When Paul Zimmer arrived at the café it was quarter past eight.
The coffee shop was filled with the typical hustle and bustle of the early morning rush, with caffeine starved New Yorkers pushing and shoving to place their orders and be off on their way to face the coming workday. He ordered a coffee and joined his girlfriend Theresa at a small table amongst the crowded interior.
“Good morning!” he called cheerfully, and took his seat across from her.
Theresa did not respond, but raised a single eyebrow to communicate her opinion of his timing. Noticing this, but without adjusting his demeanor, he initiated a good-natured conversation.
“Have you seen the new deli on Park Avenue?” he asked. “I heard their pastrami is the best in New York! Apparently it is not the quality of the cut that makes the sandwich, nor is it the thinly sliced organic Swiss that melts like butter over the warm meat.”
Here he leaned in for emphasis.
“It is the bread, toasted to perfection, that enables the perfect harmony between meat and cheese, and between diner and New York delicatessen!” He sat back in his chair grinning, nodding, and overall very pleased with the content and the relay of the message.
A sip of his coffee indicated a need of alteration, and he reached for the creamer on the side of the table. Delicately he removed the lid and poured a carefully measured amount into the blackness of his cup.
“You just don’t get it, do you?” Theresa broke her silence, and bitter words seeped softly from her tightly drawn lips. “You always do this. I told you this was important; I wanted to talk to you. You just don’t listen!”
“Would you mind terribly passing the sugar?” he interrupted, briefly diverting his attention from his coffee cup to the woman sitting across from him.
A cold hand dropped the sugar caddy in front of him.
“Thank you much!”
“Paul,” she said. “It’s over. I can’t do this anymore. I came here to be with you, to try to talk through this. I’ve been here for the better part of an hour, waiting for you and hoping you would understand what I’ve been going through.”
Paul ripped the top and poured half of the packet into his cup, then tapped the edge of the packet with his finger to extricate a critical additional amount. He began to stir his coffee slowly and evenly to prevent any from spilling over the edges and onto the table.
“I just can’t wait any longer. Goodbye, Paul.”
She stood up from her seat and walked out the door, leaving him alone at the table for two.
“Goodbye, Theresa!” he called cheerily, then he sipped his cup to test his concoction and found it satisfactory.
“Wonderful coffee today,” he muttered to himself.
Paul Zimmer had left the coffee shop and was walking down the street when he encountered an old friend, Joseph Chandler.
“Joe!” he called when he recognized the man approaching him. “Wonderful to see you!”
Joe stopped in his tracks and took a moment to process the identity of the man that had accosted him. Eventually he placed the face and recognized Paul Zimmer, but could not remember the last time he had seen him.
“Paul,” he said, extending his hand. “It’s been some time.”
Paul shook his hand warmly and grinned from ear to ear. “Indeed it has. How are things with you?”
“Good,” Joe said. “And how about you?”
“Oh, never better! Been a bit humid for my blood recently, but what can you do?”
“What can you do,” Joe agreed.
“Are you still down in Chelsea?”
“I live upstate now.”
“Oh how great,” Paul said. “How do you like it?”
“Wonderful! And are you still dating… oh, what was her name?”
“Why yes! Maria. Are you still together?”
“Yes,” Joe said. “We’ve been married five years now.”
“Oh excellent! Nothing quite like love, am I right?”
“Sure, nothing like it.”
“I’m so sorry I could not attend the wedding. I’m terribly poor at receiving my mail in a timely fashion, and I must have misplaced the invitation.”
Joe did not respond.
“But that’s wonderful! How was the ceremony?”
“It was very nice. We were married on a beautiful property overlooking the Hudson.”
“Nothing like the Hudson in the fall, right Joe?”
“Right,” he said.
“And you know what comes next, don’t you Joe?” Here he ribbed his old friend.
“What comes next?”
“Why, children, of course! Soon you’ll be a family man!”
“My son is three-and-a-half years old.”
“Oh, and a terrible strain on your patience, I’m sure. But children are a joy and a blessing. Congratulations to you and your lovely family!”
Paul looked down at his watch and grabbed his head with his free hand.
“Well, look at the clock! How time flies when you are having fun! I’m afraid I must be going now, but it was wonderful to see you, Joe!”
“You too, Paul. Take care of yourself.”
“No doubt,” he said. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Paul had walked the better part of a mile before he decided he preferred the comforts of a cab. He neared the side of the street and raised his hand to signal the oncoming taxis, but each passed him by, already having a passenger to ferry from one place to the next. After a few fruitless minutes a man approached him.
“Tough to catch a break in this city, eh?”
“Well, you know how it goes,” Paul said, waiving and again failing to flag a cab.
“Never available when you need it…”
“And always there when you don’t!” Paul laughed and lowered his hand to offer it to the stranger.
“Paul Zimmer,” he said, introducing himself graciously.
“Damon Wix,” said Damon Wix. “Where you headed?”
“Uptown a few blocks, I’ve just grown tired of walking.”
“I’m headed uptown myself!” said Damon. “There’s a new pizza place I’ve been dyin’ to try. Pepperonis the size of baseballs. Why don’t I give you a lift?”
“Would you? That would sure be swell of you,” Paul said graciously.
“No trouble at all, Pally. I’ll just drop you off on my way.”
“Ok,” Paul agreed. “Say, have you heard about the new pastrami place down Park?”
“The one with the toasted rye?”
“Oh, you do know it!”
Paul followed the man and they continued their discussion of the relative merits and faults of the New York pastrami scene. They walked up a block and had just finished debating the ideal level of mustard spice when Damon took a left turn down an alley.
“I’m parked in a structure over this way,” he called over his shoulder, increasing the pace so that Paul fell slightly behind. When they were half way through the alley he wheeled quickly and faced his follower.
“Alright pal, let’s have that wallet.” A slick and shiny blade was gripped tightly in one hand, his other extended toward Paul to receive the item in demand. Paul put his hands up and quickly reached inside his coat pocket to withdraw his wallet.
“Quick and smooth now, no tricks.”
Paul handed the wallet to Damon, who quickly tucked it into his own pocket and shoved Paul with his free hand, sprinting past him and back out onto the busy sidewalk, while Paul merely stood and watched the man escape.
Everything had happened so fast that Paul needed time to process the events. It took a few moments before he could summon the concentration to move from the spot, and eventually he returned to the street, not scared or frightened, not sad or dejected, but instead grinning at the realization of what had been stolen from him, and what had not been.
The thief had gotten away with his license, his credit cards, some cash and his frequent diner coupons, but in the right pocket of his jeans was a few dollars and coins, the change from his morning cup of Joe. Paul had tricked him, outsmarted the thief, and the thought alone was enough to pardon the transgression entirely. In fact, he began to feel sorry for the man, not for the circumstances that had led to his criminal inclinations, but because he had been wholly outsmarted and duped by Paul and would never know the difference.
Laughing to himself, he again took up the course uptown, occasionally sauntering to the side of the street to hail a cab and finding each inevitably occupied.
“No matter,” he thought, and he instead walked over to a street vendor to purchase a coffee with the last of his change. He ordered a latté—vanilla—and resolved to tackle the rest of his journey on foot.
He had gone a few feet from the stand when he sipped his drink and found it to be tepid, if not principally cold, but when he turned back to the stand it was closed, as the vendor had departed for the day.
So Paul Zimmer shuffled down the street clutching a cold latté and a pocketful of coins, watching the cars pass him by carrying people he’d never know toward places he’d never go.