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December 20, 2008

Can I finish your coffee?

December 20. Day 173.

When I was a wee thing, my parents had a pair of friends who lived in San Francisco. He was a mouth wateringly hot bisexual South African hairdresser, and for a while his paramour was my parents' cougary college friend. Every few years, this couple drove down to visit us for a few days.

My sister and I adored him. He was younger than the adults, and he paid attention to what we had to say, played with us, made us feel like princesses. My sister, who was around 7 or 9 at the time, had a total crush on him. I viewed him as a buddy, an ally. He was awesome.

One day, he offered to give us haircuts. Fantastic Sams in our own back yard? Cooool!

I took a seat on the dining room chair, which was set up outside on a bunch of open newspapers, and he asked me what I wanted. I suggested some soft tendrils or a little layers around my face. I was in eighth grade, getting ready for graduation. That would make me look nice and grown up, wouldn't it?

Half an hour later, he held up the mirror.

I had betty bangs.

"Thank you," I whispered, and excused myself.

"You're very diplomatic," he replied as I hurried away, holding back tears.


That, in a nutshell, was middle school. Trying to fit in and failing despite every desperate effort. Holding back tears. Running away.


High school and college were the opposite. I went to a new school. Stopped caring. Grew a backbone. Spoke up. Chilled out.

Which is to say that when I met up with a bunch of people from high school for drinks at Whiskenladle, in a do-over over the offensively boring 10-year reunion from a few weeks ago, I was excited and curious to see everyone.

I found out one of the smartest guys in our class was a narcoleptic, a party animal carried on his legacy through college, running around his campus naked for six hours, an animal lover with interesting clothes became a hair model and veterinary student, and our class president is about to start teaching business at Wharton.

I also ran into Nietzsche, one of the few friends I've kept in touch with, largely by trading rambling voicemails every few months, and every few years getting together as if no time had elapsed in between. Since high school she's done a million things -- math, politics, business... while I've been pursuing my doctoral dreams (read: stuck in grad school.) For months, we've been planning Something Creative. We even chat on gmail about this, trying to figure out if it should be a movie, a documentary, a book or what? Burning Man? Organizing a California ballot referendum to make chai tea powder illegal in cafes?

For a while, it was rumored that Nietzsche was a spy, and someone confronted her about that soon after she arrived at the bar.

"Wait, didn't I hear you work for the CIA? Are you a spy or something?" one guy asked.

"Well, if I was a spy, do you think you would have heard about it?"

"So what do you do?"

"Various things."



I figured this evening would be a ripe opportunity for an asking, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to know. What did you think of me in high school? How have you changed since high school? Yawn. I had no scores to settle, no crushes to divulge, nothing.

I also had laryngitis, so anything I asked had to be short.

Close to midnight, I spotted one guy, Cornelius, drinking a shot of espresso by the bar. He said the restaurant owner, a classmate of ours, made him the coffee. Apparently, it's his signature drink. So there it was -- I should ask Arturo to make me one, too!

Only the moment I spotted him, Arturo was saying goodbye.

Next option. This is, after all, that this project is about: pushing boundaries, seeing what I can get away with. I turned to Cornelius and asked:

"Could I finish your coffee?"


Cornelius had a long pony tail in high school -- now cropped. He was the kind of guy whose value -- intellectual, social, human -- everyone recognized, and so that set him apart on the totem poll. He was a gentleman.

He handed me his demitasse. And so, like a bong or ceremonial tea, the espresso shot passed between us, as we smiled.

Gained: half a shot of espresso.
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