Sometimes, You say things you really do mean.....

11:00 O'clock Every Morning 

Harry opened at 11:00. Most days, there were a  couple of people sitting out front drinking coffee or cappuccino and a couple of old guy inside drinking the smallest glass of Pils you can drink. Respectable looking old men, in sport coats and khakis, retired, bored, looking for someone to talk to. There was always a sense of expectation, of potential on the corner where Harry presided.  Someone interesting might show up today, someone with new stories, better than those they'd heard ever day for the past few years.  It didn't happen very often.
Eli Kranz was sitting at table 23, under the tree where the pigeons roosted.  He'd more than once gotten pigeon shit in his hair, but it had the best view of the street of all of the thirty tables.  He didn't mind the risk.  There was a great view of the church and you could see all the way down the street where no cars were allowed, and watch the shoppers and the strollers and the drunks come and go.  When he wasn't reading or writing, he was watching.  Like many expatriates, he was very deeply immersed in learning the language and culture of his new home and it was very important to him to understand the culture of the cafes.  He would be spending a lot of time sitting outdoors, trying to get the plot to gel.  He had no problem with the  characters.   He had sketched some of them years ago and had fleshed a lot of them out in short stories and vignettes.  His research on places, times, and the politics and religions of them had been extensive and his notes had a 2 gigabyte memory stick of their own.  There was very little space left on it.
Harry had just gotten back from the bank.  The little, pregnant waitress was always a little slow with the refills and Harry was giving her a subdued lecture as he poured Eli's two o'clock beer.  He drank two every afternoon between one and three and didn't get serious about it until seven or eight in the evening.  Early on, he'd enjoyed two  half liter glasses between ten and twelve, then four more between two and four and as many as he  could hold after seven.  The result wasn't very pretty.  He ended up shaking, sweating , and feeling dizzy and weak for days until his friend finally gave him the ultimatum. He could choose her, or daytime drinking.  She didn't care about evenings and nights, but the whole day without a normal meal was going to kill him and she would not wait around to watch.  He chose the woman over the beer.  He could find beer anywhere, but someone as interesting and as helpful as she was could not be stumbled upon again. 
It had been a few weeks since he'd sobered up and he was relatively productive, weaving his central characters into short stories and vignettes, sharpening their personalities, using locales from the book to tighten his personal understanding of some of the places he hadn't been and squeezing him memory of places he had.  It was good exercise and his language was becoming clearer as he thought more of the structure of the novel.  She helped all of the time by asking questions about the more obscure aspects of English and by her answers to his questions about the culture and language.  It was going to work, he just had to be sure he didn’t slip back into an alcohol haze.  There were no guarantees of that, only his resolve and his admiration for the woman.  He knew the things that set him off and he had developed strategies to counteract them.  He was doing well and wanted to keep it that way. 
Harry came over with beer number two and asked how he was doing.  They talked a little about the business, the weather, the economy, then Harry went back inside the restaurant to take care of business.  It would probably rain just before Harry closed for the empty hours of three to five, when hardly anyone ever sat in the beer garden and the kitchen was closed.  He would return to his apartment to check his email and putter around, then go for a walk between five and seven.  Between seven and eighth, he would return and do the shift with all of his cronies, most of them retired, bullshitting about anything that came to mind.  For Eli, that was a lot, the only problem was that it was a lot for his buddies as well, and most of them didn't relinquish the floor until they'd filibustered their way through a thirty to forty five minute lecture on whatever they felt like.  By the time they were done, he'd forgotten what he wanted to say, but had learned a little bit more of the language.
It was a Friday night at Carlo's Inferno Bar when he first met the retired philosopher.  He had taught at Heidelberg for thirty years and had come home to write a couple of books and to savor his mother's cooking.  He was fifty four and his mother was seventy.  He was the second of four children.  His older brother was born when she was fifteen.  The philosopher's family was unusual in many ways.  His brother was a mason, both of his sisters were nuns.  His father had spent his entire working life as a policeman, and his mother was a lawyer.  None of them judged the choices of the others.  The philosopher smoked a pipe, which was how he ended up at the Inferno.   Since the inception of the new non-smoking laws, a lot of the small bars had converted themselves into "smoking clubs" and the
Inferno was one of them.  It was close to the philosopher's apartment, and he joined.  Tonight, he was sitting alone at a table, reading.  He normally sat at the bar and joined in the verbal mindlessness.  Eli didn't want to disturb him, but it would be impolite not to greet him, so he went to the table, extended his hand and said "Good evening, Professor."  The philosopher looked up, "Ah, Eli!  Good evening, take a seat, please.  I was just going over an English translation of Heidegger and wondering where they found the idiot to do  it.  I'm sitting here only to avoid talking to Peer at the bar.  He was an absolute idiot last night and I don't want to have to remind him of it.   The conversation, as usual, got around to the Hitler times, and he was comparing things that should not be compared and voicing sentiments that should not exist.  No doubt, they are a vestige of his early days under communism, but nonetheless, I do not wish to hear such thoughts."
Eli sat and thought before he responded.  He had heard Peer's slant on the state of the universe before.  It did not impress him positively.  Peer was born in the East.  His parents were both members of the Nazi Party during the war and the Communist Party after it.  They were survivors with no particular ideology except the one that prevailed at the time.  Peer, on the other hand, saw them as heroes, and had no clue to their opportunistic ways.  It was a standard behavior that Eli had observed in many of the children of the second world war.  American, French, and English patriots, Germans who were either democrats or violently anti-American.  It was all meaningless, because they all enjoyed the fruits of the European Union, even as they were  berating it.  Eli was the same about the United States.  He ranted and raved, but he made a lot of money with his books and stories, all of it in greenbacks, and all of it thanks to the people he was condemning for their materialism and lack of imagination. He didn't try to rationalize it.  He knew it was crap, but he didn't try to curtail it either.  He felt it added to his image as an expat on a mission.  The philosopher saw right through it and let it go.  He understood Eli and had read some of his work and considered him a "serious writer", whatever  that meant.  Eli had a pretty good background in philosophy.  He had taken several graduate level courses he thought were important to understand the language/mind problem and had locked himself into a synthesis of psychology/philosophy, centered on Jung and Heidegger and moving into new ground that proved too much for him as a graduate student.  He and the philosopher had a running dialogue on the  nature of inquiry. They were just settling into a comfortable dialogue when Peer came to their table and sat without asking permission.  "My intellectual friends" was his opening, "how long do you think you would last in a society that values equality more than your feeble attempts at becoming gods."
Eli started to respond, but the philosopher waved him down.  "We, wish no more than you to become gods" he opened, "it is the task of philosophy to describe the universe, in the way the philosopher sees it.  In this case, I see a pig standing on his hind legs, denying the existence of a dog."  Peer's eyes got very, very wild.  He was not ready for an argument, just for a few insults.  He said "We'll take this up another time.  I have someone waiting for me at the bar."
Eli understood the reference to Orwell's "Animal Farm", but did not understand why the philosopher had chosen that point in time to use it.  He asked him.  The answer was quite simple.  "It was what he wanted to hear.  He no longer believes in what he speaks, and he is looking for a way out.  I gave it to him.  If he wants to take it, he will be back before closing time." 
Peer Kohler was sixty years old, born in Erfurt when it was a Communist satellite country. He had served in the East German army and was violent from time to time.  He had had a hard time as a boy, trying to understand  the ideology and how he was supposed to interact with it.   By the time he was eighteen, he was a party member and active in condemning his neighbors, friends, and distant relatives as anti-communists, reactionaries, and social misfits.  He was quite good at it.  Then Regan asked Gorbachev to tear down the wall, and here he was, in a democratic country.  He wasn't  happy with it, but it seemed to b e unremarkable, this democracy.  He had more money for less work, a larger apartment, and an auto that didn't fall apart as he drove it away from the sales room.  He realized that his former life was not optimal, that his former ideology was not what he had been taught to believe, but he was doomed to defend it.
Kohler's friend at the bar was a Slovenian called Bogoslav, who shared Kohler's nostalgia for the Soviet time.  They were conspiring to put together a demonstration in the streets asserting the right to be Communists.  It would never happen.  They had organized once a month for three years now and nothing ever happened.  Harry tolerated them and joked with the other patrons about their ineffectiveness and ardor. 
Eli and the professor moved on to the current state of the economy, the exchange rate, and the history of the world.  It was lunch time now.  Eli ordered a bratwurst and fries and the professor a schnitzel smothered with mushrooms.  They ate in silence, finished, drank a small schnapps, and lit their respective brands of cigarettes.  After the  smoking, the   conversation resumed again.  "Eli," started the professor, "I still don't understand this American in Europe game you're playing.  You lose more money everyday with the exchange rate and the rising prices.  Wouldn't it be better for you at home?"  Eli sighed.  "Professor, how many times to we have to do this?  I'm comfortable here.  A lot more comfortable than on the other side.  This is home.  Europe is home.  America is where I was born."
the learning laboratory at the end of the universe