Coffee, Love, And Llamas


I think it’s true that the more time I spend at a hip coffee shop, the more hopelessly romantic I get.  The other morning, some girl in yoga pants walked to the counter, said “latte, just a bit of vanilla,” barely glancing up from her phone while texting into it angrily, and I was instantly awestruck. I can go to the regular shops – Starbucks, Coffee Bean, maybe even Peet’s –but it’s the trendy ones with flowery cappuccinos that get me jumbled in the head with romantic innuendo.

I always thought that if it were socially acceptable to engage people at coffee shops over bars, we’d be better off. It’s a more respectable environment where you can actually get to know somebody and hear what they’re saying. You’re sober – or at least let’s hope, on a Tuesday morning – which shows your true colors and dispels misled perceptions early on. It’s genuine exposure, vulnerable and honest; but we panic in times where we meet new people, especially attractive people, and so the desire for liquor comes in.

Now most mornings I’m at this coffee shop and I fall into something that befits the definition of lust or love or something like it. I think about approaching someone and chatting it up a little and taking a chance. The other week when I was at a trendy spot in Silverlake, for example, a girl in painter overalls and see-through sandals was in front of me in line. Standing behind her, I could see she had Asian inscriptions tattooed behind her ear, while she herself was blond and looked American. I imagined all sorts of beautiful but vague meanings for these tattoos – ‘live free,’ ‘follow the mantra,’ or something –and I bet she was an inspiring person, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, talk to her. All said, as much as I do want to speak up, there’s a part of me that makes me feel like it’s a dumb idea, and the latter part is usually victorious.

On this specific day, I was actually trying to write this short story about how it’s not good to overthink or ruminate about things, but it was more complicated than that. I was trying my best to carry the thoughts over to this day a few months ago, when my friends and I headed for my buddy’s ranch and spent the day chasing and slapping llamas, holding ducks, petting horses, etc. Slapping the llamas was meant to render cessation of rumination, whereas being too afraid to do so equated to the sort of ruminating, or hesitation – the inflated superego – that usually makes people too afraid to follow through with their impulse. Somewhere along the way while plotting my story out, I broke into rumination.

To make matters more tense, maybe the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen at the coffee shop walked in. I swallowed some coffee and she looked at me when she took the two person table nearby. She had a purple bag and set it down on the extra chair. My guess was she was just a year or two younger than me. At this point I had lost any hope of being productive with my weird llama story, so I dropped my pen on the table and rested my legs forward, glancing over to the beautiful girl once more and locking eyes again.

I stared at the ceiling for a little, the art on the walls, the sunlight from the windows beginning to shine on what was to be a fine Spring day. I started thinking about how I could run a conversation with her: one that’s non-intrusive, friendly, and not awkward. These were steep requirements, though, and in general I’m not gifted verbally. I need to write things down. Boom. How obvious.

After going through a few drafts, I hand-wrote her a note on lined paper. It was short and to the point, but I also wasn’t trying to write an essay either. I’ve learned the hard way that presenting people with premature emotional essays can have adverse effects. I tore the note out of my spiral and stood up. I felt her look in my direction. But once more, overthinking got the best of me, and I couldn’t see how I could actually walk over there and give her this letter without having a heart attack. I sat back down, crumbled the page and stuffed it into my back pocket.

Now, I just had nothing to do. I sat there idly for another minute or two, thinking about leaving, until I realized that she was coughing. The whole morning she’d been coughing harshly, and it hadn’t registered. She was sick and didn’t have water. I sprung up and headed to the counter, got a cup of water without ice. I walked up to her and placed it on her table. When I brought it to her, she laughed, smiled, then said: “Aw. Thanks so much. I don’t know what to say.”

I said: mumbling, incoherent sounds that didn’t amount into actual words.

“What?” she said.

I nodded with a smiley face, trying to utter something smooth. But I wasn’t making sense. I just nodded and turned, retreated to the table.

“Thanks again!” she said.

When I sat back down, seeing my lack of progress on this llama story and with her, it was with shame. Why couldn’t I talk? There were many possible reasons. Was it because I was too nervous sober? Was this evidence that alcohol is necessary in first meets for some people? Should I have gone with the letter instead? Was it one specific thing, or all of the above? All told, I didn’t spank any llamas.