It wasn’t like Dr. Stevens to spend $4.38 for coffee.
Not coffee—a latte.
A latte was essentially fancy coffee with a thin layer of foamed milk. Either way, $4.38 was an egregious amount of money to spend on a beverage for a young professor with crushing student loans—a young professor who wasn’t sure about his lackadaisical students understanding the beauty of physics—a young professor who would have been just as happy sipping the dregs from the burnt coffee pot in the faculty lounge.
He wasn’t sure why he agreed to meet the one colleague who had befriended him since joining the faculty. She taught in the university's humanities department.
As he waited, he noted the other patrons’ coffee cups festooned with decorative swirls in the foam.
Is that what justified the expense?
He thought about the formulas for oscillations and mechanical waves that made the coffee swirls possible. This passed the time while he checked his watch and waited.
Perhaps he should order his coffee now?
According to the laws of thermodynamics, the coffee would cool too quickly before his colleague’s arrival. Of course, this was relative to how much energy would be given off by the styrofoam cup compared to the time it would take the coffee to lose its energy. He quickly conjured up the equations, solving for x.
He looked at his watch again. From the sidewalk, he watched cars start and stop at random intervals, mentally drawing up a calculus proof of centripetal acceleration.
“Sorry I’m late,” she repeated, more loudly.
“Oh, I didn’t see you,” he smiled sheepishly. She’d startled him.
“This coffee shop is fun. You’ll like it!” she beamed.
She liked everything, like most humanities professors. The humanities building brimmed with effervescent idealists, all on the cusp of discovering new revelations about the human condition. Its lobbies were cozy with overstuffed couches and festive throw pillows. There were “contemplating chairs” to invite minds to ruminate.
As for the physics building? The 1970’s gray slab had the worst lighting on campus, tacitly alerting future engineering students that they’d sold their souls to STEM, a lifetime of endless physics and calculus calculations.
Dr. Stevens’ new friend opened the door to the coffee shop for both of them. He peered at the array of options posted on the wall above the counter.
“See the specials on the chalkboard? Every month the coffee shop picks a theme. Since October is cuffing season—”
“Cuffing season?” Dr. Stevens inquired.
“October is the official start of cuffing season. When there’s a chill in the air? You haven’t noticed students pairing off—sometimes right in the hallway? It’s the time of year to find a mate to cozy up with for the winter months,” she laughed, a sound as melodious as windchimes.
But he knew the sound of her laugh was simply vibrations in the air traveling in longitudinal waves.
“Oh, cuffing season, I see,” Dr. Stevens replied.
“So there are eight special lattes,” she continued. “All based on the eight types of love, according to the Greeks.”
“I didn’t think I’d need a humanities professor to order a cup of coffee,” Dr. Stevens said seriously, but she laughed, touching his arm.
“There’s Autumnal Agape with cinnamon and vanilla. Agape is unconditional love.”
“Like a mother’s love?”
“More like Jesus,” she replied.
“That may be a bridge too far. How about the Magic Mania with Irish crème? That sounds good,” he suggested.
“Mania means obsessive love. It’ll get you a restraining order.”
“I’ll pass on that one,” he decided. They both nodded in mutual agreement.
“Let’s see. How about a Pint of Pragma with toffee and buttered rum?”
“It sounds like old people smell,” he remarked, knowing that quantum physics purported that smell depended on the shapes of molecules, not age.
“Makes sense that you’d feel that way as pragma is love that has matured over time. It’s like watching your grandparents hold hands, assuming they are still married,” she added quickly.
“They’re dead, so let’s pass on the pragma.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Let’s look at the next one.” She squinted. Her nose scrunched up in an adorable way, a way that Dr. Stevens stared at for a bit too long. “Steaming Storge with hazelnut? Fabulous Philia with raspberry? Both have heavy friendship connotations.”
“Friendship is all right,” he wavered a bit.
“Ah! Peppermint Philautia, the love of self. Perfect for you!” she beamed.
“Do I come across as arrogant?” He was stung.
“No,” she laughed her windchime laugh. “Philautia is self-care, self-compassion. It’s a healthy love.”
I’ve had years of self-care, Dr. Stevens thought. Years alone in the lab with Michelson and Morley's luminiferous ether experiment and Minkowski's spacetime and the Lorentz transformation. No where in Einstein's velocity addition did anyone mention anything about cuffing season.
“You could try Elderberry Eros,” she whispered slyly.
“Eros is unchecked passion. Perfect for a lost weekend in Vegas. It’s the type of love that burns hot and bright, yet burns out fast. The Greeks were actually afraid of Eros, afraid of losing control.”
Eros is basically combustion, Dr. Stevens surmised. A chemical reaction between substances. It would generate a lot of heat and light in the form of a flame.
“I’m not sure what elderberry tastes like, so I’m not going to risk my $4.38,” he decided. She thought he was joking again and laughed, returning her hand to his arm. It felt nice there.
“Last one. Red Licorice Ludus.”
“I love red licorice!” he exclaimed, pulling out his wallet. “What exactly is ludus? Can I get arrested for it?”
“Ludus is the Greeks’ playful form of love. It’s a crush—the starting point for all lovers,” she explained.
“That is the perfect cup of coffee for cuffing season,” he said, calculating how cozy it would be to cuddle up with her.
And with that, Dr. Stevens cheerfully paid $8.76 for two Red Licorice Ludus Lattes, and even tossed the extra $1.24 into the tip jar on the way out.