Oct 1, 2005


The night after the track meet in Casablanca we resort to Rick's American cafe for dinner. Three body guards stand outside. The guardien asks us to park directly in front of the doorway. It's the day of the Bali bombing. I assume the security plan here is to blockade the front door. The security men are in coat and tie, with tie clips. Each wears a gold pin on their lapels. They're serious. They come with eyes, you can see, not just armor and earpieces.

We go up the steps and inside the front door there's Rick as she calls herself. I'd never seen her before but I'd heard. Cathy something from Portland. Late 50s in a black jumpsuit. Her hair cut short, pale skin, a lot of makeup, not pretty, but smiling and the appearance of sophistication, and her friendliness, and a hint of shyness supercede her plainness.

The restaurant itself also makes up. Two stories, brimming with sconce light and spectacle, an old riad dressed to the teeth, and Johnny Mathis in the background. As tourist traps go, this is one to savor. It is at once pretence and safe haven. There's a Tennessee Williams cabin boy, dressed as a cabin boy, standing behind the bar. A bartender who never seems to tend. People at the next table are dressed down. They're Moroccan, young, twenty somethings, the girl holds her bag tightly. She looks painfully unhappy. Behind them, people from the west. Slacks people, blazered, and up in the mezzanine, a gray haired man and a young woman. They are in their own world, totally happy with each other. Everything about them, but particularly their happiness, suggests, 'do not disturb.'

Meanwhile, Cathy is off in a corner, watching everyone. From time to time she passes by, speaking French, then English. She's the classic restauranteur. It's a type, isn't it? She reminds me of John Tuck, years ago, in the Gaslight in Charlottesville. A pretentious place if there ever was one and the ever so proud owner, John Tuck, with his ascot and faux British accent, more affected than British actually, having been thrown out of the university and then stayed on for the next 30 years, forever hitting on the coeds. One night he came to visit me, I was living in someone's front room. He was peeing in the sink because he couldn't be bothered to piss in the pot, he was also a bad, loud, drunk, and this time he was drunk, and he was in this little bathroom peeing in the sink, looking over his shoulder, dick in one hand, cig in the other. "I prefer a hairless pussy," he was saying, as though to say he preferred Jane Austen to Charlotte Bronte.

The plates drop out of the sky. The waiter in red Fez. Sole meuniere and tempura. The pianist is working his way through Ebb Tide. And if it is overpriced, still the food is good, and altogether a silly, soothing luxury.

We drift through observations. About students, about the country, about what will happen. I tell B about the scene outside the bank and she extends the conclusion. "The reason Islam is required is because these are people who feel so much. You need something to contain it, to keep order."

How many times have I heard that? "I feel too much." "If you knew how I much I feel, you would understand but you cannot." "You cannot understand."

I cannot.

And so of course human nature would create and rely on a belief in which everything is ordered. In the desert, the wilderness, what else is there? What other sceneries, what other compensations? What can you do other than feel? And what other outlet, besides poetry. It's not the sibe outside, it's the sibe inside. The chaos of the heart, the mind that sees so much below the surface, it cannot bear it. So you create a way to keep yourself out of trouble during the day, to keep the mind occupied, tied up so it can't go stray.

But now that's breaking down, ever faster.

Dessert. The pianist takes a break. Cathy stops to chat.

We are the hollow people by comparison, I'm thinking. I, for one. A girl said that to me once, about me, not to me, "he is hollow", she said and there is a truth to it.

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