January 10, 2002
Ex Marks the Spots
Let the courts decide who gets custody of kids. What I want to know is, who gets custody of the coffee shop? The grocery store? The brunch place?
It's been seven months since I broke up with Z, and I miss our old haunts, the places we used to go together, the places I relinquished when the whole thing fell apart like a 3-year-old Daewoo sedan. Finding another guy wasn't so hard, but there's no replacing Stir Crazy, the best coffee shop ever.
You can't underestimate the importance of a coffee shop to the freelance writer. It's your office, your social center, your Cheers. It's the place you count on to keep yourself from becoming a recluse, to inspire your creativity, to buttress the notion that you really are doing something with your life that requires wearing shoes.
There are other coffee shops, but none that give you endless free refills. I miss that ample laptop space, the familiar faces of the same 10 underemployed writers, the soft couches to match the soft lighting. I was funny in that place. But I can't go back.
Stir Crazy was his, fair and square. He discovered it and had written there for months before we met. I relinquished custody without a fight, but it's starting to seem a bit stupid.
We're all adults. He doesn't own Stir Crazy. Couldn't I at least have weekend visitation rights? Odd-number days? Summers and holidays?
The problem is that if I go back, it can't help looking like I'm trying to ambush him, which isn't true. I have no interest in running into Z, especially since the law of ex's dictates that he will have his new lingerie model girlfriend by his side, while I'm clutching the sports section and a Camel Light feeling like a troll.
Now Erewhon, my natural foods grocery store on Beverly, is just another story entirely. We were both customers before we met, although I feel that being a vegetarian, the soup and salad bar plays a more important role in my life and should therefore have fallen into my sole custody.
The fact is, I haven't been back there since the breakup. The whole thing makes me nervous. Sure, a couple times I've snuck in for a bag of puffed rice and some organic Fuji apples, but no major shopping expeditions.
I miss leisurely perusing the vitamin aisle, the stacks of fresh brown rice sushi, the mysterious cookies made in some dude's garage in Santa Cruz. Wait a second. I stopped eating sugar about five months ago, now I really deserve custody of a food store bulging with honey-sweetened goodies. I have to take back what's rightfully mine!
It's time to suck it up and go back. After the first run-in, I'm sure it will be fine. It's just that in the meantime, I'm like the rat in an experiment that never knows when a shock is coming. That's the rat that loses its hair and freaks out.
When you can predict the shock, you're fine. When you can't, you're driving 20 minutes out of your way for a lousy cup of split pea soup just to avoid the jolt.
Which brings me to Quality, our old brunch spot on Third Street. One word: biscuits.
Z and I were there almost every weekend, and I'm not being cute when I tell you I often awoke having dreamt of Quality's biscuits, not to mention the lattes in huge pastel mugs.
This place was his. Way his. He had taken all of his ex-girlfriends there, and the worst thing is that we ran into one once, and I couldn't help thinking it was a transparent ex-grab, her showing up there. Now, I know it was just the biscuits.
Whenever I'm marinating in an idiotic hang-up such as this, I try to remind myself of the big picture, how little it matters where I get my coffee or whether or not I run into some guy I dated for less than a year. I try to ask myself why I care so much what other people think of me, where they will place me on the lose-o-meter. I tell myself that I'm not so much yearning for free refills as I'm longing for that feeling of belonging anywhere I happen to be.
Fortunately, I have my own places to hide out while I wait for emotional maturity to show up, which could take a while.
Sam's Bagels is mine. No ex would dare infiltrate Sam's. All of Larchmont Village is mine. Not that anyone else would want it, but Piper's all-night diner in Koreatown is mine. Maybe I could convince them to start serving biscuits.
Teresa Strasser is now on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.