A Little Peace & Loud
This post is composed of three scenes from around Auckland. The thought that motivated the project is as follows: “For as complex as these descriptions might be, they make me consider Noodle’s complexity as well. I create my own space from time to time and reorient myself in it; am I giving him the space he needs? What if I’m not?” I couldn’t find a reasonable way to work that into the text without stepping outside and disrupting it. But I think it needs to be said to make sense of why this seemed so important to me.
I should start by saying that I don’t like to be alone. I re-energize in crowds — crowds with a certain disposition and of a certain size. Not too big, not too boisterous. I like their chatter. I lose myself in their relationships; I feel as though I have lost so many of my own from then to now. I am isolated in my own head much of the time — Noodle and I share a lot, but it’s too soon for him to share all of who I am and still aspire to be. It’ll change, I tell myself, as I’ve told myself for the past few years. Some days though, I can’t remember the beginning. And when you lose sight of that, it starts to look like there’s no end. Moments like these, I find it hard to break free, to shake loose from the monotony, the agonizing grind, and the endurance running high that is dadding full time.
Alone in crowds, and here on the written page, I’m normal. I am who I was, or at least who I remember being. I wonder: can I ever be him again? Can anyone who has lived one intense moment, let alone day after day, really go back? Do I even want to unravel these knots, this fabric that clothes my new life? I would not have written this without Noodle, and I like this. More: I find myself in locations I never imagined — from coffee shops to states of mind, both with a view of lush, frightening landscapes, street-scapes, city-scapes, crowd-scapes. This is my new world, and there’s a certain thrill in being its cartographer.
A couple of weeks ago, we walked down Queen Street on a Friday evening, Noodle and family in tow. I watched the patrons of the cafés and bars smiling, laughing, flagging the waiter for another round. Not a care but one another. Their biggest concern: the pace of service. Never once do they break conversation to get a visual on a constantly-in-motion three-year-old. They are intensely with one another, happily. In contrast, my leisure time happens in quarter minute chunks. I used to be like these patrons, after work, kicking off a weekend. I used to stop to chat with them, to engage, to expand my social life, to connect. No more. And this disconnection disorients me. Sometimes I picture myself still in their world, and it seems odd anymore. Connecting one minute to the next in my head exhausts me, because one minute is four interrupted chunks that I must tie back into one. My capacity to remember has unraveled; only these words stitch my life back together. My days fade into a steady stream — an inescapable flow. There are no boxes on my calendar, just blurred lines.
Queen Street is a buzz humming confusion, a mass of happy hours and souvenir shops, followed by Gucci on one side and mid-range off-the-rack designer outlets across the way. Banks, offices, and government houses give way to theaters, gentlemen’s clubs, and prostitues. The wide open Aoetea Square punctuates the end of the run. The boy loves to dart up the stairs to the fountains and statues, and that’s fine with me; a bustling city street is no place for a little boy to stretch his legs. Clogs of cars and busses, umbrellas and businessmen — I get lost in their flow, an aerated droplet of a person dripping down the street, lost. I’d orient if I could focus. But one eye and one ear is ever-trained on Noodle, even when I’m given leave. I can’t get him out of my head; I have no off-switch.
Right now I am sitting in a café at a mall. I appreciate the free covered parking on a rainy day. I also appreciate the crowds — crowds that I don’t have to touch, but whom I can admire from my own private table.
Cafés and bars curate their own crowds, and it looks like I might not belong here. This place is trendy, dub-step brightness with a colored-glass bottle collection obscuring the barista from us. (I am with them, in my head. But in reality, they are that table, I am this table. We are apart.) In the back left corner are personal trainers from the gym upstairs; scattered throughout are shop girls; a quiet couple hushes in the back-back right corner, behind me, hiding. I imagine that if the place caught fire, the colored-glass wall would come down and we’d run together across the shattered bottles to safety. We would take mobile device pictures of the carnage, get each others’ social media addresses and post one another a request for camaraderie — lovely that we still request, even in this age. We would be tied by this event forever, come what may; we’d always have the fire. But this reality — the magical fact that we are together in the same café at the same time on the same day in the same city and country — this is not something we celebrate. How can a living minute like this fail to stand out? I remember every tick in Noodle’s first weeks, months, years. But now. Here. Nothing. Isn’t this just as amazing as my imaginary fire? Why not celebrate the perfectly mundane fact that nothing went afoul at the café.
We are a tragic lot.
I wonder how the moms and dads and kids at the adjacent playground are doing. Do they sense that my day is going smoothly nearby? Their amplified ruckus reminds me that it’s my morning off. Do they feel the fire of parenting? Do they recognize me as the dad who usually sits with them? No. I never feel as though I’m entirely with them. I’m the odd man out. I’m the guy with the notebook who lets his kid run wild while he scribbles endlessly. Unshaven, sloppy, tired eyes from looking too hard. But I’m also the guy who is cheerful when he chatters to kiddo, pulls funny faces, cheers him on as he runs in giant circles around the one-hour tailor kiosk — until the boy crosses an unseen barrier and I shift hard astern, barking out broken rules and orders. Am I the guy with disorienting shifts in demeanor? Is my exhaustion that obvious?
Today we intersect differently in my head. Kids, parents, professionals, and the salacious characters I gave the huddled couple in the far corner of the farthest reaches of the most obvious place in the city. We are all hidden in plain sight, until the writer reveals us, as if we’re a mystery now solved, as if we’re living dénouement.
In the end though, we’re all just having coffee.
Kokako Café overlooks Lake Road, the main and only drag that runs down the middle of the peninsula from Takapuna to Devonport. It’s a rainy day and the full-length front windows are hazed with steaming milk and frustrations, some of each attributable to me. A man with a broken umbrella splashes past, huddling into his stylishly-too-small and functionally-deficient sport coat. Across the street is a French bakery, a Japanese noodlery, a Korean herbal remedy shop, a shuttered superette, and a pizza parlor not-yet-opened for today’s business. The toothsome girl who cuts men’s hair just locked up her door and dashed into the French bakery, probably for a croissant before her own lunch rush. It’s a usual Tuesday.
The barista has hiccups, but she takes it well. No job is made easier by a spasming diaphragm. The coffee isn’t fancy; it’s in a cup, chocolate powder on top, a spoon resting on the saucer. Perfectly basic. The cappuccino is strong and bitter, as I like it. I’ve no time for sugar and cream; that’s for men of leisure.
Looks like the wood borers got to a couple of boards on the counter before the insecticide did. I can nearly detect the scent of turpentine and orange “preventative measures.” This is a case that clearly called for swifter action, but we just do the best we can, don’t we.
Water runs through the pipes behind the wall every time a new customer places an order. It drowns out the pattering rain for a few seconds and my eyes blur watching puddles refill after cars splash through them. A girl with fizzed strawberry hair and a damply faded shirt hurries past, and all I can think is — this is what we get in a world without hats.
The monotony of the cars helps me get lost in the city’s flow. But I’m watching the clock. It’s ticking down to noon. Soon I’ll restart my day job. I guess this is how my days will pass when Noodle grows up enough to have his own life. I don’t expect to get back what I had; I expect to move on with what I’ve got. Right now, it’s just a never ending stream of being-heres, and I remember every moment as well as I remember every car that crowds the main drag.
So here I am, trying to re-acquire my lost connection. A half hour in this café then on to the next. I’m a restless writer who lets his body wander with his mind, ever moving on, with the nerve to call my banal observations “connection.” I guess I’m not the kind of guy who appreciates a little peace and quiet, even if he could choose it. For me, in my free moments, I’ll ponder this mashup of grief and celebration over a cappuccino and a little bit of peace and loud.