On my first day at Van Gogh’s Vase he appears.
Either there’s some funky stuff in my gum or this is a dream come true.
I keep looking at the shaved hair around his left ear, his perfectly groomed short beard (likely a Size 1 clipper guard), and try to truly believe, the creator of DPZ, Everhet Byzantine, is my boss now.
The Evy-B; mister big-ass dong, himself.
His perfectly circular ivory tortoise frames catch the light as he turns to me and says, “Have you ever steamed milk before?”
I non-verbally communicated that I have not.
“Okay so we’re gonna wait for the temperature to get to where I can’t keep my hand on the cup.” Everhet says this as he spins the knob on the espresso machine and the hiss of steam grows.
Gently he chokes the neck of the small steel pitcher. Ever so lightly did he hump his hips up, evenly distributing the pressurized, wet heat throughout the milk. A luscious froth of bubbles bloomed. They looked like a million microscopic spider eyes.
Everhet’s body seemingly freezes. His chin lowers as he projects a seductive gaze into the hot milk as if he were seeing a message in the rolling foam. I found myself being drawn into it as well.
The rhythmic, rounded peaks and valleys of the milk created a phosphene of dairy shadows.
He gave the milk pith instructions under his breath. Angrily whispering, “Yes…Yes. Yes, get frothy…frothy. Frothy as fuck. Uhn.”
When Everhet pulled his hand away from the searing cup he let out a moan of pain.
And in my mind, I’m like, “What is happening?”
If I had a plan to seduce someone I’d do it at a coffee shop. The senses are so engaged. Aroma absorption. Flavor identification. Skin sensitivity. It’s all very hypersexual.
I try not to think of the high turnover rate of an employee at VGV.
By mid-afternoon I was timing out double shots of espresso perfectly so there was no time for the caffeine to be eaten by its own acidity and leave it a bitter ounce of wet dirt.
We cheers our cortados. I feel comfortable and happy. Which is weird.
For the next three weeks I took every shift available that had Everhet on the crib sheet.
Something about talking to Everhet was like talking to a perfect person. And it made me feel perfect too. Or, maybe it was like, that perfection was achievable.
Like Buddha meeting Buddha.
He knew just the right words for that moment in this conversation. And I did the same for him. If I was upset, he was upset for me. If I liked something, he loved it.
Genuine platonic compassion; caring for another human being, without any underlying compulsions.
Everhet sips. As he wipes the milk foam off his lips into his mustache a thought seems to strike him.
“Oh. I forgot.” He says, “I have a show tomorrow. At the um, the weird, underground bar, Rosetju. Off Martin Ave…? Wait. Do you like Arto?”
The word sort of echoes in my ear. I say, “What’s Arto?”
“Who?” Everhet made triangles with his eyebrows. He says, “Art, I said. I said art. Do you like it?”
Oh my God he’s going to ask me. To come to his secret invite-only premiers.
“I do like it.” I say, while I’m trying to think of types of art, rolling my tongue for words, “Big…paintings?”
“More like a multi-media experience. It’s actually the premier of my new collection.” He says, “It’s pretty intense stuff. It’s not art how you normally think about it.”
I kept going on like I’ve never heard of him and that I was a total novice to his oeuvre.
I’m on high alert for my once-in-a-generation moment.
He described the content of his page as too edgy for monitored platforms so he has to get paid via monthly payments for content. And also did a garbage truck load of unprompted explaining, about how his content was not misogynistic. And that what he was doing was in fact hardcore feminist art.
He says, “I have a vision.” Then with both hands in front of his face, caressing an invisible ball, he says, “I’m going in a totally different direction.”
He puts down his cortado and proceeds to explain—with such detail it nearly made me sick—his comprehensive plan for creating an empire around his work.
Even though I really didn’t know what he meant. How do you turn porn in a new direction? It gets softer or harder, typically the latter. But that must be his genius.
“You don’t have to come.” Everhet says with a concerned face and a confused tone. My stupid face must have not stuck the landing.
Smiling makes my eyes hurt because I over do it. It’s not something I practice. Pressure fills my cheeks to the point of numbness, the way blood gathers at the point of collision. My head is a swollen toe.
This all feels like it’s part of some test. I don’t want to make the wrong decision. I’m always on the lookout for that once-in-a-lifetime out-of-the-fuck moment where I make the right move, the right choice, and my life is changed forever. But getting kicked out of school has made even the smallest decision immensely critical. My life path could slide into disaster with one missed opportunity. But having no real choices makes your dream seem viable.
I prep my face to do a sort of lie, the kind where I pretend a “yes” is a “maybe”, using an equal blend of verbal and non-verbal communication tools; to try and trick someone I want to impress to long for me, by passive-aggressively denying them in a public space.
At the last second I decide against it. I decide to tell the truth. Maybe this is one of those once-in-a-generation moments. And I don’t know all the random courses my life took the bring me here. But I’m here now and I just need to speak from my heart.
I say, “That sounds amazing. I’d love to go. Thank you for inviting me.”
But it’s drowned out by the noisy digital chime erupting from my phone. And a customer comes to the counter to order before I can repeat myself.
And the moment is over.
My lips get minty, and the air feels cold.
And all the material factors of the present moment wash back in.
The noise. The clinking of dishes. Bean grinder. The urgency of thoughts. The overdue student loan payments. The empty bank account.
I’d hate to admit my current situation is due to fate, although it does feel like the motions of my life have all been against my will.
Life feels like it just happens to me.
The notification on my phone is from my roommates who need me to stop by the DMV on my way home and pick up their new government-issued crucifix. It’s technically a VCO now, too.
James Jacob Hatfield is a displaced engineer, a painter, and many other contradictions. His work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Barely South Review, Chaleur Magazine, Havik, and others. His ekphrasis poem “torrents of lahar, No. 36” was anthologized by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He is a Sterling Fellow and a Weymouth Fellow. He is the creator and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. He lives in Durham, NC.