A tall, overweight man (a tourist, judging by the Anaheim Angels ballcap) bright blue swishy coat, and huge camera hanging from a black lanyard, walked into the café and said, “Holy piss, how bout that cold?”
The Student groaned, the guy looked over and said, “Bonjourney, fellas,” and laughed. He walked to a table and started taking off all of his gear. The guy behind the counter looked on in disdain, and The Student and I dropped our voices so as to not seem like That Kind of American.
“That it?” asked The Student.
“What, the tourist?”
The Student cocked his head to the side.
“Oh, the story.”
“Yeah, what else?”
“That’s what I was wondering. Yeah, that’s about it. Ya get it? He was assigned to kill silence, so he goes out and shouts stuff.”
“No, I got it, I just don’t get it.”
“What’s there not to get? He stop silence by shouting.”
“Yes,” said The Student, taking off his glasses and putting them gently on the table. “But why? Why was he asked to kill silence? That doesn’t make any sense. Is this a company that benefits from noise? Is silence a terrorist?”
“You’re thinking about this too much.”
“No, I’m not. Was this a joke?”
“Well, yeah, kind of.”
He leaned back, squinting more as he did so. “You told a joke utterly without humor or reason, not even a piece of anti-humor. And you did this for no reason.”
“Look, I had to kill the time some how. We couldn’t just sit here in silence while drinking wine.”
“Why not? I have a book.”
“Well I don’t.”
“Maybe you should go get a book. We’re in a university city, they’re plentiful.”
“I can’t read French.”
“You could probably find one in English.”
“Yeah, like Hop on Pop or some shit.”
“Pah!” said The Student.
“Pah!” I concurred.
We finished the vin chaud in silence. The Student broke out a hefty tome of a novel, one of those big ones that had probably made a nice home on the best selling lists across the country and was gaining renown as an exemplar of post-post-modern hyper-realism speculative fiction focusing on the dystopic realities of the modern family. Or a fantasy novel. I reached over and picked up the front cover to have a look. I was wrong. It was fucking Tolstoy.
I shook my head and grunted.
He looked at me cock-eyed. “What?”
“Tolstoy.” I grunted again.
“What about him?”
The Student flipped the book shut. “That’s your critique? ‘He sucks’? You’re not going to expound upon that bit of wisdom?”
“No,” I said. (I’d forgive you, Dear Reader, for thinking that I was just stringing The Student along at this point, because that sounds like exactly the sort of thing I’d try to do. However, that would not be the case. My hatred of Russian literature runs deep, stemming, as most cases do, from Dostoevesky, and then Chekov, and finally, Tolstoy. At the mere mention of Russian lit, I tend to start foaming at the mouth and appear to come down with a severe case of Tourette’s.) “No, I’m not going to expound. There’s no reason to. Tolstoy sucks, and everyone who likes him is either mentally challenged or a masochist.”
The Student sputtered syllables for a few seconds before saying, “Look, I admit that the Russian literary canon is made up of a lot of self-congratulatory wannabe philosophers, but that’s no reason to disparage the enti—”
“It’s every reason.” I brought the cup up to my mouth and found, to my great dismay, that it was empty. “Fuck.”
The Student closed the book and put it back in his satchel. “Okay,” he said, putting his hands up, “are you going to do that every time I break out Tolstoy?”
“Most likely, yes.”
“What if I brought out Edmund Rostand?”
“Cyrano de Bergerac.”
“Never read it, so whatever.”
“Good,” said The Student. “That’s my other option. You see,” he said, readjusting his glasses on his nose, “I’m working on translating it. I don’t feel that the version I have is sufficiently poetic, and—”
“Nerd!” I shouted.
The guy behind the counter shot us a look that said we were clearly That Kind of Americans and thus No Longer Welcome.
“Hey, let’s go inside the church,” I said.