Faro Punter

Apples and oranges, perhaps: nevertheless a day in the life, then, at the very least a composite of days; impressionistic, but illustrative. Henri Beyle, the late-blooming writer known as Stendhal, writes in Memoirs of an Egotist of one particularly boring St. John’s Day — 24 June, 1832, which begins shortly after rising at ten in the morning. A half hour later, Stendhal is at the Cafe de Rouen. There he meets two people, one a baron and the other a relative, a cousin, neither measuring up to Stendhal’s intellect, he writes. “Unfortunately, these two beings understood absolutely nothing of the theory of the human heart…”
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Blooming or otherwise, I rise earlier than Stendhal, with my Chihuahuas, usually just mere moments following the sun’s ascent. The dogs need feeding and ushered out the back door to do their “business.” I feed the cat, too, calling him in from his nocturnal ramblings. I get the newspaper from the drive-way and pour coffees for my wife and me. I return to bed to spend a few minutes with Dyan while she gets ready for her commute into work. We listen to NPR, arrange gym schedules. By now the cat is fast asleep somewhere in the house and the CHIs – collective noun for our dogs – are burrowed beneath the bed covers asleep, too, bellies full, their bodies warm against me. When Dyan leaves for the day, I rise and go into my office to work, which can consist of many things: reading and answering e-mail; journaling; work/writing for some time on a long-term project; listening to music and dancing in a trance around my barking CHIs, or simply can consist of an extended period of staring out the window. I don’t stray far or much from the house during the summer, preferring, mostly, time alone to write and read in the comforts of my own home. But if I do venture out, a la Stendhal, I drive the fifteen minutes downtown to a coffee house called Coffee Zone (the Zone once had carried the name of its owner Osama, but the name was changed when Islamic fundamentalist terrorist Osama bin Laden became American Public Enemy Number One). The café is popular with students, downtown merchants, assorted miscreants, and a contingent of blue collar workers. Regulars sits in front smoking and discussing the topics of the day – the war in Iraq; the latest Hollywood blockbuster; Harry Potter; entropy and other such things. Although I do sit out front from time to time, reading, smoking my pipe or a small cigar wedged in the side of my mouth I rarely take part in the discussions. I know a few of the regulars by name, greater still the number of patrons I know by face alone. I keep to myself.
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Stendhal writes that marriage kills the conversationalist. Wits grow “languid,” with matrimony, a process he says he can see all too clearly in the countenance of his cousin, the one he finds drinking coffee at Cafe de Rouen. This might be so, but marriage didn’t kill the conversationalist in me who was long ago drowned in Lethe poured straight from a pint of tarry stout. Stendhal imbibes in a cup of coffee, and two brioches later the memoirist leaves the cafe, walking with the baron returning to work. Once the baron is gone, Stendhal’s overwrought mind gets the best of him and in the day’s sweltering heat grows irrational as he contemplates love lost. “Since I could not forget her, would it not be best, I asked, to kill myself.”
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I’ve never been much of a sober conversationalist; when drunk on stout and whiskey I could talk myself through many a philosophical and eschatological argument. Every conversation under the influence is held to be of the utmost importance and the stories one boozer must tell in order to get laid or another drink creates a stinky, slobbering Scheherazade. My loose lips maligned many, injured several and burned too many to count. I was one of those happy drunks, one only too happy to crack wise and inebriated at the expense of others. My tongue became a weapon. Years of abuse, perhaps, of speaking so much and so loudly about nothing at all, has somehow damaged me, ruined me from holding so-called normal intercourse much the way my uninhabited wiles ravaging bars and pubs killed forever my sober self setting foot in them again or sitting alongside gin blossomed-piss tanks. As a drunk, I could talk to anyone. As a friend of Bill W, I share myself only with those who know the sober me. And this could only be an excuse as to why I find conversation with strangers, beyond pleasantries, to be arduous; why even acquaintances can register in me little need to strike up a long conversation. This is not to say I refrain from lengthy diatribes with friends and family, I do on occasion – but more often, not. Each time I meet someone I find for a split second that I am somehow without the ability to formulate words, my mouth doesn’t seem to work. I’ve lost the art of it, through lack of practice. I stammer, or speak too softly; I haven’t the faintest idea what I should say. When I do speak it’s to say something odd or awkward. It might partly be a symptom of our age of increased transience and a lacking in regular face-to-face interaction. I will “speak,” more freely and openly with someone on-line or through such social networking sites as Facebook than I would in person. Something is dying; my mouth holds great entropy. My pockets full of nothing, but mumbles. Not that I’ve ever found talk to be laudable – for the most part talk is small, asinine and time wasting. I never crave conversation, but I do find, even though I am a loner, an introvert, I need to be amongst people, to hear their chatter. Unlike Stendhal, and more like Henry James, I go out for coffee to observe and to be largely quiet.
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Escaping the heart and his thoughts of suicide – sincere or not – Stendhal purchases some of Shakespeare’s plays – 30 sous each – and returns to his grotto to read. Perhaps: “Give every man thy ear, but few they voice/Take each man’s censure, but reserve they judgment.” Or perhaps: “I will weary you then no longer with idle talking. Know of me then, for now I speak with some purpose…” But the bard is not enough company, “the inside of my lonely room was dreadful to me,” the memoirist writes. He is driven from his room at five back into the urban landscape of table d’hote characters including “elegant subalterns,” “prostitutes of the highest order,” and the “smart bourgeoisies.”
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At the heart of idle chatter is the constant contradiction, the contrariness prominently expressed to mask what is meant or understood. “The simplest and most stable forms of irony rely on the audience or hearer recognizing that what the speaker says can not be what (he or) she means,” Claire Colebrook writes in Irony. “And this is because in order to speak at all we have to share conventions and assumptions.” But what is becoming increasingly difficult is to share those conventions and assumptions and even then to have the agility to recognize the level of irony deployed. If one is not in the speaker’s community, one would be hard pressed to recognize much. We share so little now. So we speak in code, and alienate anyone outside of particular spheres. In this isolation, conversation is stifled and so with it goes any sense of communal responsibility – which I might very well contribute to myself – the supreme motive, I believe, behind the irony grip. It allows speakers and writers to avoid responsibility. Oh that’s not what I mean at all. Or, if meaning is obtuse, or poorly executed, claiming irony becomes its chief excuse. Being aware of this, and perhaps not being adept at its use, I find communication today to be little more than a card game of micro-tells. If we don’t say what we mean, with any sincerity, we lie. But perhaps that is the way it’s supposed to be. “Lying is what makes me a man,” says rapscallion Razumikhin in Crime and Punishment. “Not one truth had ever been reached without first lying…” he says in Dostoevsky’s classic, “…Lying in one’s own way is almost better than telling the truth in someone else’s way.”
But of course, Razumikhin is stone-faced drunk.
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Stendhal reports after escaping his room and having dinner at local hotel he enjoys conversation and coffee until ten that evening. He then excuses himself, and heads over to Mme. Pasta’s (I kid you not) for faro, a card game popular in France then. As a faro player, or punter as its known, Stendhal is rather poor. “I lost more than I had in my pocket.”

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