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Last week I was in Los Angeles for all of one day. On Wednesday Karol and I met Jon, our tour guide to the Visualization Portal, at a cafe of his choosing, in Westwood Village. It was Mary & Robb's Cafe, in fact. I am almost certain of the name.

The cafe must have been around for a long time. It has a lunch counter as well as seating, inside a woody space, not very large. We ultimately sat at a table and had very fresh, very good food. The food and the niceness of the tables and the wood on the walls were the exceptions to what this place really looks like: a coffee shop from the fifties.

I arrived a half-hour early. I gave myself a head start because I am never sure I will 1) follow the directions correctly or 2) get caught in traffic. So I sat at the counter and ordered a cappuccino to nurse while waiting. To my right, a few seats away, sat an older man, and two seats from him was a younger woman, thirtyish. Both ordered lunch. The man sat  eating carefully, and I remember his doing something - oh yes, now I remember - he had fish, and he asked the waitress for a small plate. He took his fork and spoon and carefully lifted the bones and skin onto that little plate. Very fastidious.

When he ate I could hear him chewing. And when he was not eating he occasionally made throaty coughs. Those two things, for some reason, disturbed me. I am always bothered by the sound of others' eating, when it is broadcast from within their mouths. I am  not sure what the condition is that means a person's grinding noises are unusually audible to those nearby, but I remember that my mother was this way, and I hated that. The coughing, same thing. It was not the cough of someone who just got a cold. It was the chronic type. And this, too, caused me to slip back in time and not like it.

The whole picture, with the man eating and coughing and the woman past him picking at her apparently lonely meal (these days I usually see thirty-something professional women lunching together, very NOW), summoned up some indistinct memories of coffee shops past in me, and I felt a kind of horror. I wonder if it is a fear of death, for that is what now strikes me and that is what brushed past me then. I had a sense of being caught forever there, as if I could not get out.


Judith Lautner
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January 2012


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