I'd been wedged into my corner booth for the last three hours. This was home, the place I felt more comfort than discomfort. We all have our special place, someplace we enjoy by ourselves, just as much as we do sharing it with others. My special place is the corner booth at the 45th St. Cafe. The time spent there might be measured in hours, or just as well it could be quantified in cups of coffee, or the rise in temperature from some heated conversation. Einstein would probably say the time spent here was relative. Although, as far as I know, Einstein never sat at my corner booth; so his statement is equally relative. The morning I met Miss Bolivia, could be measured in, three hours and seven cups of coffee. I'd been sitting all morning alone, so there was no heated conversation worked into the equation.
She entered around ten. No, that's not right. Miss Bolivia never entered a room, she “made an entrance.”
Stopping about five paces in, she surveyed the cafe through her dark tortoise brown sunglasses, which – for my taste – covered too much of her face. I watched as she inspected the counter area, then glanced at the specials Fran had written on the menu board. It was the second Wednesday of the month, which meant spaghetti and meat balls, or chicken Parmesan. Both included a tossed salad and dessert, all for $4.99. Back in the 80's, that was a great meal for the price.
I watched her over the rim of my newspaper. The same paper I'd been trying to find something interesting in all morning long. She was a looker alright. Something special, it didn't matter what Wednesday of the month it happened to be. Miss Bolivia stood center court, and suddenly the sports section was relegated to the side lines. In a matter of seconds, she had gained my interest, attention and imagination. It was early Spring, and she was showing off a light floral dress in honor of the occasion.
As I continued to watch, she moved closer to the menu board. Move is the only way to describe it. She didn't walk, no, Miss Bolivia definitely moved. She was 100% movement! Watching her gave you the sensation of gently rolling in a small boat. My corner booth had been solid until she cast it, and me into a sea of motion. She stopped, resting a hand on the back of one of the counter stools. Her light Summer dress continued to send pulsating ripples through the cafe. As they reached my feet, I felt the strangest sensation wash over me. I felt like a drunken sailor laying in bed. The whole room began spinning, I needed to get one foot anchored on the floor before I spun out of control. Releasing my paper, I groped for the corner of the table.
She'd jumped and turned towards me, hearing the rustling sound of my falling newspaper. I couldn't help but feel the sound had hit her, a hard slap in the face. It was impossible to see her eyes hid behind the dark sunglasses; although I saw her jump, and that said a lot.
“Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you miss.” It came out sounding like Gary Cooper in some old Hollywood western. Where was Clint Eastwood when you needed him?
She jumped again, turning her head as Fran yelled out from the kitchen “John-J, I'm running late with the specials, if you need more coffee you'll have to get it yourself.”
“OK Fran, I'll help myself.”
Miss Bolivia's sunglasses swung back in my direction. She reminded me of someone watching a tennis match, her attention, and dark sunglasses following the volley of our conversation.
Then with one quick, bright smile she signaled she was back in control of herself, and the situation.
“Hi John-J, people call me Miss Bolivia. Do you think Fran would mind you pouring me a cup too?”
Giving it my best Dirty Harry, I rasped “Sure, why not? One cup of coffee coming up for Miss Bolivia.” Even though we were drinking coffee, the next two hours went down as smoothly as fine Champagne! She'd done most of the talking. All of it light and bubbly. Though I'd notice the slightest black and blue coloration under her tortoise frames. It occurred to me then, her choice of eye apparel might have darker motives than simply hiding from the suns glare.
I wasn't always observant. I developed that talent through years of writing in my journal. I learned to listen, but more important to watch. We all cloak ourselves in words, hiding behind our language. We hesitate, searching for the right word, or phrase to put our best foot forward. When someone hesitates, they're telling you a secret... or a lie. It's as if they're verbally winking at you. A wink eludes to something shared, a secret, or perhaps a lie. “I know it, and you know it” wink, wink... “but we won't say it out loud.”
Miss Bolivia had been hesitating with me all day long. In the end, I had no idea whether she was sharing secrets or telling me lies. But you know what? I honestly didn't care! She had a way about her that kinda smoothed off my rough edges. Back then, Fran was about the only female I talked to on any kind of personal basis. But Fran, was always more of a sister than a female, if you know what I mean.
Miss Bolivia, on the other hand, was nothing at all like a sister! With her wavy, raven black hair and well defined feminine features, she triggered emotions of a different complexity.
It was no coincidence then, that we became world class tango partners. Now before you laugh at the sight of me caught up in some romantic ballroom pose, let me explain myself. We never danced. We were not physical tango dance partners; instead, we were verbal tango partners. Just as the dance is a social, sensual, romantic and improvisational act, so were our conversations. We eventually came to share our emotions, our dreams and even our nightmares with one another. Sure I stepped on her toes once in a while. Just as she would turn her head demonstratively in defiance to one of my macho mannerisms. Although in the end, we always got the roaring approval of anyone listening in, on our linguistic maneuvering.
I wish everyone had his or her own verbal tango partner. Someone to be social, sensual, romantic and improvisational with out on the dance floor of everyday conversation. It's so exciting to carry on a conversation to the rhythm and temperament of a tango. We all talk like that, when we're fresh in love. Then the rhythm and temperament fade into a slow waltz. Anyone can waltz, but it takes two to tango!
That was seven years ago, and a lot of things have changed since then. Although, one thing, which hasn't changed, is that funny rocking feeling I get when Miss Bolivia “makes her entrance, then invites me to tango with her.”
I gotta go now, but remember you're always welcome to come back to the 45th St. Cafe, share a cup of champagne coffee, and catch up on the latest.
One more thing in case you're asking yourself. It had taken over a year of prodding before Miss Bolivia told me how she came to be called that. She wore the name like a pair of golden handcuffs, both tragic and wonderful all rolled up into one confining frame of mind. But that's a story for some other time.