Savannah Bagel Cafe

Savannah, Georgia

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My heart had just been broken, big time, immediately before my last visit to Savannah. I exited a plane from Copenhagen and plodded into the salt marsh in a deep blue funk, spending the following weeks devouring endless half-pound tubs of low grade hummus from the local Kroger and struggling to maintain a Skype connection on dialup.

However, it was mildly soothing scene in one respect; I was liberated from a specific hunger: soymilk was cheap and tofu was local; I was finally freed from my steady diet of sour apples, budget digestive biscuits, and boxed multi-vitamin ‘dryck’. On the other, hand I was marooned on a barrier island with only sporadic communication with my outside world, narrow as it is, without a bicycle for the first time since 2003, and obliged to a task too grim to describe in the pages of cafe tableaux.

high tide

high tide

Days were wasted traversing the island on foot to the county library, where I could attach my portable computer to the internet and frantically click through dozens of websites dedicated to polling of detestable groups – NASCAR Dads and War Moms — and to deconstructions of Youtube videos for Senate campaigns in states I never cared to otherwise know about, save for in my dreams of an exhaustive study of highway rest areas about which I have mused to everyone I have ever met.

It’s difficult to imagine now the public mood of those yond days in the context of what has followed. Voting is for suckers; there is no doubt about that, but the manufactured drama of elections can suck almost any cynic into the charade. Now we all know that it does not matter one way or the other who is acting as president when he or she is not doing jack shit, but back then, we were on pins and needles, wondering about some Aryan Nation maniacs assassinating a candidate, dreading the day an air-headed empty suit would succeed to the office upon the death septuagenarian Vietcong Candidate, and tasting something hypocritical in our mouths as the ‘grass roots’ candidate spent more than a million dollars on one night of 30 minute teevee commercials.

Despite my obsession with the ‘national conversation’, in moments amidst the hours spent at the public library refreshing sites like the hysterical dailykos, the more rational fivethirtyeight, and even the crude wonkette, I pushed the keyboard to the back of my cubicle and scrawled a few ‘notes’ in longhand in the margins of my viking novel-in-progress, which, by the way, was conceived twelve (12) years earlier in a shower across the hall from Peter Zellner’s dorm room near Boston — not in Sweden the previous month.

It was this penciling of gibberish that caught the attention of one of the library maidens, one responsible for re-shelving audio tapes of Carol Higgins Clark works and giving out 30 minute passes for the computer stations, most likely because I was the first person she had seen inside the building not using a cell phone or arguing over the right to play World of Warcraft without headphones. After thirty days of my warming the same seat in the rear corner of the biography stacks, she approached me and asked what it is that I was always scribbling on a ‘graph paper’ notepad.

“it’s this story about these three months i spent building a cabin in the Ardennes”
“wow, is it true?”
“i only write autobiographies”

She stooped over my shoulder and scanned my spiral bound Pocket Notebook; I fanned my hands to cover most of the thumbnail drawings of battle axes and ravens.

“you should come to our short story salon, ok? we meet every week and exchange stories”
“is that something i can do online?”
“no we meet at a coffee house and give each other feedback”

I am not really one for a salon, but I am one for a comely young dish with a bookish look and, on occasion, a slight aura of crunch, so I agreed to join her.

I don’t know how to compose short stories, either, but I do know how to lie about my name and how to steal things off the web. Thus, I was introduced to the salon as ‘Jagger Herzt Trefry’ before presenting several of my ‘Decay‘ pieces the next week, fragments of a narrative edited within the bounds of Creative Commons license to remove the more lurid sexual innuendo in the source material.

cup

It was after the presentation of one of these pieces one night at Sentient Bean, a piece in which I neglected to discern, and therefore expunge, a metaphor for the vulva represented by Sepulveda Boulevard as it climbs away from Venice, that the fine lass from the library approached my easy chair.

“ok, it’s really cool that a guy writer can be so in touch with his feminine side”
“ok”
“no i mean your story you read tonight, ok?”
“yeah that was like really hard to do. i don’t think i’ll do that again”
“dude you totally should. it was so awesome…all these other guys just write about spies and hating their fathers and stuff, ok”
“uhhhhmm, i do have some more things like this one, but it is pretty hard to read them aloud in front of these guys –“
“fuck those guys”
“–especially the guy in the fucking ed hardy shirt and crocs”
“dude those guys are losers, ok? you need to write more like that shit tonight, ok”
“yeah…maybe i will send you something.”
“that would be rad ok?”

I hauled ass back ‘home’ and scoured my namesake’s partner site for more of the effeminate compositions. The best piece with a woman’s touch that I could find was an sketch for a work of awkward erotica about a father and son. I bent the genders a bit and removed the most alarming segment – describing an episode under a tree on Xmas eve – then sent an email to the young library trick from a spoofed account intimating that I would be more comfortable sharing this story in person, on a hard copy, not digitally and infinitely reproducible, suggesting that we meet somewhere peaceful where she could read it without distractions “like maybe your apartment or something.”

cup

Whilst I waited at her kitchen table, staring at her knees and other select parts, she turned over the last of the loose leaf pages onto which I had transcribed the holiday tale.

“do all your guys shoot themselves at the end?”
“no! it’s rare. i actually prefer the notion of a hanging –“
“god that’s morbid”
“–preferably with like a belt or the cord from a motel room blinds”
“dude”
“what’s the difference? in the long run?”
“it’s not funny ok”
“shit, i’m not famous for writing fucking comedies”
“well i have a thing about it because my dad was a suicide victim, ok?”
“hmm”
“he did it after my mom contracted breast cancer –“

Jesus Fucking Christ. I wondered if I could text someone to call me with an ’emergency’.

“– he couldn’t bear to see her all sickly and weak from the chemo, ok?”
“uh ok”

She shielded her face with her hand, fingertips on her forehead, as her eyes began to water. No! No! No! No! No!

“you know when i was in Sweden we had these lamps we had to sit under for like two hours a day so we wouldn’t kill ourselves…because it is dark there perpetually”

Her shoulders trembled as she gasped a silent sob; I looked past her neck at the clock on the stove that indicated only 20 minutes had passed since I arrived…

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good Norwegian wood.

cup

Shortly after 6am, I scratched out a note about needing to be “on set” at 8am and stuck it to the refrigerator with some ‘Poetry’ magnets spelling out ‘Anticipation Settles Accounts”. I swallowed a few gulps of pulp-free orange juice from the carton, swiped an Odwalla Superfood bar from the pantry, and crept into the hall. I held my breath as I turned the deadbolt to open the door and climbed along the iron handrail down to the sidewalk to avoid stepping on the creaky wooden stairs. Upon reaching the landing, I sprinted down the remaining brick steps and jogged around the corner towards Broughton Street.

I headed towards my uncle’s sweet shop near Habersham, where I napped on the sidewalk in front of the entrance until he arrived to open for business.  I begged him to loan me his Prius so I could drive back ‘home’, but naturally he refused, suggesting instead that I use the Islands Shuttle that takes people out to the beach from Emmet Park. After using a trip to the bathroom as a pretext to steal two cans of cocoa from his storeroom, I thanked him for the advice and ran to catch the shuttle.

Knowing that no place serving coffee on Tybee would be open and feeling a little gypped by the promise of ‘Super’ in the Odwalla bar, I implored the driver to let me exit the shuttle at the traffic light in front of Davis Produce and Circle K, and I walked the half-mile to Johnny Mercer at low tide, the path reeking of sulfur and the flinty stench found in an old tackle box or the shitter at a Captain D’s.

savannah bagel cafe

By ten o’clock, I had reached the ‘Islands Center’ strip mall, figuring this would be the closest I ever found myself to the Savannah Bagel Cafe at ‘breakfast time’, so I crossed the street at the sight of their mildewed sign and anonymous box of shit and stucco, dripped sweat all over their floor and tables as I drank overcooked coffee from a foam cup and ate the best rosemary and garlic bagel outside of New York City and West Los Angeles. I never again saw the interior of the island’s library.


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Savannah Bagel Cafe

444 Johnny Mercer Boulevard
Savannah, Georgia 31410


soymilk: not available
fair trade: not available
wifi: no access

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