Friedrich Durrenmatt’s short story “The Tunnel” concerns a young man, a student, on a train, commuting to school. The train enters a long tunnel, longer than the student recalls from previous trips along the same route. The student smokes cigars, stuffs his ears with cotton, his head in a book, and he’s wearing double glasses, clear and dark. He’s dimmed his senses, all but closed his doors of perception (26). The train is crowded. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no end to the tunnel.
I had walked down to Tabor Space Saturday afternoon, but it was closed for a memorial service, so I continued over to Hawthorne, where hangouts are plentiful. I bought a coffee and sat at the rear of the shop, under a window through which I could see the clouds drifting east. I had my copy of John Cage’s “Silence” with me, and I had a small notebook, two pencils and a pen. I had my cell phone, and I had not forgotten my reading glasses. I did not have my laptop with me.
The coffee shop was crowded and noisy. But it was the kind of noise that drowns out my tinnitus. Somewhere, there was music. I sat at the end of a comfortable couch. There was a coffee table, and across the table from me was a young man, perhaps a student, with a laptop and small, white earplugs in his ears. He wore glasses. To my right, at the end of the couch, two more young men sat at a small table, both with laptops, both with earplugs. At the end of the coffee table, a woman sat alone with a laptop at a small table with her back to me, her plush black hair piled on top of her head in a twisted bun. And there were charcoal drawings on the walls, of bees, and one of a rooster. From my view at the end of the couch, the woman’s bun seemed to flair up and blend into the rooster tail drawing pinned to the wall.
I drank my coffee, read some in “Silence,” made some notes, checked my cell phone to see if Susan had texted or called. A guy with a laptop and earplugs across from the woman with her hair in a bun got up and left, and another guy with a laptop and earplugs quickly took his place. That’s when I began to think about Durrenmatt’s short story “The Tunnel.” Then the woman with the hair bun got up, packed her things, and left, but another woman quickly took her place. And this new woman also had a hair bun, identical to the first woman’s, and she sat in the same chair in the same position, her back to me, her hair bun mixing with the rooster’s tail in the drawing pinned to the wall.
That’s all. I read, drank coffee, gazed out the window at the clouds continually changing shape. I made some notes for a blog post with a few doodles. I drew a beehive hairdo that spiraled into clouds above a tunnel.
Those people , obviously , have all been placed there , playing roles in your little world . Who assigns the roles I don’t know , who hires the players , who provides the props . Is it all for your benefit ? Are you , perhaps , in a Twilight Zone situation and you will almost figure it all out , but then it will begin all over again ? Next time poke them to see if they are real , mock them to get their reaction , shout nonsense at them to throw them off script , ask them for baseball stats , book titles ——— anything . You must figure it all out .
There’s only one thing to figure out, and that’s the way out of the tunnel.
Nice Joe. You did a good job, because now I want/need to read Durrenmatts The Tunnel. It’s interesting that we go into a coffee shop with one purpose and get drawn into people watching.
Thanks, Geannie. Yes, many of our purposes get uplifted. There are coffee shops galore around these days. If you are ever in the area, drop in to Tabor Space. They’ve devoted the big room under the bell tower to tables and couches and chairs, very peaceful surrounded by stain glass windows a century old, though it too can get crowded and noisy. Hope all’s well!