A Patron of the Elysian
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A PATRON OF THE ELYSIAN 
by 
William E. Allendorf 


Property of Black Hole Enterprises and William E. Allendorf 
All Rights Reserved

Cincinnati, Ohio May, 1979 


Sid had recommended that deli on the corner as the best place to
eat near campus. After a morning of work in the archives, he
decided that it was time for a break, so he packed a few books in
his sack and walked from the university library in the direction
Sid had indicated. The delicatessen was right where Sid had told
him it would be, and he figured if the food was as good, it would
be worth the walk. From a distance, the store looked clean and
hospitable. He came to the door. 

Locked. He looked up from the door knob and found a hastily
scrawled sign that read: 


CLOSED DUE TO HEALTH EMERGENCY
OWNER WILL REOPEN WHEN HE RECOVERS 

So much for lunch at the deli on the corner. He cupped his hands
to the glass and peered inside. Three empty tables were lit by
the last rays of the morning sun that came through the side
window. The chairs were neatly placed underneath the tables. 
The kitchen was separated from the small dining area by a row of
empty refrigerated cases that ran from front to back in the
narrow store. He could make out the name, Crosley, on the front
case -- an old refrigerator, but it was still in perfect
condition from all appearances. Between the cases and the door
was a counter, and a cash register, and a rack of snacks and
candies. Behind the counter was a pegboard filled with sundries
such as pantyhose and lip balm. He could taste the corned beef
and kraut of which Sid had spoken so highly as he turned
dejectedly away from the door and looked about the street
wondering where to go for lunch. There was a park across the
street. He picked up his book sack and started to cross the
street. He would go to the park and think about what to do. He
looked at his watch which showed it was eleven thirty-five; he
had all the time he needed to look for a meal, so he decided to
take it easy. 

As he stepped from between two cars into the middle of the
street, he heard the squeal of breaks. He never saw a car. The
park was cool and refreshing. As soon as he reached the shade of
the trees, he realized that the day had been too hot. The light
filtering between the leaves was much less harsh and trying than
it had been on the other side. It made patterns on the grass
around him as he sat. It was an extraordinary park for so deep
within a city, very lush and well groomed. He could not stay too
long; he was growing increasingly hungry. Just across the street
was an inviting spot, the Elysian Restaurant. Sid had said
nothing of it, but Sid was not the greatest expert on the city. 

As he crossed the street, he noticed a sign in the window of the
Elysian: 


CLOSED 
PLEASE CALL AGAIN 

However, as he reached the far sidewalk, the sign was flipped by
a hand in the window to read: 

OPEN 
The door was unbolted and opened as he approached. There was
another sign on the door, one showing the restaurants's hours. 
From glancing at it as he entered, he realized that he had found
the place just as it was opening for the day. It was cool and
pleasant in the store, even more so than the park, but
considerably darker. His eyes took some time to become used to
the dim light. As he stood in the doorway feeling the draft from
inside, his eyes adjusted to the gloom of the restaurant. He saw
that he was standing in an alcove which opened into a dining
room. A waitress dressed in a white, flowing gown that befitted
the heat of the season. She motioned with her outstretched hand
for him to follow. She escorted him to a table in view of the
door and helped him with his chair. 

He was amazed by the number of people already in the place. Many
of the tables were filled with couples and groups enjoying the
food. It became obvious to him that he was the only one sitting
alone. A young couple near him were quietly watching each other. 
Old men in the back were playing backgammon. The waitress who
had seated him was herself sitting nearby with several friends. 
The women of the party alternately arose to 
attend the customers. It was a jovial place. Music flowed from
somewhere in the store, though he could see no speakers. It was
light, but extremely complex. There was what seemed to be
improvisation, but there was an underlying perfection of order
that he had known only in computer composition. Even the
instruments had intriguing but nebulous qualities that made him
wonder what they were. Was that a sitar? A mellotron? A
theremin? A chorus perhaps, but the melody flowed from one voice
to another without part. He broke away from the music to consult
the menu that the waitress had placed before him. The selection
appeared sparse, and the names were foreign. From the familiar
baklava on the dessert list, he assumed that he had found a Greek
restaurant. The waitress noticed that he was having trouble and
came to help. After hearing an explanation of each item, he
settled on a gyros, which she described as a pita shell topped
with spiced meat, cheeses, tomatoes, onions, and a tzatziki sauce
served hot. She quickly jotted his choice on her pad and went to
the small kitchen in the front of the store. The order was
placed in front of the cook, who busied himself cooking over a
griddle. 

He let his eyes roam over the furnishings of the cafe. It was
filled with many plants and art objects. Philodendron ran from a
large hanging pot and inundated the windows. The same went for
the pots of tradescantia and Swedish ivy. Asparagus fern hung
with lacy fronds covering small statues that stood on pedestals
about the room. Plumosa had overtaken one window and partially
obscured what had to have been an African Ivory Coast 
bust. The lace of the plant hid the thick features of the head
that sat on the sill. There was a clock above his head. It
showed eleven thirty-five. He knew that the clock had to be off,
because he had looked at his watch at eleven thirty-five, just
before he crossed the street to go to the park. 

Deciding that there was enough time to catch up on his reading as
he waited for his meal to come, he reached into his sack and took
out a volume of work by the obscure philosopher, Von Schmitt. A
page was folded over, and he opened to that page to straighten
it. As he was smoothing the paper, he read a passage that some
previous borrower had underlined in pencil: 


"If life is nothing more than sitting for six hours
straight in an air studio," wrote Von Schmitt, "then I would
rather turn in my resignation today. For most people, life
is the midnight- to-six shift with nothing more than a
squealing cart machine and a joint for company. The only
excitement comes when we try to get to the bathroom and back
before the music stops. I did my time like that playing
musical men's room for three years at seven different
stations. The only friends I had were the burn-outs who
called me on the phone. Most of them were more stoned than
I. Loneliness is hell, and no marriage, or family, or job
can save a man who is condemned to walk alone." 

Von Schmitt was a malcontent who had come out of the Pacifica
Group. Unknown and unheard, he drifted about the country during
the topless radio craze, until drugs and alcohol had neutralized
his mind. His writings had marked the counter revolution in
American Zen. Unlike Kerouac, Von Schmitt had 
advocated mellowness as the route to cosmic consciousness. Von
Schmitt had mellowed himself into catatonia and had not written
anything since his committal. His only work of note had been
Prophet of the Airwaves, a mild success. Prophet of the Airwaves
lay open with a crease still showing on the bent page. 

He had been studying Von Schmitt and other writers of what he
considered to be the school of American Zen. His thesis would be
complete soon; he would tie Von Schmitt and Kerouac into a new
synthesis. He saw life moving in a great waveform, fluctuating
between the entropy of thought and the kinesis of
stimulus/response. Kerouac and Von Schmitt were the polar
opposites of his model, based on the inherent dichotomy between
the yin and yang of the human mind. To him, the action of
existence was an oscillation between these two poles. 

As he read, the sounds of the restaurant became more noticeable. 
He found that he could not read more than a few lines without
being distracted by the patrons at the other tables. The
environments blended in his mind. As the music hit a cadence,
Schmitt made his job as an announcer a clearer metaphor for the
everyman. Sitting alone at his table, he could see the point of
Von Schmitt's argument. Here he was, sustaining himself in
solitude, researching a thesis that would never be read by anyone
else in the cafe. He worked alone to survive, feeding his
intellect as others gobbled their meals. They would never touch;
each to his own frequency, working his own midnight shift. They
were joined only in the desire to announce to the world "I AM!",
and thereby reaffirm their own channel of existence. For Von
Schmitt, that meant a discrete path of evolution for each man,
and along that path came the desire for a jealously cherished
clear channel voice of individualism. A man segregates himself
from all, and is ostracized from the rest in the quest for being. 
He is alone, and he gnaws at the bond of humanity so that he can
set himself free to proclaim his being over the other. He was
received by deaf ears belonging to a world of announcers who had
to shut out the noise so that only their message would be heard
over the mike. The teeming hordes, the audiences, the other
customers were the interference that had to be shut out. Horde
the channel! Let your voice be the only one heard, lest it be
drowned in the clamor of the masses. The table of waitresses and
their friends would laugh at him, as they giggled at each other
even as he watched. The couple across the way would turn away
from him or shout him down. Togetherness was the answer for
them. Let someone help. Let someone into your life even God,
if you be so bold. Love conquers all, so they would say. But he
would get another answer from the old men playing backgammon. 
They had ridden the tide of stimulus/response; they had seen what
it is like to search for answers in others. With age, they had
found the secret path, the road that no one else would walk, the
way to the middle of the wood in which no one can hear the cry of
being. The old men sat worrying over the board; each stone moved
was an assertion of their selves over the noise of the other. 
They would play until one had won, and then they would begin
again silently. He, too, had the clear channel in his mind like
the old men, and he could hear it over everything else. "I AM. I
AM. I AM." 


The waitress brought his lunch to him. He gingerly cut the meat
of the gyros and smeared it with the sauce. It was a subtly
spiced dish that made his mouth dry. He called for a glass of
wine. The waitress got up from the table where she had returned
and gave him a glass of the house wine. It was cool and fruity,
but he could not quite decide what sort of grape had been its
source, if indeed it was a grape wine at all. Once the waitress
had gone to take care of another customer, he decided not to
bother asking. It was an excellent wine for the meal, whatever
it was. He rolled the meat in the sauce, added a bit of onion to
the fork maybe a slice of tomato and popped the bite into
his mouth. He slowly chewed, making sure that each part of his
mouth received an equal share of the taste. After swallowing, he
paused to contemplate what he had eaten before washing it down
with a sip of wine. All too soon for himself, he had finished
the plate. The waitress noticed that he was done and came to
clean the table. He was eager for something else. He was not
ready to finish with dessert, so the baklava was out for the time
being. He wanted more, so the waitress left to bring the menu
again. 

While she was gone, he decided to see how much time he had left. 
The clock on the wall still said eleven thirty-five. He checked
his wristwatch, but there was nothing on his wrist. He had lost
his watch a cheap digital. Perhaps he had lost it as he was
crossing the street. It would have been run over in that case. 
It might, however, still be in the park; he should go back across
the street and look for it. He glanced towards the door,
but there was not any. The alcove where he had entered was
surrounded on three sides by walls. That was impossible. He
must be mistaken. He looked again, but there were still only
three walls and no door. In fact, the walls were covered by
paintings which were all neatly hung in lighted frames. He took
his bearings, but he knew that he had seen his table as he
entered. There was a growing panic within him. He wanted to get
up from his chair and rush to the alcove to test the walls, but
he knew that they would be solid. The windows. He#would go to
the window and look out at the street. He turned to see the
windows, but they had become long narrow canvases, lit from above
by lights which acted as surrogate suns for the flourishing
plants. He turned again and faced the wall behind him, and
feeling its mass, looked up to the ceiling, which had disappeared
into a blackness. The hanging plants seemed suspended in that
void, their chains having no anchor. There was no exit for him,
and in that realization, he found himself unable to move from his
chair. He knew that he could not move. 

The waitress returned at that moment with menu. Automatically,
he opened it and looked over the items. He would not have
another gyros. In fact, he had suddenly lost his appetite for
Greek food. The waitress understood and pointed to an item that
he had missed. For an instant he wondered what enchilada was
doing on the menu, but at the same time he knew that he wanted
one. He nodded and asked for a side of beans. The waitress
wrote his order down on her pad and departed. After she left, he
turned to watch a couple that were sitting across the room. They
were sharing an order of tempura, and with each bite from their
chopsticks, they looked up to watch the other. They ate without
speaking, and only once did they pause together and look into
each other's eyes. They remained intent in this way for some
time, and there was a power growing between them, as though they
fed on something deep within the partner. To feed on another's
silence, he thought, to let one's own being grow from the moment
lost, the moment in which the other might have cried a wave of
being and drowned the world: that was the moment each lost. The
man stared at the woman, and she at him; they drained each other
of the energy that was so freely given, yet relinquishing with
the same intent, their chance to be. The couple turned their
eyes towards the tempura again. They laughed at a joke that he
did not know, and that he could not have seen as he watched. It
was a joke known only to them. 

His attention turned from the couple as two older businessmen
were escorted by one of the waitresses to a table. They had just
arrived. He did not see them until they were already past him. 
He looked quickly to see from where they had come, but the room
had not changed; the paintings still hung in the alcove. Perhaps
they had come from above, or they had entered the same as he had
through a door on a street across from a park. The men sat down
and chatted in low tones, their voices melting into the music and
the hum of the other patrons. He turned back to his meal and
stared into the wine glass that the waitress had filled as he was
studying the men. She came back to his table with the enchilada
and beans. He ate them. 

The meat of the enchilada had been shredded to the same
consistency as the little shavings of unmelted cheese that rimmed
the soft tortilla. The sauce was mild, but it stood on its own. 
The beans were baked to a consistency that he favored; never so
much as to allow the individual bean to lose its shape and blend
indiscriminately with the other ingredients. Again, as with the
last dish, the food was gone from the plate long before he had
been satisfied. If he was to seek satisfaction from the food,
then he must allow himself to be dependent on the portion for his
gratification. The food would swallow him and make him.yield to
its limitations. He would be rewarded by satisfaction and
frustrated from looking further by the growing fullness in his
stomach. He must eat for himself and eat for its own sake,
allowing the moment of experiential pleasure to run free without
the fetters of his expectations. 

If he could not leave, had he no other recourse but to eat? He
could try to observe his surroundings, but his finite environment
was already beginning to bind him to its limits. He was trapped,
and the only way to escape was through denying his world as Von
Schmitt had done. To mellow himself beyond the limitations of
the world, to find the inner voice of being and sing with it
loudly in the void: that was the path Von Schmitt had taken to
enlightenment. Yet, what of the other pole? Was Kerouac to be
denied? Should he not throw himself upon the world and ablate
all that he was upon the atmosphere of reality? Burn away the
insignificance of consciousness and there shall remain only the
voice of being. Should he order the rijstaffell or the steak
tartare next? Alone in the chair, staring at the other patrons,
he saw that no one stared back at him. Who would hear the lone
voice in the wilderness? Who would search for the spirit once
his shell was discovered? He would cry alone. Would the
waitress notice that he had disappeared? Would the patrons
gather around his body and wonder where his mind had gone? If he
could but move to another table, if he could but intrude on
another's life and make his being known, then he could quit in
peace. He looked frantically about the room, but he could find
no place for him to sit. The old men played at backgammon. 
They, like the couple eating tempura, would have no place for him
in their game. There were no extra chairs at the table where the
waitresses sat. The businessmen were still talking in low tones,
excluding all from their conversation. He knew that he could not
move. He had made the choice to eat alone, and that was now part
of the irrevocable past. Fondue or carmi? Lasagna or chili? He
could eat, but he could never be. He could eat, but he could
never be. The thought turned around inside of him, nudging him
closer to an ascending whirlpool that was Chaos. He was caught
in the current, and he whirled about it, rising endlessly. He
cried out, and as the current spun him, the sound of his own
voice reached him. He heard his own cry of being. It echoed and
modulated, growing louder until it became the sound of squealing
breaks. 

 

Editors Note:  For those of you who haunt Calhoun Street.  The Elysian is actually  the Dionysus Restaurant.  Back in its early days, there was no way to see the front door, and there was no back door.  Once you were inside, it looked like there was no escape.


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