Friday, January 14, 2011

Looking Out the Window of Café Brauer

It’s a weekend evening in Chicago. It’s
December and it snows heavy but the city
refuses to be calm. I am setting tables in
my black bistro uniform, placing the shining
salad fork below the little spoon about

two-hundred times as I circle round
the flowered tables spread across the
hardwood floor of Café Brauer. The DJ, the
bar-tenders, the hip young bearded man
hanging giant snowflakes from the ceiling,
the cooks, the party-supply delivery staff. We
are all rushing, all at work to construct a perfect
evening for a well-to-do bride and groom.

They must be rich because the venue is historic
and I work for an esteemed company. They’re
handsome, I know, because I saw the picture
on the sign by the door. Jessica and Thomas,
December 11, 2010.

Now I’m looking out the window, at the real
snowflakes and the coldness and I’m feeling like
I’m part of a movie set. I’m thinking about an
email from a friend the day before. She lives
in Caracas; she went there to find Jesus
in the world’s forgotten ones. She was talking

about sixty thousand people made homeless
by rainfall. Some of them were her barrio

a certain group of human beings.

The world has offered them only an eroding
mountainside to sink some planks into and call
home, she said. They must have known that
eventually the mud would give way and take
their tin and plywood houses down the hill, but

I suppose they didn’t have many options. At least
before it happened they had time to pull out
their refrigerators and their stereos and put
them in my friend’s apartment. They sit there
now, I imagine, unplugged and open and waiting
for their owners to come back. But the whole
neighborhood is in a shelter, she said, waiting
in shame for some kind of government aid.

I’m clearing tables, and my black tie is spotted
with uneaten wedding cake. Candles still burn
on a high ledge; the waving flames light
a tile mural of curving tree branches and
sea-blue sky. The night’s formalities have passed
and young aristocrats dance close together in
front of the giant speakers. They look at one
another and bounce and shout Tonight’s Gonna
Be a Good Night.

One guy is going crazy. He shifts his
hips like a broken robot, shoots his
elbows here and there, spins on his heel and
glares into the videographer's light. She’s
shouldering the camera and bending her body
and capturing his intoxicated performance
just the way she wants it. The crowd around
them is white teeth and clapping hands and
make-up and cocktail glasses all glued together
and pulsing with the party bass and Lord knows

I am looking hard for his grace in the big
warm room and in the movement of the
dancers. I turn again to the window
and I see frost creeping inward
from the edges of the glass.