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This morning, I greeted the woman who rings up my coffee in the mall and she greeted me in return. Since she was neither behind the counter nor in uniform – I even told her, very squarely, “you’re in civilian clothing today” because I have a rapier’s wit – I consider this exchange a friendly, non-transactional one. I am quickly learning that the path to attaining “regular” status isn’t about putting in the hours; it’s just a matter of consistency. I’ve purchased coffee from her exactly 11 times now, all in the space of three weeks. That has bought me more inter-personal credit than the months (years?) of on-again, off-again consumption at any number of locations in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

In fact, the (often distractingly beautiful) women at the coffee shop nearest my apartment rarely acknowledge me, and I treat them in kind. My attitude toward them, and theirs toward me, is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. I’m not sure if I’m indifferent to them because of their aloofness, or if they’ve grown cold to me as a result of my unconscious desire to deny them the additional privilege of flattery heaped on to the already colossal mountain of male attention they receive all day long. (My optometrist and I have nicknamed this coffee shop “Scores, with caffeine” because of the management’s insistence on recruiting slithering, preening underage coffee vixens for the busy evening shifts. There are so many problems with this coffee shop – amazingly, all unrelated to each other – that I don’t entirely understand its tremendous impact on my neighborhood. Actually, reading back the previous sentence, and the one before that, I guess I do understand its tremendous impact – part of it, anyway. The part known as “titties.”) Either way, I could probably show up at this coffee shop for another ten years and never know the name of a single person behind that counter, mostly due to the irregularity of my visits. Also, many of the employees have Israeli names and those are difficult to pronounce, and just as difficult to remember. They should just insist their employees take on stage names like Raven, Silk, Krystal and Juggsworth Jigglebottoms III.

When I made my memorable quip re: civilian clothing to the woman who rings up my coffee in the mall, her response (with arms stretched above her head) was, “it’s my FREE day!” This struck me as odd, since we were having this conversation in the mall, 24 inches from the coffee counter. She then joined her manager, who was leaning against the sugar bar with a clipboard, interviewing a young man with shaggy hair and a soul patch. The manager asked, “tell me a little more about yourself – your interests, your schedule, and your experience at Starbucks as a barista.” She stretched out the word “barista,” bridging it across two continents. The prospective employee, standing in the middle of the mall, huddled in his buttoned pea coat, considered her question and answered each part of it beginning with carefully coded key words. Like this: “More about me…My schedule is…As far as my experience as a barista…”

I spent a few more minutes listening to the interview, as I made myself late for work. I often catch myself complaining about my job, but I really have no perspective. I was sort of amazed that this guy was close to my age and had to conduct a job interview in the middle of mall traffic, standing up, in his winter coat, while total strangers (like me) eavesdropped over their frozen lattes. Moments later, I arrived at my desk, like I do every day, dressed in civilian clothing.

WE FIRST MET ON 01.07.2005

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