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A Rainy Day Kind of Place

What's to Do but Drop by Cafe Zinc and Watch Life Slosh By?

Cafe Zinc, 350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach. (949) 494-6302.

October 21, 2000|DAVID LANSING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It is raining outside Cafe Zinc. Serena, in a Naugahyde bomber's jacket with faux leopard collar, tries to hold her cup of hot chocolate with her pinkie extended, but the whole thing is too heavy and she almost spills it before her mother reaches over and catches it.

"I asked you not to do that," says her mother, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Her mom also wears a bomber's jacket, but hers is real leather. And without the leopard collar.

"Anyway," says the woman sitting across from Serena and her mother, "she's flying back tomorrow. I know this sounds petty, but when Kenny was dying she couldn't be bothered, but now that Jackson has left Louise she hops on a plane and comes home in a wink."

Serena takes the newspaper comics, which are folded in half, and starts to read out loud: "Your mother left her teeth in our bathroom. They're just starting to slow down now."

"Don't do that, please. Mommy is trying to have a conversation with Clara and you keep interrupting."

Serena puts the comics down and swings her feet back and forth, kicking the center table leg. "But I'm bo-ored," Serena moans.

"I know you are, baby, but it's raining out. You don't want to walk around in the rain, do you?"

Serena nods up and down.

The mom looks across the table at Clara and gives her a look of exasperation.

"Serena, honey," Clara says, leaning across the table, "why don't you draw me a picture. Your mother says you're a very good artist."

Serena picks up the newspaper again and puts it directly in front of her face like a mask. "I don't have any paper," she mumbles.

"Serena, put the paper down. We can't hear a word you're saying."

"I said I don't have any paper."

"I'll bet Tyler would give you some," Clara says. She gets up from the table and walks with Serena over to the counter where a young waiter in a black T-shirt that says "I Zinc Therefore I Am" is talking about football with one of the other waiters. Clara leans down to Serena and says, "Go ahead and ask him."

Serena looks at her faux leopard collar as if she's just noticed that it has a big stain on it. Clara sighs. "You don't have any paper that she could borrow to draw a picture, do you?" she asks.

Tyler smiles at Serena. "Maybe," he says. "If we can keep the picture and hang it up."

Serena blushes as Tyler hands her a piece of yellow construction paper and a black wax pencil, the type that unravels when you pull back the string. Clara and Serena go back to the table, where Serena's mother is looking into her compact and putting on fresh lipstick.

"What should I draw?" Serena says.

"Stop kicking the table, please," says Serena's mother. "Why don't you draw the restaurant?"

"I don't know how to draw a restaurant."

Clara gives Serena a huge smile. "Why don't you draw a picture of me sitting here drinking my coffee?"

A small brown terrier, like the one on "Frasier," tethered to a folding chair on the patio, comes into the restaurant, dragging the collapsed chair behind it.

"Mommy, there's a dog pulling a chair behind him," Serena says. The dog stops for a moment inside the restaurant, shakes the rain from his coat, then continues to drag the chair inside.

A woman outside, carrying a blueberry muffin on a plate in one hand and a latte on a saucer in the other, stands under the shelter of a white patio umbrella, glancing nervously around her as if she suddenly has no idea where she is or how she got there.

In the background the Andrew Sisters are singing, "Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, anyone else but me . . ."

The dog has pulled the collapsed chair to the back of the restaurant and taken shelter underneath a table, where two women in jogging outfits are eating bowls of sliced melons and bananas. "Is this your dog?" one of the women asks Serena, who has turned around in her chair and is perched on her knees to look at the wet dog. Serena quickly sits down.

"Excu-use me," the woman says a bit more loudly, speaking over Serena's head to her mother. "Yoo-hoo!" She waves a hand in the air to get Serena's mother's attention. "Is this your little dog all tied up here?"

Serena's mother looks horrified. "Of course not," she says.

Clara, spotting the woman outside, who is now looking up and down the street, says, "It must be hers."

Clara wraps her knuckles on the pane glass separating Cafe Zinc's small dining area from the patio. She smiles at the woman outside and mouths the words, "Your dog," while jerking her thumb like a hitchhiker toward the table where the terrier sits shivering.

The woman comes in and takes the leash off the collapsed chair, leaving it on the floor and pulls the dog outside. "I'm so sorry," she says to the two joggers as they dry their legs with napkins.

Serena cocks her head while she draws. Under her breath, she sings, "Don't spit under the apple tree . . ."

"It's not spit; it's sit," Serena's mother says.

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