Monday, February 07, 2005

The Cafe

Deep in the small and crumpled heart of Knoxville's Old City, the paved road suddenly becomes brick. The darkness of a treasure-laden cavern closes in and breathes in tandem with you. Antiques and relics of families long-gone peer through dusty windows. Poetry runs in rivets through hidden cracks in the dark brick street. If you take Jackson down from Broadway, and go to the four-way stop with the sounds of Manhattan's on your right, the Thursday-night Irish folk tunes of Patty Sullivan's across the way, and the secretive smells of the Melting Pot singing Siren-songs to you like you were Odysseus, you'll have found a place not too far from home. It's more home for those who travel. Pilgrims who notice that maybe the world is a little more alive than we gave it credit for. Turn right past Manhattan's and walk the street slowly. It gets quieter as you take steps. Past Java and Hannah's, and past the Red Iguana. A cake shop pops up on your left, and homemade pasta and great sauces tingle your senses through the window on your right. To your left, there's a door, underneath an old wooden sign that reads, "New City Cafe." Open the door and walk in on a Thursday night. Charles will be on your right at the corner table, painting icons and speaking to you in languages of old. The feeling of curiousity springs from the stairwell to the right - but there will be time for that later. Sonny sits with George beside Charles and talks of life and beggar's theology. Pay closer attention than you would think necessary to George - still waters run deep. Keep walking towards the counter. Justin stands behind the cash register and the smell of rich Sumatra Mandheling. He's an old disheveled gentleman in an apron, with kindly eyes. Further still into this web of humanity you listen, and my dear friend Ms. Penner's footsteps echo off the kitchen floor. She's gone for a while, but her smiles and her artist's hands (the art of a strong-hearted woman in the kitchen) still haunt us. Every pilgrim must journey. In the next room, Rick is moving about, making the world spin and stand still too. Nathan occasions the back of the room, giving artists a voice, and without prejudice. Mark is there somewhere with a silent smile, and if you're early, you might even see a small man with a quieting humility about him. He walks through, carrying papers under his arm. His shirt is buttoned and tucked in, and he smiles to think of his wife at home (she's from Vietnam, her name is Doris, and we miss her cooking) and his kids and their smiles. That's Kenny, and nothing more can be said until you meet him, and by then, you'll just want to sit and be quiet and drink in the air. This is a place to be, a place to know others. New City Cafe is a place that we'll all say we have been. We'll remember and tell others we were there and we knew. Years down the fraying road, we'll remember a quiet place. I'll see you Thursday...


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