December 3, 2006

Every morning I wake up and order a double latte from the deli downstairs. In New York they deliver anything, any time. So every morning I make the call (it's on my speed dial) and the first voice I hear is the deli man, who always sounds delighted to hear from me. "Hello, honey!" It's like a husband. Only better. I don't have to see him. And, more important, he doesn't see me.

All I am to him is a raspy voice that says slightly suggestive things like "Can you make it extra-hot?" and "I'd like a ripe banana too." The conversation never lasts longer than three minutes and ends with the certainty that we'll speak again tomorrow.

We have a special connection. I know him as Deli Man and he knows me as "15-A". Once, he asked for my name but he has since forgotten it. I don't care. As long as he gets me my extra-hot latte in under 20 minutes.

And I get preferential treatment, so I feel special. If I don't have enough cash, he'll let me pay the following day. If I tell him I've been up all night working, he'll throw in an extra shot.

"You work too hard," he says. It's nice to know someone cares.

He's intuitive too. He picks up on the fact that before I have my coffee, I don't really want a long conversation. If he asks me "How are you?" I respond with "Fine," and that's enough. He doesn't push it. Sometimes, before I go away, I'll let him know I'll be out of town so that he doesn't think I'm abandoning him. But instead of asking where I'm going and what I'm doing, he'll say simply: "Okay, honey, have a good trip."

Of course, when he has no time to talk to me, that's different. There are some mornings I can tell he's rushing me off the phone. I feel rejected and find myself dragging it out. "Maybe I'll have an iced coffee today..." Then he'll snap at me: "Come on, honey, I got others waiting here!" That's when I realise we're not meant to be.

The best thing about my relationship with Deli Man was he had no idea what I looked like. What I knew about him was he has a Mediterranean accent, whereas the delivery man is Mexican. I've often wondered if he reports back. So I make sure to tip him really well.
There are days I think it's the ideal relationship. I accept that he'll never be available on a Sunday, and I don't take it personally. I also enjoy the fact that he thinks I'm a lot more enthralling than I am. As 15-A, I'm a mystery.

But then, this morning, everything changed. I ordered the usual, the doorbell rang, I opened up and there he was. He'd delivered it himself. Why would he do that? "Hello, honey," he said - but he looked so disappointed.

I was in my glasses and pyjamas, looking like an uncaffeinated, unshowered mess. What did he expect? Pamela Anderson? It was horrible.

There was only one thing to do. I pretended not to know it was him, handed over the money, grabbed my latte and shut the door.

Tomorrow should be interesting. We'll see if he calls me honey. Or if he even answers the phone. But even if he sounds the same, I'll know that on the inside, his dream has died. He's lost the fantasy he's talking to someone hot; I've lost the special attention that comes from him thinking I'm hot.

And most troubling of all? I have to start making my own coffee.