Stephen Horenstein
Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society

Chair-poachers, trees, our café of ease

Our café of ease (photo by the author)
Our café of ease (photo by the author)

A marvelous outdoor café (Etz Tzion) has opened up in our local neighborhood.  This is a welcome relief as I now I have no excuses to wallow in blessed solitude. I shall begin to mingle.  This morning the sun was shining and the birds were vocalizing, so I decided to “hang” out and observe the surroundings.  There were a few surprises: a minor traffic jam, a crow swooping down like lighting, raiding a vacated table’s dry scraps. There were even a few moral dilemmas.

People talked, some with loud voices, others with whispers. I sometimes cringed from the loud mobile phone conversations. I couldn’t help but notice that those speaking German were significantly louder.  I attributed that to coincidence.

Building community at Café Etz Haim (photo by the author)

Though the flies started to nudge me, they were a temporary inconvenience. I wound up staying for a few hours, basking under the tall green pine trees while they waltzed; even the churning of passing trucks couldn’t ruin the peace and calm of my surroundings.

I soon needed a restroom, so I left most of my things at the table, including my tablet and cup of coffee, and departed around the corner.  When I returned, my chair had disappeared. “Perhaps one of the crows stole it with the food scraps?”, I joked to myself.  But the chair was nowhere in sight.  I turned to the adjoining table, noticing that there were more people sitting there.  I asked politely, “By any chance has one of you taken my chair?”.  A young woman answered, “Yes, I did.”  Silence. “But I was sitting there. Didn’t you see my things? My coffee?” I replied. “But there are plenty of chairs!” she yelled impatiently. With a defiant gesture, she swept her arm across the sky, motioning to the rest of the cafe and then turned around, ignoring me completely.

My blood started to boil. “Why does this bother me so? ” I thought.

I sat down, ordered another fresh coffee and contemplated.  Slowly my blood began to boil again.  I felt a tingly nervousness in both legs and noticed that the people at the next table (including the “culprit”) were curiously silent and glaring as if they were hypnotized and as if I was guilty of a crime.  I asked myself “So what is wrong with this picture?”

Hypnotized (Drawing, Jacob Yona Horenstein)

My blood continued to boil.  The trees were still there but I didn’t see them. The children in the nearby kindergarten were playing, but I couldn’t hear them.  “What is wrong with me?” I asked.  I looked over and the people were now sitting glaring at their smart phones. Only their fingers moved.

I thought to myself, “If I saw someone’s belongings, would I take their chair? Absolutely not!” But then I heard my inner voice say: “The phones and everything like them are robbing us of our humanity.” Hmm. I thought, “What a strange thought? What the hell does that mean?”

I soon became calmer, though the three cups of coffee I had consumed made me nervous and groggy.  The chair incident still plagued me. I couldn’t let it go!: “Of all the fifteen vacant chairs, why would someone take the one that was clearly occupied? Was it its relative proximity? Was it prettier? Sturdier?” I tried to give the protagonist the benefit of the doubt, but really, in my heart, couldn’t.

The author’s blog in the raw (by Stephen Horenstein)

I soon arrived at an epiphany: “So that woman was like a horse with blinders, she simply could not see more than what was in front of her nose. Metaphorically speaking, she did not understand the situation, she only saw what she needed to see, the closest ‘lone’ chair.  Now the entire group are glued to their smart phone screens. They are “blind” to their surroundings. Like a digital book, they only know one page at a time rather than a real book’s gently flowing pages.  Like digital music they only hear “dots” of stuff (sound samples), while missing the lush curvy sound waves.  They rarely look up and so miss the inspiring dance of the trees. They have become transfixed, hypnotized and robotic.”

Another voice inside me rebutted, “Nah, the woman was just nasty and insensitive and they are just her friends.”

Meanwhile, I saw a small truck unloading while parked on the road.  One fire truck managed to get by, but an Egged bus could not.  The bus driver started to beep frantically; he knew that the delay would violate Egged rules and that his wages might be cut. The beep’s blare elicited a knee-jerk hysterical response from two well-dressed women entering the café: “Savlanut! (patience), they screamed, motioning to the bus driver with their arms outstretched.  “Ma Karah?” they blurted. (Paraphrase: “What the hell is wrong with you; why are you so impatient?”). The bus driver ignored them, got out of the bus, looked for the other driver, found him and sped off. Incident closed.

I then thought to myself. “Here it is again.  The two women only saw one thing, a frantic bus driver yelling and hysterically beeping his horn.  Did they notice that the small truck was blocking the way? Did they understand the driver’s dilemma?  Did they know his wages might be docked? Did they empathize?”

I let my head clear, took a deep breath and relaxed, trying to rejoin the sound of the wind through the trees and the graceful ballet developing before my eyes as the afternoon winds began to churn.

I thought to myself. “It’s been quite a day.  The coffee was amazing.  I guess this is what happens to someone who has time on his hands.  It’s a beautiful bright and sunny October day and that’s fine with me.” I smiled and dozed off. After all, I was sitting in my café of ease, doing what I please, with an afternoon’s lush breeze.

“The peace and calm of the trees” (photo by the author)
About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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