MiniSketchI notice the guy sketching even before I sit down, but it’s not a strategic decision at all. When I have a choice I try to sit facing the eye candy, and this guy’s not even close to handsome. But it’s the only available chair in the coffee shop, so I end up facing the sketcher, who keeps to his task throughout my stay. I sip my cappuccino, read a few chapters of a novel, scribble in my notebook—the usual NYC java house pastimes that allow me to tune out the surrounding noise.

And then I get the “feeling.” It’s that intuitive feeling that someone’s looking at me, checking me out. I look up and the sketcher looks down at his drawing. I look away. That feeling again. I look up, and once again the sketcher looks down. Yes, the sketcher is checking me out, which doesn’t flatter me, he so plain and unattractive.

I look down again. From the corner of my eye I see him look up. He’s using me as a model. I become uneasy, self-conscious about what unflattering version of me the charcoal brings out. So I leave soon after, making believe I’ve had my fill of the coffee-house vibe. I go about my day, expecting never to see him again.

But the following week I see the sketcher again, his sketches on display along the wall near the Union Square subway. And sure enough there I am, on sale for $5. I stand in front of it, expecting to be recognized, but no one does. In fact, I hardly recognize myself, looking so forlorn as if I were the forgotten mug, its smell of coffee going faint, its ceramic body growing cold, its handle longing for the act of touch.

Rigoberto González is the author of eight books, most recently a young adult novel, The Mariposa Club, and a story collection, Men without Bliss. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the American Book Award, and The Poetry Center Book Award, he writes a Latino book column for the El Paso Times of Texas. He is contributing editor forPoets and Writers Magazine, sits on the Board of Directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is Associate Professor of English at Rutgers—Newark, State University of New Jersey.

photo by Sarah Truckey