What I Learned at the Little Cafe

When he got married the second time, the man said, it was February, at the height of the season on Miami Beach. He took his bride to his friend's hotel, who told them, I have a special room for you. He got the bellman to take the couple to their room. It was a tent set up on the beach.

That was payback for the time the man had skipped out on his bill by leaving his third-floor room by means of a rope ladder.

They didn't stay in the tent. The bellman led them to another room--in the laundry. And finally to a real room.

Another time the hotel owner had trouble with his old car, a Rolls Royce. The choke was frozen. The man was a car mechanic and set about fixing it. It was a simple problem but he pretended it was difficult, and got someone to get him breakfast. But he couldn't fool the hotelier, who was watching him from inside through binoculars.

The man is laughing as he tells me this. He's getting ready to leave the Little Cafe and he's putting his mittens on. Maybe he's in his 70s. He has a sunken mouth. He says, I went to the funerals of him and his brother, in New York City.


This is what the science teacher does to show kids how to write up their experiments: She tells them to write down instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then one day she brings in bread and peanut butter and jelly. And has the kids follow the instructions. They forget to include all kinds of things, she says. They forget to describe how to spread the peanut butter, to tell which side of the bread to put it on. They learn that they have to include every step.

I told her it would be a good writing exercise, and described what my friend B does. He has two kids sit in the middle of the room, back to back. Both have blocks in front of them. One of them builds a structure and tells the other how to do it--without using shape or color words. (I'm looking in his book now to get the details. It's from a class in communications. But it would be a good exercise for writers: precision, precision.) Sometimes in classes I'll have students draw something that's described in another student's work, so the latter can see if s/he's been precise.
Of course, there's always a gap: Is your concept of love the same as mine? How about equality or evil or relaxation?

I told my class tonight at WRU about the peanut butter exercise. One student said: That's brilliant. I think it is, too.