On Tuesday afternoon I went into my beloved Catalina coffee for an afternoon pour-over of their fabulous Rwanda coffee that had recently arrived. I had just eaten a below-average lunch at the TQLA on Wash-Av and needed a dose of quality in my diet to assuage the misery in my still hungry stomach. At TQLA I had ordered a Ceviche and a Mushroom tamale for my lunch. My server came to my table moments later with tamale in-hand and informed me that the kitchen had dropped my Ceviche and would be re-making it. I informed him very politely that I really wanted the cold ceviche before my warm tamale and he obligingly took the tamale back and very likely stuck in under a lamp.
The ceviche arrived shortly thereafter with 1 wedge of lime and appeared to have no other seasoning or acid added. I squeezed the shit out of the lime and when I had more than enough lime fibers on my fingers I attempted to eat the ceviche which was generously piling out of the sundae glass and spilling over on the very average blue corn chips on the saucer below. Sadly, the shrimp were muted and iodine was too pronounced, the tilapia tasted like a dirty little tilapia farm (or lake-water that goes up your nose while water skiing) and their was the ubiquitous Houston food-stuff, lump crab meat. Are there any crabs left in the sea? Do Houstonians eat this stuff on their cereal? I fumbled through as much of the not so fresh ceviche as I could take and had pushed it to the side just as my tamale arrived. It was dry from the lamps, swimming in a cream sauce from circa 1992, and was 85% masa and only 15% all other ingredients combined. My server was kind, interested, but sadly helpless to correct his kitchen’s failings on this very slow Tuesday lunch.
After blocking out the previous 45 minutes I arrived at Catalina where after 75+visits I know that every person behind their bar wants to make a good product. This place is really one of a kind in Houston and while the guy at Greenway makes great coffee, I am not parking my car to have a cappuccino with the stirrings of a corporate army of slaves buzzing around me.
At the moment I received my pour-over and before I could take a first sip, I glanced towards the bar and an interesting looking fellow caught my eye. I thought to myself that the guy looked like Malcolm Gladwell and how many people could look like Malcolm Gladwell. I took a sip of coffee, hmmm… was fucking brilliant as always. The coffee was pushing the nasty little shrimps further into my gut when I looked at the guy again more closely and decided he looked enough like Gladwell with the kinky hair, authors’ glasses, and curious eyes that I was sure he was accosted by fans of Outliers regularly. The guy grabs his coffee goodie, walks into the dining area and sits immediately at the table on my right. Tables at Catalina are no more than 24 inches apart so this guy and I were on the same plane at less than an arm’s length. At this point the temptation was too great and I looked over and half-jokingly said, “you aren’t Malcolm Gladwell?” The man looked at me, and right through me as if he was a blind soothsayer from a Greek tragedy and said while lightly nodding his head in quick little gestures hoping to go unnoticed, “yes I am.”
I must have smiled halfway from Houston to Mars as I told him immediately of my brand new decision to write full-time and that he; Malcolm Gladwell, was an enormous influence upon my writing because of his incessant curiosity. He waited patiently for me to finish my verbal genuflections and gave me a “hmmph sound” and a please don’t yell out who I am sir, look. I gathered myself pretty quickly as I have worked in the service of luminaries before and I did not want to be that guy who invites an author to read his manuscript; although I considered it. I took a breath and picked up my iPhone as if I had something of extreme urgency to attend to and upon finishing that invisible task a moment later, I looked back over to Gladwell and said, “at least you chose the best coffee shop in Houston.” He responded with a more friendly (sensing I was going to leave him alone) tone, “yes, I always come here when I am in town.”
I was suddenly lost in my thoughts. When you are in town? What? This means you may be here for a reason. You, Malcolm Gladwell, may be doing important research. Could it be possible that the amazing Malcolm Gladwell was conducting some of his famous research in my anonymous city, at my bad-ass coffee shop, sitting right the fuck next to me and feeding off my newly acquired Quantum particles of writers intention? Wow, this changed the game.
I had to come up with a plan. It had to be fate that Malcolm “Blink”ing Gladwell rolled up next to me at the Catalina having what appeared to be a cappuccino while looking nervously at his computer screen. I could leave him alone, or I could see what he was all about. This is Texas, and we are nosy, chatty, and very want to tell people about ourselves; therefore, if I just start a chat it will either become a legitimate chat, or possibly one of the suicide scenes from Airplane. I took a shot of Rwanda to instill some bravery and I blurted out “do you really think it takes 10,000 hours to be good at something or was that just a really clever theme you created to state the obvious reason people are good at things is because they try harder than everyone else?”
Gladwell, pretended for a moment that he could not hear me and that I was not even there. I could see in that instant that he hoped he could simply vanish from the shadow of this big, loud, Texas tool sitting next to him. However, as quickly as he had seemed perturbed, he smiled to himself, adjusted his laptop screen downward hiding his work, turned his chair in my direction and told me…to be continued