We got up early to go to Grand Central Station. We found a booth on the lower floor there that served Irving Farm coffee. Irving Farm roasts its own coffee and has one location that is just about my favorite place to drink coffee in all of New York City. This booth on the lower floor was quite different from my beloved location, yet offered a pour-over, even in Grand Central. It was a bit dissonant to watch the kind barista slowly pour hot water over the coffee filter in the midst of the hustle and lines at Grand Central–like smoking a pipe while standing in a hurricane. But any day I can get a pour-over at a train station is a good day. The coffee was from Guatemala and had chocolate tones as well as a lemony tang.
We rode in the train, and, as always, I thought of the writer Thomas Wolfe. Thomas Wolfe loved train rides. He is quite out of fashion now, but was well-loved by readers in the middle of the last century. Six foot seven inches, he wrote his first novel just a few blocks from where we live in Manhattan. Legend has it that he was so tall he wrote the book standing and using the top of a refrigerator as a desk. His appetite for life was more than titanic. For example, when he wrote about riding a train, he wanted to communicate everything about what it felt like to ride in a train–the click of the wheels, the sound of the whistle, the moving countryside, the passage of time, the play of lights on the seats, the smell of the fresh newspaper, the voice of the conductor, the inner sense of being in between places, and on and on. His manuscripts on one experience often got totally out of hand, filling boxes.
I remember the view of my literature professor, forty years ago, surely a minority report. It’s funny what we remember. We were comparing Thomas Wolfe and his peer F. Scott Fitzgerald. The professor said that Fitzgerald accomplished his aim as a writer and Wolfe failed to achieve his goal as a writer. However, Wolfe was the greater novelist because Wolfe dared to do something so much greater.
Failing in order to achieve. I read yesterday a reminder that half of every successful resurrection is a death. Something to think about while drinking coffee on a train north of New York City, watching the old deteriorating buildings pass by like graves in the high grass.
Upside Down Devotion