State of the Noodles

You dodge the city traffic as you cross the street and approach the little '50s diner on the corner. Its purple neon sign greets you, inviting you to "Take a sip...", its glare outshone by the August afternoon Sun that beats down on the pavement and people below. The cars behind you weave around each other on their frantic routes from point A to B, honking in frustration as they eagerly pursue their destinations, the arrival at which you are sure will not provide enough satisfaction to balance the ire and agitation being generated by the commute. The pedestrians weave around you in much the same fashion, but with more colourful expressions of indignation.

You open the door to the diner, and the chime greets your entry. The door closes behind you, leaving the frenzy of the outside world to deal with itself. Inside, the atmosphere is calm and quiet, with a casual flare that invites you to pull up a seat and stay as long as you like. From the confines of the diner, the sunshine outside somehow looks brighter, and the traffic less congested. Even the pedestrians each show a little less of that emotional shield that attempts to hide the fact that the bearer is more than just a civilian walking to work, but a human being who doesn't really like to feel angry in the morning. However, he does anyway because everybody else is. In the eyes of the ones that happen to look at you through the diner window, you get a faint impression that they're thinking that perhaps, just maybe, everyone else feels the same way.

You take a seat by the register and survey the patrons enjoying their morning meals. It's been three years to the day since this little shop opened up in your neighbourhood, and its seen a wide variety of patrons along the way, but some of the same old regulars still drop by for their daily cup of soup. Some of them have taken the changes around here over the past few years in stride, others with some apprehension. But, they each seem to adjust to it over time and still keep their seat warm in their usual spot in the diner.

Standing by the door is the businessman, always in a rush, waiting for his take out order. At the front table still sits the quiet but pensive professsor, and at the breakfast bar across from her is the unruly student, who never looks like he got any sleep the night before. In between them all is the troubled housewife, who never seems to be quite satisfied and often complains about it to no end. In the corner still sits that girl you never had the courage to approach. She sits on her own and stares out the window, and you are often left wondering if she sees the same scene outside that you do, or maybe her perspective lets her see something far more enthralling, and perhaps a little bit more enticing and beautiful.

The cook steps out of the kitchen to the counter. "How is everyone doing this morning?"

"Oh, you know... it's just morning." answers the housewife.

"Every morning is the same as the last." replies the businessman.

The professor breaks a quick little smile. Everyone in the shop is then suddenly startled by a loud yelp of "WOOO!"

You all turn to see the student with his hands in the air cheering, possibly trying to get the other patrons to get a wave going through the crowd. He was always surprisingly chipper in the morning. You expect he doesn't calm down until his daily hangover kicks in.

"How do you get the noodles to taste like this?" asks the housewife. "I mean, it's not nearly what my dear old mum used to make, but it's got quite the flavour to it."

"Trade secrets, my friend," responds the cook. "I just sort of throw lots of ingredients together and hope it turns out OK."

"Boil them all now and let God sort it out?" asks the student.

"I wonder what God's soup tastes like." wonders the housewife.

"Probably like Oreos." responds the student.

"In any case," says the businessman, eyeing the cook, "I bet He doesn't have to wait this long for it."

"God should just give everyone a nice bowl of soup every morning." suggests the housewife. "Our daily soup instead of our daily bread, so to speak. It would be oh so good."

"Cheaper, too." adds the businessman.

"That would make my job much easier." jokes the cook. "I expect it would be easy for Him, too."

"Being God isn't easy," pipes in the professor. The others turn to listen. "If you do too much, people get dependent on you, and if you do nothing, they lose hope. When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."

The professor didn't say much, but when she spoke, it tended to be the kind of comment you could carry around with you, perhaps in a convenient nutshell-sized case. It wasn't always directly on the topic of conversation, but that was part of what made them so interesting.

"Has it really been three years since this all started?" the cook asks the crowd.

"Yeah, it's been a while, hasn't it?" replied the student.

"Ah, three years, six years," pipes in the businessman. "It all sort of blends together after a while. Get up, go to work, go home, go to bed, get up, go to work, and so on and so forth. Always in a rush."

"And yet you never seem to get anywhere." retorts the student with a smirk.

The businessman looks at him sternly. "Just wait until you get a bit older, kid; it'll happen to you."

"Shoot me if it does," he replies. "'Cause my life will essentially be over. Heck, I feel younger now than I did three years ago, so I must be doing something right. Life is too much fun to waste it on routine. You've got to take what life gives you, and just gulp it all down!"

He takes a giant gulp from his bowl, and smacks it back down on the table. "Ow! Ow! My tongue! Oh, crap!"

The rest of the diner chuckles as he fans his tongue with a placemat.

"See what happens when you run blindly into everything?" chirps the housewife. "You'll get yourself into real trouble with that someday!"

"Ah, it was worth it!" the student chimes back, still fanning the pulsing heat emanating from his tongue. "And I'd do it again! Besides, I think it just prevented my hangover."

"How many times have you showed up here hungover and throwing up?" asks the cook.

"Hey, I only threw up once." he responds.

"Yeah, on my shoes." grumbles the housewife.

"It wasn't on your shoes." whines the student. "It was only next to them..." he adds quietly as he buries his face in the bowl.

"I do recall," cautions the cook, "that you ran in here, gave us all hugs, and yelled 'I love everybody here!'"

"Um, yeah, well... I was still drunk." The student hurriedly takes another sip.

"A drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts." quotes the professor.

The student blushes and clears his throat. "Well, it's better than hating people, isn't it?"

"I can't stand hate," states the professor. "It's a terrible thing. Nothing good ever comes from it, as hate only begets more hate. I consider it the single greatest flaw in the human race. It's such a disgusting feeling. It sits there in your gut, tying your insides into a knot; a sum of everything that's wrong with humanity mashed together into a heavy ball in the pit of your stomach. I hate to hate, and that, of course, just makes me more upset; it's a very vicious cycle."

She stares blankly up at the corner of the ceiling as she continues, almost oblivious that anyone is listening to her speech. "I think I'm just not going to hate anymore. It's not worth my time. If you want to talk to me, talk about things you like, because that will interest me; don't whine about things you hate, because you won't get an audience from me. Don't waste my time by bad-mouthing people, because I'm not going to hate them on your behalf. And, don't bother hating me and holding a fantastic grudge against me, because I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of hating you in return."

She twirls her spoon around her bowl as she muses over her new manifesto. The student is the first to respond. "That's, like, trippy, dude. I'd do that too, but cauliflower just irks me so. I can't help it."

"Well, then, what do you like?" the housewife asks him. "Certainly it can't be cleaning up the vomit on my shoes."

"I like a lot of things. I like excitement and loud parties, and I like cozy quiet nights at home." lists the student. "I like to meet new people, and spend time with old friends. I like to see the big bright smile of a great friend I haven't seen in the longest time, one who's turned my life around and who I'd travel to the ends of the Earth to visit. I like to travel the world, go to far off places, exploring tropical paradises and bustling cities. I like to be in a fun group and wander these incredible places, and just get lost in the mass of the unknown."

"Ugh, I could never do that," complains the housewife. "I'd never find my way back and get mugged and left in a ditch. I'd be too afraid. How can you stand to do that?"

"It's all part of the fun!" responds the student. "Just you and some friends run headfirst and get lost in the unknown; it's an experience!"

"Yeah, if we're lost..." recites the professor. "Then we are lost together..."

You almost think that the professor is about to break into song, but you expect that she can't really carry a tune anyway.

"Have you ever seen the stars on the other side of the planet?" continues the student. "It's incredible! I mean, I couldn't label more than two or three constellations over here, but when you look at it over there it's all just so... different. You'd never expect that you'd even notice, but there it is, right above you, and it just slaps you in the face as if to say 'Look what you've been missing! It's always there for you to enjoy, if only you'd look up once in a while.'"

"I wouldn't mind taking a trip," muses the businessman. "It would be nice to tell my boss to stuff it for a few weeks."

"Travel gives you a great appreciation for the wonders of the world," says the professor, "and even for the wonders back home."

"I'm afraid." repeats the housewife.

"You can't let fear or worry run your life," states the student. "You've got to enjoy it while you've got it. There's a wonderful world out there waiting for you to be a part of it. It's never too late to get started, and it's always too early to quit."

He grabs his bowl and sips the rest of his soup down. "You need to take a sip from everything in life that comes your way, and try each new flavour. You can't be afraid that it will be too sour, because how will you know unless you try? More often than not, you'll just miss out on something good."

You finish off the rest of your bowl and begin to gather yourself, thinking about the conversation you've just witnessed. There certainly are some varied types that hang around here, and each one will seem to have their dominant days in the discussion from time to time. You head for the door, going over the discussions in your mind. Some very powerful points were tossed around in the diner today, and some of them seem to be sticking with you. There is an expansive world out there, and there are some marvellous and beautiful things in it, from secluded white-sand beaches on the opposite ends of the Earth, to the appreciative half-smile on the face of the young lady across the street who just had her hat returned to her by a passing gentleman after the wind had blown it off. You're never too old to start seeking those gems of beauty in all of it's places, but you have to go look for them and learn how to spot them, because they aren't about to go and find you.

You reach the door and stop as you grab the knob and watch the young lady walk by. The half-smile grows to a full smile, and you get a sudden sense of warmth as you feel the happiness grow inside her. You wonder to how many people that good feeling will spread, or how many other good deeds will spawn from it. Joy is one of those strange and fantastic things that physics and science can never restrict or contain, because when joy is shared, each of the two people's joy is somehow greater than the joy with which they started out. You seem pleased about the little gem of beauty you've discovered on the street, and wonder if this is what that girl in the corner has been seeing all along.

You look toward her, as she still sits facing the window, stirring her soup and leaning her cheek upon her hand in that certain sort of way that makes any man melt. You think about the day's conversations again. There's a wonderful world waiting for you to be a part of it. It's never too late to get started. You'll never know unless you try. Take a sip from everything in life that comes your way. You walk toward her table and find the courage that has eluded you for so long.

"Hi. Mind if I take a sip?"

Sane Person Undercover

(C) 2000-2003 David Faria