The Olympian blew through town right after Rio. Though Italian, he was not as good-looking as someone like Fabio Fognini, but he was somewhere in the aesthetic realm of Gregorio Paltrinieri. It was thus that Roberta Mondrian, a wispily nondescript cafe worker/writer paid him no mind upon his entry into the misleadingly named Taxidermy on Church Avenue at a time of day when people are generally not thinking about coffee anymore, but have, instead, moved on to alcohol.
And, at first, she had no idea who he was. The familiarity of his face could easily be chalked up to the everyone is everyone syndrome so succinctly elucidated in American Psycho. But then, a chance recap of the Olympian winners in, of all things, volleyball, on the small TV on the counter in the back while she was making a fresh pot of coffee made her realize quickly who he was: Andrea Zetti, curly black locks and all. In spite of this revelation, it wasn’t as though someone of a movie star caliber had walked in. He wasn’t as exciting a prospect as someone like Chris Pine. Roberta could contain herself, continue to act as though he was nobody, which is, in truth, what everyone is when you get right down to it.
As she poured him the coffee he had asked for in a mug with an image of a beetle on it, he asked, “What do you do here in New York?”
Considering she was technically performing her “profession” at this very moment, she was both flummoxed by and grateful for the inquiry, one that assumed her existence wasn’t founded upon serving. Thus, she offered, “I guess I write.”
“Like Carrie Bradshaw?”
“That’s kind of a dated reference. And I’d like to think my analysis of the male species consists of more than merely asking random and unanswerable questions about them.”
He smiled. Maybe his English was worse than she thought.
“That’s nice. It must be nice to be a creative person.”
“It’s really not. In fact, it’s hell on earth. Slaving away at some job that has nothing to do with your interest, your ‘talent,’ all the while hoping that somewhere and some way down the line you’ll be able to ‘make something’ out of it.”
Andrea took a sip of his coffee. “That’s not very positive thinking. I can see why you’re not an athlete.”
This was the moment when Roberta could act as though she had no idea why he would bring up athleticism or use it as her “in” to bring up his recent Olympic win. She opted for the former.
“What does ‘athleticism’ have to do with it?” she offered faux innocently.
Andrea eyeballed her up and down in disbelief. “You haven’t seen me before?”
Now that he was reacting this way, Roberta was pleased with her decision to feign not knowing who he was. Honestly, what gall for him to assume that the whole world watched the Olympics with bated breath and unmarred interest.
“No, I can’t say I have.”
She thought his jaw might fully drop, but he took a sip of his coffee to distract himself from the shock of being “unknown.”
“Who are you?” Roberta continued, as a way to further undermine his so-called stature.
“Oh, no one in particular. I do sports.”
“Really? What’s your specialty?”
“An Italian volleyball player. That doesn’t sound quite right.”
He chortled. “Well, that’s my skill. I’m a Northern Italian. It’s different than the kind of Italian you are thinking of.”
“Sounds like you’re being a little prejudiced against your own kind, but all right.”
“The Southerners are not ‘my kind.'”
Roberta didn’t want to further press the issue, marveling at how every country seems to possess a remarkable divide between North and South, one always assuming the other faction is better. Rather, she reminded Andrea, “We’re closing in ten minutes.”
This information seemed to sadden him. “Where should I go around here?” The hint of innuendo in the query was arousing to Roberta, though she tried her best to appear nonplussed.
“I don’t know. Do you drink?”
“No. That’s why I’m in a coffee shop called Taxidermy at 6:50 on a Friday.”
“I might have known.”
He chugged the remaining contents in his beetle mug. “I’m staying on the Upper West Side.” He pulled out a business card and slapped it on the table. “Maybe you’ll meet me later.”
With that, Andrea was gone, leaving the proverbial volleyball in her court.
As she locked and shuttered the door behind her, Roberta mulled over the notion of contacting Andrea, of laying yet another claim to having sex with someone mildly famous, usually those who came into Taxidermy did so because Kensington was just remote enough to be off the beaten path of Prospect Park. The attraction she felt to those who orbited the periphery just beyond true greatness was something she often analyzed while slinging pastries and coffee grounds. Clearly, it must be a reflection of her own inability to reach something beyond the everyday, the menial–her existence a mirror of so many other men and women’s quiet desperation to strive toward something else, but never exactly breaking free from the chains of the cycle.
Walking down the darkened sidewalk back to her nearby apartment, she glanced once more at the business card with the foreign +39 country code affixed to the beginning of his number. She wasn’t going to go through the effort of contacting him. Maybe it was enough simply to know that he would have fucked her. And surely, that’s something her self-esteem could coast on for awhile–certainly it was more of a boon to her confidence than it would have been to actually have to wake up next to him the following morning, only to be shuffled out and have awkward, false promises made about future plans that, like her writing career, would never come to fruition.