I don't drink coffee, but it's not because I think I'm special. It just makes me jittery. Gets under my skin. The barista, when I asked for a water, looked at me like her eyebrows were two caterpillars and one was dying, getting all scrunched up on her quizzical face.
I used to keep caterpillars in glass jars with air holes poked in the top. I'd always forget about them, then find them a few days later. Then I'd have a jar of dead butterflies, and I was always wondering, how did that happen? And I was always wondering, when would that happen to me?
I won't say I wanted to be an adult when I grew up, but I always just thought it would happen. You know, like how your voice drops and girls start making sense to you. Or how, some day, you'll finally turn the last page of Infinite Jest and realize, huh, that's an ironic title.
But anyway, I get water at coffee shops. I guess you could say I call them water shops. You could say water is free, but it isn't. This is New York, nothing is free in New York. Even if you want to pause and absorb the hurt from the cascade of humanity that passes daily through these streets, you'd have to pay for taking up space.
I don't go on blind dates usually. I like to see where I'm going in life. I like to know what decisions I'm making. But sometimes you've got to make decisions without looking, like when it's dark at night and you try and find your water filter, but it's not where you think you left it and you have to drink from the tap. Sometimes we take those risks. Sometimes we have to settle and realize our own normality in the universe.
Do you ever think about otters playing the piano? Because that's what I thought about when I saw the girl I was supposed to date. She had a navy blue knit beret and black rimmed glasses, a scarf, and she held her hands out before her like she would begin playing air piano at any moment. Her eyes darted around the water shop like a hungry otter looking to spot clams.
Did you know that otters eat clams? Just like the rest of us.
I panicked. I didn't know what to do. I'd never dated a piano-playing otter girl before. So I thought about what I would do if I were the protagonist in a Johnathan Safar Foer novel.
I walked up and told her that she looked like an otter playing piano. "Thanks," she said, wrinkling her nose. I asked, "Are you looking for your date?" She smiled. "Oh, you're James." I said, "No, no, I'm not James." I looked around to see who was watching. I made eye contact with an older woman reading the newspaper. "I'm not James," I told the woman, and she pretended not to hear me. Otter-girl asked me if I knew James. "No," I replied, "But I think life can be funny. You know, like how sometimes clowns are sad? Like, things that are supposed to be funny can be sad? I think life is a thing that's supposed to be sad that can be funny. You know? But I don't know James." She said, "I think you're James." I said, "I think I am too, but I keep trying to prove myself wrong. Being James is too hard."
She shrugged and said, "Being Emily is pretty hard too."
And I knew I would marry her.