“Venti chocolate brownie frappuccino!” shouts the disembodied voice over the din of early afternoon coffee lovers crowding rather unceremoniously into the local Starbucks. I sit in the back corner with my tall mocha already in hand, or, more appropriately, on the table next to my laptop and gaze at the throng of humanity so in need of a caffeine fix that they were willing to be – even, dare I say, thrilled at the prospect of – jostling with total strangers in broad daylight in order to fulfill their need for the sugary goodness that carried in every espresso-filled cup the promise not of being better looking or maintaining a better job but rather of an evening filled with the little bit of extra energy necessary to make tolerable their otherwise intolerable lives. Not that everyone who splurges a little on their latte dreams and cappuccino wishes is in danger of losing their soul to the doldrums of ordinary life but, let’s face it, the popularity of these glorified coffee carts can’t be due solely to the strategized marketechture that comes from billions of dollars a year of advertising overzealousness. There must be something here that causes the single moms and the mortgage brokers, the cocktail waitresses and the shoe store owners, and the bus drivers and the third year med students alike to flock into these dens of iniquity that we call our local java huts. Maybe it’s the coffee and maybe it’s not, but I know one thing for sure. I’m here for the brunette sitting in the corner opposite me reading Tolstoy and drinking her tall, nonfat, vanilla latte with extra vanilla.
Her name is Monica, or, at least, I’m pretty sure her name is Monica. I’m not sure, of course, because I’ve never talked to her. I’ve been coming here every Thursday for the last five weeks because I walked by on a Thursday a month and a half ago and saw her here. A week later, I walked by and saw her again, so I came in. Now, several weeks later and no closer to working up the courage to talk to her, I’m sitting across from her and pretending to read my copy of The Brothers Karamazov in the hopes that she’ll notice me and my attempt at appearing quasi-intellectual and maybe then approach me, tell me she’s noticed me in here a couple of times, smile the smile that I’ve seen her give the girl behind the counter that makes the coffee, and ask me my name. Then I can impress her with the fact that I already know her name (or will she think I’m a stalker? I’ll make that a game-time decision) and what she drinks and we’ll start talking about literature and politics and what’s going on with those crazy Spice Girls. We’ll agree to meet for coffee the next week – same “bat” time, same “bat” channel - and exchange phone numbers with embarrassed little laughs.
I’ll notice that she has some green in her eyes, but I’ll keep it to myself for later. She’ll have to go because she’s got voice lessons in twenty minutes and I’ll conjure up some nonexistent friend that I’m on my way to meet, too, and we’ll part ways with questions in our minds and Mexican jumping beans for hearts. I’ll go home, mark three days off of my calendar so I’ll know when to call and then tack her number up on the corkboard next to my phone in the kitchen. I’ll call my buddy Bourbon and tell him all about this hottie I just met and that I got her number and he’ll tell me to wait three days to call. I’ll tell him about the calendar move and that she reads Tolstoy and listens to Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’ll call in three days, invite her out for a drink and meet her the next night at this little bar a couple of blocks away from the coffee shop. We’ll laugh over our drinks; mine a Stoli and soda, hers a cosmopolitan. I’ll tell her a sad story from college and she’ll touch my elbow and we’ll give each other “the look.” I’ll offer to walk her home and she’ll put her arm through mine as we walk down the street looking through the shop windows and discussing the evils of capitalism and the plight of the lower-class working caste. We’ll reach her front door, the breeze will play with the hem of her dress and blow my hair out of place, and we’ll stand there in awkward silence looking alternately at the toes of our shoes and the stars in the sky. She’ll finally place her hands on my shoulders, roll up on her tip-toes and kiss me ever so lightly on the lips. I’ll put my hand on the side of her face, lean in, close my eyes, and kiss her; softly at first, but with just enough passion to let her know that I’m interested. We’ll say goodnight with more than a little reluctance in our voices, she’ll go inside, and I’ll walk home on a level some six or eight inches off of the ground.
We’ll go to dinners and movies, we’ll stay up late talking on the phone, and we’ll write each other emails expressing romantic sentiment and our desire to spend more time together. Eventually (hopefully not too long) we’ll get together and our passion will overwhelm us and we’ll have sex. It’ll be a little strange and awkward but it’ll get better every time and, soon, we’ll be spending a lot of our time together taking each other’s clothes off and exploring each other’s bodies. When we’re not naked and rolling around in the sheets she’ll meet my friends and I’ll hang out with hers and we’ll talk about our dreams and our families and what we had in mind for the weekend. We’ll celebrate each others’ birthdays and I’ll take her home for Thanksgiving and go to her parents’ house for Christmas Eve. We’ll be dating for six months and I’ll want to tell her that I’m in love with her but I won’t because I’m afraid of jinxing the whole thing until I slip one night as we’re falling asleep and I’m stroking her hair and I’ll tell her that I love her. She’ll breathe deeply, tell me that she’s been waiting for me to say it and that she, too, is in love with me and we’ll kiss and then make love - really make love - for the first time and it’ll be the greatest sex we’ve ever had. I’ll call Bourbon the next day and he’ll congratulate me and tell me how happy he is for me because he remembers the other girl I was in love with and how losing her broke my heart. We’ll talk about moving in together to save on rent and we’ll decide that we should probably wait but I’ll give her keys to my place and she’ll give me the extra garage door opener to hers and every day will be sunny and we’ll hold hands as we walk through the park.
One day I’ll be at her house putting rose petals all over her bed when the phone will ring and the answering machine will pick up and someone named Kurt will leave a message telling her that he’s been thinking about her an awful lot and would love to get together some time over coffee or whatever and talk. I’ll try not to be jealous but it’ll be really hard because he’ll finish the message by telling her that he still loves her. I’ll ask her about it later but instead of sounding nonchalant about the whole thing I’ll come off as sullen and she’ll think that I’m acting stupid and we’ll fight and I’ll go home and we won’t talk for a couple of days. I’ll be wondering the whole time if she’s calling Kurt and drinking coffee with Kurt and fucking Kurt and then she’ll call and tell me that she’s sorry and that she should have told me about Kurt before and that she called him and told him that she was in love with me and to stop calling her. I’ll tell her I’m sorry for being a stupid jerk and that I’m madly in love with her and that I’m normally not a jealous person but I just love her so much and we’ll cry and I’ll go to her apartment and we’ll have that really great makeup sex and fall asleep with smiles on our faces.
Maybe, though, I won’t be able to let it go and maybe I’ll be right in being suspicious because she’ll act a little more distant. She’ll break dates with me and tell me she’s got a headache when I’m feeling amorous and I’ll wonder what’s going on and ask her. She’ll tell me it’s nothing; stuff at work, she’ll say. We’ll spend less time together and she’ll get frustrated with me over some dishes in the sink and I’ll snap at her when she interrupts me while I’m trying to write. We’ll take a weekend trip to try to rekindle the romance but we’ll end up fighting the whole time because the hotel room is too small and she didn’t pack the right swim trunks. I’ll run into an old friend from college and wonder aloud what would have happened if she and I had dated and Monica will tell me – just to hurt me – that Kurt called again. Our sex life will start to suffer and she’ll suggest couple’s therapy and I’ll laugh and tell her I’m going to the bar to watch the game with Bourbon. Finally we’ll get in a huge fight that starts when she throws out a fraternity t-shirt of mine and ends when she tells me that she doesn’t love me right now (she’ll actually say “right now” as though she used to, and she may again, someday, but right now...eh, not so much). I’ll promise to be more understanding and less jealous but she’ll just shake her head and cry and ask me to leave. I’ll go home and punch some holes in the wall and scream and rail against her and inside I’ll know that it’s somehow all my fault and wish that I could make it all better.
She’ll call a couple of days later and ask if she can come get her stuff and would I mind not being there when she does and I’ll coldly tell her to make sure she gets everything and to please leave her set of keys on the table on her way out and to bring all of my things, too, and I’ll leave her stupid garage door opener by the phone in the kitchen under the corkboard next to the calendar that still has the day we met on it which is today even though now I’m definitely not going to talk to her because it’ll just end badly so I finish my mocha, put my book and my laptop in my bag, and walk through the crowd and out of the Starbucks with my head down and a tear in my eye.
“Tall, nonfat, no foam latte!” yells a disembodied voice that sounds vaguely like every other disembodied voice that we hear on a daily basis telling us what stop we’re at on the Muni line or what’s on sale on which aisle. Is there one person who does the voice over for all of the soundtracks of the real world like the automated systems of the bank and the cable company? When I die, will God sound like the non-responsive female voice that tells me how much I owe on my student loans or will the maker of the universe sound more like the voice that admonishes me that my door is still ajar? These are the questions that I ponder while you ponder what in the hell I’m doing in this hedonist paradise again when last Thursday went so poorly. I realized after that whole Monica fiasco (boy, she was a piece of work, huh?) that just because it didn’t work out between the two of us shouldn’t mean that I can’t come to my local coffee shop. Besides, it’s Tuesday, there’s no evidence suggesting that she’ll even be here today, and there is a petite Asian beauty sitting two tables away from me that has the most killer set of legs I’ve seen since my neighbor’s subscription to “Maxim” ran out and I couldn’t “borrow” it from the mail slot anymore (the only magazine I get is “Cat Fancy” because nobody takes the “Cat Fancy”).
So I’m attempting to navigate my way through some incomprehensible art magazine (also appropriated from the mail slot of a neighbor, but a different one) in front of me and just hoping that she’ll notice that I’m the only one in here not actually staring at her legs (even the women, as they gaze longingly over the counter at the next drink being made – wondering if it’s theirs or the lady next to them with the fake Gucci bag – can’t help but glance repeatedly over their shoulders at the stems on my little Asian flower) and maybe, getting up, conspicuously drop a small, slightly crumpled, piece of paper on the table next to me with a note giving me her name and number. Her first name will be something easy to say and impossible to forget like Stella and I’ll find out in five days when I call her and we go to an art gallery exhibiting rare Incan burial masks that her middle name is impossible to say and easy to forget (I’ve done it already) but that it means “field of lotus flowers.” I’ll think of some obscure comments about art and architecture that I remember from my college roommate’s text book and she’ll be impressed. I’ll give her the line about being fresh out of a relationship and not really looking for anything serious and she’ll tell me that she doesn’t normally date men who aren’t Asian anyway so we could just be friends.
I’ll call the next day and invite her to a party and she’ll accept and show up looking like a model and everyone at the party will be looking at us (okay, mostly her) and we’ll get a little drunk and end up kissing on the patio before we call a taxi and go back to her place. Her room will be decorated and classy with pictures of her family on her desk with her computer and I’ll kick her down comforter to the floor when I try to get my pants off without stopping because she’s asking me not to stop. In the morning she’ll make coffee and toast because neither of us feel well and I’ll come up with some ill-conceived story about previous plans with some friends for lunch that day and she’ll offer me a ride home but I’ll call a taxi. I’ll call Bourbon when I get home and tell him what happened and he’ll want details – mostly of how I managed to score with such an incredibly hot girl – but I’ll only tell him that I don’t think I should see her again because I feel sort of guilty.
She’ll call two days later and leave me a message that I won’t respond to for a couple more days. When I call her I’ll get her voicemail and I’ll leave some lame excuse for why I’ve been so out of touch and that I’ll be leaving town for a little while (not true) to take care of some family things (not true) and I’ll call her soon (also, not true). I’ll realize that it’s not guilt keeping me from wanting to call her but a deep-seeded desire to never see her again because I only slept with her to try to get my last girlfriend out of my head and it didn’t work. So if I’m not going to remember anything about her middle name except that it means “lotus patch” or whatever and I’m not going to call her after sleeping with her and all I’ll do is sleep with her the one time it’s probably best if I just quietly get up from this table, discard this pretentious and over-reaching magazine, toss my half consumed mocha into the nearest receptacle for trash and walk out of here before she notices me and I end up treating her like a piece of meat.
“Tall, decaf, nonfat, extra sugar, cappuccino!” cries the voice that is simultaneously without pitch or body. I’m staring at my computer, checking my email, and reading the latest news. It seems to me that we are over-building in the cities and states here in America and it’s the environment and the Native American that are suffering. Do we really think that allowing the proud people that were once the sole inhabitants of the rolling prairies and sprawling hills to build casinos – casinos, for the love of all that is holy, are the very embodiment of everything that is evil about a capitalistic society; people paying an establishment to take their money from them. I do love the free drinks, though - in any way makes up for the fact that the original colonists from Europe lied to, cheated, and stole from the Native Americans in order to set up a democracy that would exclude them? What’s more, doesn’t it seem as though the natural disasters are becoming more frequent and killing more people because of our incessant encroachment upon the borders and guidelines that good ol’ Mother Earth set up for us in the first place? This is how I’m spending a quiet Sunday morning in a not-so-quiet Starbucks (am I becoming one of those addicts that I despise?); with a mocha, a mind full of questions for the cosmos, and one question for the South American girl that’s hotter than the tea she’s drinking at the table on the patio: are you ticklish?
Of course, if I actually asked her that, one of two things would happen. I’d either get belted like a new radial or she’d laugh, invite me to find out, and giggle as she tried to slap my hand away. I wouldn’t really try to tickle her at first but I’d tell her that I have a new theory on how I approach women and that I’d really like to test it on her. She’d look at me quizzically and with more than a little trepidation agree. I’d ask her name and, when she told me it was Sofia I’d tell her that I’d like to buy her tea, take her to lunch, and spend the rest of the day trying to make her laugh without tickling her or touching her in any way. She’ll see this as a totally unique approach and agree; the trepidation will be replaced by curiosity so strong it overrides her natural instinct to say no to the stranger that she’s now committed to a full day with. We’ll leave immediately, walk back to my house for a Frisbee and my guitar, and go to the park. I’ll tell her jokes and sing songs and try to not hit hippies with the ‘bee and she’ll try not to laugh when I trip over a sleeping homeless guy. She’ll slowly begin to wonder how I can walk so close to her without touching her and she’ll devise little ways to make me touch her but I’ll stay one step ahead and avoid physical contact until, at last, after dinner she tackles me into the bushes just outside the Indian restaurant with the really spicy curry. I’ll pretend revulsion but secretly know that I’ve been planning this all along and I’ll let her kiss me. We’ll go to my place and I’ll slowly remove every article of clothing from her body and say something like how it’s her turn not to touch, gently tie her hands to the bedposts with a long silk scarf and proceed to kiss and caress every inch of her body until she’s writhing on my bed. I’ll take her slowly and sensuously, using all of the tricks I’ve learned from every girl I’ve ever been intimate with. When it’s over she’ll probably feel weird about falling asleep in my bed but she won’t be able to help it what with the day’s activities and the evening’s festivities.
In the morning she’ll have to rush out to go to work and she’ll forget to leave her phone number but I’ll slip mine in her purse as we kiss a lingering goodbye. She’ll think about me all day (maybe even slip into the restroom for a little, shall we say, “release”) and wonder about seeing me again until a week later when she’s getting ready to go out and she changes purses and finds my number and calls. I’ll let the voicemail pick up so I can hear what she has to say and I’ll be pleased with her long, endearingly fumbled, message telling me that she’s never had a night like that and would really like another and to please call. I’ll call the next night, late, and she’ll come over and the sex will be incredible. The following morning she’ll invent some reason for leaving early because she’ll want to call her girlfriends to tell them about this incredible sex she’s having. They’ll tell her to be careful and not to get too involved – she did just meet me, after all – and she’ll promise but all she’ll be able to think about is the feel of my hands on her breasts and my lips on her thighs and she’ll call wanting to come over that night, too. I’ll regretfully decline, citing a need for a good night’s sleep before an important (and completely fictitious) meeting the next day, but definitely early that next week.
I’ll let her sweat for a couple of days and then call her, late again, and have her come over. She won’t realize that I will have effectively set her up as a booty call and she’ll come over and the sex will blow what’s left of her mind after all of the mind-blowing sex we’ll have already had. She’ll call a couple of days later but I’ll blow her off and then I’ll call and she’ll have a genuine reason we can’t hang out but she’ll suggest I come over to her place the next night. I’ll go, she’ll cook her best dinner, we’ll go to bed, and, in the morning, I’ll leave before she wakes up. I’ll call her again two nights later and tell her that I’ve got a lot on my plate with work and family and stuff and that I’ll call her soon. She’ll wonder if she just got the big blow off and she’ll be pissed at me for a couple of weeks because I won’t call at all. Then, three or four weeks later, I’ll call and invite her out and she’ll say no but I’ll talk her into it by apologizing for not calling and for treating her like her feelings didn’t matter. She’ll tell me that she didn’t have any feelings for me but that I shouldn’t have blown her off and I’ll tell her that I felt like she was getting too close and that I couldn’t handle the pressure of a relationship at that point in my life. We’ll talk for a while and she’ll agree to meet me for a drink and we’ll end up in bed again and she’ll forgive me – over and over, if you know what I mean. She’ll tell me that she’s nobody’s booty call and I’ll agree, knowing full well that she’s now my booty call and we’ll sleep.
The whole process will start over again and we’ll go round and round until one day when she’ll call me and leave me a nasty message about how she’s feeling used and cheap. I’ll call her back but she’ll ignore my first couple of tries and then she’ll pick up and we’ll fight and she’ll hang up on me. I’ll get really pissed because I hate to be hung up on so I won’t call her back and that will be the end of a perfectly good booty call girl so I should probably quit tapping on the window trying to get her attention to ask her if she’s ticklish because she’ll turn around and I’ll have to ask and I’ll probably get hit anyway. I’m wearing a brand new shirt that I don’t want to get blood all over so I’ll just grab my mocha and what’s left of my dignity now that everyone in the Starbucks is looking in my direction attempting to ascertain what that tapping noise was and duck out the door with my hat pulled low over my eyes and make my way home, changing direction every once in awhile in case someone’s following me. Why anyone would follow me, I don’t know, but strange things are happening at the coffee shop anyway so I might as well be careful.
“Venti soy chai!” chants the bodiless voice that now haunts my dreams. I know, I know, I’m definitely becoming addicted to this stuff. The thing is, I keep meeting girls here and, whether or not the relationship works out – or, for that matter, whether I want it to – I am having quite a bit of fun. So here I am on a Monday evening sitting in a rather comfortable sofa-like chair thing and wondering to myself if the political landscape that we’re seeing now has been improved or made worse by the current issue of terrorism. On the one hand, I want everyone to feel safe in their own hometowns and when their cruising around the world and whatever but, conversely, we can’t have the government dipping it’s extraordinarily large paws into our personal honey pots (obviously I think this whole idea is a lot of Pooh) anytime one of us makes a joke about bombs or guns or what an incredible ass the President is. If I’d written that last sentence in an email just now, I’d have been red-flagged three times and I’d have some fresh-out-of-the-academy F.B.I. agent crawling up my ass with a microphone, a small recorder, and a promise of many, many, nights of extreme discomfort. However, I also see this as a time for possibility within the structure of our current system of government. We could begin to see real change among the leaders who would, in turn, effect change within the power structure so that, perhaps twenty or thirty years down the road, we are being effectively governed by people that genuinely care about the population, not just furthering their own political and financial ends. It’s hard to imagine, I grant, but it is possible.
What’s impossible is the way this blonde at the counter is fitting into those jeans. Perhaps, considering my luck with girls at this coffee shop, I should look away before I get caught staring at this posterior that so belongs on a billboard for what beauty is but maybe this time I will get caught staring and she’ll know that my inability to look away is meant as the compliment that it truly is and she’ll feel oddly flattered and come over to me and ask if she can look at my butt now and I’ll have to stand up and oblige her. We’ll genuinely laugh over our drinks at my getting busted checking her out and she’ll turn the tables on me and ask me for my name and number and she’ll tell me that her name is Alyssa. She’ll take the initiative to set up a date and we’ll plan it and she’ll call the night before to ask me if I’d prefer Italian or Asian cuisine and that it doesn’t matter to her because she’s a vegetarian.
We’ll go Asian because I’m cutting back on carbs and she’ll pick me up in her nice car and tell me that she’s a consultant for internet companies and I’ll make a completely uninformed comment about the booming business and then, when she looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot, I’ll play it off like I was kidding. We’ll go through dinner and I’ll feel like I’m constantly trying to please her and constantly coming up a bit short but she’ll ask to come in when we get back to my place and we’ll sit on the couch, kissing and groping for a little while until she abruptly announces that she’s going home. I’ll walk her out, feeling every bit as unimpressive as I did during dinner but she’ll call the next day to tell me how much fun it was and that she’d love to do it again. She’ll show up that night without any warning, which will weird me out but I’ll tell her that it’s wonderful. We’ll make out in the living room again and this time she’ll tell me that she wants to see my room. She’ll ooh and ahh over the flag of Ireland I have hanging on my wall and the calendar of Italy and the picture I bought off of a drunken artist on Haight Street. She’ll carefully take off the clothes she’s wearing and tell me to do the same. I’ll try to pleasure her but I’ll be wondering if I’m at all doing a good job until she moans, then screams – loudly – and tells me that she’s seeing God and Jesus and all of the Apostles.
The next day we’ll part but she’ll call me that night and tell me to catch a cab to her place and the whole night will be one long achievement in merrymaking. We’ll talk about keeping everything on a casual level but I’ll call a lot and she’ll call a lot and come over unexpectedly – still weird but getting better – and we’ll slowly begin to realize that we are dating exclusively. We’ll have that talk and I won’t want to have any sort of moniker that we hang on our relationship but our friends will start refer to us as each others’ boyfriend/girlfriend. Bourbon won’t really like her but will bite his tongue with me, saying only that he thinks she might be good for me after all the time gone by since my last long-term, committed, relationship.
So Alyssa and I will begin to share our lives with each other, albeit slowly, and even though we argue a lot over stupid little things, it’ll only serve to remind us of the passion we feel towards each other and that makes for great – and loud – makeup sex, which we’ll have all of the time. She’ll gradually bring more things over to my place and ever so slowly take over the bathroom but we’ll take long walks on the beach and drink pina coladas and even though I’ll hate the fighting and I’ll not want to do it, I’ll let her move in because she’ll let her lease lapse on her place. Things will be very up and down with us and we’ll have really great times and really bad times and going out for meals will be hard because she’ll hardly eat anything.
I’ll really like her family, though, and, surprisingly enough, my family will really like her. She’ll get really jealous about my friendship with her best friend and she’ll accuse us of sleeping together and will only relent when I remind her that there was never a time when her best friend and I could’ve slept together because I’m always with her. She’ll hang on to it, though, and nine months later, after doing the holiday thing with families and living together for awhile and me never lying to her she’ll tell me that she loves me and I’ll say it back even though it’s not really true. Then she’ll accuse me of lying about sleeping with her friend and I’ll call her a psycho – which Bourbon will love because he’s always thought so – and tell her that she has to move out. Her brother will come get her stuff and her father will make vague threats to kill me but they’ll both know that the truth is that Alyssa is just a little left of center when it comes to her intensity in relationships.
Two weeks after we break up she’ll sleep with her ex-boyfriend who is a guy I know through a mutual friend so I’ll hear about it and call her up. I won’t call, though, and when she calls to find out why I’m not calling, I’ll tell her that the reason we broke up is that I wasn’t in love with her and that I should have been after all of that time and everything we’d been through and she’ll tell me to go screw myself and that I shouldn’t tell someone that I love them if I don’t mean it. I’ll realize that the way I feel is exactly how one of my ex-girlfriends must have felt when, after everything she and I had been through, she told me that she wasn’t in love with me so I’ll forgive Alyssa for the unimaginably mean things she’ll say to me because I’ll remember what it felt like to feel the way she does. So I’ll feel horrible about hurting her and making her feel horrible and since the whole thing with Sofia went down I’ve sort of promised myself that I wouldn’t treat women poorly anymore and I would clearly be putting my own wants and needs ahead of Alyssa’s perhaps it’s better if I just stop staring at that incredible backside of hers and close up my laptop that’s running out of batteries anyway and pack it up in my bag and finish drinking my mocha and leave quickly with the ringing sounds of people jonesin’ for coffee and salsa music echoing in the back of my mind and the empty chambers of my heart.
“Grande caramel macchiato!” echoes the voice that I can almost apply a face to now even though it still has the ghostlike quality of not coming from any one place but, instead, all places at once. I am now, officially, one of those crazy coffee-heads that I was making fun of awhile ago. Sitting here on a Saturday night, however, means that I’m not only addicted to the sweet nectar that is a well-made mocha but that I’m also skipping my normal weekend routine of going out and drinking a lot of alcohol with my friends in order to sit here and wonder about the complexities of socialism and whether or not I should move to Europe. Going to Europe would afford me an opportunity to really explore other cultures and to stretch beyond my comfort zone, two things I’ve wanted to do for some time now. Moving across the pond also carries with it the added bonus of pulling me rather abruptly out of the mundane existence I’m currently going through the motions of and providing me with some excitement – it might even get me to quit drinking these damn coffees.
Of course, there are probably more of these sinful coffee shops in Europe and I won’t be able to escape my addiction and, anyway, what are the chances of a Starbucks in Florence having women like this incredible African-American goddess that just walked in wearing low-slung jeans and a midriff-baring t-shirt that appears to have been painted on. Her skin matches my aforementioned well-made mocha and her smile has enough spark to power Chicago and there may be women like this in Florence but will any of them walk to my table, look me in the eye while grabbing my coffee and taking a sip, start laughing at the surprised look on my face, and sit down while introducing themselves? Her name will be Samantha (not an Italian name at all) but all of her friends will call her Sam and she’ll have more energy than any girl I’ve ever met. She’ll say something about me looking athletic and we’ll move directly from the introduction to setting up a date to play tennis in two days even though I don’t really play. I’ll borrow a racket from Bourbon and pull on some shorts and meet her at the tennis courts in the middle of the park. We’ll play and she’ll kill me and then accuse me of letting her win, but with a big smile on her face telling me that she doesn’t really care. We’ll hang out in the park all day and get lunch together and then agree to meet that weekend to go dancing. I’ll take her to a friend’s bar and we’ll have a couple of drinks and we’ll go dancing across the street until four in the morning and we’ll go back to her place and I’ll fall asleep on the couch. She’ll put a blanket over me and go to bed and I’ll be a little freaked out the next morning until I realize where I’m at. She’ll make coffee and we’ll talk and she’ll invite me to go shopping with her. We’ll go from store to store and I’ll offer to carry her bags for her and she’ll try stuff on and show me.
I’ll want to kiss her but not be sure how to approach her because I’ll be kind of intimidated by her. We’ll have long talks about her childhood and how I didn’t have much diversity in my hometown and every time she looks at me I’ll see the color of her skin less and the color of her eyes more. I’ll meet a lot of her friends and while I’ll be the one with the lightest complexion I’ll also be the one that makes her laugh the most and we’ll do wine parties and smoke cigars together. She’ll read my writing and tell me she loves it and I’ll completely dig her photographs and we’ll make out in her darkroom and she’ll take black and white photos of me while I sleep. People will give us weird looks on the train and we’ll laugh at them and feel sorry for them and wonder why it’s such a big deal.
One weekend day I’ll be at her place hanging out listening to music and her father will come by to take her to lunch. We’ll shake hands and be very pleasant and I’ll feel a strange vibe from him but the next day, when I call her, Sam will tell me that her father liked me. I’ll be really happy about that and start thinking about a time to take her to meet my family when she’ll slip and tell me that her father doesn’t know that we’re dating. She’ll tell me that he doesn’t approve of interracial relationships and I’ll feel like she’s ashamed to be dating me and even though the race thing isn’t a factor for either of us it’ll become one for our relationship. I’ll tell her that she has to convince her father not to be so close-minded and she’ll tell me that he still tells stories of his great-grandfather who was a slave and that’s why he doesn’t want her dating a white guy. I’ll say something stupid about reverse-prejudice and she’ll tell me that it’s obviously not her problem but it will be a problem and we won’t talk for a couple of days and when she does call I’ll ask if she’s told her father about us and she’ll say no so I’ll hang up.
I’ll call her the next day and apologize for hanging up on her but that she has to tell her father about us or we’ll have to break up and she’ll tell me it’s a lose-lose situation for her because if he finds out then he’ll stop paying her rent while she’s finishing school and if she doesn’t tell him then I’ll leave her and she really likes me. I’ll feel bad about the ultimatum but feel justified in telling her that it’s not fair to me, either, and that at some point the mistruths have to stop for everyone involved to become better people and she’ll cry and apologize and I’ll feel disappointed but tell her that I understand.
I’ll wonder aloud to Bourbon – with many a scotch and soda between us – about whether or not the world will ever get over the stupid shit that keeps people on opposite sides of the fence and keeps perfectly healthy relationships from happening because of someone else’s misconceptions and he’ll tell me that he thinks it will, someday. Sam and I will still talk but we won’t hang out much because it will be really hard for us to be around each other without having a physical relationship. We’ll gradually drift apart and maybe even lose track of each other until we randomly meet at the Union Street Fair and she’ll be holding hands with a very handsome African-American guy named Jay that her father will undoubtedly approve of. I’ll wish them the best and leave feeling like it’s probably for the best anyway and never hear from her again but spend a lot of time wondering about what might have been. So, since getting hung up on shoulda-woulda-coulda’s is really unhealthy and I don’t want to ever find myself in a situation where I have to give a woman the ultimatum to choose her father’s approval or me, I should probably just look away from the gorgeous girl with the mocha skin and the amazing smile before she looks at me and comes over to steal a sip of my coffee. Something about my coffee just doesn’t taste right today.
“Tall iced half-caff Americano!” screams that familiar voice that I now think of as the harbinger of doom and destruction. I’m sure it’s not, mind you, but one can only trust the things that one cannot actually see for a limited amount of time. This has always been my problem with organized religion; taking the whole God thing on faith is difficult for me. I understand that faith is one of the defining characteristics of religion but to me it’s also where all of the arguments begin to fail. If the Bible is to be believed, for example, then we must allow that all of the “miracles” that happen in it are true and were performed by God. All of these occurrences, however, date to a time that we have very little recorded history on, so we are asked to believe based on faith in this one, slightly biased, account. Now, if God was running around performing all of these miracles that are undisputed and real and true, why don’t we have any contemporary examples of the same kinds of things happening? Why did the miracles stop on the last page of the Bible? We are being asked to have faith in a system that attests that miracles used to happen – offering no proof other than its own questionable documentation – but that they no longer happen and that both of these mutually exclusive facts combine to prove the existence of God. I’m not saying there’s no God – I think there has to be something bigger than all of this – I’m just saying that I think that organized religions were originally constructed to give men a power structure that was separate from the governments and societal controls that were already being established, setting up a struggle between the church and state that continues to this day.
But there has to be a God – the beautiful woman standing at the pastry counter on this beautiful Wednesday morning is proof of that. Perhaps I could get her talking about religion and find out what her take on it is and maybe she’ll disagree with my theories but still enjoy talking about them. She’ll tell me her name is Wanda and even though she looks really young, she’ll actually be four years older than I am. It will be refreshing for me to hang out with someone who is a little more experienced than most of the girls I’ve met and we’ll talk about her travels and how she was married once. We’ll go to concerts because we love the same music and we’ll spend whole days sitting next to each other reading or watching television. We’ll instantly be comfortable with each other and each other’s friends and everything will be warm between us. We’ll have sex and it will be plain and unexciting but effective and she’ll tell me that she hasn’t had an orgasm since her husband died. We’ll watch movies and tell stories and even though we’ll really enjoy one another, there won’t be any real passion between us, making for a pleasantly quiet and thoroughly boring relationship.
Bourbon will tell me at first that it’s probably the best thing for me, considering how up and down all of my previous relationships have been, and that maybe it’s a sign of my maturity that I’m maintaining an adult relationship that isn’t based solely on sex. My mom will think it’s great that I’ve found someone who’s a little more stable but my brother will flip me crap for dating a girl older than he is. I’ll have some issues with the relationship and its total lack of passion but everything else will be so wonderful that I’ll keep my mouth shut and go along with it. We’ll go antiquing and for day trips to wine country and she’ll ask me to move in with her after just a couple of months. I’ll hem and haw about the whole thing until Bourbon looks at me over the top of a freshly-poured pint and tells me that he’s never seen me so miserable and I’ll tell him that I can’t imagine that I was placed on this Earth and given the personality that I was given for the purpose of maintaining a relationship that had less fire than the inside of an igloo. He’ll nod and I’ll go over to Wanda’s and tell her that she’s one of my best friends, and it’s not her it’s me, and that I love her as a person, and all of the other clichéd crap that has found its way into our pop culture and I’ll tell her that I’d love to maintain our friendship but that I can’t continue in a physical relationship with her. She’ll be really upset and cry and I’ll feel very mature for actually telling her and not just ignoring her phone calls but it will be small consolation because she won’t be able to see me at all if she can’t kiss me.
So we’ll stop talking and I’ll miss out on another wonderful person in my life and I’ll begin to wonder why I even do this whole dating thing just like I’m wondering now as I look at this beautiful woman that I don’t know but just broke up with because the relationship we just had in my head wasn’t passionate enough. Maybe I’m losing it here or maybe I’m doing the absolute smartest thing I’ve ever done but I grab my newspaper and my empty mocha cup and I walk out of the Starbucks that has brought me nothing but heartache (not to mention heartburn) since I first came in here.
“You really like my mochas, don’t you?” says the voice. Says the voice to me. The voice is speaking to me. Wait. The voice is no longer disembodied or ghostly or unreal or without pitch or body but actually there, issuing forth not from everywhere at once but from the lips and mouth and throat of, I’m not kidding, the most beautiful woman I have ever set eyes upon. I should say something to her but I’m stunned at the simultaneous realization that the voice that I kept hearing ringing in my ears and haunting my every sleeping moment is real and that I’ve been wasting my time with these other girls when I should have been talking to this tall, thin, positively gorgeous redhead that I can’t take my eyes off of. So, with the lessons I’ve learned – here at my local coffee shop – about women firmly in my head, I steady my breathing, straighten my back, and say, “Uh...yeah...they’re great.”
“You’ve come in here every day for the past week, right? You’re the guy with the laptop.” She smiles and looks me straight in the eye. “And now, here on a Friday. Are you a writer?”
“I’ve...uh...been toying with a story idea, I guess, yeah. The coffee helps me think, I think.” I’m mesmerized by her unflinching gaze and horrified by my inability to express a coherent thought.
“What’s it...hang on...Grande, nonfat, tepid, latte!...sorry, what’s your story about?” She touches my hand while she yelled out the drink order and a shock of electricity runs up my arm, makes my hair stand on end underneath my Yankees cap, and runs down my spine, leaving me tingling and my heart racing.
“It’s about this guy and, well, how he relates to women and the relationships that occur and whether or not they work and all the while he’s dealing with his insecurities and fears.” Her eyes lock onto mine again and I can actually see, as though holding a crystal ball of prophecy as close to my face as possible and gazing into the very depths of it, my future in them.
“And...can you tell me,” she smiles a knowing smile, “do you know how it ends?”
It occurs to me that things like this happen only in stories and movies and song lyrics and that I could just as easily be making all of this up in my head for the sake of a good story to tell Bourbon over a couple of drinks and a pool table and that the chances of a beautiful girl like Max (she’s wearing a nametag) either having this much interest in me or showing this much interest are low enough to make a Las Vegas bookie shudder and that the dialog is forced and the subject matter is not all that intriguing except that it is real and she is talking to me and interested in me and, unlike those other girls, I really can’t see where this may go so I return her knowing smile and say, simply,
“You know...I don’t.”
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