That's what the old ladies say. You can argue effort or priorities, but the old ladies have tried all that. Fate shoos us to one side or the other, and to try and cross over means only heartbreak.
It's always when I'm running for the subway, dashing off to some meeting twenty minutes late already because the last one ran long. Not to mention that the train will inevitably freeze in its concrete womb, the lights will flicker and we will clutch our laptops, and I will be later still. It's always when I'm moving with that knowledge, conscious that there is no catching up, that I see them.
The one today was sitting outside a Starbuck's, but drinking coffee in a cup from someplace hipper. He was reading something old and tiny. Poetry, or philosophy. He wore the pose of the satisfied slacker, one ankle on one knee, slumped back into his bench. The sun was shining on him and the world was dancing in front of him, fortifying his air with perfume and cologne and the musk of a box of fresh doughnuts heading back to the office as a palliative for stomachs still empty at quarter to three.
The day before, it was lunchtime, the wide, greasy blocks choked with people. I was pushing headdown through women with nylons tucked into running shoes and men with ties streaming over their shoulders, guffawing at each other between sips of fountain soda. And through that throng of hard-won success, he is weaving toward me with hair still wet from a shower and a canary in his mouth. He catches my eye as we step, stop, and wait for the blockage to clear so we can proceed. I can't tell if he's flirting or laughing at me.
I've got it all right here. I called up my dreams and they showed. But there's no one to tell. Just me and my pile of poker chips.
In my head, I nurse a little fantasy wherein I do not run for the subway. I walk to the nearest coffee cart, where the proprietor looks bemused and tries to push bubble tea. I order a cappuccino, despite his urgings. I return to the bench, sit next to him, and smile. We drink our coffee in the sunshine and maybe we fall in love or maybe he eventually has to catch a train of his own.
When I finally sneak out of the office, the municipal cleaning machines have come through and absolved the benches and sidewalks of those boys with orthogonal luck. They've been replaced by the stumbling homeless, a confirmation of the reasons I'll always be lighting candles to the Santos of success and security, while the wicks of those who would bring me love stay clean.