As Leonard Cohen once said "my reputation as a ladies man was a joke, it caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone." An essential part of being a ladies man is the delusion that all women are attracted to you - at all times. You may be on a busy commuter train when you catch a woman's eye - what should reasonably be considered a coincidence is, to the LM, an invitation to engage in seductive eye-play. And of course, one man's dreamy gaze is another man's sinister leer.
Similarly, every visit to a pub or coffee shop is a voyage into subtle romance - the world is an indie-movie, with every French barista a young Julie Delpy. Last week, in Cafe Nero, I mistook this cinematic daydream for reality. It was here I met Violetta from Poland (her name badge was embossed with the now familiar red and white flag - it seems this fatuous piece uniform has some utility after all). On receiving a loyalty stamp, I smiled.
"Dobra," I said, using the voice of an East German official.
Violetta laughed. She was a powerful blonde, at least six foot tall. I pictured us standing together.
"Very good," she said, "this time I give you two!"
Stamping the worn card again, she wished me a good day.
That day I thought a lot about Violetta and her obscure persona. I had seen her a few times, however this was the only time I had penetrated her frosty exterior. Stoic and hardy yet delicately feminine - she had a charm absent from our corporate HQ. She knew what she wanted but, unlike my work colleagues, didn't hide it. I resolved to ask her out.
The following day I strolled into the coffee shop, card in hand, a thumping tune on my headphones. Something frivolous, I thought as I selected the Beastie Boys, a group to hearten me - this was my Stalingrad and I was going to fight my way to victory. Ad-Rock hammered the message home: "gotta do it like this, like Chachi and Joanie, cause she's the cheese and I'm the macaroni" - a chant for the valiant. The battle can be won, the dream attained.
"Hello, and for you?"
I hadn't paid attention in the queue and now Violetta was before me, her face like a mask. I ordered an americano but her armour was up, rendering her inscrutable. There was a considerable line behind me, so I sat at a table waiting for the place to clear. Violetta handled the harried suits with a deft rhythm; she was speedy with a blunt tone that was not unwelcome.
I watched the hypnotic nature of her service; customers could barely finish their coffee orders before she interjected: "Sugar behind you, sir" or "Any pastry for you today?" Anyone that ordered an 'extra shot' of coffee was reflexively informed that it already contained two. "You want three?" She would ask incredulously. She was a marvel, a beautiful automaton.
Eventually, the shop cleared out. Violetta turned to her colleague and they started speaking in Polish. Interestingly, the tone was still brisk. I approached holding my takeaway cup.
"Hello sir," Violetta said, her arms folded.
"Hey, how's it going?"
Her colleague, a hefty middle aged woman, straightened up.
Violetta said, "I am fine, how are you?"
"Great." I put my phone away, "I was just going to say, you only gave me one stamp today!"
"I said, yesterday you gave me two stamps, remember?"
The colleague wiped her hands on her apron.
"Sorry, it is one stamp for coffee - is ok?"
The door opened and a young couple walked in.
"Yes, no, it's fine. I just thought."
The colleague leaned across to attend to the couple.
"You want I should get manager?" Violetta said.
"No, no, nothing like that - I was just saying today it's only one stamp. That's funny."
The young man next to me studied my profile.
"Anyway," I said, "I'll catch you later."
I walked out into the busy Soho street. Ahead, a black cab driver was swearing at a pedestrian, his passenger craning forward to contribute. I took a sip of coffee, it was still hot and I burnt my tongue. Still, at least I had gone for a takeaway cup, that was a good move.