The Barista: Had she been born in Russia in 1906, she would have become the muse of Constructivists and Bolshevik poster-artists. Slim and angular and dark, she never loses her knowing smile; you imagine her in vivid red and black on the walls of St. Petersburg and Moscow, beckoning the masses toward revolution. After the revolution, she would have been arrested, tried, and sent to Siberia, where she would have died of malnutrition and consumption. We'd see her name in biographies of Dziga Vertov and Vladimir Mayakovsky. Instead, she was born in the 1980s in the United States and now she sits near the espresso machine, reading a battered copy of "Gravity's Rainbow." Both my wife and I have a crush on her, but we have no posters on which to put her.
The Wealthy, World-Famous Writer: He's my age, the bastard, and his son is the same age as my son and the boys go to the same preschool. I see him enter every morning holding his boy's hand, and his arrogant swagger seems to offer contrast to his little boy's lopsided gallop. He nods a cool greeting to me; there's a peculiar confidence in his eyes and he always sports a different T-shirt, usually advertising bands you've never heard of or hardware stores in places like Omaha. His life has unfolded as he has always imagined it would, a succession of book and movie deals, famous friends, ironic evenings. He knows the J-curve of his life will terminate one day, abruptly or on a downward slope, but that does not trouble him. He knows, better than most people, that everything must come to an end. His wealth and name will pass down his son, who will never have to struggle to survive. He imagines his son as an old man, dying without having accomplished anything. It is this prospect that keeps him up at night.
The Story-Telling Codger: He was at the coffee shop every morning and he always gave Liko dollar coins, and he told the stories of the different faces on the coins, repeating the same ones over and over, and each time Liko would listen as if hearing it all for the first time, eyes wide and staring at the coin, and I would make polite noises. "Put that in your piggy bank!" said the story-telling codger. "Save up for college!" After I dropped Liko off at school, I used the coins for bus money. A month ago, the story-telling codger stopped coming to the coffee shop. I asked after him. "He's sick," his friend, who once played violin in the Davis symphony, whispered to me. Then he raised his voice and said to Liko, "He's just resting. He'll be back." Liko nods and waits.
The Little Boy: In his room superheroes and robots come alive and in their melodramas the fate of the world is at stake, and his private world is destroyed and renewed, destroyed and renewed, and each time it is born a little bit larger than it was before. Outside on the street everything is alive and everything has something to say to him: the clouds and trees, the rain puddles and shadows, street signs and manhole covers, all of them whispering stories and shouting praise and muttering ridicule. As he enters school the walls glow and the doors vibrate and his teachers loom as large as giants. If all goes well and he survives and keeps growing, one day the clouds and streets will fall silent and his teachers will seem small and superheroes will not exist.