I've taken a cab from the hotel to a coffeehouse called Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in a renovated Victorian, joshbuckler's recommendation. The design of the place reminds me of the Cajun place in Fort Collins that I went to with darthabsinthe and bain_easag, or a little bit of the funky nursery cafe in Alameda I went to with jilflirt. There's a bound notebook on the table, half-filled with customer scribblings, and Stephen Sondheim playbills, ticket stubs, business cards, and other detritus stuffed under the table glass. A classical guitarist in the corner is playing many of the songs I've heard in bits and pieces from my uncle's students in his front room. I'm eating a rich raspberry-chocolate mousse and a caramel cider. My last meal was lunch, at a place that looked interesting ("Veritable Quandary") but served food that was both bland and too full of pepper: a pear-chevre salad, gnocchi, and rooibos tea (the last not with pepper, thankfully!).
Rimsky's closes at midnight, and as I leave I visited the restroom. My heart jumps when I spot a figure seated in the shadows of the restroom corner, but light reveals just a mannequin in a broken kayak. Notes on scraps of paper, wishes and shout-outs, have been placed in the dish he holds. A sea nymph painted on the wall holds the toilet paper in two mannequin hands. I take a couple of pictures before I leave.
I walk the half mile to Le Bistro Montage for some midnight supper. I am seated alone at the end of a long table. The music is loud -- mostly 80s music, just a few I recognize (one Talking Heads number, one that I've played in Rock Band). Two guys are seated next to me a few minutes later, introducing themselves and saying they were in the web publishing industry, one a local working at Indiba, the other visiting from the U.K. One orders an oyster shooter and a beer for me, which makes the waitress think that we're all one group. I order house-made mac and cheese, and the fellows include me in another round of beer. I'm the only one who finishes both beers. We mostly chat about places -- San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, London, Cape Town. I'm in a rather detached, serious mood, not at all flirtatious or ingratiating, which I think intrigues them. Perhaps it fits their image of a Stanford graduate student, though they seem to forget about Stanford when they find out I went to Berkeley. The waitress brings out one bill instead of two, but they wave off my insistences that the waitress split the bills and pick up my meal, not even allowing me to chip in. Leftovers reappear in elaborate foil take-home containers, one a flower, the other a crocodile. The two web publishers express shock when I say I'm planning to walk to my hotel, so I let them give me a ride. It's now 2am.
I should re-read the panel papers and plan my response, but I've been daydreaming. I've been reading Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye -- reading it obsessively, almost done two days after I started. Graduate school has made reading into a chore and I've decided to reclaim it. Reading used to be my primary escape and the best way I had to explore myself and the world. It also reminds me of my past and re-awakens my interest in writing. My uncle, the poet, still probably thinks I'm a sellout for not becoming a writer, but as an academic I basically am a writer -- I just write things that only other academics will read, by and large. My advisor also really cares about the craft of writing, and we discuss it as I did in the writing workshops I would get invited to in high school. Now that I've added in some "pleasure" reading to my large stack of academic books (though Cat's Eye is not what I would generally call "pleasure," captivating as the characters are), I've started to narrate my life to myself again, as I used to do, playing with words and turns of phrase, writing down the best ones on scraps of paper that I then lose. Maybe I'll start carrying around a little notebook again.
I think I'll finish Atwood -- just a couple dozen pages to go -- then re-read the position papers and go to sleep. More later!