Either the service was slow here, Felix thought, or there wasn’t service at all. He thought he had seen someone who resembled a waitress, or at least a person who for fun decided to dress up as a waitress. Hopefully in this case it would be the former, as a person dressed up as a waitress couldn’t get him anything to drink. How was one to get the attention of a waitress in a polite manner? Certainly one could not just yell out across the room to the person. That would be particularly bad if it was just a person who was dressed up as a waitress for fun – unless part of the fun in dressing like a waitress came from having people yell across the room at you.
The Hypothetical Waiter
Maybe while he was waiting for a hypothetical waiter or waitress to show up he could be a little bit more productive by thinking about what he wanted. That way, he decided, he wouldn’t be like the people who sat and idled while waiting for the server to come, only to pick up the menu and analyze it like one would The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock the minute the server would arrive. Those were the people who were slowing him down. Granted, they weren’t doing it specifically for the purpose of slowing him down, per se, but it had the same effect in the end – his time was taken. Time that could be spent doing more important things, like reading the previous day’s news for free, or looking at random people in a cafe.
Come to think of it, he could do the latter right here – it was a cafe, and there were people here. There was the young looking Indian man who looked somewhat like Kofi, except that his friend Kofi would never dress anything like this person. This man was wearing a nice white dress shirt and black flat front pants. What would Kofi wear? Nothing like that, certainly. Something more colorful, something that really grabbed your attention and held it, whether you wanted to give it or not. It wasn’t hard to believe that Kofi was the kind of person who would want to be getting all kinds of attention. Depending on the person, he wanted to get as much attention as humanly possible. To his credit, however, he at the very least occasionally wanted to be ignored. That made for some balance, did it not?
Then there was the couple that was just sitting over there, by the framed photograph of a tea cup, looking quite happy to be sitting and talking and just to be together. Clearly they must have just started dating, or something. There’s no way that a couple could be together for a long time and look like this couple was looking, he decided. Then, much to his annoyance, Felix realized that he found the young woman half of the couple to be just a bit too attractive not to notice.
This was really a bad time for him to be noticing her, he thought. A more ideal time to be noticing even a reasonably attractive woman would be when she would be sitting at a round table talking about the importance of the Dreyfus affair in relation to France as it was now. She would put out her cigarette, undoubtedly a Camel – or a Kamel, and then loudly announce how annoyed she was at being single in this, the year of our Lord nineteen ninety eight. He would then make some kind of witty or otherwise clever remark which would surely get him noticed, but not so noticed as to make her think that he was making the remark towards her. Rather, he was making the remark for the benefit of the people of the table at large. She just happened to be there to enjoy it.
After a set amount of time he would probably introduce himself to her, and perhaps even offer to buy her a drink – and would not act at all surprised when she would decline the offer and make a counter-offer. Would he allow her to buy him a drink? She was in the mood for a drink but didn’t want to live out some Rapunzel like fairy tale wherein she would be rescued from an otherwise dull table by Felix the Moderately Amusing. (No use in being arrogant at a time when he was being offered a drink by a reasonably attractive woman.)
Back in reality, the person that he actually was attracted to was clearly enjoying a perfectly good coffee date with a man who was someone other than himself. This would pose more serious problems later on when he would want to ask for a phone number and she would react in a manner more according to a total stranger asking for a phone number than someone with whom she had just had a coffee date with. This was not, in any case, the time to be telling her that he already had narrowed down the candidates for names for the first child down to a handful.
Well, the best thing to do now was to just not look. That was it. He wouldn’t look over at her at all. Why should he look at her when she was clearly dating the person she was with? Unless, of course, she was just having coffee with her brother, or cousin, or coworker from work. Because clearly she had a job. Well, that made one of them. So if he wasn’t going to be looking at her, what was he going to be looking at instead of her? The waitress, for one thing, was a good person to be looking at, particularly since she was headed over his way.
“I can’t shake the feeling like I know that guy.”
“There’s a guy over there – don’t look. I think I know him.”
“You think you know him or you know him? And what does it have to do with the price of tea in a diner in Manhattan?”
“I think I at least recognize his face. It has everything to do with the price of tea – particularly since we ordered coffee. Overpriced coffee, no less.”
Their coffees made their way over to the table – with some assistance from the waitress, of course. This was not the same waitress that had just been spotted heading over towards Felix Twickson’s table, but rather was an entirely separate individual. The service here was the type where the servers blended into the background until they were needed, and only then did they make an appearance – seemingly coming out of nowhere. A good set of vanilla lattés together with a good set of people made for good conversation.
“Never mind some guy over somewhere that you think you might know.” She quickly looked, while Jean Michel’s attention was momentarily elsewhere. It wasn’t anyone that she knew, though his style of dress was notable. Either he was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a fan of Brooklyn, or the type of person who wore baseball hats just because they liked to wear baseball hats. Of course, he could have also been a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers who was fond of Brooklyn and baseball hats.
“So, you write?” This question, Jean-Michel thought, was probably one of the most frequently asked questions that he got on a regular basis. That, and the obligatory question of whether he really was French or if he was of French origin, or what? Clearly it must have been everyone’s business to know everyone else’s nationality – otherwise, why would so many people regularly ask him about it?
“Yeah, I do a bit of writing. Do you mean, like the kind of writing I do for magazines or the stuff that I actually like to write?”
“There’s a difference?”
“Well, for some magazines I write about something that I don’t really have much of an interest in writing but I do it anyhow because, well, someone has to put food in the cat bowl. Then there’s the stories, the kind of writing I write and enjoy doing a lot more. I’m hoping to transition from doing more of one type of writing to the other.” Well done, Jean-Michel. Win ’em with boring details that nobody but yourself is interested in. That’s it, tiger. Kate nodded, indicating either interest or total indifference, depending on how one would want to interpret it at the time. For Jean-Michel it felt more like a nod of interest.
She just looked, didn’t she? There was a look, there was definitely a look. Well, he was sure to be spotted pretending not too look now. There was no doubt about
it in his mind now. Of course, Felix thought to himself, the only sound and logical course of action would be to actually stop looking. What was the use of looking if she was with someone? If she was with someone, she was going to continue being with the person, most likely, so there really wasn’t much of a point of even looking, or thinking of looking. There wasn’t even a point to thinking about whether or not he should be thinking about looking or not looking. This was the extent to which he should not have been looking, or thinking about looking.
Felix was relieved that the waitress had finally made her way over to him and that they still had some vanilla tea in their inventory. For him, of course, there was always something of a doubt when it came to having tea made in a restaurant or diner environment. Most diners, and even restaurants, didn’t know the first thing about properly making a cup of tea. At least Sandy could make an amazing pot of tea. That was one of their favorite things to do together – talk over tea.
Felix made a bit of a face when he saw what the waitress was bringing over – a cup with the string and label of a tea bag dangling out of it. This was not going to be good, he thought to himself, but it was what he was really expecting. So why had he made the face, if he had been expecting that he would get poor quality tea? Being overcharged for shoddy tea certainly added sting to the fact that the tea wasn’t any good to begin with. Nevertheless, it wasn’t polite to be the type to make unpleasant faces when being served with a cup of tea, even if he was being overcharged for it.
How long had this tea been steeping? He thought to ask the server but then reconsidered, as her mind was probably on more important things than the length of time one random person’s tea bag had been in the mildly hot water. Given the color of the liquid it couldn’t have been more than a minute or so. Focusing on making this tea properly was definitely a good way to stop thinking about the person who was sitting at the other table who had just looked at him yet again.
After letting the tea bag steep in the mostly hot water, Felix took the bag out and added the two teaspoons of sugar and a dollop of milk, as was his custom. How he missed Sandy. When was the last time they sat to have a cup of tea together? She sometimes seemed a little distance now. Rather, he was the one who was being distant – isolating himself from all of his friends. What would they think of him now, now that he hadn’t talked to some of them in a number of months? Would they still want to talk to him, to be friends? Were they upset with him? There was only one way to find out – to try to call one of them. Yet the possibility that one of them would not want to speak with him presented him no end of distress – it wasn’t something he wanted to even think about. He faced the issue by avoiding it, continuing to hide in his apartment and occasionally coming out for a cup of tea or a walk.
Taking a sip of the tea, Felix realized that it wasn’t nearly as bad as he thought it was going to be. He had been accused in the past of over-exaggerating the importance of the proper preparation of a cup of tea, or a pot for that matter – but at least he knew he could count on both Sandy and Kofi to support him in that matter. Sandy, at least. Kofi he hadn’t talked to in what seemed like a year or so, but which probably was a little bit less than that. Did they allow smoking in this café? Of course not.
A good cigarette, they said, was a nice match for a good cup of tea. It was also a good match for a slightly above mediocre cup of tea, which is what this one turned out to be. Definitely not worth nearly what they were charging for it.
Knock Knock, Klaus
About forty-five minutes later, there was a soft knocking on Klaus’ door. He got up from his small kitchen table, where he had been sitting and looking over the few poems that he managed to write while he was in Bryant Park before being happily interrupted. He didn’t normally like to be interrupted for anything while he was writing, even though he didn’t think much of that which was being written – but for the sake of meeting someone as nice as Sandy, it certainly seemed worth it.
“I’ll be there in a second!” he called out to the door, though it wasn’t all too far. He had a feeling he knew who it was – who else would be calling on a Sunday? Opening the door, Jean-Michel started walking in with an excited “You’ll never believe what just happened to me!”
“What just happened to you?”
“Go on, give it a guess,” he said with an air of anticipation in his voice.
“You went on a date.”
“You… how did you know?”
“Chiefly because you called me and mentioned it.”
There was a pause. “That’s right, I did tell you about it shortly before it actually happened, I guess.” Jean-Michel looked a little on the side of tired, As if he had just done some serious running, perhaps. Realizing that Klaus noticed this, Jean Michel said, “Oh, I actually did a bit of running on the way over here.” That would explain the mild panting. Perhaps this would be the good time to be offering some sort of a beverage, even a cold one. That would be what a polite host would be doing at this point in time, would it not?
“Can I get you something to drink?” Klaus offered.
“Thank you, yes,” Jean-Michel said with a bit of shortness to his breath, “water would be wonderful right now, thanks.”
Klaus walked over to the kitchen area and started to get some ice cubes from the freezer. “Really, you didn’t have to run on my account. I wouldn’t have minded if you would have been here a couple of minutes later.” He smiled, and Jean-Michel laughed at his bit of a joke. At least someone else appreciated his sense of humor.
“I was actually running because I’m a tad bit excited over this, well, date that I just had. It was unbelievable.”
“I can’t believe it.”
“You have to believe me. It was just that great.” They sat down in what Klaus called the living dining room – it wasn’t a big enough apartment to have one of each. Jean-Michel had always admired Klaus’ ability to fit so many things in such a small area. The table, which was able to fold up into an absurdly small size, wasn’t even out right now. It usually wasn’t, except for when he had guests over for dinner, which he did once in awhile. Jean-Michel was only too happy to get to sit on Klaus’ large brown leather couch. Klaus didn’t mind getting the smaller, one person version of the couch.
“So, you went out on a date, did you? I want to know all the important details straight away. Skip the boring stuff.”
“A man of few words – no wonder your poetry is so good! Okay, fine. Her name is Kate. Ahm… she apparently likes Dickens, at least as much as I do if not more. I don’t know if she has a complete set like mine, or if she even has any of his works…hmm.” Off Klaus’ suddenly changed facial expression, “Would this qualify as boring?”
“Oh, no! That wasn’t it at all. I just thought of something that happened to me today, that’s all. Go on.”
“Well I mean… I’m not sure if it’s even going to go anywhere.”
Klaus looked at the empty glass in Jean-Michel’s hand. “Would you want anything else to drink? I have some tea and coffee if you want.”
“Would you mind if I had a look at your tea collection? It seems like ages since I’ve come here.”
Amongst all of his friends, Klaus had the most well organized assortment of teas. He probably also had more tea than any other person he knew. There were always talks of the one person who lived on the Upper West Side who allegedly had a collection of tea so large that it required its own database to keep track of quantity, freshness, things of that sort. Like most eccentric millionaires, however, he wasn’t so well known amongst the proletariat.
Klaus’ kitchen was rather small – it was a wonder that anyone was able to do any cookin
g in there. Klaus was able to simply because of his organization skills which he acquired through experience and necessity. There was the one cupboard which contained all of his teas – all held in identical containers. They were metal tins, meant to keep out moisture and to keep the tea fresh for as long as it was possible. They were each labeled with a typewritten sticker with the name of the tea and its own expiration date. Before Jean-Michel met Klaus, he wasn’t even aware that there even was such a thing as an expiration date for tea – oh how much his tea perception had changed in the last few years since he had met Klaus.
Jean-Michel ended up picking an Earl Grey tea – the perfect blend of black tea with bergamot oil, Klaus had explained, made for a good Earl Grey. Steeping it not too long – which most people did, was another key factor in making good Earl Grey. So many people would steep the tea for the normal three to five minutes and would then be surprised that their tea was rather bitter. Rather, argued Klaus, it was important to steep the leaves for no more than three minutes. It must have been something about the bergamot oil which caused this to be the case, for most teas needed at least three and a half minutes to get a decent amount of taste out at all!
“What kind of milk do you take?” Klaus asked as he put the kettle on the stove. It was a gas stove with no electrical element to it – therefore Klaus had taken the care to strike a fairly long match and lit the stove from a safe distance. Not that it was entirely necessary – gas stoves weren’t all so dangerous – Klaus was just more of a sort to take precautions, and so was careful when lighting stoves. One could almost say that he knew how to get a good fire going.
“What kind of milk? What do you mean? Skim or regular?”
“Ahm – or soy, or rice… if you prefer….”
“Oh, right. I think I’ll take it with whole milk if you have any.” Jean-Michel considered himself to be fairly conscious of his health, but not to the extent that he would take any unusual liquids in his tea. Some things, he felt, were important to leave unadulterated – such as the right way to make tea. Black tea went best with milk and sugar. Not soy milk – or rice milk – or some sugar substitute – just the real thing.
The kettle started singing one of Klaus’ favorite songs – that one indicating that the water was boiling. Having already put four teaspoons of the tea leaves in a basket that went inside the teapot, the task of making tea was quite simple. It was two minutes and a half later that Klaus lifted the basket out of the teapot and put it on a ceramic tile.
Sitting back down in the living dining room, Klaus and Jean-Michel both took a sip at the same time – delicious. Not too sweet – just sweet enough, one might say.
“So what was it that happened to you? Something good, I hope.”
“I hope so too. I can’t tell yet. Actually, I don’t really see it as being necessarily good or bad, since it seemed more of a one time nice thing, I guess.”
“Now you have to tell me what happened.”
“There’s a girl involved somehow here, I can tell it.”
“Yeah. Okay, so I was sitting in Bryant Park just trying to write. A poem, I mean.”
“You were in Bryant Park?” Jean-Michel said. “I thought you never wrote poetry except for in… well over there in that one area with the table and all of your books and things set up so nicely.”
“Usually that is the case. I decided to make an exception today. So this girl was standing behind me and she was reading my poetry and she suddenly made some comment on the grammar. I was a bit shocked, honestly, but then I thought that it was awfully nice to meet someone so up front. I let her look at a few poems, and that’s right around when you called.” To remind him about this meeting that they were having now, of course. Which somehow, both of them had forgotten about.
“Did you get her number? Tell me she gave you her phone number or you gave her yours.”
The pause was not a good sign, at least for Jean-Michel.
“You’re not telling me anything. There is no telling of an exchange of telephone number information. Why is that?”
“That would probably be because there was no exchange. Hence why I mentioned that it was a one time thing.”
Jean-Michel picked up a notebook that was laying on a table. It was a small black notebook with a ribbon as a bookmark. Holding it up, he said, “Is this the notebook you were writing in today?” This could be a good way to see how far along the way Klaus was in terms of sharing his works, thought Jean-Michel, or at least it would have been had he not just told me that he showed his poetry to a total stranger. A total stranger of the opposite sex, granted – that probably had something to do with it – but a total stranger, nonetheless.
“Yeah. Do you want to see the poems I wrote today? They’re probably not too good because I haven’t exactly gone over them since I wrote them. Usually I do some editing, or at least some minor tweaking…”
By the time Klaus had finished saying this, Jean-Michel was already reading through the newer poetry. More of the same great writing that he had come to expect from Klaus, he thought as he went through the poems. When was he going to realize how good he was at writing? He could be submitting this sort of writing to some fairly good magazines and getting published, if he wanted to.
Finally, he put down the notebook and said, “So, you must have had a nice time talking to Sandy, I would imagine.”
“I would imagine that… wait. How did you know her name?”
“Because she wrote it in your notebook, along with a sweet little note and her phone number.”