true File Card Method, as taught to me in English class my junior year of high school at Sacred Heart. Every time you find a valuable reference in one of your sources, you write it on a 3 x 5” note-card. When you compile enough notes, you take the file cards, sort them by subject matter, then order them into what, with complete sentences and transitional phrasing, becomes the rough draft of the thesis. Though I had a pretty good system of numbering, cross-referencing, and tracking the cards, you do this for six hours straight and you realize that coffee is not a luxury, it is an imperative. Nevertheless, the strategy of writing in Café Tor didn’t always work. Some days writing was too much, and I fell to looking at the other patrons, sipping my cappuccino and wondering who they were in their real lives.

The down side of doing mind-numbing things in a public place is that it’s… Well, it’s mind numbing. At times while writing my thesis, I became so involved in my work that I failed to notice who and what was happening around me – the kind of events that, if you were paying attention to them, cause you to drain your cappuccino immediately and seek shelter elsewhere.

Thus was the case when he walked in.

He made his presence known by materializing before me, leaning over my table and saying, “Excuse me…”

Deep into ferreting out references to Darwinian theory as expressed in Frank Norris’ Vandover and the Brute and fascinated how the advancing stages of syphilis plunged the main character into an animalistic regression akin to lycanthropy, the phrase, “Excuse me” uttered softly into my ear not only derailed my train of thought, but also sent it crashing down a steep cliff with all sixteen fully-laden cars of coal behind it. It took me a few seconds to recall where I was and to focus my eyes.

His face was stubbled, scarred by pockmarks as if his skin had been sandblasted. A dusty, well-worn, black leather jacket squeaked slightly as he held his hovering pose. Somewhere past thirty or thirty-five, he had all the appearances of benign friendliness. Then he smiled down at me and revealed long, simian, nicotine-stained teeth.

It was the teeth that caught my gaze, and I froze.

“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help noticing you sitting here, and I was wondering… I’ve got some weed back in my truck. Would you like to come with me and smoke up?”

Despite the best of her intentions, there was no part of Nancy Regan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign that prepared me for this moment in my life.

I did not stand up shouting with moral indignation that I was not that kind of girl. I did not slap him, or tell him to get lost, or scream. Abruptly pulled from my scholarly research and still reeling from the disorientation his question caused, I reacted reflexively with scholastic methodology and asked myself, “What are the probable consequences of going with this man to smoke dope?”

With scholarly precision, probable events unfolded. I saw myself becoming stoned, then sodomized in every conceivable way. I saw myself as a footnote in the crime pages of the campus paper. I saw myself plunged into an animalistic regression akin to lycanthropy caused by the advancing stages of syphilis.

I smiled vapidly and answered truthfully, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I have to study.”

He returned my smile politely, regretfully, as any gentleman would. “Oh. Well then. That’s okay.” And turning, he walked out the door.

I want to know the stories people can tell, but even I know when to stop.

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