Molly Fisk: The People’s Republic

I’m sitting at a small metal table outside a cafe in Berkeley, California watching the world go by. So many bicycles! And men wearing hats. Not baseball caps, but real hats, and they aren’t young men, either. Fire trucks, garbage trucks, the kind of city buses that wheeze. I’m on a corner with a four-way stop, so I get to see what everyone thinks a stop really is, and let me tell you, opinions vary!

A few kids with their moms or dads, but not enough to indicate a school nearby. Beside me on the street is one of those rent-a-bike stands with 17 receptacles, 10 of which are empty. There’s a kiosk attached, where you pay, and then, as I understand it, you can ride around town and drop the bike off somewhere else, at another stand. If you were to squint, and also imagine yourself up in the foothills where I live at the beginning of the last century, you might see horses tied to a railing in exactly this posture.

A person drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe with wicker chairs like this could also indulge in a fantasy of being in Paris, an ex-pat like Gertrude Stein, but then a boombox goes by, and the sight of someone’s rear-end encased in turquoise lycra dispels the illusion. Some of the cyclists are wearing tie-dye, though, and are more my age than not, which is heartening to see. They are usually female, riding in pairs while not stopping at the stop sign, and deep in shouted conversation.

I’m in the shade wearing a sweater, but many other people have on those new down jackets with very narrow horizontal poofinesses — what is the word for that? Channels, maybe. The places on a down garment where there are no seams. And the jackets, so far, are all black. I’ve probably seen 35 of them in the last hour. What this means, I cannot tell you, but we could make up a reason: Black is the color of city life, being both sophisticated and anonymous, for instance. Or people in Berkeley are always cold due to looking toward the Pacific — their body temperature responds to the metaphor of endless chilly water and uncharted depths.

Even when we don’t think so, humans are constantly making up stories and reasons to fill in what we don’t already know. We speculate, and unless we find out accurate information, those speculations, originally wispy and light, begin to thicken into certainty. This is why — oh, darn it, I guess I’m heading for a moral, which I didn’t mean to do — one should keep an eye out, and not believe everything you think. I should, anyway — I can’t speak for anyone else. You, my dears, are on your own.

There are wider applications than Berkeley outerwear that we could bring into the discussion here, of course, but let’s not. It’s a beautiful morning and I’m almost done with my coffee. Suffice it to say that I’m waving from this rickety table on College Avenue, fellow human, sending you love and wishing you the best of luck with speculation management!

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