“We never talk anymore; you just stare at my liquor.”
I shifted my gaze towards Delany standing in front of me behind the bar.
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
My blonde Asian barmaid chuckled and reached out with her towel to wipe off the bar where my Old Fashioned had been resting. I watched her pensively as she over-dramatically scrubbed the surface, then tossed a coaster in front of me.
“How does Sandy put up with you?”
“She responds to my masculinity.”
“So she gets as irritated with your sloppy habits as I do.”
I chuckled as I sipped on my drink.
“Yeah, but she stopped making me feel bad about it 20 years ago.”
From where I was sitting at the Habana Bar, I could see just outside the double doors of the main entrance. Peeking out above the buildings on the other side of the walkway, I could see a couple of palm trees. The overcast skies of Southern California in June created a gray backdrop behind them, a stark contrast to the idea of sunny, tropical adventures the designers of the Irvine Spectrum were trying to evoke.
Still, the Latin jazz was nice to hear.
“You remember palm trees, no?”
I looked over and saw him sitting next to me, his tailored blazer and open-collared dress shirt fit him perfectly, absolutely perfectly. Once again the pocket square flashed from his breast pocket and just a tiny portion of his emerald cufflinks could be seen escaping from his jacket sleeve. The fact that they matched his eyes did not surprise me in the least.
“Gabriel. I guess we meet again… I need the number for your tailor.”
“My costumes are purpose-driven, my friend.”
“As are mine. You don’t wear that normally?”
“I wear what needs to be worn for the person to whom I am talking.”
“Of course you do.”
I took another sip from my drink.
“You avoided my question, Steven.”
“What was the question?”
I laughed and put my drink down on the bar. I could see Delany was eyeing me from across the room so I took special care to avoid placing the glass on a coaster. As I leaned back I could feel her eyes burning into me.
“That is what you’ve got? That is the grand cosmological revelation that celestial beings present to us mortals? Cones about landscaping?” For some reason I could feel myself getting angry. That, in and of itself, seemed strange. Why was I letting this bother me?
“Talk to me about palm trees, Steven.”
I sighed and made eye contact with Gabriel. His emerald eyes focused intently on me.
I looked back at my drink. It now rested on a coaster.
“Nice trick, Gabriel.”
“Got an infinite amount of them, my friend.”
“So yeah… palm trees. When I was up in San Francisco for school, I learned to hate the place. Not because of the politics or the blight, but yeah… I hated being there and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then one day my roommate and I were watching a television broadcast of the Long Beach Grand Prix. The drivers were zipping around Ocean Blvd. in the Formula One cars and the streets were dotted with palm trees. There weren’t any palm trees in San Francisco and I suddenly realized that I loved and missed those ridiculous looking plants. My whole life I had never even thought about palm trees, but suddenly I realized I loved them.”
“So that which is mundane can be magnificent?”
“Glory of God stuff?”
Gabriel chuckled, “Well, yes… but you didn’t like my cosmological cone.”
“Okay, so I sort of suspect I know who, or what you are, but why are you taking such an interest in me?”
“What makes you think I take any more interest in you than anyone else?”
I sipped again on my Old Fashioned and looked at Delany working the other customers for tips.
“I don’t know. You’re here, we are talking… about palm trees of all things.”
“Well, palm trees are important, are they not? You are all looking for such grandiose imagery, reasons for your suffering, an explanation for the unique struggles that you all endure. You think your life is unique and complicated, that everyone else is one-dimensional, predictable, manipulatable. Worse, you think that with just the right words, or actions, or appropriate persuasion they can be cajoled into behaving in a manner that is consistent with your own ideals. You build palaces and cathedrals to His glory, but in reality you seek intervention for your own benefit. You believe that when your ability to control wanes, you can co-opt God to compel on your behalf… you forget, you so often forget, that the simplest thing, a palm tree, can be the warmest gift bestowed upon you.”
“You don’t like cathedrals, Gabriel? I thought you people would dig them.”
“Humor is the armor of your insecurities, Steven.”
“Hmmm… fair enough, you’ve used that phrase before, huh?”
“Michael taught it to me.”
“Yeah, I’m familiar with his work too.”
“Revel in the moment, Steven. Bask in His glory at every turn. The mundane is indeed magnificent. Remember that moment when you first instructed that poor woman who had been assaulted how to fire a gun? Remember the level of empowerment she had and, by extension, you received? Remember the dismissal of the case against your client who was unjustly accused? Remember the hours of work you did explaining the ideals of the Constitution to your students and the resonance in their eyes when they understood? You wanted a cosmological cone? You live in a cosmological cone my friend, always buttressed with the image of a simple palm tree.”
“Shit, you’re good, Gabriel,” I said raising my glass.
“Labor of love, Steven.”