Chapter 4: Superior Indian Cookery
Part 3: The First Cousin of Reason
YOU CAN READ
behind the fancy couple is a big man in an enormous parka, unzipped, his
barrel chest bulging from it. On the wall behind him is a board on
which the day’s specials are listed and described in several colors of
chalk. The big man is speaking animatedly, gesticulating broadly,
putting his whole body into an address to the others in his party.
When he makes a point, he rises on his toes and bounces, and with each
point he erases a little more chalk. His group might be four or six;
it’s hard to tell which of the people listening to him are actually with
him and which are listening only because they’re too close to be able to
choose not to. All these people are drinking discreetly from whatever
they’ve brought with them. Some have glasses and pour wine or beer
into the glasses, small amounts at a time, because of the likelihood of
being jostled on the stairs. Others drink from bottles, and Liz and
Belinda and Matthew pass their Perrier-Jouët around, like prosperous
bums in a doorway.
“God, this is good stuff,” says Matthew.
“We bought it for the bottle,” says Belinda. She and Liz dissolve in giggles again, like kids drinking illicitly before a dance.
The big man in the parka is saying, “A lot of this is just rhetoric-of-gesture stuff.”
“Oh, certainly,” says a short, round, gleeful man, gesticulating with his bottle-in-a-bag, “but not all of it yields to hermeneutics.”
“Of course not,” says the big man dismissively. “You have to remember that much nonverbal language is not made for understanding.”
Belinda snorts with a suppressed giggle, and she and Liz huddle closer together.
“But you have to ask yourself,” the big man continues, “if there isn’t an underlying grammar of motives in all gesture.”
“All human endeavor,” suggests a small woman beside him. She twists a strand of her hair around and around her right index finger and nods enthusiastically. She holds a bottle of beer by the very top of the neck, and after she speaks she raises the bottle in that way and manages somehow to drink from it without dropping it.
“Of course,” says the big man. “It’s politics as poetry—poetry as politics. There really is no distinction, none at all, if you accept the premise of a pan-human substructure for all thought.” The heads of all those in the big man’s party bob, making it possible to distinguish them from people who are simply standing nearby.
“A genealogy for all thought,” says the gleeful man, “starting from some primordial construct and arriving at the present, when madness is the first cousin of reason.”
Liz taps the bottle against Matthew’s shoulder, and he takes it and drinks from it.
“When you look at the intersubjective schema, you see that we make sense, when we make sense, because there is only one way to make sense, is that it?” says a tall man whose head is a bald dome with long, thin gray hair around the rim.
“But what is that way?” asks an attractive matron, tall, sturdily constructed, energetic, as bouncy and full of verve in her way as the big man in his. She strikes Matthew as the sort of woman who is involved in her children’s education at every level, baking cookies for class parties, writing letters to the editor of the local paper castigating the board of education for its hidebound practices, busy, always busy. “I mean, is it because our brains are all alike? But they’re not, are they? Wouldn’t we all think alike if they were?”
“Well, that’s the point, really,” says the big man. Is that condescension in his voice now, or is it just the deceleration of a teacher who knows when to downshift to a more elementary level? “That in the most fundamental ways we do all think alike, that the mediation of structural regularity produces consensus, so—”
A tiny, smiling Indian man calls from the foot of the stairs, “Are you a group of four?”
Matthew turns at once to look at Liz, to share the pleasure he feels upon seeing the little man, whom he and Liz thought of as “the grandfather,” supposing him to be the patriarch of an extended family that ran the restaurant. Matthew’s delighted to see that the grandfather is still here, still playing host, still—the thought strikes him poignantly—alive. Liz and Matthew grin at each other, and Liz begins an explanation for Belinda, in whispers. “That little man was always here when we used to come—”
The group that includes the big man declares itself a group of six. The grandfather nods and smiles as if to say that it is a very fine thing to be a group of six, even though, as it happens, there is no table available for a group of six just now, and then he asks of Matthew, “Are you a group of four?”
“We are a group of three,” says Matthew.
“Oh, that is very good,” says the grandfather, and his glowing smile indicates that, however good it may be to be a group of six, it is wonderful indeed to be a group of three. “Come with me, you Group of Three.”
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Reservations Recommended is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin’s Press, at $12.00.
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Copyright © 1990 by Eric Kraft
Reservations Recommended is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group.
Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Alec “Nick” Rafter, the author’s earnest agent.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.