The Weeping Drop Cafe - Affogato
To grasp the nettle or not is never the same as whether to smell a rose or shove it in a bottle of flat beer.Â Neither has anything at all to do with comparing a lemon and an orange so as to judge which is the better citrus.Â Yet Saint Nicholas thought that there had to be an underlying connection if the mad world was to make any sense.Â Which it didn't.Â Nor did the withered book, Practical Zen Horticulture for Raising the Dead by Swami Karmasutra-Potpurri Zen D.D., with the letters implying Doctor of Divinity (Calcutta, failed) but really standing for Dispirited Daffodil.
The saint had found the booklet, smeared with curried rice, on top of an overflowing rubbish bin in the alley behind The Weeping Drop CafÃ©, which was actually a Hari Krishna restaurant.Â Saint Nicholas had parked his world weary motorcycle in the alleyway â€“ out of harm's way â€“ and was about to enter the cafÃ© through the back door when the booklet caught his eye.
Was the timing auspicious?Â For the single bell of the adjoining church was tolling the witching hour, and the very beginning of Christmas Eve.Â And there was a single naked light bulb shining over the back entrance of the cafÃ©.Â Was a Christian heaven hijacking a Zen-like sign to tell him something?Â Perhaps mysteriously signifying that the booklet was a light in the darkness?Â Why else would the bell in the defunct church be chiming, even as the chanted mantra, 'Ohm, ohm, ohm,' came drifting out of the cafÃ©?Â Was it mere coincidence that the sonorous bell and the monotone chanting were discordant?Â Surely there had to be some mysterious harmony and deeper meaning underlying the incompatible chimes and chanting?Â Of course â€“ both were monotonous!Â And there was agreement that it was late, and time for bed.
But the goodly saint wasn't ready for bed.Â Indeed, he'd been feeling too restless to be confined to the Guesthouse for Saints.Â The Zen of the matter was that he was ready for a mug of skinny flat white coffee in a cafÃ© he'd never previously patronized.Â Before entering, he quickly thumbed through the booklet, peering at the text in the gloom.Â Perhaps Buddha had transcended studying his navel and was in a galaxy far, far away, with the booklet his parting gift to an unheeding world.Â But the text was so convoluted and eye watering in its quicksand of thought that Saint Nicholas planted it in the garbage bin of the church.Â It was an ecumenical act.Â For it was only proper and just that the cockroaches of the Christian persuasion should have the same opportunity for enlightenment as their Hari Krishna brethren.Â Such acts of religious toleration came naturally to the saint.
The blessed man entered the cafÃ©, and ordered a skinny flat white from the devotee chanting behind the counter.Â He shook his shaved head to indicate that such coffee was not on the Christmas Eve menu in an eastern cafÃ©.Â But by a minor miracle, affogato was.
"Affogato?" queried Saint Nicholas.
"A double shot of espresso poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream," replied the monk.Â "A heavenly infusion," he added.
With that being the case, the saint could hardly refuse a celestial coffee, and he ordered a mug of the divine brew.Â Though such might take a tad of time coming, for the monk picked up a string of prayer beads and closed his eyes.Â For a moment the saint wondered if the affogato perhaps had its origin in hell.Â Then the only other occupant of The Weeping Drop CafÃ© caught his eye.Â It was a white-bearded, fat man in a red suit, who indicated with a roll of the head for the saint to come over.
"I'm Santa," he said, as the saintly one sat down.Â "I broke a runner on my sleigh," he added, to justify his presence in the cafÃ©.
"I'm Saint Nicholas," replied the saint, nailing his colours to the masthead.Â "The bike was overheating," he added to justify his presence.Â "And I need a coffee.Â A broken runner, you say?Â How are you going to fix the flat?"
"I can't!Â I haven't got a spare, not even a skinny space-saver.Â So I've got to wait for roadside assistance from the Sleigh Club elves."Â He sighed and took a deep sip from his mug of creamy affogato.Â "I was hoping to make an early start with the presents.Â With this being my very last delivery run, and all," he added dolefully.
"Very last run, you say?"
Santa nodded.Â "I'm hanging up my boots.Â Just another case of forced early retirement."
Saint Nicholas was appalled.Â From the very first bounce on his mother's saintly knee, he'd been told to be a good boy or there'd be no presents from Santa.Â And he could clearly remember all the Christmas mornings excitedly discovering the gifts left by the man now sitting on the other side of the table â€“ almost crying into his beer, in a manner of speaking.Â And Nicholas had always kept the faith, other than when he'd been naughty, and had been richly rewarded each Christmas morning.Â And despite all the mocking jeers by fellow pimpled teenagers at high school, he'd kept the fire of belief burning brightly in his heart for the jolly fat man â€“ who was now decidedly jolliness deprived in the Hari Krishna cafÃ© on Christmas Eve.
"I've been made redundant," said Santa, almost as if he'd admitted to throttling an elf.Â He shook his head.Â "The penultimate nail in the Christmas Express coffin," he continued, "is the newly passed Prevention of Cruelty to Reindeers Act.Â It was dreamt up by that dozy bunch of lazy do-gooders on the Governing Council of North Pole Elves and Helpers.Â Only one sack of goodies per reindeer pulling the sleigh is allowed."Â He angrily thumped a fist on the table.Â "But there was not one word included about the minimum size of chimneys I'm expected to squeeze down.Â What about my occupational health and safety?Â Answer me that!"
Saint Nicholas couldn't.Â He was momentarily stunned by Santa being shown the door and given his marching orders.
"And let's not go into my being required to obtain a mandatory police clearance before each Christmas.Â Just as I'd be into molesting young reindeers.Â The cheek of it!"
Saint Nicholas was dumb-founded.
"But the final nail in the Christmas Express coffin," continued Santa, unabashed, "is the falling number of children who believe in me."
The saint was stunned by the revelation.Â He was shocked to the very soles of his motorcycle boots.Â Not believing in Santa was tantamount to not believing in God.Â It was as incredible as not believing in Ms Right, his anonymous soul mate.
"And another thing gets up my nose!" continued Santa, on a roll with a captive audience.Â "The President of the Governing Council â€“ a jumped up common garden gnome â€“ declared that my falling client base made all the Christmas effort uneconomic.Â So the elves are to be redeployed to the Easter Bunny Division; and the jolly helpers to the Easter egg section in that sweat shop of a chocolate factory.Â The world's gone mad!"
The monk bringing the saint's mug of affogato interrupted Santa's flow of hot words.Â They waited for the bald headed one to amble back to the counter and resume torturing his prayer beads.
"I have an idea," said Saint Nicholas, after a first cautious, exploratory sip of heavenly delight in the mug.Â "When the sleigh's fixed, why not do a quick trip through China?"
"China?" queried Santa, with saucer eyes.Â "China?"
"Yes!" Saint Nicholas said enthusiastically.Â For the thought had come to him as a divine-like revelation, with the same subtly as a hand from behind a burning bush.Â "China!"Â He idly stirred his affogato with a rose bud plucked from a small vase on the table.Â "Think of all the little ones in China.Â It's a booming economy - the place is bursting at the seams with children."
"Hmmm," murmured Santa.Â "Their parents would love to regain the whip hand, and un-naughty the little blighters."
"Go and leave a sample present here, another gift there.Â Before you know it, with God showering miracles to smooth the way, good cheer will be coming out of their ears.Â And then there's India as a follow-up, andâ€¦."
Santa interrupted him with a wave of the hand.Â "But what about the Governing Council and the President?" he objected.Â "Why would they agree?"
Saint Nicholas grinned.Â "I'll have a word with Big G. upstairs.Â I'm positive He can prevail on Satan to visit the North Pole â€“ he'd just love a cool change.Â And I'm sure he can make everyone an offer too good to refuse.Â You know, reinstate Christmas or burn.Â Smile or scream.Â Smell the rose or grasp the nettle."
The monk at the counter began to tap his fingers on a pair of bongo drums, and to softly chant: "Ohm, ohm, ohm."
Santa cocked his ear at the jingling of Christmas bells outside The Weeping Drop CafÃ©.
"The elves with the new sleigh runner," I suppose, remarked Saint Nicholas.
"I'll be on my way in no time," said Santa rising to his feet.Â "Off to Hong Kong for the opening salvo of goodies!"Â He stomped to the front door of the cafÃ©, his feet once more firmly embedded in his boots.Â "And then to the Forbidden City to crack the hardest nut."Â He smiled at the saint.Â "This morning, China.Â This afternoon India.Â And tonight the rest of the world."Â And then with a, "Have a word with Big G!" he stepped into the night.
Saint Nicholas nodded.Â Straight away he'd get on the hot line to God.Â And it wouldn't hurt to have a few words with Jesus as well about His birthday being on the knife's edge.Â And perhaps with Buddha for good measure about how to contemplate his navel while riding his motorbike in search of Ms Right.Â And just where was his soul mate?
"Ho, ho, ho!" rang from outside, with Santa slipping the Christmas Express into gear and speeding off to sprinkle stardust on Hong Kong.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes