Nikki, the video-artist
“A career’s just something you tell people you do, so they can wrap their heads around what kind of person you are,” Nikki said, as she refilled my coffee cup. “That’s why I tell people I’m a video-artist.”
She leaned over the counter and stared at me intently. “It’s one of those things everybody thinks is unique and impressive, but they don’t know a goddamn thing about it, so I won’t ever get caught in the lie. Every now and again, some bullshit artist will start running his mouth about whatever he can remember from his intro to film class in college – but in most cases, he’s just trying to get into my pants.”
“So then what are your thoughts on Stan Brakhage’s work?” I asked. “Overrated?”
Nikki smiled as she got up from the counter to go check on the other patrons. “There you go, trying to be funny again, Knox. How many times do I have to tell you – I don’t date customers.”
Nikki didn’t know it, but she was my best friend in Philly. Every weekday morning, I’d show up at her diner for a Denver omelet and three cups of coffee before trucking off to teach creative writing at a private middle school. I’d taken the job because I needed a change of scenery and was confident the solitude would be the perfect opportunity for me to finish my novel. But, after five months, I was maybe twenty pages deep, and had about 30 different titles floating around in my head.
Flirting with Nikki every morning was just about all I had going for me. It didn’t take long for me to convince myself that I loved her. After four months of harmless come-ons, I finally convinced Nikki to come out to get a drink with me. “As friends,” I promised.
One Friday, I met Nikki for a couple happy hour drinks at a Mexican restaurant, where she confessed to harboring a crush on me.
“I like you, Knox. You have a strange confidence, but you’re not cocky. You seem like you go through your up-and-downs for the adventure of it, but it doesn’t make you think you’re better than anybody else. There’s something about that which I find really endearing.”
I leaned in and put my hand on her leg. “I like you, too,” I said, “because you seem really similar in that regard.”
With a sad frown on her face, she gently took my hand off my leg and placed it on my own. “I’ve been a waitress for the past 12 years, since I was 16-years old,” she said. “This is what I do to pay the bills and will probably have to keep on doing for the rest of my life. I’m OK with that, but I don’t want it to have ANYTHING to do with my world outside of work. That’s why I don’t date customers.”
I tried to get her to stay for another round, but she had to go meet up with some friends. Some of her real friends, I suppose.
I didn’t go back to the diner for four months. I actually became productive for the first time since I arrived in Philly, spending that hour in the morning working on the book instead of flirting with Nikki. After waiting as long as I could stand, I gave Nikki a call.
“It’s Knox, from the – I mean, the middle school teacher.” I said.
“Where’ve you been!?!? I haven’t seen you since that drink. Is everything OK?”
“Well, I thought about how you didn’t want to date customers, which seemed pretty reasonable. So I figured if I didn’t go back to the diner, maybe you’d agree to go on a real date with me.”
“Oh,” she said. “That’s so sweet. And kind of weird. The thing is, I kind of have a boyfriend, now.”
“Oh. Well, it was worth a shot. I hope it works out,” I said and hung up the phone. I went back to my desk and tried to work on the novel, but was completely blocked. I eventually packed it in and left town, thinking maybe I’d start telling people I was a video-artist.
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