Procedure in Plain Air

by Jonatham Lethem
from THE NEW YORKER

Later, after the men in jumpsuits had driven up and begun digging the hole, Stevick would remember that the guy on the bench beside him had been gazing puzzledly into the cone of his large coffee and had tried to interest him in the question of whether the café’s brew aftertasted of soap or not. This day was gray, with heavy portents of rain. Not the best for sitting on the coffee shop’s bench, but the interior of the café had become insufferable in all ways to Stevick: the shop’s ambience and fancy name, its well-programmed iPod and fake-industrial chairs and tables and counters succeeding too completely, the room seething with overdressed-dishevelled types, nerve-rackedly Web surfing or doing the real-world equivalent with eye orbits through the room, every last one of whom made him feel mossy, corroded, replaced. Add to that the danger of running into his ex, Charlotte, and he never even glanced within in hope of a seat—he didn’t want one. Just black, to go. He was an outdoor-bencher, he’d take his chances with the others here, backs to the shop’s window, and if rain drove them off he’d have it to himself. Nor did he care to consider whether the coffee tasted of soap or not. He was getting his morning thrill on, his eye-opener, and this place, besides being on the right corner of the right block for him to stumble in, made a fine, joltingly strong concoction strictly from the addict’s point of view. It could taste of lysergic acid or oysters, for all he cared. Maybe every cup of coffee he’d ever drunk had tasted of soap, so he couldn’t discern soap from coffee—who knew? more

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