This is the first in an ongoing series of personal essays that exist purely as a direct outlet for my ego, unhindered by the braying and gnashing of my superego. The species referred to in the title is not cats or lizards or whatever.
Half of my early evenings are spent writing on this very computer in this very spot at this very coffee shop. I sit where I can watch the door and the people who come through it. I know some of the regulars by their habits, by their coffee orders, by the websites they view on the shop’s free computers – there’s Slouching Spreadsheet Guy and Christian Dating Site Lady and Weird Latte Drink Girl.
There is one particular barrista that strikes my fancy, even though she’s rather completely inaccessible. I harbor no icky fantasies or ideas about her, and she appears to be in a very nice relationship with a very nice young man. Despite the boyfriend thing, she also has the service thing, which makes for a weird social dynamic. The Hot Barrista has to talk to me. She doesn’t have to be nice, but it’s in her professional interest to exchange polite words with her customers. I have no idea whether or not she’s attracted to me, and I doubt it’s even crossed her mind.
When people are being nice to each other, they introduce each other to each other. The lucky ones have someone else to do the introducing. The shy ones rely on this in order to expand their social circles, but I’m not as shy as I used to be. I’m equipped to make those sorts of introductions myself. In fact, I’m pretty good at them. Just today, I turned a potentially awkward, fumbling new employee introduction into a light, friendly meeting between smart, interesting equals, just by saying the right thing at the right time. I didn’t do it consciously – it just sort of came out. For the first time in my life, social graces come easily and without a lot of consternation. I’m not as easily embarrassed, and I don’t avoid social things like I used to.
But Hot Barrista is a completely different story. I fumbled and misspoke and spoke too quietly and I wasn’t witty at all and the most interesting thing I could come up with was a giggling, blushing agreement with anything she said. It was weird and I felt weird after it. It was also intensely familiar.
There is no chance that anything whatsoever is going to “happen” between me and Hot Barrista, but I still acted like she caught me trying to put my finger down her cleavage.
But no, I just introduced myself. “My name is Jim,” I said. And then she made small talk over the mug of piping-hot coffee she was preparing while I made an ass of myself.
I’ve had a few negative dating experiences lately, the sorts of experiences that have the capacity to turn people away from the stuff for a while. The Old Jim would have been so discouraged that he would have given up completely, at least until the next personal ad idea came to him.
But a funny thing has happened as a result of these experiences. Rather than discourage me, they energize me.
I was talking to Ape last night, relating my experiences and complaining about my luck, when I came to a weird, unexpected conclusion about this. “All of these mistakes and missteps and stuff aren’t making me feel depressed, they’re making me a better person,” I said. “I learn what I did wrong, think of a better way to do it the next time, and I feel pretty ok. Who knew that failure could lead to strength?”
“Everybody but you, James.”