Like all bars, Anna Bannana's is very boring most of the time. People go there because it's a place to meet one's friends and have the usual sorts of semi-boring conversations that people everywhere in the world have with each other.
But every once in a while, something interesting happens. (What's interesting, of course, depends on the observer. I make the assumption that if you didn't find some of the same things interesting that I do, you wouldn't be reading this.) (Also, for me, the interesting things are often those that are going on in my own head rather than externally. My accounts reflect this.)
So here are some accounts of nights at Anna Bannana's with the boring parts left out.
From: Lee Lady
To: A Friend in France
Subject: Wednesday (AM and PM)
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2000
So right away, I begin with a lie. Since Wednesday actually starts about 12:30 PM, when I teach my first class. So it's all PM. But for purposes of this communication, let's assume that AM actually extends until about 5:00 PM. And PM begins about 11:00 PM.
[ AM portion omitted. ]
So. One beer beyond my usual limit. (I.e. four beers and two shots of schnapps instead of three beers and the schnapps.) And already just reaching the pre-assigned time limit for when I planned to go to bed. Meaning that I've decided to pretty much blow off a large part of tomorrow. (Contemporary American expression. "Blow off": to just decide to scratch it. Forget about it. Abandon one's plans.)
All of which means that maybe I'm in the right sort of mood to write you the sort of email you appreciate.
Test scheduled for my two classes on Friday. Teaching two sections of Calculus III is really great in a lot of ways, but it does mean I have to make up two different versions of the test. Bearing in mind that the two different sections ought to get tests which are substantially the same, but on the other hand, some of the people in the afternoon section will have seen a copy of the morning section test (if we count 12:30 PM as being morning) before they take their own test, so the two versions have to be substantially different. (Despite being substantially the same.)
All of which would be okay, except that there's one type of question I need to ask, and almost all problems on that topic turn out to be impossibly complicated. So there's almost only one version of that problem that is at all acceptable. But I have to find two versions, one for the morning and one for the afternoon.
Okay. You don't really care about these details. [Additional details omitted.]
All of which brings us to Anna Bannana's, about 11 PM, maybe slightly earlier. I know I've told you before that my experience has been that the very best experiences I've had in bars have been nights where I've walked in and the place is totally dead, so my first impulse is to walk back out again. So that's what it was like at Anna's tonight. A small bunch of guys there, plus two lesbians sitting at the bar, one of whom works there but not as a bartender or waitress, but does know my name (but I don't know hers). Well, okay, no problem but not very interesting for me, although the lesbians did give me the rest of their nachos after they decided they didn't want any more.
Wednesdays, incidentally, have recently been "Hump Night" upstairs. Wednesday being the "hump" of the week --- the top of the hill, as one makes one's way toward Friday and the weekend. And C, who usually works as a waitress and usually makes a point of being especially friendly to me, but who doesn't have enough in common with me for us to have many real conversations, tends bars upstairs (on Wednesdays), which would otherwise be closed (on Wednesdays), and either has a small band or a DJ (disk jockey, I'm sure it's in your dictionary). So I like to go upstairs briefly (on Wednesdays) to give her some moral support, which she often needs because if there's only a DJ, lots of the time I'm her only customer (on Wednesdays).
"Hump" incidentally also has a suggestive connotation, since it's also slang for having sex. Everybody understands this so well that to actually explicitly say anything about it would be to reveal oneself as being rather stupid. (Or "square," as one used to say back in the dark ages when I was in high school.)
Anyway, no Hump Night tonight, because instead they were having a birthday party for some guy who didn't invite me (since he doesn't actually know me, except by sight). Which was just as well, because they had an extremely loud band. The bartender downstairs actually asked them to play less loudly, since it was disturbing us downstairs. First time I ever knew that to happen.
Then after a while, people began to wander in downstairs. Some from upstairs, some just arriving at Anna's late. Some women worth looking at. And then a guy I sort of vaguely know --- he knows my name, anyway, and sometimes says hello and once bought me a drink --- came in with a woman definitely not worth looking at, but who I'd seen with him once before and found rather interesting. ("Interesting" but not "worth looking at." In other words, for me she was worth looking at, because to me she was interesting. But she was "not worth looking at" from the clichéd male point of view, i.e. not sexually attractive in an obvious way.) And they sat down --- it would be too much effort to figure out how to describe the geometry of the bar to you, but they sat down at the bar in a way that put their backs to me. But then she decided that she didn't want to sit there, so they moved to a place so that she wound up sitting next to me.
So this woman --- this girl, this chick.... I started realizing that she was exactly what I need for my character Angela in my novel. It's an interesting thing, when I start writing something, it's like I have this enormous amorphous scope of possibilities for a character I need. And I think: maybe this, maybe that. And gradually I start narrowing it down. And I might get ideas from other books or from movies, but mostly the strongest impression is when I see someone, most often at Anna's because mostly that it's the only place I go, and I think: Yes, this could be what I need for my character.
Anway, I've got Angela pretty well narrowed down, but I still have several different ideas on what she might look like and various things about her. And this woman at Anna's.... I thought, yes, I think maybe this is exactly what I'm looking for. She (Angela) has to be sort of not attractive, and it's like she hasn't exactly figured out yet how to make everything work together. She doesn't know the right thing to do with her hair, and her glasses are ugly, and.... More than anything else, it's that she hasn't yet figured out how to move and how to talk. So that everything about her is sort of ... unformed. Or, using the expression I told you about earlier, "not quite ready for prime time."
But the tricky thing about this is that she has to be not very attractive right now, but capable of becoming very attractive when she gets older.
And, the thing I realized tonight.... As this woman and her boyfriend were sitting next to me at the bar, after a while they started talking to me about various things. There was nothing playing on the jukebox, so I put some money in and tried to imagine what they might like. And I decided that they might like slow blues, which turned out to be a very good guess. So they talked about the music that was playing, and politics, and all the things people talk about in bars. And I realized, for one thing, that Angela has to be very strongly opinionated. Have very strong opinions about lots of things and be not be at all shy about telling people what she thinks. And the way she talks.... There's an immaturity about it somehow. Not childish, exactly, but she hasn't learned yet how to create the image, the persona, the personality that she presents to the world in a way so that she fits in, so that people will think she's cool. So she hasn't figured this out yet, so that makes her come across a little like a child --- like a teenager.
Also, I've been sort of deliberately not being specific about where the beginning of my novel is located, but I've been think more or less about Tucson, Arizona, since that's where I first went to college and where I met my ex-wife. But the thing is, none of my characters quite match Tucson. But as I was studying this woman tonight, I started thinking: No, these people (in my novel) don't belong in Tucson, they belong in Lawrence, Kansas, where I taught for five years from 1972 to 1977. Well, okay, I know that doesn't mean anything to you, and it's definitely to late to explain to you about Lawrence, but it's interesting to me how looking at this woman at Anna's, who has probably never been in Kansas in her lifetime, could make me realize that the right place for my first chapter is actually Lawrence.
Well, anyway. That's what I have to tell you about today. That's my AM and my PM. And now it's much too late, but I got the Pete's Wicked Ale and the peppermint schnapps I had planned on, and a little more than I had planned, and I don't teach tomorrow so I'll turn the alarm off and wake up late and then go over to my office and make sure the final version of this test is okay, and then tomorrow evening I'll go to the Art Academy and see the Spanish film I want to see.
A number of good films are about to open, by the way. At commercial theatres, so they'll play for a little longer than at the Art Academy --- at least a week. A French film called "La Fille Sur la Pont" and a new Robert Altman film, which probably doesn't mean much to you, but as a writer I find Robert Altman's films extremely interesting. Which, in a way, is strange, because in a certain sense he doesn't actually write his films. He plans certain situations, and then lets his actors create their own dialogue. So well known actors will work for him and charge much less than they normally get, because he lets them really use their abilities rather than following a script.
But it's too late to tell you about Altman tonight. Much too late.
Love & kisses,
>for a short story.... !!!!!!! crazy writers !! well, I'm not very creative
>in writing these days... I'm losing my
I finished grading almost all my tests. Five more papers left. I can do those easily tomorrow morning. Ultimately, the blunder I made on the first test means that some students will wind up with more credit than they would have got otherwise. Five or ten points mostly, I think. So that's okay. But the morning test was definitely easier than the afternoon one.
So. Anyway. "It's only a test."
So I went out to Anna's this evening. Not quite as interesting as Wednesday, but still a lot of people (women) to watch. I was thinking that the mental state I get into watching people at Anna's is very much the same as the mental state I get from reading certain literature. Mostly I think of it as "literature from the Twenties" although it actually extends considerably forward and backward from that time. Hemingway. And a British woman writer named Jean Rhys. And an American writer named John O'Hara, although his focus is more on people's dialogue than the visual impressions I was thinking of tonight.
What I was thinking this is about is the way people (women) use their bodies to express themselves. Their bodies and their voices. Not words, just voices. And how different people are. And when I'm at Anna's, I always think that this is what I want to communicate in my writing. But when I sit down in front of my computer, I don't seem to manage it very well.
There was an interesting woman there tonight, not as interesting as the one Wednesday, but still interesting. Sitting mostly at the opposite end of the room from the bar --- where the dart boards are, and in fact playing darts occasionally. Small and very angular. Very angular shoulders, angular elbows, angular legs. Skinny, but also short. She crossed her legs like men do, with one ankle resting on the other knee. (She was wearing jeans.) A tomboy, therefore. With short black hair, cut in almost a helmet style --- vaguely like Louise Brooks, "Lulu": a German film star from the Twenties. But not styled ("mannered") like Louise Brooks.
Then there was C, the waitress I mentioned before, except tonight she was drinking, not working. It seems like over the years, there's always a waitress at Anna's (although C has now graduated to bartending sometimes) like C, who's sort of like a little girl, so that a lot of customers fall in love with her. C is like a little girl in that she's very, um, well I don't know quite how to say it. She expresses all her feelings. Whatever she is feeling at the moment, she says it. Very exhuberant, but not extremely loud. Laughs a lot. Almost always seems happy, in fact, which is something that usually makes a woman seem very attractive to men.
C was having a good time with two of the other waitresses, one of whom was working (at least occasionally working --- on duty, in any case). These three are very good friends, and they are all very different, but when they are together they tend to become more alike.
There were people drinking tequila (I seem to remember that maybe this was C and her friend who wasn't on duty, although it might have been two customers). And I was thinking about the various ritualistic ways people use their bodies. With tequila, there's the very quick drinking of the shot, all in one gulp, followed very fast (almost in a panic) by licking the salt off one's hand (between the thumb and the index finger) and then sucking the lime. And I was remembering you having a conversation in Cluny with Veronique about the rituals of smoking --- pulling the pack out of one's pocket, extending the pack to the other person, holding out the lighter.
As I say, somehow I associate this sort of imagery of the body with the American literature of the Twenties. And in art, I think of it especially in terms of the Impressionists. Showing people's bodies as they exist in normal social situations in the world --- a "slice of life" --- rather than posed for a formal portrait or for a mythological or religious or allegorical presentation or a picturesque pastoral scene where somehow there is the sense tht one is looking at peasants' faces from a distance or maybe even from behind a large glass window. But maybe you could say some of the Dutch painters had done this before that, in a somewhat different way. Maybe especially Brueghel. (And to some extent, in certain paintings, Rembrandt, and the other Dutch genre painters. Not that I'm any expert on painting.)
And Vermeer. In Vermeer, the people are not in social situations with large groups. The characters are alone, or in very small groups. But they're immersed in ordinary life. And, just as at Anna's, in Vermeer one sees the way people express themselves with their bodies, with their postures. One person's body is leaning in a way that sends his energy (for want of a better word) toward the other. And the other person is very, um, centered, not allowing the first person's energy to deflect him, and yet at the same time not rejecting that energy. In Vermeer, two people may be looking in completely different directions, as in "Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid," and yet one can somehow see that the two people are very aware of each other.
Even in the paintings with only one figure, there's still this sense of where the energy is being directed. In Vermeer's very last painting, "Lady seated at the Virginal" (a keyboard instrument), the model is looking at the artist. But it's not just that the woman is looking out of the painting toward the viewer, as happens in many paintings, Vermeer's and others, but somehow the woman's look makes the painter a part of the painting, even thought the painter is not actually visible.
And I guess that's why people continue to find Vermeer so fascinating. Vermeer is one of those artists who have become, as we Americans would say, in some sense iconic. There is a certain something that his pictures represent that seems meaningful to us at some very deep level that we can't explain. Something that makes people want to put postcards and calendars of his paintings on their walls and write stories and novels about them. (And incidentally, there are only about thirty paintings by Vermeer in the whole world.) Like Van Gogh and certain paintings by Picasso that almost everybody is familiar with.
There's an American painter that's somewhat similar in this respect --- Edward Hopper. Almost everybody, at least in America, knows certain of his paintings, even when they don't know his name. Like Vermeer, his paintings show people in everyday life. But whereas in Vermeer, there's a sense of eavesdropping (or whatever the corresponding visual word would be) on people in very private, solitary moments of their life (solitary even though there are often two or three people in the scene), with Hopper, the characters are more often in a public situation, in a restaurant or standing outside or somehow in public view, but there's a characteristic sense of an enormous loneliness (which Vermeer's characters do not have), of a character who is in public view but still very much wrapped up in their own private world.
Well. Anyway. Those are some of the things I was thinking about at Anna's tonight and walking home, stopping by the grocery store on my way home, since it's right across the street from Anna's. Picking up the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle (which hits the streets in San Francisco about 10 AM on Saturday and arrives here about 11 PM Saturday night) and some vegetables for salad tomorrow.
Love & kisses,
The trouble with writing you reports of my mini-adventures at Anna's is that by the time I get home it's too late and I'm too sleepy to write down what happened. And one can't write these things in the daytime.
The big news, anyway, is that I got my grades all calculated. Now I just need to go over to school tomorrow and take one last look at them, then copy them onto the grade sheets and turn them in. They're due at 3 PM, although I discovered last year that it's still okay to turn them in at least a day late. People (i.e. the secretaries, administrators, etc.) don't like it, but they still accept them.
That's certainly the very worst part of teaching: making up grades at the very end of the semester. This time my final exams were scheduled on Friday, the very last day, making it very stressful to get them all graded and the course grades turned in the following Monday. It occurred to me, as I was doing this, that when my finals are scheduled on Monday (for me, it's always either Monday or Friday), I tell my students that I'll have the grades posted by Wednesday afternoon, so this semester I actually have a day more than usual, not less. But in that case it's my own deadline, not the University's, so when I give my finals on Monday I don't have the stress of knowing that everything must be done very quickly.
And I have a lot more students than I have had in the past. As more faculty keep retiring, the Math Dept adjusts not by hiring new faculty to replace them (since the University doesn't give them any money to do that), but by making the class sizes larger.
Well, anyway. Tonight I went to Anna's as a matter of principle. Because of having finished my work for a semester. Sunday night, so there shouldn't be many people there. Especially since the semester is now over and a lot of students, and perhaps even some faculty, have gone home for the Christmas break.
Surprise. Lots of people. No space at the bar. But a bunch of people in the "service industry" (i.e. bartenders, waiters, etc.) who know me moved away from the bar to a table, giving me a place to sit. Very nice of them, although it wasn't really clear to what extent they were doing me a favor and to what extent they were just as happy sitting at a table. They continued having a good time (as "service people" usually do) in any case.
C was tending the bar, which it what she mostly does now rather than waitressing. She's now become one of Anna's main bartenders.
My best times in bars are certainly those times when I get into some completely crazy interaction with some woman. But tonight was one of the next best times, when I can just sit and get into a meditative (part of which is certainly drunken) state and watch crazy interactions other people are having. And think the thoughts that nobody else there knows I'm having.
There was a young women there with her boyfriend and some other friends. Very young. In her twenties, obviously, since they were serving her, but it was easy to look at her and think of her as being maybe sixteen or seventeen. She was dancing to the juke box with her boyfriend and sometimes with her other male friend. With bare feet and an extremely short dress. Actually, not a dress, but what in American is called a "culotte." Not really in fashion any more, but it looks like a dress but is actually shorts at the bottom. A little like a trapeze artist in the circus or even a ballet dancer. And this woman was dancing in a very extravagant style, sort of what we here would call Modern Dance (i.e. the sort of dancing one would see in a theatrical musical or a movie) with a little bit of ballet thrown in. She'd clearly studied dancing, including some ballet, somewhat seriously, but not seriously enough to become a real ballet dancer.
There's an interesting point of etiquette here. Not etiquette, exactly, but customs. Moeurs. People do not, in general, dance to juke boxes. To go out dancing, one needs to find a live band. Or if a night club has a DJ playing music, then people definitely dance; in that case, dancing is that whole point and it's slightly strange to listen and not dance. But to juke boxes, no, usually one does not dance. One or two songs, maybe, but to just keep dancing to a jukebox is generally considered, I don't know, not exactly gauche, but maybe ... naive.
Also it's not really okay to have bare feet in most bars, even in Hawaii. I think it's against the health code, and also there's the possibility of broken glass. But at Anna's, it seems (from what I've noticed) that it's okay not to be wearing your shoes (which would most often be sandals in any case), provided that you do have shoes with you.
Anyway, watching this women I was, as so often, thinking about my novel, which seems less and less likely ever to get written. And thinking about the characters I want for the novel. And, watching this girl, thinking about my character Angela. And understanding just a little bit more than I did before about what I want Angela to be. There was an immaturity in this girl dancing tonight that was what I want for Angela. An immaturity that only becomes visible in momentary flashes. In between those moments, what I've mentioned before --- a mixture of boldness and shyness. But the point of this immaturity is the vulnerability that goes with it. A sort of very young quality where the emotions are close to the surface and easily hurt.
The girl tonight and her boyfriend were dancing up a storm. (I hope I don't have to explain that idiom.) Dancing wildly through the whole bar, and him picking her up and throwing her around. I played some good songs on the jukebox to encourage them to keep dancing. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, "Tequila" by the Champs, Ray Charles, and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," from the very first Beatles album that was every released in the US.
And then they went racing through the bar and at one point she jumped up on a table and down again and he, chasing her, jumped up on the table after her.
And the table broke. No one hurt, but a momentary consternation, both people very apologetic. But the waitress and the bartender didn't seem all that upset, just said, "Don't do that again," and the couple resumed their extravagent dancing. I guess those tables are not that hard to fix. The table top just fell off the pedestal. There must just be some sort of a bracket that holds it.
I felt a little bit guilty, because after all I was the one that played the music that provoked this. But it didn't occur to anyone else to blame me.
And I thought, "That's really the sort of thing I've been looking for in the opening of my novel. I want some sort of disaster like that to happen to Angela. But not a major disaster, not the first time. But just something that ..." Hmm... I don't know quite how to explain this. But somehow, there's something about Angela that's a bit clumsy. Physically clumsy and also emotionally clumsy. She does these wild things, which are very attractive in a wild way, but then she goes too far and it all leads to an embarrassing little disaster.
Oh well. It's past my bed time now.
Love & kisses,
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