Spring, 2010 (Cassandra and the crown-prince of the Screwups)

It’s a Thursday morning when Dee calls in to tell me he’s got the rest of the day off, then invites me for a luncheon at this real trendy, sort-of exclusive place he knows that only opens on weekdays for lunch.
I’m sitting atop my desk at the office looking past an ocean of cubicles, at the large windows that comprise the entire façade of the building, and the windows don’t open and all ants within are marching downtrodden, gray-faced, beat, and it’s such a lovely day outside with all the hallmarks of the first month of Spring—sunny but cool, with the buds at the trees starting to bloom and blossom—then all of a sudden the entire scene inside starts to seem so sad and forlorn that it ends up calling out for some needed distance from the Machine.
“Whatever, let’s do it” I tell him as I go through my appointments and deliverables for the rest of the day without too much care or regard, to shrug most of them off, then I rush past the doors, right through the elevators taking the stairs down instead, then go outside to finally hop a cab and GO!, man.

The restaurant is a cozy, cute little hallway that sits maybe ten, fifteen and then there’s a large counter with the cashier and the espresso machine, and besides those, two large freezers with take-outs for sale, and past them a large window up on the wall with a large white-tiled kitchen where all the action happens. We get to sit at an adjoining room, really an aisle or a corridor that ends at the restrooms and the funny trash bin that springs open automatically, where maybe five, six tables are lined up under a clear roof and it’s all sunlit inside and plants hang from vases overhead, and when I order the pasta with calamari and lemon, Dee advises me to go for the shrimp stroganoff instead.
“Stroganoff’s, like, too plebeian for an escapade,“ I tell him with a sneer. He says no, that I’m wrong because it’s their best or something, and I so stand corrected. We are served by the owners themselves, a trendy young couple in their mid-30s.

We talk of jobs and money and heartbreaks during lunch, maybe also gossip a little about people we know, then wrap up the conversation with the usual friendly competition of who’s got the darkest circles underneath the eyes. Dee always claims victory over this as usual, but it’s mostly out of sheer ego plus that disheveled widow’s peak thing that makes him look like a leaner, more fashionable Bela Lugosi. I let him be.

The flagship of the house, he explains, is the cheesecake with the homemade raspberry jam so we order two for dessert. The raspberry jam is actually pretty good, in fact probably the best raspberry jam I’ve had yet. Dee says it sells for forty bucks a jar if you want to take it home but I just shrug because I don’t really have anything to put that jam on in my refrigerator back home.

Before we leave I ask Dee if he thinks these days are ever going to end. He asks me what I mean and in return I ask doesn’t he feel there are missing pieces, holes in meaning, an overall lack in purpose? He asks me why would I actually want these days to end and I say nothing for a while. “I guess I don’t want them to end,” I finally respond with a cocky half-smile.

From the other side of the table he scratches the side of his head and instead of the expected dire fatalism out of some Brontë novel he tells he’s pretty sure things are going to turn out all right for me in the end. “Really?,” I ask him and he says yes, absolutely then proceeds to foretell all of our futures: Mine, Johnny’s, Bryce’s, I think Kay’s too, I fact everyone’s, packing some uncharacteristic unbridled optimism. “You’ll find someone cool enough in time, you’ll see.”
When I ask him if he’s just found religion or something he smiles and says no, but resumes the usual programming and says he’s probably dying before everyone else anyway. I decide it sounds far more fun if taken as a joke so I never question that assertion.

We part ways a few blocks from the restaurant—the two of us: Cassandra and the crown-prince of the Screwups—He goes to look up DVDs at the large FNAC nearby, his own fortunes to predict and an entire afternoon to lay waste to, while I walk slowly to a small plaza overhead to get a cab back to the office with either twenty or twenty thousand bucks in my wallet and nothing in particular to think of in the back of my head, as the flower buds and the trees bob and sway under the mild breeze of the early Spring afternoon.