Browsing somewhere around the self-help section, Felix felt two hands cover his eyes. He then heard what he assumed to be the voice of the person to whom the hands belonged say, “I’m going to give you three guesses, and one of them had better be right.”

Bookstore Surprise
There was a pause, and then Felix said, “I’m guessing this isn’t Madeline Albright.” The voice came back, “That is true – but not what I was thinking. Come on, guess who already. By the way, it’s good to know you haven’t lost your sense of humor in the millennium since you’ve bothered to make any effort to make contact.”
“As you’ve kept yours, Leroy.” Felix turned around as Leroy lifted his hands from Felix’s face and held up two fingers with his right hand and said “Birds,” then put down one finger and said “Stones.”
“I go for the practical, I guess,” Felix said.

“So, where have you been hiding? You know, it’s usually nice to let your friends know when you plan on going into some sort of self-imposed exile, regardless of whether it’s in Zimbabwe or somewhere more remote, like Boro Park.”

Felix blushed. “I’m sorry. I’ve been bad, fine. Guilty of all charges, or something. I’ve been feeling kinda depressed since I’ve been out of work. Spending most of the day looking at day old newspapers gets to be incredibly sad sometimes, though on Monday it’s always nice to read Saffire’s column in the Times.”
“The man does know his words.”
“Maybe if I was better with my words I wouldn’t be having these problems now.”
“What were you doing, anyway? I hate to admit this, but I have no idea.”

“Advertising, for the most part.”
“For the most part?”

“I also made the coffee in the morning and whenever the pot was empty, but that was because I was the only person around who knew how to do it without making really bad coffee. Do you know what it’s like to start off the morning with a really bad cup of coffee? I shudder to think. It’s not like we had one of these commercial places in the building to deliver fresh coffee whenever we wanted. I didn’t get paid for making the coffee, but it was a nice side benefit – for them, anyhow. Not that it hurt me to have my own coffee in the morning instead of someone else’s attempt at making coffee, or, heaven help us, instant coffee.”
“So is that what you’re doing in the self-help section?”

Felix looked around. “Well,” he said, “There’s that, or it could be that I might want a book about relationship advice.”
“Relationship advice? You don’t need a book for relationship advice. That’s what you have people for. Hello, friends Kofi and Leroy are at your service. We can’t stand around cleaning our mops all day, you know.”

“How’s Kofi doing these days, anyway?”
“How’s he doing? He’s doing fine. Never mind how he is, how are you? I want something I can report back to der Kommandant the next time I check in.”

“I’m unemployed, that’s about all I can tell you right now. Also, that I went on a date, or something that seemed like a date the other night, and… I guess it went well enough. Sometimes I seriously don’t want to even get out of bed in the morning, and it takes more than that day old New York Times to get me motivated, or the designer coffee from the designer coffee shop. I guess… I just want to get back into the swing of things, so to speak. I want to get back into living, like a normal human being, whatever that means. Sandy seems pretty happy – I want to be happy again. I want to be normal again.”

They walked over to the bookstore’s café, where Felix ordered a medium sized coffee. “This place makes pretty good coffee. I still find it a little strange to find coffee being sold in a store full of paper goods that are easily damaged by coffee, but whatever. It does me good, anyway. I’ve been too lazy lately, or maybe just not motivated enough, to make myself coffee.” Felix sighed, and sat down at a small table with a pile of magazines on it. Most of the magazines related either to fashion or architecture. “You know,” he said, “this reminds me of when I was at the staff room, and a bunch of us would sit around the table drinking coffee amusing one another by coming up with completely absurd ad slogans that would never make it into the real world, as it were.”

“How do you mean?” Felix picked up the coffee cup and held it up. “Here,” he said, “is what the majority of advertisements are trying to tell you.” He held the cup at an angle, made a peculiar smile, and held up his other hand in a fist, with one thumb stuck up. Keeping the same pose, he said, “Now this is your average advertisement for coffee. I’ve got this goofy grin on my face which is indicative that the coffee product I’m holding is the cause for said goofy grin. But maybe not. Maybe it’s the bookstore that’s in the background that’s causing me to be this happy. Or maybe it’s one of the magazines that’s sitting on the table. We used to do these ads where you had no idea what was being advertised unless you noticed the company’s logo in the lower right hand area of the page.” He broke the pose and put the cup down.

“Don’t look now, but a woman over behind you is checking you out. Okay, she saw me see her. There she went.” Felix raised his left eyebrow. “You’re joking, I assume. There’s some hidden lesson to be learned by pretending that someone is checking me out, am I right?”
“No, someone really was checking you out.”

“Well,” Felix said with a bit of pride, “I guess I am not all that bad looking.” He took another sip of coffee.

Pace Game Revisited
Felix sat in his apartment, looking at his nails. They were unreasonably dirty. How long had they been like this? How long had he neglected his nails? How long, for that matter, had he been without a job? Days, weeks, months… a few months at least. A stack of the New York Times going far up, hundreds of feet into the air. Clearly he was doing something wrong. He was probably doing a lot of things wrong at this point, but he could surely target at least one thing to work on.

The neglect of his friends, who could tell what long term consequences it would have? He didn’t mean to be such a bad friend, but he didn’t particularly feel like communicating with people. His life just felt horrendously overwhelming. What was there to do? The weight was too much for one person to deal with. He simply didn’t want to go on at all. He had to find a job, but how? Sending out his resumes to every single place that was asking for resumes wasn’t helping. Going to job agencies just seemed to land him short term work in the administrative field, which he was perfectly well suited for but just a bit over-trained for. It was a bit like having an anesthesiologist hired to a pharmacy for the purpose of counting and dispensing pill based drugs.

What had happened the other night? Was it all, perhaps, some sort of delusion, or dream? Had he really gone out on a date with a tall, attractive woman? If so, had she really even found him remotely attractive? Of course she had. If she hadn’t, she would not have gone out with him in the first place, or noticed him sitting in the café. What was there to do next? Well, there was always the idea of calling her – she had given him her phone number. That would probably make at least a little sense. Why had he met her at this point in his life, the point at which there seemed to be so little hope for finding work? How was he ever supposed to get her to think that he was anything special if all he did during the day was to basically flip through old newspapers and magazines, hoping to miraculously find work? He certainly would not have been impressed, as a woman – had he been one.

Felix walked over to the refrigerator. Opening it, he noticed a carton of milk sitting in the door. It was oddly comforting to note that the sell-by date had not passed, and the milk was most likely still good. Was there c
old water in the refrigerator as well? It looked like there was. He took out the pitcher of water and poured some into a tea kettle, which he then gently placed onto the stove. The preparation of tea brought on some excitement, perhaps due to the anticipation of having a good cup of tea at the end of the process. He fumbled through the tea cupboard, looking for something to suit his mood, finally settling on an Earl Grey tea that he had purchased from a peculiar catalog. What was peculiar was that the proprietors of the company seemed to care more about tea than any other company had ever cared about their product. This could have been why Felix chose to buy their teas.

Back to thinking. Kate. So they had gone out once. She obviously liked him, at least a little. Otherwise she wouldn’t have given him the phone number. Right. Fine. That was settled. Just as settled as how many teaspoons of sugar went into a good cup of tea (between one and two, depending on the mood) and how much milk (approximately a dollop) and the right amount of time to steep the average black tea (three minutes and forty seconds).

Then there was the job situation. He obviously had to do something to change the way he was approaching getting a job. How was he ever going to get serious about Kate or anyone else if he didn’t have a job? The route to winning someone’s heart does not start from the cardboard box one lives in. He had to find a job. His mother had told him at this point that he should just accept anything, but this didn’t seem like an alternative he wanted to accept. Of course, homelessness was also not an alternative he was ready to accept.

Bryant Park Tea Date
Jean-Michel Pinot sat at a small table in Bryant Park, an insulated picnic bag by his side. He was all set for a tea style picnic with Kate – having the needed thermos of piping hot Ceylon tea, a small sealed container of that curious milk that never seemed to go bad, a sugar dispenser, a few decorative mugs – in case one was not aesthetically pleasing to Kate. There were as well some spoons, sugar stirring sticks, and sugar alternatives, if there were to be a need for them. Jean-Michel liked having all the bases covered, as it were. There was only one element missing from this experience, and that was the person he was to be having the tea with. He looked at his watch for what was possibly the third time in five minutes. This told him that it was just about the same time as the last time he looked, and Kate still wasn’t here. Had she reconsidered? Perhaps she didn’t enjoy his company. Maybe he should have been more outgoing with his thoughts on what they should do, other than to say that he was in the mood for tea in the park.

When would she be there? He had thought that she would surely have arrived by now. He would have thought that she was quite the punctual time, given the type of work that she did. Jean-Michel looked at his picnic bag. Had he over-prepared? Was this, indeed, too much? Hopefully she would not think less of him for having brought all of what he thought were necessities for a good cup of tea. Sometimes, he thought, he did have a tendency to go too far in preparation. Better to be over-prepared than to be under-prepared, he assured himself. Yet, with all of this preparation, where was she?

Standing right behind him, of course.