FROM OUR ARCHIVES
MANDELBROT'S CHICKEN, or, THE ORIGINS OF SCIENCE
A BRIEF HISTORY
MANNA OF THE DAY
One night a man I knew as Stanley, tall, elegant, tanned, trim, dressed in an expensive sport coat and an open necked shirt, white haired, clean shaven, a former American tennis champion, who now made his home in Kenya, remarked to me over our little espresso bar, "You know, there's a place like this in Nairobi. You never know who's going to be there. You just know, when you walk in, that somebody's going to be there. Someone you know from a former life, a different continent, another galaxy--a pal, an acquaintance, a lover, a movie star. Someone you know, or someone you knew, or someone you don't know yet but you will, someone you may spend the night with, carousing, or the rest of your life. And you go away and you come back, a hundred times, a thousand times, and it's always the same. But if you stick around, which maybe a handful of people do, sooner or later the whole world passes through."
I told this story to my friend Howard once in London, and he said, "Oh, yes, I know that place."
Stanley would show up intermittently, passing through from Africa on his way to some Masters Tournament in Florida or Hawaii or Mexico or on Long Island. He invariably had on his arm a woman of a certain age, a different woman each time, not interchangeable by any means, but with certain attributes one had come to expect--elegant, tanned, not so trim, expensively dressed, wonderfully coiffeured, with just enough jewelry, perfume and joie-de-vivre to make the air around her moist with anticipation. There was an ease and buoyancy about Stanley and his serial companions which was contagious. I always felt the café elevated by their presence. He may have been a gigolo, but he was a superb gigolo.
I haven't seen Stanley in almost thirty years, but he could walk in tomorrow, put an elbow on the bar, which is a real bar now, and say, "So, Robin, how's it been? Have you met my friend . . . ?" And he would turn his head and extend his arm and step discreetly aside, and over the bar would glide a gloved hand and a bare arm attached to a beautiful, if no longer youthful, shoulder, and above the shoulder would be a choker with a single large stone caught at the throat, and above the throat a handsome face of a certain age, and the face, unknown and yet somehow familiar, would burst into a brilliant smile, and eyes of a certain age would look at me appraisingly, and a voice aged in oak barrels, distilled with cigarette smoke and many complicated affairs of the heart, would murmur, "Finally. I've heard so much about you." Or that's what I imagine.
And Stanley would say, "You know, there's a bar like this in Nairobi. If you stick around long enough, sooner or later . . ."
And his companion would look at me and take in the whole café and finish the sentence for him: "The whole world passes through."