Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Chemistry at Work...or Not

You are smugly ensconced at Peet's, which is crowded. A barista nods at you over those in line, waiting to place orders. Medium nonfat latte, she mouths. You nod and moments later, your order is set on the counter with a wink. You find a tiny space, begin to set out your things, take a tentative sip of coffee, lift up your pen and begin making some notes on a work in progress.

Some time of engrossment and coffee sipping follows before you look up to see two persons standing at the lower counter, where coffee is ground and bagged for home use and where bulk tea is bagged to go. The woman is medium height with long hair the color of a sun-burned lawn, pulled into a bun, thus emphasizing the bony planes of her face. Her posture and her poise impress you to the point where you rate her as attractive.

Standing next to her is a man, perhaps an inch taller, heavy about the middle, his hair running to gray at the temples. You wonder if their placement is the accident of many customers in the same area or if they are together, some form of couple--friends, mates, lovers. He appears to be leaning into her space and she seems aware of the closeness, making no attempt to distance herself. Simultaneously you accept their couple-ness and begin defining their dynamic, the narrative that describes their behavior each to the other, and the need for a third party--you--as the witness and ultimate narrator, for unless one or each is a dramatist, they will not write of their relationship.

Layers of dramatic potential leap forth from them, a complex aura which you read, tempered by your own attitudes, preferences, and needs. They are buying a half pound of coffee beans, ground for espresso. Because you saw her as that most damning adjective, attractive, and him as the even more damned ordinary, you have constructed a near drama. Two characters and an audience, thus of at least three participants, one of whom you hope you know and are indeed at great pains to know.

You have made choices, passed judgments, imagined scenes in which all three appear, not the least of which is the man approaching you the next time you are at Peet's, drinking coffee and writing, telling you to stop writing about his woman, and you explaining either defensively or perhaps patronizingly that she deserves to have someone write about her. But now, ah, at this moment, you look up once again from your notes about them to the reality of them and they are gone, their half pound of coffee freshly ground and ready for such adventures as may befall them in your imagination at a random breakfast or perhaps some mid-afternoon pause for coffee and conversation that leads to drama.

The degree of accuracy or congruence between this couple and the characters you construct from them is unknowable and in this context of no importance. What is important is the chemistry you experienced when you saw them during those brief moments before they went tromping off to other stories and destinies. In the years you have been going to Peet's, you have rarely had this particular chemistry with real persons to the point of taking that next step, of pushing them through the portal of your imagination and into a dynamic that may be completely unrelated to them.

The connective tissue here continues because of the chemistry you experience when you see or think of events, invest them with feelings, write about them as though they were quite real and tangible. Is the chemistry still there in subsequent days when you reread what you have set down. You have taken as many, perhaps even more, liberties as you have with the middle-aged man and woman, standing before the coffee/tea purchase counter at Peet's. You have become a witness to realities not clearly known to you or understood by you.

And you set forth once again.

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