“Do you want to go to Juan Valdez or Kaffe Florida? At Juan Valdez we can sit outside but Kaffe Florida has better product.”
“Wherever you want to go.”
“OK. Let’s go to Kaffe Florida.”
I don’t know much about girls. But there’s one thing I’m realizing: You have to do whatever you want to do. If you try to make them happy you’ll fail — that’s a given — so the only thing you can do is try to make yourself happy. At least that way one person is happy.
Natalia and I walk to Kaffe Florida. I came here last time. One of the servers was cute. I didn’t get coffee last time because it made me anxious. This time I’m getting coffee. I want to see if there’s anywhere in Manizales that has even remotely good coffee. The other day at La Vieja Escuela was an abomination.
“The eggplant a la parmesana looks delicious,” says Natalia.
“So why don’t you get them?”
“Natalia, this is on me.”
“No, I feel bad.”
I go inside and order an americano for myself and also a chocolate brownie with ice cream. For Natalia I get a chai tea and also the eggplant a la parmesana. I’m being cute. It will be nice to surprise her. She’ll like it. This is what you do when you like someone.
To give a little context, I’m in Manizales visiting my friend Natalia. We might like each other. It’s still not clear. Sometimes it seems crystal clear, but other times it’s opaque and muddy, like water in a puddle. The one thing I can say is I feel more comfortable than last time. Last time I was a wreck. “Does she like me? Does she like me? Waaaaaaaa…does she like me?”
Today we’re going to the hot springs. Last time at the hot springs was also kind of a disaster. I was trying to be charming and seductive and dive-bombed. I was like an F-14 whose thrusters have gone out somewhere above the Indian Ocean. And the jerks didn’t even have the bottom pool open. Plus it was night so there were 6,000 people. How can you be charming when you’re surrounded by 6,000 people? Today we’re going during the day. There will be no people.
“The eggplant for who?” the server says when she brings out silverware. I point at Natalia. She makes a face. Awesome. I try to do something nice and she makes a face. Wonderful.
My brownie comes and it’s piled decadently with ice cream. I want to drown myself in this ice cream. I need this chocolate.
Natalia is happy about the eggplant. She keeps talking about how delicious it is even though to me it had the consistency of a bike tire. The brownie with ice cream is good, though. The americano is not good. What is wrong with these people? We are literally surrounded by coffee plantations and the coffee they serve is shit. They don’t even know what good coffee is. You give them good coffee and they think it’s bad. And then you give them the same shit they’ve been drinking their whole lives and they think it’s delicious.
I’m thinking about a guy who might hire me. He works in Brooklyn for a startup or food magazine or something called Taste. His name is Carter. The problem is this: I just booked a flight to southern Argentina. And here’s the thing: I need to go there. I need to go to this place. It is written. But whenever I make a commitment to something, whenever I start to get my life together bogeys start approaching from all sides threatening to throw me off the path. I’m like the F-14 again, this time being approached by Russian MiGs. Goose is my copilot. Things are going well. We’re following orders. Or rather, we’re not following orders, but we’re the stars of the squadron. We know we’re doing the right thing. All the sudden orders come over the radio to change course towards Somalia. We know we shouldn’t do it; if we do it, some of our squad members will die. Most of the time, though, we follow orders. We’re afraid of getting chewed out. Plus, the orders coming in are logical. But those assholes are also sitting on an aircraft carrier 500 miles away. They’re not up in the sky with several tons of missiles between their legs in a little steal box surrounded by Russkys. Do you see what I’m getting at? This is my life. I always know the right thing to do. But I listen to other people. I don’t follow my heart.
I know I have to go to Ushuaia. I’m going to tell Carter I can be up in Brooklyn for the job in a couple weeks. That will have to do for him. Don’t try to talk me out of it. It is written.
Back at Kaffee Florida Natalia has finished her eggplant. I’ve finished my brownie and my shitty americano. I’ve had a good time. In general, I’ve had a good time with her on this trip. I’ve enjoyed seeing her. I like her because she pushes me intellectually, because she’s sarcastic. Too sarcastic, sometimes. But at least she’s not boring.
I go inside and pay and we take a bus home. We ride the bus leaning on each other, arm in arm. It’s nice. It’s like having a girlfriend. We get back and I sit alone on the porch looking out over the finca. The view is incredible. You can see almost all the way to the Pacific coast. In the far mountains, lightning dances in the sky. A thousand crickets sing. I breathe in deeply.
I look out into the night.