Everytime I drop in for a sandwich at the Wildflower Bread Co. on East Indian School I think of Ernest Hemingway. Not so much Hemingway the author as the title of one of his stories, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” But I think of just the title. I do not confuse it with the story’s deep meaning.
After attending a neighbor’s funeral service this afternoon on the other side of town, I treated Nebra to a sandwich at the cafe. Brilliant sunlight slammed through the front windows on the south and into the large near spotless interior of the dining room where a dozen customers of all ages hunkered over e-readers, i-Pads and laptops. Lost in digitized space. Yes, connected and yet so very empty and lonely, or so it seemed.
The Wildflower is that kind of place. Modern, in a tech-ish sense, and a little pretentious. You seldom see anyone poring over a physical book there, though a few days ago I did flip actual-paper pages of Marc Reisner’s “Cadillac Desert” in a nearby booth. It’s no longer cool to open dust jackets. I know that.
Nebra ordered a Chopped Salad. I had a Turkey Breast and Brie sandwich with a cup of bland Ethiopian coffee. We said little. I was letting the funeral settle on my mind, that and this recurring thought. Most of us never really know our neighbors until they die and we read the obit or go to the service. Even then we only scratch the surface of a person’s life.
If the theme of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” is the nothingness of man, I can see it here at the Wildflower. But the cafe is a great place to read stuff that doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things. It’s a place to kid yourself how smart you are.
It was not until later, back at the house, that I thought again of Hemingway’s story and how true the theme of it sounds.