2009-12-08: Irony Over Coffee



Date: December 8, 2009


Joule stops in a coffee shop she used to frequent for a holiday blend and finds Lee at the poetry slam. Cool relations warm between them fractionally.

"Irony Over Coffee"

Ironic Stimulant Coffee Shop, Somewhere Near SoHo

It's a place they used to come, and a place she hasn't been in some time. Coffeeshop poetry slams normally don't rate as fun for most people, but this one was deeply changed just by the addition of the word 'Ironic' to the title. That lets people with really bad poetry still be enjoyed by the audience, and since that takes the pressure off, it sometimes produces some really good, funny, or touching moments. Outside the city is freezing cold, dark, inside the heat whirrs out of an ancient vent and the faintly charred scent of the roaster wafts through the air. Thrift-store Romeos and band T-shirt Juliets abound. It's a scene, after all, the kind of place where they'd pretend not to know who Joule because her record sold more than 78 copies.

…which is precisely the reason Joule's come here. New York is a place where she is recognized. Some know her as the rock star she's trying to stop being. Others remember her as the crazy-hot drummer from that one hit wonder two years ago. It gets wearing. So it is with her hair pulled back into a ponytail and a beat up motorcycle jacket over an oversized cableknit sweater dyed black above a pair of battered black Levis, she makes her quiet way into the shop, eager for their Christmas blend, anonymity, and some peace. She groans slightly on realizing it's poetry slam night, caught between amusement and dismay.

Lee approaches the mike and says, "Enter stage left, holding iPhone. Hey, you heard? I didn't. Nor I. I love you, did you hear? I didn't. Nor I. Exit stage right, tweeting." Some chuckles. Lee adds: "I call it 140 Characters." Laughs, some applause at the cleverness of fitting it exactly in. He descends from the stage, he approaches Joule without recognizing her at first, but then he does and his eyes light, "Heyy," he says to her. "You made it!" As if he had invited her and hoped she'd come.

Joule is warming her hands over the coffee, and breathing the fragrant steam when the voice cuts through the ambient murmuring about irony. She stiffens, then casts her eyes toward the heavens. "Irony," she murmurs herself, before turning to watch Lee recite; by which time he's just about done because it's short. 140 Characters short. "…um. Hullo," she says, an awkward twist marring her usual kilowatt smile. "You …you were good. Short. But really good."

Lee says, gracefully, "Thanks. A gimmick will always get you far. Extra large Christmas blend?" he asks the barista, who delivers it up, his free coffee for getting on the mike. He sees the twist in Joule's smile and says, "Hey, I didn't mean to bother you, I just saw you over here and thought I'd say hi. It's good to see you." He figures it's him.

It's her. It's him. It's both of them. She tried to make it a clean break, but it was a jagged, ragged messy tear full of tears. Joule hasn't entirely forgiven herself for it now that she knows what it did to Lee — and that the feelings remain near the surface for him. And, to her surprise — for herself, more than she is willing to admit. "Likewise," she tells him, sincerity warm in her words. "Sit. The poetry's new, then?"

Lee sits, as directed, and the noise and bustle of the place means he has to lean close to her to make himself heard, which he does, "Well, you know, we did come here and make fun of them a lot, I figured it was about time I got on the receiving end. Also, free coffee. Besides, I wrote a lot of poetry in college. Notebooks full of it. Even tried to get it published at one point. I'm pretty sure I was the only guy on the baseball team who had a Moleskine in his locker."

Lee sits, as directed, and the noise and bustle of the place means he has to lean close to her to make himself heard, which he does, "Well, you know, we did come here and make fun of them a lot, I figured it was about time I got on the receiving end. Also, free coffee. Besides, I wrote a lot of poetry in college. Notebooks full of it. Even tried to get it published at one point. I'm pretty sure I was the only guy on the baseball team who had a Moleskine in his locker."

Lee says, "Pretty much anything other than comic books." wryly. Given where his life has gone, his beloved irony has clearly stabbed him in the back. "You've had a few contradictions yourself. Remember when you first came here, you were on a mission for science. And you were after photography, not music."

"Music's always been in the blood," Joule corrects, twirling her coffee stirrer idly between her fingers. "You didn't know me when I was younger — all rage and punk and ska and drumming and feedback as loud as I could possibly manage it." She glances away, thinking of her father. "The science was …survivor's guilt. And maybe guilt led me back here, too." She turns toward him again but doesn't meet his eyes.

Lee says, "I don't think it was survivor's guilt, really." He tactfully omits her current guilt. "You loved your father and wanted to see what he had done through, and you did." he says encouragingly. "It's something to be proud of, or at least satisfied with….Did anything ever come of that, by the way?"

Joule is grateful Lee had the tact to not tread on her current guilt. By way of answering his question, all she can do is shrug. "Dunno. Even before I got discovered because I don't need to be autotuned, Dr. Suresh had vanished. He was working for some rather dodgy characters. I suspect they caught up with him. So that's three people chasing that path dead and gone now. Perhaps for the best."

Lee snerks. "Autotuned. Yeah, no kidding, compared to most of what's out there you must be a producer's dream." So he has heard her album. "Maybe someone will work to pass it along to where it needs to go the same way you did. You never know what knowledge will end up helping someone out down the road." he says meditatively. "Even people who know the future don't seem to know what's coming these days!" he adds, perking up like that's an encouraging development.

"I hear it bloody everywhere," Joule says of autotuning with a visible flinch. "Maybe someone will, but it won't be me. I'm done with the science, I think. Dad wanted me to follow in his footsteps, but I'm jusst not cut out." With Lee's speculation on the future, though, she just gives him a quizzical look. He could be joking; he might be serious. "So - you a regular here, then?" Joule asks, hand swaying to encompass the shop in an attempt to steer onto more cheerful topics.

Lee nods, "When I can be. Schedule's tight, but…you were right, I needed to get out a little more. So it's here, the Lebanese stand over south of Times Square, I'm even trying to get Nima to come down to do some band stuff, but she's busy with something or other." Lee doesn't pay a huge amount of attention to his sister's increasingly successful enterprises. "It's too easy to get into a rut, and the kids can tell when you're in one. They're frickin' merciless, teenagers, give them one little opening, one little touch of weakness and bang, they're all over you." he says warmly.

Joule laughs lightly at Lee's descriptions of how he spends his time. "You two should cut a demo sometime. You'd be all the rage in Europe." Where they are far more accepting of things that aren't overprocessed than the US. "And oh, bloody god, yes, they are." Joule's music sings to that. Passionately. There's part of her that still embraces teen rage and angst. "Any more trouble from your special class?" Her road crew manager's son has been well behaved; so far, but that could change at any moment.

Lee says, "The main thing I'm worried about is that it's attracting kids who are hiding out more than the ones that really can't make it in public schools. I guess that's a product of the times, but…I really hate that I'm running a segregated classroom. It's not good for them, it's not good educationally, socially…I don't see a better option for anyone right now, but it's not good. There's got to be a better way." It really troubles him, she can see it in his eyes. Still, on lighter subjects: "You think the Jones twins could find an audience? We put up a Myspace page one time but haven't updated it in years. It's all full of penis enlargement spammers and camwhores by now I assume."

"Well, it's all well and good to want to do something about it, but the something you do has to be good for them and for you," Joule reminds Lee with a finger jabbed into his shoulder. "Until then, all you can do is tread water and make the best of a bad situation." She nods, though, in response to his other question. "Worth a try. You've talent. And raising your profile a bit higher might be a good idea." She doesn't say it, but there's an intent, meaningful tilt of her chin, and her eyes meet his. They can't disappear you if your profile is high enough. She doesn't say it, but it might easily explain why last he saw her she was talking about getting out of the rock game — but hasn't yet.

Lee says, "Yeah…I see your point. I think…I think I've put enough things teetering on the edge of the windowsill that it might make an awful mess if I wasn't there to hold onto them. That's one way of accomplishing the same thing, I think." Or at least as explicit as he's willing to be in a public place. "But anyhow, like I say, Nima is really busy these days, we still keep in touch but we haven't met up for brunch in a long time. She'll come around, though. So how about yourself, how are your plans working out?"

"Bloody awful," Joule sighs, tossing back the dregs of her coffee. "I need time to drop into has been obscurity or something, or I may as well be the same starving photographer I was when we met." She smirks, though, shrugs, and drops a few bills down for her own coffee. "It'll pass, isn't that what they say? Everything will?" She's not really the patient sort — that's always been the problem with her.

Lee says, "That's what they say, but for someone who charges as hard at the finish line as you do, I'm not really surprised that you're not thrilled by that. If there's anything I can do to hurry things along or help you forget about how long it's taking?" he says as she makes to go.

Joule winds her scarf around her neck, plucking the ponytail out to hang free. "Yes, well, as the saying goes — 'she can be taught!' I don't run as hard at the goal anymore, Lee. Got to watch where I plant my feet on the way." She gives him a fleeting, apologetic smile. "you know me, though. Too stubborn to quit."

Lee smiles back at her. "We're both like that." he quips flirtatiously. "Will you call me?" Almost a challenge.

Joule freezes, pretending not to notice the teens pretending not to notice her. A challenge? She looks surprised, then cornered, before shrugging it off. "Sure. For Christmas." And with that, a wintery whirl of air precedes her stepping out into the night. In a moment she's lost to the human tide of holiday shopping crowds.

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