I read an article once that claimed if you added up all the time you’ve spent waiting and bored over the years it would amount to roughly one fourth of your life.
Add up all those wasted hours spent in that noisy government office waiting to get your license plates renewed. Then tack on all that time you’ve spent in the drive-through waiting behind a line of cars for the burger of the month that ends up tasting like shit anyway. Add on all the time you’ve spent waiting for your girlfriend or wife to get ready, to put a few more layers of makeup and make her hair perfect. Calculate how much time you’ve wasted waiting for that friend who’s always late…
… Or waiting at the repair shop for your car to be ready, or sitting in traffic every morning and every night, or waiting behind some old lady at the grocery store checkout while she spends an eternity digging through her purse for a few pennies.
Add it all up and just like the article claimed, suddenly you realize a fourth of your life is missing. I used to be eighteen and all the sudden I’m twenty-nine. How the hell did that happen?
Ok, so if waiting and boredom account for a fourth of my life where did the rest go? I guess it only stands to reason that if we waste a fourth of our lives waiting then we probably waste another fourth sleeping and taking naps. Sleeping is great, it’s really one of my favorite things. But when you realize that you’ve spent a fourth of your life asleep was it really worth it?
Like have you ever noticed how elderly people begin to sleep less and less as they get older? Some people will tell you that it’s part of the aging process. But if you ask me, I think they’re just wise to the whole scam.
Well, at least I have the other half of my life to do whatever I want with. Except for that part of my life where I’m stuck in meetings for an entire day.
Yes I know, meetings are a big part of the business world and I suppose from time to time they’re actually necessary. But more times than not they turn out to be a complete waste of time. I try to avoid them but I always get pulled in somehow. Someone invite Craig to next weeks’ meeting. We might need a copy writer’s perspective on this. Shit!
The other day I got sucked into a meeting and at the door they hand me my complimentary piece of paper to doodle on (the agenda). I read through it and the whole purpose of the meeting was, and I’m not shitting you here. The purpose of the meeting was to plan other meetings.
I’ve never met the guy but I suspect somewhere in my company there’s a guy named Arnie and that’s his job – to plan meetings. You know, Arnie Filberstein, Director of Meetings, Blockbuster Entertainment. ‘Please attend the meeting next Tuesday at 2 PM. We don’t know what the meeting will be about yet but we’ll figure something out before then,’ Arnie would tell you.
I know I’m not the only one that feels this way because a quick glance at most people’s notes usually reveals just how much anyone really gets out of these things. You know, everyone shows up with their organizers and notepads and their favorite pen to takes notes right? But watch, no one really takes any do they? If you were to look at their notepads you’d find hundreds of mostly empty pages with maybe two or three items written at the top of each page.
It’s really pretty easy to deduce that those hundreds of empty pages represent hundreds of past meetings just like this one where they didn’t take any notes either.
More often than not the two items in my notes have nothing to do with the meeting at all. Instead, they’re things I’ve remembered while I’m sitting there bored as shit.
– call Dawn
– call Randall
– call Elizabeth don’t!
– get cat food on the way home tonight
– clean the fucking apartment
Tim nudges me and pushes his notepad at me. His notes consist of snide comments he’s been sliding my direction throughout the course of the afternoon.
– Check out Sarah. She looks more hungover than we do.
– Did you ever notice how Tarah’s tits are kind of perky? It’s like they’re saying ‘hello’ to the whole table. I think they’re waving at you. “Hi Craig!”
– If he says “directive” one more time I’m going to jump up and beat the shit out of him.
“We’re still not sure what kind of directive we’re going to get from home office. We’ll continue to ship signage as we have the demand. But at this time we’ll try to remain proactive to the needs of the higher volume stores,” the VP of Marketing says.
I glance over at Tim and he smiles but luckily he doesn’t carry through with his threat.
Finally the VP of Marketing notices the clock. 5:30 PM – and it’s Friday. By all rules of the workplace he has to shut up and let us leave. And he does.
“Alright, you all have a great weekend and maybe I’ll see some of you in the meeting next Monday.”
Not if I can help it Pal.
Tim has his cigarettes and lighter in his hand before he’s even out of the room and makes a mad dash out to the parking lot. I tag along.
The glass doors fly open and low and behold it’s beautiful outside. I shield my eyes from the sunlight and drop down heavily onto the curb.
“Jesus I’m hungover.” I sigh.
Tim lights up and takes a long drag.
“I don’t feel too bad anymore. I did for most of the morning but I think it had more to do with not getting any sleep.”
I roll the sleeves of my shirt up, folding the flannel pattern into perfect rectangles over my forearms. Today we’re getting an early taste of summer weather. It’s in the upper 70′s and we’ve missed most of the day sitting in a poorly lit meeting room listening to hours of endless corporate drivel.
“That was a great time last night, thanks for driving man.”
“Hey, no problem.”
“I wish we could have stayed in town and hung out though, with Marny and… shit, what was her friends’ name?”
“Yeah, they were pretty hot.”
Tim laughs. “No they weren’t. They were pretty average. I think you had the goggles on by the time we met them.” He takes another drag and of his cigarette and sits down next to me.
The crowd from the meeting is making a dash for their cars. Through the back windows of the office the rest of the place looks empty. Everyone else must have “disappeared” early for the weekend.
“You’re just saying that because you have a girlfriend and couldn’t have taken things any farther even if you’d wanted to.”
“No, I’m serious. They were really pretty average. I think your eyes are just open a little wider these days with all the action you’re getting. First you meet Dawn, then Elizabeth. Then you’re flirting with the sixteen year old at the carry out counter last night, then Dawn again, then that Marny girl.”
“I’m just girl crazy Tim. What can I say? Maybe it’s the spring weather or something. Who the fuck cares? I mean, I know I’m risking a bad case of cooties and all but that’s a risk I gotta take.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Well then what do you mean?”
“It’s just weird because I’ve known you for years. How long have we known each other? Since 90?”
“So that’s what? Eight years? And the whole time, it’s like you only have two gears: ‘Have girlfriend’ and ‘Don’t have girlfriend.’ When you have a girlfriend you’re contented and happy and you stop hanging out with me as much.”
“Well you don’t give blowjobs and I can’t have sex with you.”
He stubs out his cigarette.
“That’s absolutely correct Craig. I’m glad you’re totally clear on that point because it’s important you understand that.” He smirks. “But anyway, when you don’t have a girlfriend the weird part is you’re not much different than when you have one. You’re contented and happy, maybe you hang out with me more often or whatever. But you never… You never actively seek out women. They just sort of find you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I smile. I act like I don’t know what he’s talking about but I do.
“Well, I’ve never seen you cross a bar and strike up a conversation with a girl. I’ve never heard you use any obvious pickup lines or anything like that. You go eight months, sometimes a year without any action. And then one day you just show up at work, making out with some girl in the parking lot who just dropped your love-fool ass off from an overnighter. And that’s the way it is with you. You don’t do anything. They just drop out of the sky and land in your lap. I’ve watched it happen before.”
“Oh C’mon,” I object.
“They do! They do man!”
“Like who? Give me an example here.”
“Like, uh, Beth. Yeah! She’s a perfect example. We were at that Cardinals game… Jesus, how many years ago was that? Two? Three? And Beth and her friend walk up and ask if anyone’s sitting in the three seats next to us. They sit down. I strike up a conversation – and I emphasize the word ‘I’ here because you wouldn’t have if I didn’t. And then the people show up who had tickets for two of those vacant seats and instead of going back to their seats, her friend sits in the extra seat and Beth talks you into letting her sit on your lap. And it was true love,” he says sarcastically.
“Yeah, but I wouldn’t call that ‘falling out of the sky.’”
“Ok, so she fell out of the shitty upper-balcony seats at Busch Stadium. What’s the difference? She fell into your lap and the rest was history.”
“No, she sat on my lap. We hooked up. We enjoyed about six months of relative stability and then two horns grew out of her head, she went completely psycho on me, we treaded water for close to a year, and we agreed to call it quits. The rest is history.”
We pause as a few people walk by.
“Get the hell out of here, go home! It’s Friday!” Russell says on the way to his car.
“Yeah, fuck you Russell,” I mutter under my breath.
Tim waits for him to get out of earshot before he continues. It’s not like we’re hatching a plot or necessarily talking about anything too personal. But with an asshole like Russell you just know not to give him any ammo in the form of details about your personal life.
“So where was I going with all of this?”
“You were accusing me of meeting women by having them fall out of the sky and into my lap.”
“Oh yeah. Well I guess what I was leading up to is that lately that hasn’t been the case with you. Lately it seems like you’ve been making a do-or-die effort to meet women. You asked Dawn out. You asked Elizabeth out. You were on the prowl in Bloomington last night. It seems like you’re stuck in high gear or something.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“So what’s up with that? There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m just curious about what caused the change in you all the sudden.”
I don’t tell him that some guy named Randall is setting the dates up for me and that women are theoretically still dropping out of the sky and into my lap, albeit for the low, low price of $19.95.
I grind a rock into the blacktop with the toe of my shoe.
“I don’t know man. More than anything I’m beginning to realize that the women worth keeping are the ones you have to work for – the ones you have to pursue. Or at least that’s my most recent theory on why I’ve met so many psychos in my past.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the ones you let drop into your lap are the ones that always seem to turn out to be complete psychos in the end.”
“Well I’d love to have some drop in my lap. I think pretty much resigned myself to meeting that sort of woman. They’re all nuts.”
“Hey, I know you guys don’t get along very well and granted, I wouldn’t call Laura the most entertaining girl in the world, but I don’t think she falls into the psycho category,” I point out.
“Yeah I know, but I think she’s taking a classes on the side.”
“They have those?”
“Sure. Gun repair, Computer Technician, Psycho. You can take courses from the comfort of your home and get your degree in as little as eight weeks.”
“Heh. So are you serious? Are you finally thinking single again?”
“Yeah, I guess what you said at Winnies that night kind of hit home. And later that night I was sitting around outside the apartment smoking and trying to figure out why I’m still seeing her. And the best answer I could come up with is that I don’t know what the fuck I would do if I had to be single again. I just don’t feel like having to play the singles game. It’s way too much work.
For anyone other than you that is,” he tacks on at the last minute.
He lights another cigarette. This guy has a problem. It’s like he’s making up for the past six hours we’ve been in that meeting when he couldn’t get his fix. Normally he takes a smoke break every one and a half hours. So now he needs to smoke about three or four of them to make up for it?
“What do you mean, the singles game?” I ask.
“Well, you know, you walk across a bar and say, ‘Hey, you come here often?’ and then you strike up a conversation and then at the end of the night you make some attempt to get her phone number. And then you call her after a couple days or a week – whatever the current rule is. You ask her out to dinner and then what? A movie? Goofy golf? Samba Dancing? I don’t know what the hell people do on dates these days. And you go out and you’re both nervous and the conversation shutters back and forth between silence and bursts of activity… It’s just a big game.”
“Yeah, so what Tim? Life is one big game if you think about it. It’s not easy but we all play it. So what if being single is a game. Not being single is just as much if not more of a game. So you dating Laura, it’s like you’re playing ‘Candyland.’ And the rest of us single folks out here are playing Monopoly. You win Candyland by luck. You win Monopoly by hard work, careful planning and a whole lot of railroads. You take Orlando Gardens and that whole yellow part of the board and you…”
“Was there an analogy in there somewhere man? Because you lost me at some point.”
“I don’t know where I was going with that. But you can’t fear dating like it’s some big black hole Tim. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen to you? Rejection?”
Streaking. Arrest. Ex-husbands. Children that give you the finger. Celibacy. But I don’t say any these out loud. I don’t want to scare the shit out of him.
“Hey Randall. This is Craig. I’m calling in to let you know how my date went.”
“Oh yeah. Hold on for a second Craig.” He puts me on hold.
I’m walking around my apartment with the cordless phone. In the two hours I’ve been home I’ve nearly cleaned the entire place. And holy shit, I dusted in every room! I even hit the top of the refrigerator and behind the TV. That’s a once a year event for me, it really is.
Like I said, I’m a pretty tidy guy but dusting is such an unsatisfying task I just don’t get around to it very often. My tendency is to wait until you can actually see the dust because then it feels more like you’re actually getting something done.
Of course there’s a purpose to my manic cleaning spree. Before the last week or so I could get away with the weekly accumulations of mess around my apartment. But when you’re dating you never know when you might have unexpected or last-minute company. So I’ve dusted behind the TV and when I get undressed at night I throw my boxer shorts into the clothes hamper instead of my usual habit of hanging them on the nearest lamp.
“Ok,” Randall says, coming back on the line again. I hear a rustling of paper as he gathers his notes. “Let’s see. You went out with Elizabeth Birdstall on Wednesday. How’d it go?”
“I can’t complain.”
“You mean you haven’t talked to her yet?”
“Heh. So I have to fill you in. Cool.” I laugh. “I don’t know where to start. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It was a lot of fun. But let me see if I can sum up the whole evening without giving you an hour long blow-by-blow account.
“Let’s see… We went to this party in Chesterfield. We got pretty drunk. Then at her urging we went to go see her horse which was stabled not too far away from the party. His name was Bogart. And then somehow we ended up taking off our clothes and going streaking. We streaked through a Taco Bell and across a major intersection in West County. We had sex in rocket slide on a Catholic school playground. Then the police started chasing us. I got away but she got arrested.”
“Arrested? Streaking?” he asks calmly. I thought he would take this a lot differently but he acts like he hears this kind of stuff all the time. “So how’d all this happen? In talking to you I didn’t get the impression you were the streaking type.”
“What per se is the ‘streaking type’ anyway?” I chuckle. “I may not be a very good judge of character but even if I was I can’t imagine ever meeting someone and thinking, ‘You know, I better be careful around this guy. I could be wrong but I think he might be the ‘streaking type.’ He could throw all his clothes off and make a run for it at any moment.’”
“So who started it?”
“She did! Are you kidding me Randall? I’ve never done anything like that in my entire life. And I wouldn’t have on that date if she hadn’t used clever persuasion on me.”
“What’d she do?”
“She took off all her clothes, let me feel her tits and then she took off running. What else could I do but run after her?”
He laughs. “Sounds to me like you were a pretty willing participant.”
“Yeah, I was. And you know, I’ve told the story a couple of times now and I always paint her as this wild psycho girl who led me astray. But you know what? The more I think about it, running through West County naked, having sex in a rocket slide — I’ve been walking on the clouds ever since. A good friend of mine noticed and pointed it out to me this afternoon. Wait a… hold on for a second. Pork Chop!!!!”
I pull my cat out of the kitchen trashcan.
“Sorry about that, my cat was head-first into the trashcan. But anyway, I guess it’s like she noticed some forgotten switch behind my ear and said, ‘Hey, what’s this switch? It’s set on medium. Let’s flip it to high and see what happens.’ And I have to say, I’ve been walking around lately set on ‘high’ and it really feels good.”
“So you’re saying you want to go out with her again?”
“Well, I don’t know that we have very much in common. But I do know of at least one thing we have in common. Heh. Yeah, I think I could be persuaded to take her out again. Twist my arm.”
“I had a feeling she’d turn out to be Ms. Right,” he says, knowingly.
“I don’t know whether or not she’ll turn out to be Ms. Right, but you guys have found me a couple of really good candidates.”
“A couple?” he asks.
“I ran into Dawn last night at a concert in Bloomington. We’re supposed to go out in a few days.”
“Now wait a minute. She’s admitted to being celibate. We took her off the roster. You got all pissed that we sent you out with her in the first place and now you’re going out with her again?”
“Yeah, I know, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But somehow in a moment of drunken weakness last night I agreed to go out with her again.”
“And the fact she’s admitted she doesn’t have sex doesn’t concern you?” he asks
“Of course it does. Shit, I don’t know… I should have turned her down last night but I was just too drunk to be mean. I really was. But my friend Tim is cheering me on. He says I should see her as a challenge, that I should storm the barricades so to speak and try to change her mind.”
“I guess you should know – I had a long talk with her when we were considering removing her from the roster,” he says in an even voice. “And I have to say Craig, I really don’t think she’s wavering back and forth about her ideology.”
“Yeah, I get the same impression but I guess I’ll go out with her one more time for the hell of it. She’s a five-star cool girl. You had to pick that much up in your interview with her or you wouldn’t have sent me out with her in the first place.
“Maybe I’ll just end up being friends with her or something. I mean, there’s that whole ‘When Harry Met Sally’ argument that women and men can never really be friends because the guy will always want sex out of the deal. And I guess that’s pretty much a truth. I just haven’t met that many people in life who have their head soldering on like she does. I guess it would be kind of nice to have someone other than my friend Tim who I can totally and completely relate to.”
“For some reason I missed it in our interview with you Craig. But I’m beginning to see you as a man of risks.”
“I’m not! I’m totally not! I’ve never been a risk-taker Randall. If anything I’ve missed a couple million opportunities in my life by playing it safe. But lately, I don’t know. I guess I’m beginning to realize there’s nothing to be gained from sitting around and passively waiting for things to happen.
“If I hadn’t taken a risk and called your company even though, and I gotta be honest here Randall, even though I thought it was going to turn out to be a scam. If I hadn’t taken the risk then I would have never lived my life the way I have in the past week. It might have been been just another completely ordinary week in March of ’98.”
“You thought we were a scam? Why’s that?” he asks indignantly. I think I may have offended him.
“Well, uh, I guess for starters there’s the price. As a single guy I get a ton of mail from dating services like ‘Great Expectations’, and ‘Loveline’ – you name it. I don’t know how they figure out that I’m hopelessly single but somehow they do. Anyway, those places charge hundreds of dollars and there’s all kinds of hidden fees. You even have to make some stupid video and… there’s apparently just a whole bunch of bullshit you have to go through.
“Your service charges twenty bucks,” I continue. “And you’ve sent me out on multiple dates for that and with the exception of that whole celibacy thing, there hasn’t been any bullshit involved.”
“So why does that make us a scam?”
“Because it’s too good to be true. Things like this just don’t exist unless there’s some sort of scam or catch. And I don’t know, there’s other stuff I’ve noticed too. You have the youthful voice, and you guys don’t seem to keep consistent hours…”
“I have a youthful voice. What difference does that make? Maybe I can’t help it. Are you saying you’ve never met someone who sounded or looked younger than they really were? I think you’re just being a pessimist Craig. Sit back and think about it. So what if the other services empty your wallet and submit you to video interviews and all that. It doesn’t have to be that difficult.”
“It doesn’t have to be that difficult?” I repeat
“No, absolutely not. We’ve done the research. You’ll find that you can analyze dating from virtually any angle. You can flowchart it, take surveys, calculate probabilities. But when it gets right down to it, if you send two single people of roughly the same age out on a date who have a lot of the same qualities in common, there’s a fairly good chance they’re going to hit it off. There’s absolutely nothing scientific about it. That’s how we operate – no frills, keep it simple.”
“What about the price? How are you supposed to make a profit.”
“We’re a new business Craig. We’ll take a loss in our first quarter like any start-up does. But all the people we sign up and all the word of mouth… We’ll be fine by the third or fourth quarter. At the rate we’re moving I don’t have any doubt about that.”
“So I’m one of your first singles? I’m one of your loss-leaders?”
“Yes, I guess you could say that. Word of mouth is the best advertising in the dating game. When we succeed sometimes we average three or four new sign-ups as a result. People talk.”
“Alright, so maybe I’m being a pessimist. I’m sorry for doubting you guys. But you have to admit it’s kind of suspicious that I should be this fortunate all for the low, low price of $19.95.”
“What’s the phrase? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” he says.
“Ok, well can I ask one last question? Something that’s been bugging me for some reason since I first called you guys?”
“What the hell is up with that Human League song you play all the time — the one you denied was Human League when I called you on it.”
There’s a long pause. Finally I hear him pull in a breath that sounds a lot like exasperation.
“I like them.”
“I like them. I like the Human League. Alright?”
I laugh. “That’s it? You’re embarrassed to admit you like them?”
“Embarrassed to admit I like them? Yes. Is there some other mystery to it? No.”
“Why that song though? That’s the only song I ever heard you playing. What about ‘The Lebanon’ or ‘Mirror Man’ or ‘Don’t You Want Me’?”
“I think you’re making it into a big mystery Craig, and there isn’t one. I just like the song.”
“Maybe I am,” I admit. I’m suddenly at a loss for anything to say but I recover pretty quickly. “So I guess you guys can bill me now?”
“Yes it sounds like we finally can. I’m really happy everything worked out as it did. If anything we’ve found you a couple of good candidates. And now it’s up to you to figure out which one of them is Ms. Right,” he pauses. “Having said that, I guess this is the end Mr… I mean, Craig. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you…”
“Hey, it’s been great talking with you too Randall. Thanks for all your help. I don’t want to get too corny or anything but you’ve really changed my life.”
“Hey, no problem. That’s really cool you would say that.” He chuckles. “We might have to beg you some day to let us quote you on that for a commercial or something.”
“I’ll do it, I’d be glad to help out. And hey, can I call on your services in the future if things don’t end up working out? I think I might just have another twenty dollars to my name.”
“Well, I wouldn’t count on the twenty dollars deal again. My associates and I are probably going to raise prices soon. But yes, give us a call anytime. We’ll be here. Oh, and I almost forgot to tell you. There’s something you should know about Dawn. Now that she’s not with us anymore I guess I can level with you.”
This isn’t fair. She has a kid. She’s celibate. And here comes another skeleton about to jump out of the closet and scare the shit out of me. Who’s it gonna be this time? Larry the skeleton who represents that lesbian love affair she had that one summer? Or Pete the crazy skeleton who represents the time she spent in the mental institution.
As it turns out, it’s neither of them.
“She’s a closeted gay dance music lover.”
All things considered I have to say that this little fact is sort of a relief. Because truth be known, if Dawn would get over her little problem with sex I would go out and buy every Erasure, Bronski Beat, M People and Communards album available. I would wake up every morning listening to Ru Paul and go to bed at night listening to Diana Ross.
“I think I can deal with that.”
“Somehow I knew you could,” he says.
I’m cleaning the bathtub about an hour later when all this shit occurs to me that I should have asked Randall.
I grab a can of Lysol about the size of a fire extinguisher and bomb the bathtub with a huge cloud of disinfectant. I spray and spray for about as long as I can stand it before I have to literally run out of the room coughing.
I stand in the living room and watch the white cloud of chemicals drifting slowly out the bathroom door. Alright, I’ve think I’ve repeated a few times already that I’m a tidy guy. So I’m not so tidy when it comes to bathrooms, ok?
Usually I wait until it gets really ugly and then I don the protective clothing and nuke the whole room with every chemical in my under-the-sink arsenal. And it works! The bathroom bacteria and critters die by the millions and even my cat won’t go in there for a day or so.
I take off my rubber gloves, raincoat and hockey mask and wait for the noxious cloud to dissipate.
Randall told me about the gay dance music, but would he have told me more if I asked? Could I have learned even more about Elizabeth or Dawn? I mean, I could be wrong but I kind of felt like Randall was my comrade at the end there. Like he wasn’t just working for me but instead, was on my side.
I look around my apartment and I’ll be damned if it isn’t the cleanest it’s been since I moved in two years ago. I check the green-glowing clock on the VCR. 8:45. I need to get moving and make some calls and get this Friday night train on the tracks.
One last thing, change the sheets on the futon. There’s nothing cooler than being fortunate enough to bring someone back to your apartment and into your bed. But there’s nothing less cool than having to distract her while you cagily hide a stain or two from some previous encounter with a pillow and a discarded blanket. Not that I’m bad in the distraction department but it’s just a little more hassle. And besides, stains or not, I still have flannel sheets on the bed and it’s the middle of spring.
I change the sheets on the futon, throw the flannels into the close hamper and jump into the middle of the newly laundered bed. I lay on my back for awhile staring at the ceiling before I decide I better get moving with plans for Friday night. But first I need to call Dawn and see if she still wants to take that roadtrip to Kirksville.
I call her and after about ten minutes of verbal maneuvering around her daughter I actually get the chance to talk to her. But not before Lindy called me a “turd-face” and warned me that I’d better buy a sports car before I took her “sister” out again.
Finally Dawn gets on the phone.
“I’m really very sorry about Lindy, she’s having a really hard time with the fact I’m dating.”
I hear some rustling around on the other end.
“No I don’t!!! He’s just a…” Lindy starts to say. She must have been listening in from another phone somewhere in the house.
“Lindy! Get off the phone right now. If you’re not ready for bed by the time I’m off the phone you’re really in for some…”
“Once again, I’m really sorry about that.”
“No problem, really.”
“What was I talking about before the interruption?” she asks.
“You were talking about how Lindy has a problem with you dating recently.”
“Yeah, I need to take her to see someone. I just don’t know how to handle this. When she was born I read every single book possible on babies and how to raise children. But there was never a chapter on how young girls react to their divorced mothers beginning to date again.
I’ll read to you as soon as you brush your teeth… now get on upstairs.” She muffles the phone for a second.
I’m feeling old again. I mean, it was all really funny at first. I couldn’t stop laughing for about a minute when Lindy called me a ‘turd-face.’ But sitting her talking about her daughters’ problems and hearing her say the words ‘I’ll read to you as soon as you brush your teeth.’ It’s like an alter-reality. This is where I would be if I’d gotten married right out of high school or college.
“I’m sorry Craig, it’s just really difficult for me to talk when it’s Lindy’s bedtime. She has a real hang-up with going to bed at night. Can I call you after she’s asleep?”
“Well, actually, it’s Friday night so I might go out on the town in a bit here. I just wanted to call and see if you still wanted to go see Jonathan in Kirksville Sunday night.”
“Yeah, of course,” she says. “I was a little tipsy the other night, but I think I invited you. I’m going either way.”
“With or without me huh?”
“Well preferably with you but…”
“Mom!!!!!” I hear Lindy screaming in the background. “Benny-fish isn’t swimming or moving!!! I think he swam up to heaven!!”
“I have to go. I think I may have a goldfish with angels’ wings on my hands here.”
“Really quick, pick you up at 7 o’clock on Sunday night?”
“It’s a deal. Talk to you soon.” I hang up the phone.
I consider calling her back and making some excuse as to why I can’t make it. Children? Bedtime? Dead fish? What the hell am I getting myself into here? Where is this supposed to be going? What happens if Dawn and I actually do hit it off?
I guess if I were being honest with myself I’d realize that a part of me never thought it would get this far. Another part of me wonders whether it’s going to go farther. And then there’s yet another part of me that wants to move to another state, change my name, take up organic farming and get as far away from this whole mess as possible.
I think I liked not dating better. Less decisions and uncertainty and more time to watch cable TV.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to her that long. She had some kind of minor emergency and had to get off the phone. I think her daughter’s goldfish went belly-up or something.”
“So did you guys make a date or what?” Tim asks.
“Yeah, Sunday night I’m picking her up at 7. Hey, are you even gonna have time to shop? It’s like 9:15 and the Mall closes at 10.”
Tim swings into Crestwood Mall and cuts through Famous Barr’s parking lot towards the spaces near the atrium.
“I only need a few shirts. And besides, I pretty much know what I’m looking for.”
“So what’s with this sudden urge to shop? Usually Laura drags you to the Galleria and forces you to buy new clothes at gunpoint.”
And the gunpoint bit is only a slight exaggeration. Tim has this one ratty long sleeved denim shirt that he wears all the time. Laura’s warred with him for years about it but hasn’t succeeded in making him get rid of it yet.
I mean, I guess I can’t take sides on the issue. The shirt is so well worn-in it fits him like a glove and it’s been washed so many times that you just know it has to be the world’s most comfortable shirt. However, I can agree with Laura on at least one point. A man should own more than one shirt.
“I just need to buy some new clothes. I’ve let Laura buy me clothes for the last couple years and… It’s like when I was getting dressed this morning I kind of felt like I wasn’t me anymore. I looked at myself and I said, ‘This isn’t Tim, this is Laura’s Tim. I’m looking at Laura’s ideally dressed boyfriend.’ And it kind of pissed me off.”
“Man Tim, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions but it really sounds like you’re building up some momentum towards being single again.”
He pulls into a space, shuts off the car and unlatches his faceplate from his car’s stereo.
“Maybe I am. Who knows? I’m not gonna worry about that right now. I’m just buying some new shirts, ok?”
“So did you talk to Sarah?” I ask as we’re walking across the lot. “What’s she up to tonight?”
“I left a message for her. I think she hit Winnies with a few people from Finance. But I have my cell phone with me so I’m sure we’ll end up getting a call from her later on.”
I used to own a cell phone but I learned a hard lesson in the six months I had it. If you have a girlfriend and you’re stupid enough to let her find out the number then the phone is really nothing more than a really long leash.
I used to have this girlfriend who would call me all the time for no other reason than to see where I was. ‘Where are you?’ she’d ask. And I’d say, ‘At the Mall buying a book.’ And she’d say, ‘Oh’ and then she’d just sit there on the phone not saying anything.
Then after awhile she’d ask me why I wasn’t saying anything and I’d have to explain that the reason I wasn’t saying anything was because she wasn’t saying anything. ‘Hey, you called me. I’m just buying this book, alright? Was there something in particular you wanted to talk to me about or ask me?’ and then she’d ask when I was coming home.
If I remember correctly, I think we even broke up over that cell phone. Then I got rid of the damned primate-tracking device and I haven’t had one since.
“Oh my God! Look at all these fucking kids! Are the Spice Girls making a guest appearance tonight or something?” Tim asks, as we stroll through the automatic doors and into the mall.
“It’s a Friday night man, what’d you expect? Didn’t you ever hang out at the mall when you were younger?”
“Well then where’d you hang out then?”
“I grew up in Wisconsin and we had this really cool malt shop called the Dairy Mart. The local cops allowed us to hang out in the parking lot.”
“I want to go in here.” He veers into ‘Ambercrummy and Filch’, stepping around a crowd of teenagers near the door.
“Man, Beth used to try to get me to buy clothes from this place. It’s way too expensive. But I guess there’s nothing quite like buying a designer flannel shirt for sixty bucks.”
He picks through a bunch of spring shirts that are already on sale.
“Check this one out. No wonder it’s on sale,” he says.
“Jesus Christ. That’s the ugliest shirt I’ve ever seen. What fashion designer thought navy blue stripes were going to look good right next to a big swath of chocolate brown?”
“Maybe Tommy Hilfiger has a cousin who’s even more retarded than he is that designs shirts for this place.” He flips the tag over. “Yeup, ‘the Ricardo Hilfiger collection.’ Sure enough, here’s his name is right there on the tag.”
We wander out of ‘Ambercrummy’ and through Banana Republic, The Gap, American Eagle and Structure. I stop Tim from buying another denim shirt in The Gap. (Laura owes me one.) Luckily just before 10 o’clock he finds some pretty cool cotton pullovers on sale in Structure.
“You think these look pretty cool?”
“Yeah, they’re pretty snappy. They sort of have that Tim-style to them.”
“And just what the hell is ‘Tim-style?’”
I laugh. “Just the way you dress, it’s kind of distinctive I guess – you know what you like.”
He takes them up to the register with two salespeople in hot pursuit. I wouldn’t be surprised if we had fistfight over the commission here.
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