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Pleasure and flexibility

Feb 19, 2016

There was a Chinese restaurant I used to go to in Santa Barbara.  One day, an older formally dressed man and I were the only ones in the dining room.  Decades later, I don't remember what he ordered for his meal, but I remember he asked for "a martini, dry, two olives. Bring it to me before you bring the meal."

He didn't just want a cocktail.  He knew exactly what he wanted. His desire had become finely-tuned. But it also seemed rigid.  His showed the waiter preemptive annoyance at the possibility of receiving a martini with the wrong number of olives, or receiving it with the meal, rather than before. His well tuned desire seemed to have hardened into a shell that could easily be broken.  He seemed on guard against potential disappointment.

Years later, I noticed some of those same qualities in myself.  It had been several years since I'd discovered the upper west side's Hungarian Pastry Shop.  I'd see friends there, sit at an outdoor table and look over St. John's cathedral.  I might have a book with me as I enjoyed a cappuccino and croissant.  When I'd leave NYC, I'd have an eye out for a similar coffee place, and I was disappointed when I didn't find it.  That was true when I visited Philadelphia for a week, and when I lived in Boston for five years. Like the martini guy, my desire had become well defined and rigid. 

I think that novelty seekers may be immune to this rigidity.  When new experiences are pleasurable for the very fact that they are new, you do not seek out a particular martini, or coffee and croissant at a coffee shop with a particular ambiance.  When novelty itself is a pleasure, you're less likely to be disappointed.  Novelty seekers are playing a game with rewards around every corner.  There are few ways to match the exact thing you have in mind, and many ways to find something different. 

How about the Martini guy?  Should he occasionally ask for a vodka martini, one olive, maybe three? I imagine he's tried other combinations over the years and settled on what he likes. If he can fulfill his desire often, good for him.   I think of the line from the National Car Rental commercial where the guy says: "I've been called a control freak. I like to think of myself as more of a control enthusiast."

I still go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop.  I'll take my cappuccino at the outdoor table and look out over St. John's cathedral when the weather improves.  But I noticed that a new coffee place, South American, opened up about five blocks away from the Hungarian.  I went there with my laptop, and had a cup of coffee with a biscotti.  The place may have possibilities.