I hate myself, never more so than when I’m sitting a table away from an attractive woman in a coffee shop. She’s by herself, nursing an iced coffee on a table that seats two. Sunlight streams through the window beside her. It lights up her nose-ring and gives strands of her long dark hair a brownish glow. She’s reading a book I haven’t heard of, Kreutzer: A Biography. I don’t even know how to pronounce Kreutzer.
I am a reserved person. I speak when there is little to lose, close to zero chance of embarrassment. This is a problem. I am a big fan of women. I want to have engaging, wonderful conversations with them. But I struggle to open up, to shrug off thoughts of ‘what if?’
I’ve been unemployed for the past two months, and it’s given me time to think, to analyze my every failing. I lost my job as a Warehouse Inventory Consultant to a piece of software that does a lot more for a lot less. I now spend hours in my cramped studio apartment doing nothing of use. I turn on the TV but the sight of people leading perfect lives with their perfect white teeth drives me nuts. Sometimes I stare at the mirror in the bathroom and deliver monologues to my audience of one. I start with my strengths: a sharp nose, the right amount of chest hair, the ability to identify any Beatles song. But as my monologue descends into a bullet point attack on my weaknesses, I struggle to maintain eye contact with the man in the mirror.
I adjust my laptop screen and shift on the small, circular metal chair. The coffee shop that I’m in, Café Medici, takes extra care by way of their furnishings to ward off those who feel that an eight-ounce latte gives them squatter’s rights. I take my coffee in a to-go cup to maintain the illusion that I’m still working on it.
I’ve seen her before at Medici. She was reading a book whose title I could pronounce, a book that was in fact one of my favorites in college. I remember my walk back home from Medici that day: each step slower and less purposeful than the last, the nagging ache of missed opportunity eating away at me. I notice that she’s almost done with her iced coffee. I think of my upcoming walk back home, and a familiar feeling of inadequacy arrives.
Medici tends to play mellow music, music that is unobtrusive but still there, hanging out in the background waiting to jump into action if for some reason everyone in the coffee shop stopped talking at once. The genre of music does vary from one barista’s shift to another as one iPod on the sound dock gets replaced with another. Still, the music is always mellow. It seems, though, that the barista on duty didn’t get the memo as John Lennon’s sore-throated Twist and Shout! suddenly rings through the two-storied café.
I nod my head to the tune, and tap my feet. I see her nodding along as well. She uses her finger as a bookmark and leans back on her seat. I’m not the only Beatles fan in the room.
Cmon baby now, twist and shout!
She smiles at me, and I return it. A happy, stupid rush replaces the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel like miming a microphone, and so I do. I join John, Paul, and George: “Aah, aaah, aaaah!” She puts the book down, leans in and sings along on a microphone of her creation. The music lifts me off my feet, and I walk over. I offer my hand; she rises from her seat, and takes it.
You know you look so good!
We sing along. I wonder if I should twirl her—it’s what the men on T.V. with their perfect white teeth would do. “Sorry,” I mouth when I step on her feet mid-twirl, but she laughs it off. I look into her eyes, and she looks back, and it’s amazing and scary and it takes all my will to not look away. Her hair grazes my face as I draw her closer. I let go and tap my feet to the beat. “You’ve got only one move!” the voice in my head tries to remind me, but Mr. Lennon’s louder.
She has a goofy smile on her face and draws one out of me. It’s now her turn for a solo jig. The pleats on her red skirt follow along, rippling in slow motion. I see my reflection in the window and I immediately have this out-of-body experience: I’m now one of those seated in the café looking at an awkward, charmless man making a fool of himself. I close my eyes, but she takes my hand and shoves away the demons.
Come on and twist a little closer, now
And let me know that you’re mine.
Ringo plays us out. Her palm rests lightly on mine. There’s a smattering of applause and a hoot or two.
She follows my gaze to the book lying beside her iced tea.
“Is it Krootzer… or Kroitzer?” I ask.