Ned Miller looked up from his newspaper. A man about his own age was standing at his table, staring at him.

            “Can I help you?” Ned said.

            “I’ve seen you talking to women. I was wondering if you do men.”

            “I’m an equal opportunity listener,” said Ned. “Would you like to talk?”

            “Sure.” The man pulled out a chair.

            “It’s the same price for men.”

            “Oh. What’s the price?”

            “One latte,” he said, pointing to his sign.

            “Right. Okay, I’ll be right back.”

            And he was, bearing the steaming fee in a styrofoam cup.

            “Thanks. I’m Nick.” He extended his right hand.

            “Robert,” said the man, shaking it and sitting down. He wore a brown tweed suit with a pastel blue shirt and yellow tie. The look on his face was of confusion or worry, or both.

            “So what’s on your mind, Robert?”

            “I’m trying to figure out what to do about retirement.”

            “You mean when to retire?”

            “No, I’m already retired. I haven’t figured out what to do with my time.”

            “What was it you planned to do when you retired?”

            “I didn’t have a plan. I guess I should explain that I was forced to take early retirement, so it came as a surprise and I wasn’t ready.”

            “That’s tough,” said Ned. “Did you love your work?”

            “Did I love it? I did in the beginning. Not so much the last few years. When I started out I was a software engineer.  I liked that a lot. I liked developing new products and coming up with solutions to problems. That was a lot of fun! And I was good at it. Then I got promoted into management, and it was more about dealing with people. I didn’t like that nearly as much but that’s what I’ve been doing the last 15 years.”

            “Maybe early retirement is a blessing. It gets you out of a job that isn’t much fun.”

            “That’s what my wife says. That’s how I’d like to see it.”

            “But you don’t?”

            “Well, no. At least when I had a job, I knew what I was supposed to do every morning. I knew who I was. Now I’m not sure who I am, or whether I have a purpose.”

            “That’s heavy, Robert. Maybe you should see a therapist.”

            “I thought I would try you first and see how that went.”

            “The price is right, but you may get what you pay for.”

            “Got to start somewhere.”

            “Fair enough.” Ned took a sip of his latte and thought briefly about where to begin.

            “Tell me a bit about your life when you were working. Did you have any outside interests? Civic groups? Hobbies?”

            “Not really. I’m a pretty dull guy. I went to work, came home for dinner, watched some tv, slept, went back to work.”

            “How about on the weekends?”

            “Cut the grass, watch sports. Church on Sundays.”

            “You said earlier that you weren’t sure if you had a purpose anymore. Where do your ideas about purpose come from?”

            “I know I’m supposed to say it comes from going to church, right? But honestly, I don’t get that much out of religion. It doesn’t seem to have much to do with my life.”

            “But you felt you had a purpose when you worked?”

            “Sure. My purpose was to work so I could support my family.”

            “And did you?”

            “I did. We did all right. Got both my girls through college. We probably have enough to cover two weddings, if they ever decide they want to get married.  One of them might. The other, I’m not so sure.”

            “So your finances look pretty good? You have enough to cover retirement?”

            “Yeah, we’re good there. The company took pretty good care of me.”

            “Good job, Robert!”

            “What? What do you mean?”

            “You met your goal – you provided for your family! Now you could even take a bow and celebrate. This is a spectacular achievement?”


            “Aren’t you proud of yourself?”

            “Well, yeah, I guess I am, kind of.”

            “So celebrate! Mission accomplished!”

            “ Okay, but that doesn’t answer my question. What am I supposed to do now?”

            “You want to know what I think?”

            “Yeah, that’s why I bought you the latte.”

            “Anything you damn well want to do.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “What I mean is, you’ve lived a good life. You did exactly what you were supposed to do, and you did it well. Congratulations. Now you don’t have to worry about that anymore, it’s done and paid for. You’re a free man. Now the only question is, what is it you want to do?”

            “Well, I don’t know. Obviously.”

            “And this is the part where you need to find a therapist – or a coach, if you prefer – to help you discover what you want. Maybe there’s some secret ambition you always had, that you had to give up because it wasn’t practical. Because it wouldn’t support your family. Now might be the time to take it out of deep storage and give it another try.”

            “My secret ambition was to play second base for the Yankees, but I think it’s a little late for that now.”

            “Probably. But it might not be too late to coach a girls softball team, let’s say. Or to play in a mature league.”

            “Does that mean old farts?”

            “That’s the polite term for it, yes. Anyway, the point is, you’ve been the man for 40-something years. Now what about the boy? What can you do for him?”

            “What boy? You mean me?”


            “That would be interesting. Hmm.”  Robert smiled. “I have to think about that.”

            “You should. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’re not the first guy to retire without a game plan, and there are people who can help you think it through.”

            “I like that. Thanks!”

            “Happy to help. Good luck, slugger.”


An arm from behind him reached across his shoulder and placed a steaming cup of dark liquid on the table. He looked up to see a petite brunette in a navy suit step swiftly around the table, pull out the chair opposite his own, and sit. She smiled.

“Thank you,” he said. “Is this for me?”

“You wanted latte, right?”

“I did. And I am guessing you have something you want to talk about.”

“Yes,” she said. “Do we introduce ourselves?”

“If you want,” he said. “I’m Ned. I work here.”

“Amanda. Nice to meet you.”

He sipped from the cup. “Thanks for the drink. What’s on your mind?”

“Work issues mostly,” she said. “I’m encountering some obstacles and I thought it would help to talk them through with somebody.”

“I’m honored,” he said. “But why not someone at work?”

“See, that’s the problem. I’m in a delicate position at the moment. There’s no one I can trust to give me objective advice, because whatever I do affects their careers, so they can hardly be objective.”

“I see. Well, I suppose I can bring the objectivity of one who knows absolutely nothing about you or your workplace. So what is this delicate position you’re in?”

“It’s called management.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of it.”

“I’m a section leader, with five reports. I report to the vice president.”

“You’ve come far quite fast, I would guess.”

“Thank you. It’s a lot of responsibility considering I’m only 31.”

“Good for you.”

She smiled. He waited. He had found that silence could be productive; most people found silence uncomfortable and would eventually speak just to fill the void.

“I think the problem is this,” she said at last. “People respect me, but I don’t know that anyone likes me.”

“Do you want to be respected?”


“But you also want to be liked?”

“Well, yeah. Doesn’t everyone?”

“I wasn’t asking about everyone. I was asking about Amanda.”

“Yes, I do want people to like me. “

“Do you think the people who report to you can be your friends?”

“That’s a tough one. Maybe not. Maybe it’s more important that they respect me.”

“And how about the vice president you report to?”

“I definitely want him to like me. But I need him to respect me too.”

“Is he a friend?”

“Sure, we’re friends. Work friends, I guess.”

“And the people who report to you – are they work friends?”

“Yes, I guess that’s right.”

“But work friends aren’t real friends?”

“Not really.”

“So what’s a real friend?”

“Somebody you can tell your secrets to and not worry they’ll go blab them to the world. Someone who you can go shopping with for a day. That sort of thing.”

“Do you have any friends like that?”

“Right now? I guess not.”

“Does that matter to you?”

“Not really. I mean, I have so many good things in my life right now. It’s not like I need a best friend. But it would be nice to have someone like that.”

“Have you tried converting work friends into real friends?”

“That’s where I have a problem. Because what if I get very close to someone, and then I have to fire them? Besides the awkwardness of that, it’s unprofessional.”



“Do you have to fire a lot of people?”

“Unfortunately, I have. I’m a great team leader – that comes through in all my evaluations – but you have to have the right people on the team to meet your goals. It’s hard to find people who work well as a team, which is why I’ve had to replace a few people. Well, a lot of people actually. It seems like all I do lately is interview people for positions.”

“Let me ask this: how do you see yourself as a manager?”

“Demanding but fair.”


“I have to be demanding, because my vice president expects me to meet certain goals. I depend on my team to meet our goals, and when one of them lets us down, we need to fix that problem.”

“By firing him?”

“Sometimes. Not the first time, but if it happens repeatedly, then yeah. It’s for the good of the team.”

“Well, Amanda, you strike me as the kind of manager that would be an executive’s fondest dream.”

“Thank you.”

“And an employee’s worst nightmare.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I worked for you, I’d be scared to death that you would fire me if I made a mistake.”

“That’s not true!”

“Perhaps not, but that’s what I hear in what you’re telling me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because you care quite a lot about making your goals, and not so much about the people you need to accomplish them.”

“Bullshit. I care about them a lot. I need them to work hard so we can make our goals.”

“Our goals?”

“The goals I’ve been given by the vice president.”

“Your goals, In other words.”

“Yes, my goals, but they’re our goals too. We achieve them as a team.”

“The team being…?”

“Me and my reports.”

“See, I think that may be a problem.”


“That you see the members of your team as ‘reports.’ Not people.”

“Of course they’re people.”

“People first? Or reports first?”

“It’s not one or the other. They’re both. What are you saying?”

“I’m just saying, if I were a member of your team, I would hate to think that you saw me merely as ‘a report.’ It wouldn’t motivate me to do my best for you.”

“Why not?”

“Because it doesn’t suggest that you think very much of me.”

“I don’t get it. That’s what everyone’s called. I’m one of my vice president’s reports. My team are my reports. What’s the big deal?”

“It’s the language of hierarchy. It says to me that you see yourself as superior and me as inferior.”

“That’s not true! I mean, it is true that there’s a hierarchy in the business of who reports to whom, but not in a human sense.”

“No? “

“I care about people. I’m a people person.”

“I’m sure you are, Amanda. Let me ask this: has anyone who reports to you ever been promoted?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve only been in the position a little over a year.”

“How many are on your team?”

“Right now, four. We have one opening.”

“How many people have been dismissed from your team in the time you’ve led it?”

“Let’s see…three. No, four.”

“So it sounds like you’ve had 80 percent turnover in a year.”

“I guess that’s so if you put it that way.”

“And if I were a member of your team, that would have me wondering, ‘Am I next?’”

“You might be, if you don’t do your job well.”

“But I might be, even if I do perform well. The odds are four-to-one that you’ll fire me eventually.”

Amanda pondered that for a moment.

“So let me just reflect back to you the picture you’ve painted: you’re the boss of five people. They have to work hard and well for you to succeed. If they are not helping you meet your goals, they will be replaced. You get rewarded if you meet your goals. I suspect your ‘reports’ get little or no reward for helping you meet your goals.”

“They get raises.”

“Do they get credit for what you – they – have accomplished? Or does the credit fall on you?”

“Let me think about that.”

“I think you know the answer. So again, just based on the picture you’ve painted, I suspect the people on your team don’t feel very valued. I would guess they feel afraid of you, afraid that any mistake could mean the end of their job. In which case, they are more likely to play it safe than to take risks. They certainly won’t leap to take risks so that you reap the glory. They may feel that you don’t really value them except as instruments that you play to sound good to your own boss.”

Ned paused and sipped his latte. After a brief pause, he asked, “Does any of this sound possible?”

“Unfortunately, yes. But I’m not sure I can do anything about it.”

“You definitely can’t if you don’t want to.”

“Even if I do want to. The business is hierarchical. Everyone has to play by the same rules.”

“Pardon me. I don’t know for sure, since I don’t know your company, but I would venture to guess that that’s not true.”

“What’s not?” “That everyone has to play by the same rules. I think you’ll find that managers have different styles. Some do it the way you do, and others may get the results they want using another method. Are you into sports?”

“I follow college basketball pretty closely.”

“Perfect. Then you understand this principle. You know there’s not one way to coach a basketball team and get great results. There are as many ways as there are coaches, and players.”

“But we’re talking business, not basketball.”

“We’re talking about team-building. You’re smart, you’re capable, you have leadership abilities, but you haven’t yet figured out team-building, or you wouldn’t have 80 percent turnover. Changing players is not going to create a winning team for you if you don’t understand how to motivate those players and make it in their interest to help you. That’s all I’m saying. And I hope you find it worth a cup of latte.”

“Well, at least you’ve given me something to think about,” said Amanda. “Thanks for your time.”


Tiffany had a plain face and a slender build. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back and piled atop her head. Her makeup was minimal, and her faded jeans and workshirt suggested either a woman bereft of vanity or one who had stopped trying. She looked to be somewhere in her late twenties to early thirties.

“My boyfriend doesn’t appreciate me,” she started, once she had delivered a cup of latte and sat down. “When we first were together, I was happy to do anything he wanted. We partied with his friends, saw movies that he picked out, ate out where he chose, and at first I was okay with that. But when I started suggesting places I wanted to go or things I liked to do, he wasn’t interested. In fact, he didn’t seem interested in anything I had to say.”

“Do you think you changed from who you were?”

“Does speaking up for myself count as a change?”

“I would think so.”

“Then yeah, I guess I did. Before, I was so in love that it didn’t matter to me. Now that I look back on it, maybe I was afraid that I might mess up a good thing. So what happened was, I became a doormat and he just walked all over me.”

“I take it that now you’ve started speaking up about your needs and preferences.”

“I have.”

“How has he responded?”

“Not well. He blames me for questioning his judgment and – what else? Oh, undermining his masculinity.”

“I see. So the problem is he doesn’t appreciate you if you’re going to have a mind of your own?“

“That’s it.”

“Well, are you willing to go back to being a doormat?”

“I couldn’t. Not now. I see too clearly now. I’ve had my eyes opened.”

“Oh. Can you tell me a little about how your eyes were opened?”

“Talking with my girlfriends, mostly. Seeing how they could speak up to their boyfriends about what they wanted and it didn’t break up their relationship. It made me feel dumb, to be honest, for thinking I had to be quiet to keep my boyfriend. Also I read some books, and I took some courses in women’s studies, and I started to see the bigger picture.”

“Which is…?”

“You know, about male patriarchy and how women are oppressed and held down.”

“So now you see things with a new awareness. And I’m guessing your boyfriend hasn’t read those books and doesn’t have that awareness yet?”

“I left a few books lying around the apartment. Did he read them? I seriously doubt it.”

“Well, perhaps he read enough to talk about ‘undermining his masculinity.’”

“Maybe. I just think he’s wondering whatever happened to the doormat, because she doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Must put a strain on your relationship.”

“You can’t imagine.” Tiffany’s face contorted with pain and the tears began to leak from her eyes. “He hasn’t come home for a week.”

“Oh dear.” Ned pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to Tiffany. She dabbed her eyes.

“We had a fight. He said I was different, and I said I was the same, I just hadn’t been speaking up before. But I said, ‘This is the authentic me, so you need to deal with it.’ He said, ‘I need some time to think about it,’ and he walked out.”

“Is that what you wanted?”

“No, God no! I miss him. I thought we had a good thing going. I just wish we could go back to the way things were.”

“Even if it means being a doormat?” She sniffed.

“Not that part,” she said. “I want him back, but I want him to love the real me.”

“You may get lucky,” he said. “He may love you enough to come back and say you were right. But I wouldn’t count on it. It seems more likely to me that he’ll come back to see if you’re ready to apologize and turn back into a doormat.”

Tiffany broke down again into sobs. He waited until they had diminished to sniffles.

“Relationships are not static things, like rocks.” he continued. “They are dynamic. They have to be, because people are dynamic, with a range of emotions. When relationships are satisfying, it’s because they are in balance. So, for instance, your relationship was in balance as long as your boyfriend called all the shots and you were the doormat. You were happy, he was happy, things were stable. But your awareness of being treated as the unequal partner altered the balance.”

“Are you saying I was wrong?”

“I’m not talking about right or wrong. I’m just talking about balance. You’re not the same person who walked into this relationship. I’m guessing that he is exactly where he was when you met. So for there to be a balance again, he has to change to adjust to the new you, or you have to forget all you’ve learned and go back to being the old you. If he changes, you can work together to find a new balance. If he doesn’t, you can go return to your mousy, doormat self or you can say this doesn’t work for me and I’ll get out.”

“You don’t think he’ll accept me as I am?”

“Tiffany, I don’t know the guy. Maybe he will. Do you think he will?”

“No. Not really.”

“If you’re right, then you have to decide what’s more important to you: keeping this relationship alive, or being who you really are – in which case, you’ll need to find a new relationship with someone else who respects that.”

“I might not have that choice,” she said. “He may just decide to give up.”

“True. And how would you handle that?”

“Oh, pretty badly.” She smiled. “I get pretty emotional. But if he won’t let me be myself, then living with him means I’ll just be sacrificing myself all the time just to keep him happy. And that doesn’t sound fair.”

“It’s certainly not good for your long-term happiness. I’ve known a lot of women who tried that and then at some point just rebelled. It makes for interesting movies but it’s a hard way to live.”

“Then on the other hand, I may make sacrifices to keep him, and he might still up and leave me, and then it would all have been for nothing.”

“Also true.”

Tiffany sat and thought for a few minutes. “I guess I first have to see what he says when he comes back – if he comes back – and go from there.”

“I heard that as the statement of a strong, confident woman who has choices and who’s determining her own destiny.”

“Gee, thanks. You’re sweet to say so.”

“Good luck. Let me know how it works out, okay?”

“I hope I don’t just dissolve in a puddle and beg him to take me back if I promise to be the mousy little doormat again.”

“Be strong,” he said.



The words were neatly printed on the white cardboard sign on the third table from the door in Hometown Brew. Behind the sign sat a neatly dressed elderly gentleman, his hair (or lack of it) obscured by his grey newsboy cap, his light blue shirt offset by a maroon bowtie. His trimmed moustache was in the process of turning from gray to white; and his eyeglasses were square and black rimmed.

A slender twenty-something woman dressed in blue jeans, a maroon scarf about her neck, approached. Her dark hair was pulled back, and she wore fashionable gray eyeglasses.

“What is this exactly?” she asked him.

“Exactly what it says,” said the man. “I’ll listen to you in exchange for a cup of latte.”

“Are you a psychiatrist?”

“Now, now. There’s no need to hurl insults.”

“Oh!” The woman blushed slightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t–”

“Just yanking your chain,” he said, grinning.

“Oh.” I still don’t get it,” she said. “Why are you doing this? Is this some perverted scheme to pick up women?”

“Why, is it working? No, I always hear women complaining that men don’t really listen to them. They interrupt. They talk over them. They don’t take them seriously. I’m just hoping to redress the balance a little.”

“That’s not like therapy?”

“Maybe you’ll find it therapeutic,” he answered, “but I’m not trained for that. I don’t promise to solve your problems or repair your relationships,” he said. “I just promise to listen with- ” he pulled himself up straight in his chair – “my complete attention.”

“How do I know you’re really listening and not thinking about a football game?”

“That would be a serious breach of ethics.”

“Whose ethics?”


She looked him up and down for a minute, looking for chinks in the armor. “Okay,” she said. “How do you take your coffee?”

“Latte. A small is fine.”

“When you finish a small, does that mean my time is up? Maybe I should order a medium,” she said.

“A small. If you have more to say, the second latte is on me.”

Ten minutes later she was back with his latte and her own cappuccino. She sat across the table from him and stirred her drink.

Nicole: What Do Men Want?

 “So where do I start?” she said.

“How about with an introduction?” He extended his right hand across the table. “Ned Miller.”

She shook his hand tentatively. “Nicole. I’m embarrassed. I never even asked your name.”

“Have you ever done this before?”

“What? Spilled my guts to a perfect stranger? Never.”

“So there’s no need to be sorry,” he said. “You had no way of knowing what to do. Now Nicole, you wouldn’t consider doing this if there weren’t something on your mind that you need to talk about. I’m happy to listen.”

She took a deep breath. “Okay,” she said, “Let’s try this. I don’t understand what men want.”

“That’s a universal complaint. Can you be more specific?” he asked.

“So I’ve had three steady boyfriends in the past…oh, five years. Everything seems to be great at first, you know? We talk, we cuddle, we go out to clubs. Then they act more distant. Then they walk out. Is it them or is it me?”

“What was it that attracted you to these boyfriends?” he asked.

“Well, the last one had a really cute butt.”

“And this love-them-and-leave-them routine has happened with three boyfriends?”


“Once is a tragedy. Twice is bad luck. Three times is a pattern,” he said.

“A pattern? Are you saying this is all my fault?”

“Not at all,” he said. “Hold that thought while I try to tackle your first question. What do men want? They want a warm body in bed for …you know. That’s the main thing. After that, I’d say they just want convenience.”

“Fast food?”

“No, someone who will make their life easier.”

“By keeping beer in the fridge?”

“That’s a start,” he said. ”And cooking their meals. And keeping their clothes washed and neatly pressed. And picking up after them. Maybe even having kids and raising them.”

“Sounds like a maid service.”

“Maybe. Now here’s what they don’t want: somebody who bombards them with her problems and expects him to listen and be wise and sympathetic and compassionate.”

“A relationship?”

“That’s a fuzzy word. It may mean one thing to you and something else to most men. What does it mean to you?”

“What you were just saying. Someone who listens to my problems. Somebody who cares enough about me to be there when I need him.”


“And that’s not what men think of as a relationship?”

“I can’t speak for all men. But for most of the ones I know, they define a relationship as a steady diet of sex.”

“Then why not just get a whore?”

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you, why would he pay for the cow when he can get the milk for free?”

“So you’ve met my mother?”

“I might have dated her in high school.”

“So men just want the sex, without the intimacy? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Intimacy. That’s another fuzzy word. If by intimacy, do you mean caring about another person’s emotional needs, knowing them so well you don’t even need words to communicate, that sort of thing?”


“That’s one definition. But do you know how men define it?”

“In terms of fucking.”

“You see?” he said. “You do understand.”

“Well goddammit!” She slammed her cappuccino cup onto the saucer – not hard enough to shatter it, but hard enough to cause everyone in the coffeehouse to stop conversations in mid-syllable and look over. “Oh. Now I’m embarrassed,” Nicole said.

“No need to be embarrassed,” he said. “I get that a lot when people talk to me.”

“But this is so depressing!”

“Not necessarily,” he said. “Remember my comment earlier about three being a pattern?”

“Yeah. So?”

“So – the men you’ve paired up with are all of a type, and so the results are very predictable.”

“How do you know? You don’t know them.”

“I don’t know, but I’m making an inference. The way you described it, the same thing happens every time. That leads me to believe all these men think pretty much the same way.”

“You said all men think that way.”

“Did I? I apologize. I meant to say, most men think that way.”

“So how do I find the ones that don’t?”

“Well, you could start by looking for them.”

“Yeah, but how?”

“If you want to catch a different type of fish, you may have to change bait.”

“I’ve never fished. What are you saying?”

“If you use sex appeal to attract a man, you’ll likely catch a man who’s interested in sex.”

“Yeah, but what other way is there? Are you saying I shouldn’t waste my time trying to look attractive?”

“You’re quite attractive, but that’s not my point. Just hear me out. If you’re looking for a man who’ll listen to you and share feelings with you and stay with you for the long term, maybe that should be a bigger priority than whether he has a cute butt.”

“But a cute butt would be nice.”

“I’m sure it would, but your experience seems to be that they end up being buttheads.”


“You may even find that you’re already around men who are better bets for intimacy as you define it, but you never noticed them because that wasn’t what you were focused on.”

“Hmm. I wonder…”

“You’ve told me that what you’ve been doing isn’t getting you what you want. You’re tired of repeating the same play over and over. Something has to change if you want a different result. So perhaps the best way is to change what you look for first in potential partners.”

“Damn. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you, Ned, that really helped.”

“Worth the price of a latte?”

“Worth every penny. Can I give you a hug?”

“I would consider that a generous tip.”