I met a stranger for coffee last week. One of those things where a mutual friend sent an email to both of us, pocked with exclamation points. Verbs that nibble at the edges of love: connect. hook-up. pick. brain. The image of two marmosets fingering the wrinkles in each other’s cerebella. Two mammals placed next to one another in a cage/coffee shop, with the hope that their social networks will copulate, breeding new possibilities for human connection.
And so it began. The Googling. The clicking on each other’s Gmail photos. The Twitter stalking. The quiet intonation of our names before falling asleep. The typing those names into our calendars. The color coding. The wondering who will be dominant and who will be submissive. Who will sip their coffee like a girl and who will sip it like a man. Who will get the scone and who will get the croissant.
Will they even have scones? If not, ugh. Is it cash only? If so, fuck.
I rehearsed the novella of my life. It was the first weekend of fall, so I imagined my memoir somehow vibrating in tandem with the quivering maple leaves outside our café of choice on Avenue C. I would wear a sweater, I thought. Which one, though? I would wear multiple sweaters? A sweater and a scarf? I would turn myself into a sweater? Yes. I would transmogrify into a walking cable-knit sweater, thick and knotty and brooding and warm and lovable.
I arrived first. Purchased a $6.00 puddle of bean. Sat on a wooden toadstool. And waited for my life to change.
Growing up, my mother always used to meet her friends for coffee at our local bookstore. They met among our little suburb’s intelligentsia, women over forty-five with long hair and gemstones and ample things to say about genitalia and Judaism. Women who knew how to nod their heads.
In elementary school, I’d go with her. I’d sit on a leather chair next to the children’s section, my feet not quite hitting the floor, reading something by Madeline L’Engle. Watching a slice of my mother’s face move up and down, and occasionally watching half of her mouth slide open. It was some kind of occult business, this having coffee thing. I hardly read the L’Engle.
And now here I was. Staring at the organic paisley in this stranger’s irises. The twitching of their lips. Reading the story of my life, as if from some kind of scroll, and watching them nod their head, slowly.
It seems coffee with strangers only serves one purpose: to make you into a more perfect connoisseur of self-consciousness. You know how it feels to hold your own self in one hand and drink from it. You know how it feels when it orbits the space between your lips and then runs down the back of your throat. And everything is ten times more palpable, like when they first invented Technicolor.
I guess this is what they mean by expanding the possibility matrix. The heightened sensory awareness that happens when you’re standing on the edge of two cells in the massive spreadsheet that is and probably will always be New York City. This is coffee with strangers. The distinct sense that your network is about to expand. The moment when two neurons sidle up next to each other, but just before any chemicals are exchanged via the yawning synapse. Anything could happen.
For a quarter-second, neither of us knew what to say. It was like a wrinkle in time. I looked at the space between his upper lip and nose. It was a very clean space. I started to think about how people who live in dirty parts of the city are always so clean.
Instead of coffee, I wish we could find a new way to do this. I wish we could get those parachutes they use in gym class. The ones with the little seams and primary colors. We’d thrust them above our heads and sit on the edges. It would be so transparent and whimsical underneath one of those. We’d talk until the parachute covered our faces and we smelled like children and cleaning chemicals and little ingenuous poops.
That would probably be easier than this.
After a few more minutes of talking into the void, we looked each other in the eye and that was it. We’d bumped into each other accidentally, like electrons orbiting a nucleus — both of us in the same space, but repellent. We would never be in this exact same position again.
And so it was done. I thought we’d eventually switch mugs or something. Like, we’d eventually stop pretending that there are boundaries and just open up the sockets in our bodies and tether ourselves together, human to human, a living four-lane highway running between us.
That did not happen. Instead, we checked the boxes. We right-clicked the cells and filled them with color. The little red lines on our calendars moved themselves down like caterpillars, and we peed out the coffee.
My evanescent friend: If you’re reading this, please let me know if you felt the same way. Let’s grab coffee again sometime.