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Happy for You


I'm in the kind of mood that I want to find the first seedy bar I saw and throw myself down and toss back a beer with the GoodOl'Boys.

Problem is, I hate beer and can't stand breathing noxious cloud after cloud of cigarette smoke, so I settle for a nice little coffee shopin the middle of downtown Baltimore, looking all tough in my denim jacket and big brown work boots and mocha cappucino withwhipped cream on top.

I drove down here from New York, where I've been living for awhile, and slowly deciding I either need to move or become apsychopathic murderer. This little trip down I-95 is just a break. I have to get back to work at the end of the week. I also havesome place else to be on the weekend. I have traveled in the opposite direction from where that engagement is to take place.

Early this morning, I got in my Volkswagen and just drove. I thought about stopping several times, but didn't actually do it till aboutthree traffic jams later, here in what they call Charm City.

Charm City is filled with an odd cross section of students, yuppies, tourists, and plain dressed folks who say "hon" a lot. I like ithere. It's apparently supposed to be a very dangerous city, but I haven't been shot at yet.

Unlike certain larger cities, Baltimore seems very nicely organized, with the tourist attractions all in the same general area, the part ofthe town for the residents' social life in another, and the people who shoot each other in another, so it's not like you go to themuseum, go a block, and wham, you're a victim of a driveby. As far as I can tell, you've got at least two blocks to go here.

I stare into my coffee, compulsively stirring it around and around. There's a break in the foam, and the muddy liquid reflects backone eye at me, turning blue to brown.

I keep thinking about how NYC's getting to me. It's claustrophobic. Too much stuff in one little place. The people are either reallynice or real pricks, but mostly they just ignore you, because when you live in a place like that, if you have to constantly acknowledgejust how many people are sharing the same breathing space you are, you will go nuts. So we're ten million people, all trying toconvince ourselves that the other 999,999 don't actually exist.

I want to tell people I've run away, except I know I'm a wimp and I'll be back at work Monday morning, drawing out pages for a"progressive" magazine, so when the self-righteous pricks who call themselves activists go on a rant, it'll look pretty.

If these people had met Martin Luther King Jr., I'm guessing they'd melt. They're the kind of people that make me want to voteRepublican, just to piss them off. I wonder if that's really why the masses seem conservative, because half-informed conspiracytheorists are trying to ram their "open-minded" peace, love, and kill the government rhetoric down everybody's throats, and ruiningthe chances for the nice people who really just want the little guy to get acknowledged in the big system.

There's a guy in a blue flannel shirt looking for a place to sit. He's got messy blonde hair and stubble and wide, soft blue eyes thatwould pierce the heart if I were the kind of person that fell for that kind of crap. I think he's a little bit older than me, though maybenot quite thirty. The coffeehouse is packed.

I take my feet off the other chair at my table and wave to him. "Hey," I say. "If you don't mind sitting with a stranger..."

He shakes his head and takes the seat, sitting his grande latte in front of him. "Thanks," he said. "I don't think I've seen it thiscrowded in a long time."

I nod, toying with the tip of my braid while looking around, as if noticing the crowd for the first time. "Must be national caffeine-fixday," I say. He nods and smiles. I assume that this will go the way of most strangers-being-nice conversations - a few witty remarksand then into silence until one has to go. But he surprises me.

"I'm Mike," he says, offering his hand to shake.

I take it. "Spark," I say. I wait for it.


"Spark," I repeat. "I know, it's a stupid name, but it's what everyone else calls me." I shrug. People only call me Maggie at home.It's such a pansy kind of name, but it's stuck - Spark's what I call myself.

"Where'd you get it?" Mike asks.

"Same place everyone else gets stupid nicknames. College," I say, grinning.

He shrugs. "Everyone's just always called me Mike," he said.

"Jealous?" I ask.

"Of being called 'Spark?' No way." He pauses awhile, and we sip our glamour coffees, and he begins the next usual set ofquestions. "You from around here?"

I shake my head. "Small town in eastern PA." I stop him before he asks. "No, you wouldn't have heard of it. Though for the pastfew months I've been living in the Bronx."

"I'm sorry," he says.

I smile. I decide I like this guy. I don't know what he thinks of me, but I hope it's not too much. "Yeah, me too. Trying to help someguys change the world, though I'm realizing they're full of shit as much as everyone else is. I work for a social justice magazine," Iadd, as he stares at me blankly.

He nods. "My wife gets involved with a lot of those causes. I think she complains about the people full of shit quite a bit. But they'renot all bad, from what I understand."

Wife? That's a relief... hopefully. "Where is your wife now?"

"On a trip - she's a writer for one of the newspapers around here. She's following the election campaign," he said. He pauses tosigh. "She's been gone a lot. I miss her." His eyes tell me he really does, and I feel bad for thinking he might have been wanting tohit on me a minute. Though I was the one who invited him to sit, anyway.

"What about you?" he asks between latte sips.


"What about you? Any special someone out there? If you don't mind my being nosy," he adds with a smile.

I shake my head. "No one I know of."

"No one's given you that warm tug at your gut? Make your heart beat when they smile, even if they're not smiling at you?"

"Oh yeah," I say. "I've felt that before."

"Where is he, then?" he asks. His eyes sparkle with his smile. He's hoping, I know.

"It could be a she, you know," I say petulantly.

"Oh-" he starts. His mouth moves, trying to formulate something inoffensive as a respose.

I chuckle, put my hand out to stop him. "He - he's getting married next week."

The smile drops off his face, and his eyes flicker down into his own drink. I wonder why he's so disappointed. "I'm sorry. It didn'twork out, then?"

I shake my head, taking a pull at my mocha before I answer. "In never happened to begin with. I didn't want a long distancerelationship, so I never asked him out." I pause. "I did tell him I was interested once, when I was drunk and sleepy."

"What did he say?" Mike's voice is soft.

"He said he used to be interested in me, but I intimidated him because I was smart and funny," I laugh, trying not to sound bitter.This happened years ago.

"So his fiancée is dull and stupid?" he asks.

I laugh. "I guess so." I stir the remains of my coffee with my finger. "For a long time I didn't want to go to the wedding. It hurt toomuch, mostly because I was pissed off at myself for not saying anything sooner. Then I had a marvelous epiphany." I say, pausing togrin.

"What is that?"

"A guy who's intimidated by a woman's intelligence isn't worth the grief."

Mike raises his mug to salute me. "Amen, sister. Amen."

I return the salute. "Hallelujah."

"So you're going to the wedding?" he asks.

I nod. "I'm going to be the one dancing all night at the reception. With any guy or girl who wants... as long as it's not a drunk oldman trying to cop a feel."

Mike chortles. "Sometimes I'm really glad I'm not a woman."

I smile. "You'll feel different about that when you're fifty-five or so."

"At least I won't have hot flashes."

"That's what air conditioning is for. At least I'll be able to pee." I drain my cup defiantly.

My new friend bows his head in defeat. "Touche," he says. "Where's the wedding going to be?"

"Yuppie hell, New York," I smile. "It's the last place I'm going before I head home. Actually, it's really beautiful up there, once youget past the supermall. They're getting married at this gorgoeus old church on the Hudson River, and if the weathermen can be heldto be at least vaguely reliable, it'll be a gorgeous day. I'll be wearing my Sunday best."

"Because there's no blue Monday...?" he makes the random musical reference. The part of my mind that observes stereotypeswonders if he really does have a "wife," but I decide that a) it doesn't matter, and b) there has to be one straight guy who watchesmusicals out there, just to foil the typecasters.

The rest of the conversation goes on about Carol Channing versus Barbara Streisand and the places we've traveled with friends andsignificant others. Mike tells me a good place for breakfast for tomorrow and some of the out of the way shops tourists aren'tsupposed to know about. He also tells me about his wife and what a great sense of humor she has, and for the first time in a longtime, I feel very happy, and not just for myself, but for someone else.

We part our ways at the coffee shop, and I dare to offer a smile to a few people passing by me on the street. I take a few deepbreaths, and remember how to breathe. It feels good.


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All original materials © 2003 R. Pickard