Infinite Expectation at Breakfast
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Here in L.A., people believe it's possible to create "the perfect moment." The city as a whole may exhibit dust and chaos, but within the limited confines of a living room or a rooftop bar, we think it should be possible to find just the right art, the right clothes, the right food, the right relationship, the right politics.
If only we could get everything to align, just for a minute, we're certain we would be happy. Of course, like anyone who seeks the Ideal, like monks or professional critics, this attitude can lead to a certain…disappointment.
Every day, the Urban Man tries to hold onto his faith in the perfect moment as long as he can…sometimes till 11 a.m. I start by imagining that breakfast will be perfect: I mean the parameters are so limited: good coffee, crisp toast, white tablecloth. As long as I don't read the paper, I experience what Thoreau called "the infinite expectation of morning."
Often I go write in the early cafés of large L.A. hotels. I like the infinite expectation of guests seeking their complimentary croissant: Later they may discover the croissant to be limp and greasy, but for a moment, we share a magnificent hope.
Today, however, I'm seated near a woman who believes in the perfectability not just of breakfast, but life. She arrives with a loud voice. She's annoyed by the unfortunate position of the table, its uncertain cleanliness, the sun in her eyes. We all learn about the watery Kona, the lazy waitress, the failure of her visiting daughter to appear downstairs.
"She's up there on her laptop," the woman whispers to me confidentially, "You'd think she could take one day and really be with me. I can't stand how she grew up all slick and pretty, but forgot her mother."
I plug in my earbuds, but that only makes her lean closer: "You know something about this place that gives me the creeps?" she says. "The waiters and waitresses are lovely blond things, while the busboys are poor Latinos. I wonder how they divide the tips? Is it like Hollywood? Do the lovely ones get all the profit?"
Like all Angelenos, I try to appreciate the purity of this woman's philosophical position: I mean, wasn't it Plato who said that the world we occupy is but a shadow of the ideal world? That the chair we touch is but a reflection of the Perfect Chair? That the life we lead is but an effort to imitate the Correct Life? Like me, isn't she just trying to actualize the Ideal Breakfast? And…isn't she correct on all points: I mean, the Kona is watery. The service is slow. The silverware is spotty. Yuppie daughters do neglect their moms. She may even be right about the labor situation. I mean, now that she mentions it…
But of course, like everyone in the room, I have begun to hate this woman. I hate her not because she's right or wrong, but because she has destroyed my joy in the polished woods and gleaming brass of morning; in its beautiful waitresses; in its abstract art and pampered orchids. I hate her because she has removed the sweet illusion produced by coffee itself, and moved the clock five minutes into another problematic day.
Suddenly I recall that old saying, "the perfect drives out the good." At once, I turn over a new leaf. By 8:10, I have resolved to give up on infinite expectation and enjoy life as it comes.
The woman's daughter descends into the room, and sure enough she's slick in a silk business suit, with hair dyed to match her pearls. The mother rises to kiss the cheek of the girl she perfected, and despite her earlier complaints, she fusses over the corporate touches, adjusts the pearls. "How did you sleep?" she asks. "Isn't this place gorgeous?"
The daughter brushes her off, and as she surveys the room with a slight frown, the Urban Man says, "Hey, be sure to try the croissants."
Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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