A few times a week, I purchase ambrosia in the form of coffee from a man named Tom. It was also through him that I learned the perils of teenage love.
Tom operates a Phantom Tollbooth-sized cart that offers coffee, tea, doughnuts and marble pound cake at very reasonable prices. He serves coffee with a temperament that can only be described as nervous. Or maybe scared is a better word because Tom has the attitude of a man on the run from prison.
Yet, despite my prison analogy, Tom is quite kind, and has these weak arms that ensure he would not survive prison. Every morning, I’m greeted with a “Hello, sweetie” and a weak high-five. Most importantly, he never skimps on napkins.
I suspect I’ve romanticized the life of a doughnut-cart worker (it’s practically bohemian), but there was a time when I truly believed I would marry Tom. I had hoped to work beside him in the doughnut cart and sweep up occasionally. We could have raised our children there. I was sure that we would have been happy together. Then I realized that I had been wooed—successfully—with extra napkins and the prospect of free coffee for life.
It is a tragic teenage curse to fall in love with every creature you see. An unsuspecting, good-mannered soul picks up your pencil or shows the vaguest interest in your life…and wham! In the case of Tom it was a, “How’s school? You have a mom? A dad? Change for a dollar?” The next thing you know, you’re debating adopting his name or keeping your maiden one.
In your mind, you build up the Object of Your Affection, ignoring obvious faults. This person isn’t surrounded by a cloud of body odor but has a powerful aura. His harelip probably gives him some kind of advantage when you’re making out. And those aren’t cankles, but strong, burly legs. We teenagers are lusty creatures.
If you continue along such a path of hopeless affection, you may find yourself 10 years later screaming, “Is it me you really love, or is it the doughnuts?” To avoid such future events, it probably wouldn’t hurt to think relationships through sometimes. As Mr. John Legend would say, “Maybe we should take it slow…take it slow…slooow…slooow…sl—” You get the idea. So how about less hurry, more…curry? Curry being a metaphor for thinking, taking it slow or keeping it real. It’s open to interpretation.
Taking my own advice, it turns out my relationship with Tom wasn’t so fantastic after all. I also think I’ve been wrong in calling him “Tom” all these years. The other day, I tried to lean in closer to see the name on his vendor’s license but had no luck. So lately, I’ve resorted to greeting him with, “Hey…soldier!” “What’s up…captain?” and “How you doing…chief?” I’m running out of army positions.
Things are also awkward between us when I don’t want a cup of coffee. I slink by, hoping other passersby will shield me from his eyes. When time is a factor, I just run by the cart as quickly as I can, hoping my speed will make me appear as a blur.
My tumultuous relationship with Tom ended before it even began. As I’ve found out from this ordeal, the price for my love is pretty low. Bulk napkins from Costco kind of low. I don’t know what sucks worse—my debilitating love for napkins and coffee or the fact that I thought the love between Tom and I transcended those things and the 50 cents I paid him. (It didn’t.)
It’s probably been rough for Tom too, but he’ll learn to love again. I’m just taking it slow.