Right around now, as the weather turns brisk, don’t we all look to cafés more dearly? There’s something a little stubborn about this yearning – maybe primal, sometimes ruinous, like the three dollar coffee that cannot possibly live up to the smell of grinding beans. I’ll take that promise every day, though it is arguably a bargain I can’t afford, and I’m not even sure I like coffee that much, or two-day-old raisin cookies. Hell, if Starbucks made its billions in three dollar increments of tomato soup, I’d probably still check in to check out: from the cold, and urban relentlessness, and suburban monotony – from myself when there is nobody else around to blame.
Whatever they are charging at Happy Harry’s Café is almost certainly too little, never mind it’s precisely tomato soup which appears to be the only thing on the menu. This story allegedly borrows its logic from an old Jewish joke Michael Rosen dug up somewhere, but you don’t have to be Jewish or even like jokes (offer to tell me one – go on – and see if we aren’t both grimacing in discomfort a couple of minutes later) to finally share in the hilarity. I’m not even sure you have to speak English. A one-year-old could probably dig this. Maybe it’s existential.
Yet I think this also finds a sweet spot between that scatterbrained one-year-old and their understimulated parent, between lowbrow and wistful, between W.C. Fields and W.B. Yeats. Everyone’s welcome here – Rushing Ryan the Lion with his mysterious guitar, Jo the Crow carrying a stack of books on her bike, Robin the robin (just bobbin’) and a cat with a briefcase, a copy of the Daily Meow, and maybe just a hint of melancholia. The story goes that everyone hurries in because they’re afraid Harry’s famous soup will run out, but I think we’re more often in a hurry to stop hurrying, and I think it’s conviviality we’re all worried is in short supply. You may wonder if that cat is only being a little snappish to complain amid the critical hosannas, or you may wonder if there isn’t some long, sad cat tale he’s about to tell, or if Harry is skimping on artisanal ingredients, still it’s that pin drop of uncertainty which makes for such dizzy high spirits in the end. Relax! He’s only kidding! Was he kidding? Cue the band!