I would never cheat on Boyfriend. But I have another man in my life. I see him first thing in the morning, and he knows my habits well. He takes care of me. He knows what I like. He compliments me. He encourages me to try new things. He's my Starbucks Guy, and we really have quite a nurturing relationship.

This weekend, I discovered a new drink. My old standby is a toffeenut chai. Sometimes, to mix it up, I go with a caramel chai. And last week, my SG made me an almond chai, just to give me more variety. He said if I didn't like it he'd make me something else. He makes being adventurous so safe! But this weekend, I went to a Starbucks in Cambridge. SG works in a Starbucks on my way to my office building, on the corner of Boylston and Tremont. But on the weekends, when I'm at home, I tend to stick to my neighborhood. And it was there that I first tried an iced caramel macchiato. Yum.

So that's what I chose this morning. I ordered my drink from LA (same name as me, we discovered). Yes, apparently I have a Starbucks Gal too - I have an entire Starbucks entourage. Who needs friends when you have a beverage addiction? LA doesn't monitor my drinking habits with quite the dedication that SG does, though, so the change went unnoticed by her. SG was making the drinks today. He made my macchiato and then placed it on the bar and called out the order. When I popped my head around to pick it up, he looked at me in surprise. "Is this yours?" he asked. "Yes!" I replied. "New for you!" he said. "I know! I discovered it this weekend!" I told him with pride, thinking he'd be impressed with my ability to break form. But he looked a little bit hurt, perhaps by the fact that I grew so much in the time we were apart. Or that I discovered something new while I was out from under the wing of his expert tutelage. He handed me my beverage with a reluctant smile and a "Have a good day." I smiled back, trying to let him see that we'd be okay, nothing had changed, really. "You too!" I called over my shoulder. As I headed out the door he said, "By the way, you look nice today." I turned back. "Thanks. I'm trying to dress up more lately." He nodded. "I noticed that." And I left. With my caffeine boost in hand, and my confidence boost from the compliment adding a little bounce to my step. He's like a hairdresser, but with more reliable outcomes. Guarenteed to make you feel good. Always attentive and always indulgent.

Yeah, I get that a pusher for a heroine addict probably knows his customer's perferences as well, since that is, in the end, what keeps any good supplier in business. I'm not blind to the fact that I'm buying myself a little sense of morningtime community with each order I place. But in a city, you need all the familiar faces you can get. When people recognize you, the size of Boston shrinks tenfold. It becomes home, instead of a popular tourist destination. I guess really that's what SG is for me - a character in my daily life, a piece of stability. Someone who would notice if I were to suddenly disappear. Or change my haircolor. Or order something different. Someone who sees me regularly. And really sees me. He doesn't look through me, like so many people do as you pass them on the street, or stand beside them on the train, or stand before them at the cash register. He gives you a moment. I wonder if I give other people moments? We should be more giving with our moments. It can make a big difference in someone's day. If you're not acknowledged, espcially in a city, you can start to feel like a ghost, just floating around without having any impact - untethered. So we search for and create tethers everywhere. Things that hold us in place for a while.

Come September, I promised myself I'd once again try to detox. I successfully rid myself of the $4-a-day coffee habit last spring, and it made a huge difference in my monthly disposable income. It's just so hard to give it up. I love the feeling of that green and white paper cup clasped between my cold fingers, I love the smells, the people, the routine of it all. It isn't the same to brew a cup of tea at your desk.

I don't know what I'll tell SG at the turn of the month. I'll feel like I'm walking out on him. I guess I'll just tell him we need a break. I mean, I can't call it quits completely, since I don't know if I can manage without my morning jolt - the detox might not stick. I could just test it out - see how some time apart would feel. I know he has other women in his life anyway - it's a busy store. He'll be fine. The bigger question is, will I? I'll have to walk past there everyday on my way to the office - talk about temptation. It will beckon. I might have to walk on the other side of the street.

The end of an affair is always brutal.


A lesson from Willy Wonka

"It doesn't have to have a reason." Charlie said, matter-of-factly. "That's why it's candy."
From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Last week I bought Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in hardcover. Usually, I wait to borrow newly released books from the library, or exercise patience until they come out in paperback. But lately I've been questioning some of my self-imposed rules, my personal constitution that vacillates between practical and completely arbitrary. My shoulds. And I came out with this: We need more candy in life. Not to the point of excess, or gluttony. But enough to keep life fun. Because childhood is all about candy, and adulthood is all about responsibility and control. Maybe we need a little childhood in life to keep the soul alive. A hardcover novel on a Thursday night, just because.


In the belly of the beast

Invariably, on my way to and from work on the t, I encounter a broken escalator. Sometimes it's in the morning, sometimes in the evening, always when I'm most exhausted and in high heels. I know I'm obsessed with the t, but if you spend 2 hours a day someplace (rather unwillingly because they won't give you a parking spot at work), it can start to preoccupy your thoughts.

The Porter Square t stop is the home of my worst nightmare - the giant escalator. So giant it feels like you're ascending toward heaven on your way up, and descending into the bowels of hell on your way down. These escalators are HUGE. And I hate escalators. When I was a kid, I had a dream that I was on one, and fell backward. And just kept falling. It was one of those dreams where you can feel it, where your stomach bottoms out and you jerk awake in terror. Since then, I've had a fear of escalators. A realistic one I think, since really, if you were to fall backward, which can't be that hard to do, you wouldn't ever stop falling until you hit the bottom with a sickening crash and then proceeded to get sucked in by the toothy rotating stairs until you're completely mangled and probably, if you're lucky, dead. The only caveat to this macabre ending is that you could take out lots of other commuters on your way down, and thus provide yourself with a protective cushion when you land. But, the nasty twist here is that if you can take out other commuters, you could just as easily be taken out. All in all, none of these scenarios is appealing, or provides any comfort.

So last night I got off at Porter Square. On my way out of the station I noticed, with little surprise, that an escalator was broken. One of the giant ones. Which is not atypical. But in fixing it, the work crew had completely dismantled it, and for the first time ever I saw what the inside of an escalator looks like.

I expected it to have bells and whistles. Intricate computer chips. Layers of crossed over multicolored wires. Small gnomes scurrying around on gerbil wheels generating power. Something. But it was barren inside. There were two tracks running vertically up the giant slope, and perpendicular to that were rows of horizontal metal bars, and that's it. It was dark and simple. This, I thought with alarm, is what I mount in order to get from down here to up there? Or up there to down here? This?! This is it???

I didn't think it could get any worse but it has. I'm all for simplicity, but not simplicity in my modest Honda Civic engine, or the 747 which jets me to the south of France, or the train that shuttles me to the office, or the escalator I take to reach the street level. These things, I want to be stunningly, bafflingly complex. I want the escalator floor plan to numb the minds of laypeople. I want the technicians who slave over them to have gone through rigorous amounts of specialized training. I want it to be incomprehensible to me how exactly escalators run.

I wish I hadn't looked down as I passed the crippled escalator. I wish I'd never peered into that empty shaft. I feel a chill thinking about it. I just keep remembering the rules: don't look down, don't let go of the railing, don't leave your shoelaces untied. Whatever you do, don't trip on the dismount. Keep these things in mind, and you might make it out okay. But if something goes horribly awry, don't count on sophisticated modern technology to ensure your safety. It's not in there. There's nothing in there. I've been inside. And it's frightening.


Life, summed up

A story in this morning's Metro describes a man who is trying to visit every Starbucks in the world (apparently there are 5,715). Not surprisingly, another man wants to capture this in a documentary. The Starbucks road warrior, who goes by Winter, said this about his adventures: "Every time I reach a Starbucks I feel like I've accomplished something, when actually I have accomplished nothing."

Wow. That's how I feel about most of what I do too! Except more stressed, because I go to work, maintain a relationship, and am accountable to a myriad of friends and family. But if the final outcome is the same, maybe I should stop trying so hard and just consider a caffeine roadtrip as well. Winter, you may be on to something.

How many chai lattes do you think I could drink per day without throwing up?


A little faith? Nah, prove it.

Faith. I always thought the only thing a lack of it deprives you of is a Sunday morning trip to your chosen place of worship. Now I'm wondering, is faith something you need in order to believe in more than just God? Is faith something you need in order to survive your relationship?

As a standard courtesy, do you owe your significant other a little unconditional faith? Or is it fair to demand proof? Proof that they're loving, loyal, kind, and dependable. I say bring on the incontrovertible evidence. I like proof. But I wonder if I'm not missing in my relationships the same thing I'm missing in my search for God - a little of the F word.

So really, what's at stake here? Say you have faith in God and you're wrong. The apocalypse comes, hell descends on earth, and God forsakes you despite your devoted servitude. What do you lose by having faith, even if it's misplaced?

Unfortunately, I say you lose a lot. Because you get let down. And getting let down is just an awful feeling. I'd do almost anything to avoid it. I hate to be disappointed. I've always tried to keep my hopes low so that they don't get dashed. Life is full of so many disappointments (especially for us idealistic types - the road from childhood to adulthood is just littered with crushing realizations about how life really is once you lose the rose-colored glasses). It seems a shame to set yourself up for any more.

I'm not sure what's worse - the strain of not having faith in someone or the vulnerability of having faith in someone who you aren't quite sure of. Faith is a tricky thing, in any aspect of life. You have to completely let go, and give in, to believe in something or someone. You have to abandon rationality and offer up your trust, blindly.

When I was pledging Alpha Phi, my college sorority, we went away for a weekend retreat up in the mountains. While there, we played a bonding game where you form a line, put your hands in the air, and then pass people back through the line over your heads, to foster teamwork and build trust. I got dropped. I don't weigh a lot, but I was the first to go and everyone had been drinking (a more commonly accepted teambuilding and bonding exercise).

My point? Having faith is hard, and sometimes maybe it's not the smartest bet to place. Is it reasonable to expect a little bit of proof once in a while before trusting in someone? I mean, I had faith in a bunch of drunk sorority pledges. Was that brave? You might say so - I exposed myself and was willing to be vulnerable. But probably, you'd just say it was a stupid calculation, and in the end I deserved what I got: mud on my ass and a bruise that healed eventually, but really stung.


Free to be you and me, but what if you suck?

Someone brought something to my attention this weekend. A fellow AMC hiker who had hitched a ride with me up to New Hampshire for a Mt. Morgan ascent said glibbly during our two-hour car ride: "We're all so different, you know." And while, theorhetically, I knew that, somehow it still really caught me off guard.

The context was important. I had been explaining that I can't really imagine that some people just don't care about being good. I wish I had a less active moral compass, but I can't believe that some people just might not care at all. I've heard that theory, but I can't believe it. It's so foreign given my day to day experience.

When I started my grad program, the first question they asked us was "Do you think people are inherently good and evil, or do you think they become good and evil as a result of things that happen to them?" It was important because it would presumably influence our counseling style. But I'm not talking about people who are diagnosable - people with antisocial personality disorder or a very real emotional disconnect. I'm talking about normal people who just don't give a shit. Is that genetic, chemical, or is that a conscious choice to ignore the little nagging voice in your head?

And if it is just a conscious choice, why are some people free to make it and I have to spend my afternoons in therapy because "I should have been nicer to the homeless guy on the corner"? God, it's exhausting to be me.