Distracted at the Tea Ceremony

My fiancée, Meredith, and I were sitting crossed-legged on cushions around a low wooden table with the tea ceremonialist and two other young women. Now and then, a gray cat jumped onto our laps.

The tea ceremonialist took a black pot from an electric heater and poured the liquid into our ceramic mugs. We contemplated the earthy flecks at the bottom. We sipped loudly.

“Everything is perfect,” the tea ceremonialist said in a soothing voice.

I closed my eyes. For a moment, she seemed correct.

But just overhead in this dining room — part of a secluded wooden house in the mountains northwest of Boulder, Colo. — was a ceiling fan.

It was the very same ceiling fan that my friend Larry had used to play a prank on me during a teenage sleepover: While I was taking a shower, he emptied the contents of my wallet; and then, while leaning out of an opening from a third-story room, he laid them on the fan blades. When I got out of the bathroom, Larry switched on the fan, laughing as my cash, credit cards, driver’s license and receipts flew through the room in a blizzard of personal effects.

It was also here that my father, a family doctor on an anti-cholesterol kick in the 1980s, served butter-substitute and egg-white pancakes to me and my friends on Sunday mornings. My friend Jonathan labeled them “hypocritical pancakes”: While Dad was scrupulous about heart-healthy baking, he tossed scoopfuls of chocolate chips into the batter.

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