On Saturday afternoon, a fellow in a TriBeCa coffee shop leaned into me.
“Are you a writer?” he asked. I get asked that all the time, especially after burning through nine pages in an hour period with my ink pen. I never know how to respond, I’ve been out of the business so long that saying “yes” feels like a falsehood. I was an associate editor about four years ago. It’s been almost ten years since my work was published in a literary journal, and the same time since I’ve given a reading. I left college and moved to New York City with the type of drive and determination that I miss. I’m not sure how my dream slipped out of my hands.
“I try to be,” I answered. I looked down at my pages. I used a cerulean blue ink from a Le Pen, some of my own words I couldn’t recognize. But that’s normal.
“Are you a poet?” asked a second man, I reared back, disgusted at the proposition. The men laughed, all four of them were squished at a table meant to seat two. I told them no.
“Do you write memories?” asked the first man. They all spoke with heavy accents, I could tell they were all native of the middle east.
“Exactly that,” I said.
“You are too young to have memories,” the man said. Another comment I was used to hearing. Half of me wishes that were true, because that would mean having had a less complicated life.
I could only laugh, unsure how to respond.
We got to talking, me and this table of four. They were all painters, having one last coffee before their comrade, a painter who also frequents my writing spot, goes away for a month. I recognized his face from several Sunday afternoons there in the spring and winter. He always sits in the same spot.
“I drew you once. We came the same weekend, then the weekend after, you were here too!” he exclaimed. “So then, I added to my drawing.”
“You should both come back, and you do a whole series of drawings of her,” said the painter who mistook me for a poet. The other artists nodded. We had a little joking banter and I decided to introduce myself.
“Ariel, like ‘The Tempest’,” said one of them, which made me smile. They did not offer to introduce themselves, so I nodded and bid them good day. Outside the coffee shop I stepped out into the downtown heat. There was a woman, very old, in a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, both in pastel colors.
“You should come inside,” she said, beckoning toward her bookstore, a shoebox sized little place, covered floor to ceiling in used paperbacks. I stepped inside. There was a woman sitting on a folding chair, half asleep. There were travel guides and study guides and trash fiction.
The day was, as Jay McInerney writes (and my apologies, I’m butchering this quote) “an exercise in what you aren’t.” So many titles and authors to see, but none of them are my titles and my books yet. It feels like there is a long way to get back to who I used to be. I can’t see the train or the station that will take me there.
I took a melancholy walk through Soho, eventually flopping on a bench outside The Mercer and deflecting my attention on a Georgetown Cupcake (even after eating a chocolate chip cookie thirty minutes prior). I people watched. I told myself I’d go home and write. But it never happened.