The city sky was clear, but it was windy. My old friend Ran and I went to sit and talk in the park at San Francisco’s Union Square. We strolled up Kearney Street from the cafe where we’d met, jabbering about old times, looking oddly like a rock star and a funeral director as we passed the anonymous masses milling on the street. Our only similarity was our identically printed coffee cups.
We sat on a diagonal concrete staircase that led from the park to the street, our backs to the Union Square courtyard. Metal poles soared like spires above the park, holding up exulting statuary angels a hundred feet above us. Finally, we could talk.
I began, “Dude, we used to have a business arrangement, but you know we only did your homework to meet the girls hanging around you, right? Don’t look so hurt, Ran. No one at the dorm really knew you — you were hardly ever in your room. I like you, but I don’t know you — who are you really?”
He swigged coffee, added a generous splash of Bailey’s to the cup, and then swigged some more. “Ah, autobiography — everyone’s favorite subject,” he said.
His eyes twinkled at a blonde-brunette pair of willowy Armani-armored valkyries emerging from Neiman’s. When the WALK signal turned green, they made a beeline across the intersection, burdened with full shopping bags.
“Ciao!” called the brunette, accent intoxicatingly rich, authentic. She was a slighter replica of the vintage Sofia Loren.
“Ciao, bella!” Ran nodded, accent indeterminate, but better than most Americans could manage. He turned back to me. “I’ve got other plans.”
He said it a little too loudly, as the blonde power-shopper set her bags down in front of me. It was a college Friday all over again – another wing woman from the stratosphere far above me. She hovered a nervous moment. I ventured, “Hello. I’m Phil. My pal the fashion model here is Randy.”
Her “Hello,” was a crackling, reedy chuckle. The stunning blonde woman and I were lamely grinning at, then away from, each other. Ran broke the awful, silent tension:
“Uh, miss? Does your friend speak English? My Italian is pretty embarrassing.” She absently shook her head, “No,” still intimidating me with her focus.
Ran continued, “I’m gonna be staying with Phil while I’m visiting the City. Maybe you two could exchange cards so I can catch up with her,” he offered hopefully, “before she returns to, is it Tuscany?” Ran smiled. “Her accent says Tuscany.”
The blonde blinked, momentarily distracted, unzipping a pocket of her bag. She pulled out a card for me and began punching keys on her Blackberry. She chuckled again when she saw my card.
“Phil – thought you looked familiar… solo practice, isn’t it? You get all the celebrities – good service I guess. I’d never be brave enough to leave Ernst & Young and hang a shingle. Are we too far into the ‘meeting’ to tell you I’m Katarina Unruh? Phil, I want you to call me Katya,” she smiled, curling the left side of her lips, “when you call me.”
While Katya spoke, her petite friend chattered at Ran in a shower of syllables: “Ah, si, si! Lo sono dalla Toscana! Il mio nome e Michelangela Giaconda,” and wrote a note in Italian in a fine, spidery, near-calligraphic script. This she pressed into his hand with an emphatic gesture.
I held up an index finger, giving myself a moment to think before answering Katarina, while Ran scanned and pocketed Michelangela’s note, inscrutably grinning at me with a derisive snort. A moment later, Ran was all manners: “Gracie, Signorina Giaconda.”
I stared at Katarina for long seconds. I was trying to overcome the butterflies and connect with her, determined not to lose my meaning in complication:
“Katya, I’m amped we met. There’s a lot in common — I’d like to learn who you are… some day. Probably, Randy will call her,” I looked over at the Italian, “before I can call you. You’re a straight knock-out, but can I tell you something?”
Her pale green eyes flitted through minute head-bobs at each of my remarks, like the working of some infinitely delicate computer. She said, “Well, Harwell, thanks, but if you’re gonna call, why wait? Is there… somebody?”
I answered as evenly as I could. “Katya, not very long ago, I would have declined your number. Thought I was engaged. She said she loves being together, but she can’t go through with marriage. I’m dealing with that now. She may even still think we’re in a relationship.”
Concern darkened Katya’s lively features. “Yeah… you’re right, Phil. It’s too much, and too soon. I admire your honesty, but you need time. Also, I’m not looking for all that either — I’m a career girl. I’m not settling down. Maybe down the road, we’ll refill your coffee or something. Give it a month. If you’re even thinking about me then, let’s have some laughs, who knows…”
Ran smiled warmly at the Italian in parting, “Bene, bene.” The flawless suits and full bags retreated down the stairs to cross Kearney again. The beautiful women were gossiping and grousing in their shared language as they disappeared among the downtown pedestrians. Ran’s eyes followed the receding curves and he laughed.
“Where were we? Oh, yeah. Autobiography. Phil, how can you be more interested in me than in them?”