Thursday, January 14, 2010

story time (or "it's just a meal")

(from a creative writing course i took in 2003)

"It's Just a Numbers Game!"

“Honey – finding Prince Charming, your Soul Mate, or whatever you wanna to call him, requires emotional and spiritual capital. At least that’s what Oprah and Dr. Phil say. But in my opinion, it’s a lot simpler than that – it’s just a numbers game. You gotta start somewhere, somehow, with a first date. And now that you’re free from corporate America, it’s all about the NEW you! Focus on yourself and your love life.” I looked at him, fidgeted and pulled back my shoulders. “That’s better, Sweetie. And unbutton your sweater a l’il bit if you decide that you like him. All men appreciate cleavage! Even I do. See you later!”

At 3:30 PM, these were the parting words of Todd, my gay friend, spoken before I would drive Downtown at 6 PM to meet my first It’s Just a Meal blind date for drinks.By 7 PM, my date with Aaron, “the 42-year old, 6 foot 2, athletic guy, the artist, the really nice guy,” would end. With my sweater still buttoned after meeting Aaron, I asked myself, “How many more dates would be followed by “The Drive of Shame” to Todd’s restaurant? How would I explain to Todd that the nine planets aligned to play a twisted joke on me? What was I going to tell It’s Just a Meal?

Just a week ago, Tiffany, the Executive Director of It’s Just a Meal, escorted me to her ocean view office. The room was littered with red and white pom-poms. I was barely seated before she picked up a pair of pom-poms, pranced in front of her office desk, and deafeningly cheered, “When We Jam, You Jam. It’s all about IJAM! Goooo Team!” Suddenly, she tossed ME a pair of pom-poms and cheered two more times. In a Jekyll and Hyde moment, Tiffany straightened her very fashionable suit, snatched my pom-poms, and said, “Now then, let’s totally get down to business.”

After completing IJAM’s six page questionnaire, I confided in Tiffany about the man I wanted to date. “Shit!” I thought. “The fate of my dating life rests in the hands of this cutesy, 20-something, hip-hugger wearing, valley-girl talking, cotton-candy smelling chick whose hair has been highlighted to the point of incandescence.” In between her “oh m’gawds” and “totallys”, Tiffany’s sales pitch of IJAM’s blind date, matchmaking service for professionals was surprisingly compelling. Of course, she never said “blind date”, and she never said “matchmaking,” but she did make it a point to repeat “professionals”. “Oh m’gawd! I’m sooo excited! I have four guys in mind who are awesome! IJAM is sooo for you!” Without even asking if I was interested, Tiffany lunged at me with a pen and their contract. I was stunned by the five-tier membership options. But despite their fee structure, I decided to go the distance, became a Platinum Member and promised never to look back after signing my check over to IJAM. Wrong. One week later, I would sit in my car, breaking my promise.

While warming up my car a before meeting Aaron, the artist, I thought, “Wow! There are professional artists? Maybe he’s a famous painter, a musician in a rock band, or a soprano in the opera?” Whatever he was, the artist would get to see the new me – contact lenses, red lipstick, foundation to mask the emerging zit on my cheek, and a cleavage-promoting top. I grabbed my calculator out of my purse. Before punching the calculator keys, I checked my armpits – still dry. “Just one last time before my date,” I obsessed. “Must do the math, again. Just one last time.”

I barely heard the click of the keys over the hum of my car engine. 93 75 for each date (for 16 dates) or 125 a month for 12 months. But when I subtracted the 200 dollar interview fee with Tiffany and her pom-poms, it was 81 25 a date or 108 dollars and 33 cents a month. I convinced myself about the need to account for the interview fee. With my “new math”, it made the whole endeavor sound just a little cheaper. Less the 200 dollar interview fee, I already saved 12 50 for each date. Sure the logic was whacked, but the math was correct. Because no matter how often I punched my calculator, no matter how I approached this first date, I was faced with the dizzying reality that the only number that really mattered was fifteen hundred dollars – the price of a Platinum Membership with It’s Just a Meal.

I arrived Downtown; the hostess pointed to my date. Aaron was seated at the trendy bar, sipping a white zinfandel, and admiring himself in the wall mirror behind the bar. As the hostess escorted me to a vacant barstool next to him, he turned around. His eyes immediately locked onto mine with an intense, searching gaze. After a few seconds, during which he apparently decided he was satisfied with the view, he silently presented me with a single white rose and gently kissed my hand.

When he looked up, I began my own nonchalant perusal of his appearance. His salt-and-pepper mullet-hairstyle created a perfect frame for his Elvis Costello glasses, tan leathery skin, and straight white teeth. He wore a large quartz crystal hanging from a black leather strap and was quietly bouncing on his barstool, grinning and patting the empty stool next to him. I sat down to his right. In the air, I could taste his heavy-handed application of Old Spice cologne. I sneezed and then I ordered a martini and a double shot of vodka. Aaron coyly smiled. When the bartender served our drinks, Aaron grabbed the martini glass, swirled and sniffed its contents, nodded approvingly, and handed the glass to me. As he ran his finger through his hair, the first words out of his mouth were, “Wonderfully fragrant, M’Lady.” I sucked down half of my martini.

“Okay! He’s a professional artist.” The words spun in my head. “Now THAT whole swirl thing was a little strange, but it’s not a deal killer.” Under my breath, I repeated the mantra, “… numbers game. It’s just a numbers game. It’s just … ” Down went the vodka double shot.

Tiffany was right; Aaron was definitely 6-2. Athletic? Sure, I could see that. But she neglected to say one thing – once he got started, he couldn’t stop. Aaron was a chatterbox – sports, weather, politics, business – never anything personal, never anything engaging. He was like an audio U.S.A. Today newspaper. Not only that, his gestures gracefully complemented every word he spoke. Then, on the rare occasions when I was able to get a word in edge-wise, he invaded my personal space, stroked my left wrist, and eagerly nodded at every other syllable I uttered.

“Oh my god! It’s only 15 minutes into the date!” Did IJAM require a minimum amount of time for each date? Regardless, I decided that ending a date before 30 minutes would surely be frowned upon. “31 minutes and I’m outta here!” Suddenly, as if Aaron heard my thoughts, there was an awkward silence. He fidgeted on his barstool. He stared into the mirror and stroked the quartz crystal lying atop his Adam’s apple. Then, his eyes nervously darted around the restaurant as if he needed to find the nearest exits.

“Oh no you don’t!” The words blared in my head. “Don’t even think about it, Artsy-Fartsy Man! I just got here! 93 75 or 81 25, Dammit! I’m getting my money’s worth.”

Suddenly, he swiveled on his stool and invaded my space, “So, what do you do for a living?” I was flustered. He wanted to converse. I sipped what was left of my martini and said, “I recently left a small energy consulting company to start my own business. I consult with power plants on environmental issues.” To that, he interrupted, “Oh! Do you work with peakers?” My eyes bugged-out; if I was a cartoon character, I’m sure they would’ve been the size of Jupiter while hanging off their sockets! Then I realized that we might have something in common! “What the hell, Aaron!? IJAM told me you were an artist. Only power industry people say peakers!”

Proudly he said, “Oh, you’ll find that I’m a man of many hats. For almost 5 years, I used to work with wind energy. I got sick of seeing piles of dead birds, so I cashed in my stock options right before the dot-com crash. Then my guardian angel helped me find my true calling. I quit my job and became a street artist. I’m a mime.”

Dazed and almost choking on my words, I mumbled, “True calling? Mime? Wind energy? Uh, the company I just left, Green Energy Elements, is in Pleasantland. I worked there for … ” Before I could finish, he talked over my words, “Oh! Bob and Larry? I know them.” His soliloquy began again – yack, yack, yack, yack, yack – another speech about nothing, arms waving like that of a symphony conductor.

Holy shit! I’ve payed 93 75 or 81 25 – whatever the hell the amount - for a random mime to remind me that we lived in a small world. My first IJAM date is reciting the names of my former employers – “former” as of only twelve days ago. Bob and Larry - their names rang in my head. I downed my martini with lightning speed. Then I looked up at Aaron for sympathy; but he had no clue about the flashback turmoil I was experiencing the moment he said their names. He was too busy impressing himself with his own stories. Bob and Larry – Larry and Bob. After a year, I got a severance package and took my lawyer’s advice to remain calm and not go postal as they disingenuously wished me “good luck in all your future endeavors.”

Oh my God, now it’s only 25-minutes into my date with the Bay-City-Roller-Wanna-Be. After he reminisced about the “the good ole days” with Bob and Larry, he was exploring new, uninteresting tangents. Why was Aaron still talking while I obviously had a plastered smile poised atop my bobble head acknowledgment of his empty words? By 7PM, I knew this would be our only date. His being really nice had some benefits, but his being really boring did not. I shook his hand and got my parking stub validated.

81 25, plus drinks, plus a Mime. Priceless.

When I waved at Todd through his restaurant’s window, it was 8 PM. He efficiently seated a table of eight, and acknowledged me with his signature beauty-pageant hand wave. He had his sassy hair highlighted and gelled, and he wore yet another one of his to-die-for outfits. The waiting area was packed, the bar was crowded, but regardless, he quickly rushed outside. He gave me a huge bear hug, kissed me on both cheeks, and pulled at one of my sweater buttons. “Snatch-Basket! You look great! But where’s the cleavage? Is he a painter? Do tell all, but make it quick. We’re totally slammed.”

I took a deep breath. “He’s not a painter. He’s a new-agey-mullet-wearing-mime that used to work for Bob and Larry. What a small-fucking-world?” Todd gave me a comforting hug and said, “Ah, Sweetie! That sucks. He sounds like a poor bastard. Dump him.”


[by Shirley © 2003]

4 comments:

  1. $81.25? Well, that's a small(ish) price to pay to know for certain that former Bob & Larry associates are not for you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love it! You're a great writer! You should submit this to LifeBytes: http://singleagainonlinediary.blogspot.com/2010/06/podcast-with-lifebytes-editors-real.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. yvette ... thanks for the self-esteem boost! i'll check out lifebytes!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fun and funny story. I liked it!

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...