“God, this weather is something else,” I say, swimming my hand through the air outside the car window. It was Dawn’s idea to have the windows down and I have to admit that scored a few points with me. Mostly because I’ve dated my share of women who guarded their hair like a house of cards.
‘No, stop it! It’ll mess up my hair! Roll up the windows! It’ll mess up my hair! Turn down the stereo! It’ll mess up my hair! Get your cat off the couch! He’ll mess up my hair!’
But if anything, the spring wind cutting in through the open windows has made her even more attractive. Little wisps of hair have gotten loose from her French braid and dance around her ears in the wind.
“I hope you’re not one of those people who talk about the weather constantly,” she says, leaning across the seat to turn up the stereo a little bit.
“No, I was just stating a fact… It’s beautiful out tonight. Heh. Why? Were you stalked by a deranged weatherman at some point in your life?”
She smirks. “No. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. I hate talking about the weather. And you see, I’m really cursed because coincidentally it’s the world’s most popular topic for small talk.”
“Everyone talks about the weather,” I say. “Most of the time it’s because you’re talking to a complete stranger or a coworker you don’t know very well. If you have one single thing in common – it’s the weather. I mean, what else are you gonna talk about?”
“I think people bash the subject into the ground because they’re too lazy to come up with anything more interesting,” she says. “Because there’s always something better to talk about than the crummy old weather.”
“Like what?” I ask.
“I don’t know. That all depends on whether it’s a kid, or a man or woman.”
“A guy in his twenties.”
“Ok, If it were a guy maybe I’d start up a conversation about how the Blues are doing this year, and if he thinks they’ll beat the Redwings this season,” she says.
“What if he’s a guy after my own heart and he’s really not into sports.” I’m purposely not letting her off the hook on this one. I’m really enjoying this.
“Uhh, then I’d make some comment about his appearance. I could ask him where he bought the cool shirt he was wearing,” she says. “That would start up a conversation wouldn’t it? Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and with guys, they like to talk about themselves all the time. It’s really annoying.”
“But then he’d probably think you were flirting with him and he’d be after your phone number.” I chuckle.
She shakes her head in exasperation. “Ok, so are you going to let back down, or do I have to admit the weather might have a tiny window of merit as a topic for small talk?”
“Yeah, I’ll let you off the hook,” I say. “But I think it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Boy, we sure have had a lot of rain this spring. It’s been coming down in buckets.” I laugh.
“If you weren’t driving I’d… You would’ve been punched by now… maybe even more than once.”
“Yeah.” She grins.
“So were are we heading? You’ve had me so wrapped up in talking about talking about the weather, I forget to ask you,” she says, spinning around to see where we are on the highway.
“I have reservations for two at Dominitri’s on the Park…”
She whistles. “Whew. You didn’t have to take me someplace that fancy.”
“Hey, I wanted to. And besides, they have valet parking right? It’s always a blast to watch the valet reaction to the toxic greenness of my car.”
“I have these friends, Sally and her husband, what’s-his-name,” Dawn says, playing with her hair again. “Anyway, they want to be upper-class in the worst way. It’s really funny. They’re always out at fancy restaurants. But this Dominitri’s place, I remember her telling me they had to make an excuse and leave after the appetizers.”
“It’s not ungodly expensive… But I guess it’s up there. Who cares? I think sometimes you have to treat yourself to places like this. Besides, we’re dressed to the nines.” I glance over at her again. “And you look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she says, looking somewhat self-conscious.
“So we’re going to Dominitri’s, ok? Did your friend tell you about the inside of this place?” I ask.
“Yeah, she said they had a faux church theme or something like that?”
“Well, it’s not really a ‘theme.’ Part of it really is an old decommissioned church that’s been standing since the turn of the century. They left all the stained glass up and you can see where the old altar used to be. It’s really beautiful. I’m surprised I got reservations this late. Ordinarily it’s booked.”
“What’s the menu like?” she asks.
“Oh, I guess it leans in the direction of French but like most places these days it’s pretty eclectic.”
“I haven’t been to a restaurant this nice since prom my senior year in high school,” she says.
“What? Why not?”
“I told you about the guy I married right? Richard’s idea of going out for a nice dinner was the Pasta House or the Olive Garden. Occasionally we went out to Outback Steakhouse if he was feeling real fancy.”
No wonder she wanted to get dressed up tonight.
“Well then dammit Dawn, I’m taking you to Dominitri’s. You deserve it. We’re gonna drink fine wine and eat things that have pine nuts and goat cheese in them, things we’ve never even heard of before. We’re gonna have a waiter named Jean-Claude and he’ll be charming and he’ll recommend a bottle of wine that costs more than I paid for a brand new mountain bike last week. It’s going to be grand.”
I turn off the highway and coast down the exit ramp.
“Can I pull this down? Is there a mirror on the back of this?” she asks, pointing at the sun visor.
“Uhhh, yeah. Hold on.” I reach across the seat and grab a bunch of papers, a few hundred ATM receipts, some napkins and few packets of hot sauce from behind the visor and give them a new a new home underneath the front seat. “There ya go.”
She flips it down, opens the lighted mirror and starts to check her hair and makeup. I’m content to just sit there and watch her. But since I’ve been getting caught doing the sort of thing so often lately, I camouflage my glances. You know, I pretend to admire the architecture of some really ramshackle warehouse outside her window.
“Hey, the light is green,” she says after awhile, pointing at the stoplight with her makeup brush.
“Yeah I know. No one was behind me so I was going to wait.” Whoops, there I go again with the nice guy thing. I need to get that under control really quick before she takes to calling me ‘sweetie.’ “So I guess you’re certified in off-road makeup application then? I should point out that the potholes have potholes on this road.”
“Yeah I know. But I’m good.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. Go ahead,” she says. “I didn’t even need the mirror but I didn’t want to look a total showoff.”
I used to have a fairly high anxiety level when I took women to fancy restaurants. I mean, if my parents did one thing right, they drilled me heavily on manners and dinner etiquette as I was growing up, and that helps. But you know, you sit down in a really fancy place where the entrees alone cost almost as much as your entire weekly food budget and you realize there are a million things you can do wrong.
There are all those little formalities you have to perform often without a cue from the waiter. Like there are twelve forks sitting in front of me and each one of them is for a different course of the meal. I’m supposed to know the use of each one of them based on their size and length. This small one over here, it’s the coffee fork. Wait a minute, why do I need a fork for my coffee?
Then there are all the things you’re not supposed to do. Don’t try to reuse anything. It will be replaced by a new one in a moment. Listen politely when the waiter reads the wine selections and pretend to be interested even if you don’t want any. And yes, you want pepper on your salad because the waiter showed up at the table with this really elaborate ivory grinder and you don’t want to disappoint him do you?
But anymore, I just relax and don’t spend too much time worrying about breaking protocol. Why bother? It’s the Nineties. We do things differently now. We break the rules. And besides, chances are if you offend someone it won’t be the maitre’ d or the waiter, it’ll be the scowling gray-haired couple sitting at the next table. And hey, Marv and Estelle? They think the world is going to hell in a handbasket anyway. So what difference does it make if you overlook some small nuance of etiquette and piss them off?
So yes, I imagine the gray-haired couple sitting a few tables over started warming up their scowls as soon as we were seated. But we sure lucked out on our reservations. The best I could get when I called earlier in the evening was a patio table but apparently a few people canceled and we were able to get a table in the dining room. And let me tell you, if you want the full treatment at Dominitri’s the dining room is where you need to be.
“I see what you mean about the dining room…” she says. “Who cares about the food, look at this atmosphere.” She cranes her neck to see all of the porcelain angels spinning slowly on the ceiling with their halos and heavenly attitude. “It’s beautiful. It sort of feels…”
“I know what it is!” she says. “It feels like a Dashiell Hammett novel! Maybe it’s the lighting but I could totally see Peter Lorre creeping around that stone column over there.” She giggles. “Then a spot of blood would mysteriously appear on that man’s tuxedo over there, like right before he went face first into the liver pate. And then we’d have a murder to solve.”
I laugh. “So does that mean you like the décor of the restaurant? Or you don’t? Or that you’ll be bummed out if someone doesn’t get murdered by the time the waiter brings our salads? I’m confused here.”
“I will be disappointed if no one gets murdered. But I do really like this restaurant. I’m glad you were willing to splurge on me… because just looking at this place, I can tell it’s going to be really expensive and you know you’re not going to get any ‘thank you sex’ out of it later,” she says, the last part in a whisper.
Did I just hear that right?! Did she just openly make a joke about being celibate? Yes, I heard her right but no, it wasn’t a joke about her being celibate. It was a joke about me just having to deal with it. I can’t believe this. Wait a minute, is this flurry of thought being broadcast across my face like the billboard at the stadium?
Luckily she’s looking at her menu.
“So what are you getting?” she asks, looking up.
“Uh, what? Oh. I think I’m going to order the ‘Herb Roasted Atlantic Monkfish Tail’ just because it sounds cool. And the waiter is going to say ‘Excellent choice, sir’ when I order it.”
“Yeah, I was thinking of getting the Pan Roasted Hoffman Farms Squab for the same reason,” she says. “But what is it?”
“How is it spelled?”
Dawn spins the menu around for me to see.
“I don’t have a clue. Sounds like some kind of fish but the ‘farms’ thing makes it sound like something that trots around a field. You better not order it until we find out. Wait a minute, excuse me…” I motion to a waiter passing our table. “Can you tell us what ‘Squab’ is?”
“Certainly sir, a squab is an unfledged, or rather… it’s a baby pigeon,” the waiter says. I watch his face for a smirk but then I remember we’re at a fancy restaurant and they generally don’t joke around about their food.
“A baby pigeon?” I repeat. Dawn and I exchange glances.
“Yes sir, it’s very good. One of Chef De’Tormiso’s specialties in fact,” the waiter says proudly.
“Ok, thank you. We’ll keep that in mind.”
“On second thought I don’t think I’ll order the ‘Squab,’” Dawn whispers to me as the waiter walks away. “I could shoot me one of those out by the shed behind my house.”
Dawn has been making me laugh all evening with comments like that. I’m really beginning to appreciate her dry sense of humor. She’ll say something utterly ridiculous like that with a completely straight face. She’ll watch for the question mark to appear over my head, or for me to say ‘huh?!’ And then she’ll crack a wry smile.
Now the ‘expensive dinner with no sex’ joke. That wasn’t very humorous at all. But that aside, it’s really kind of cool because I don’t think she’s ever revealed this part of her personality before. I guess as a writer I’ve noticed she has a way with words. Like when her daughter’s goldfish died that one night while I was on the phone with her and her first reaction was, ‘I think I might have a goldfish with angel’s wings on my hands here.’
“So what’s your family like Craig?”
“My family? They’re all complete nuts.”
“Yeah?” She raises an eyebrow. “So’s everyone’s family. Give me some specifics here,” she prods.
“Okay, I have this grandpa whose main conversation topic with me is my car.”
She laughs. “What do you mean?”
“Well I show up at some relative’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas and Grandpa Flerlage says, ‘Hello Craig. It’s good to see you again. How’s your car running?!’” I try to imitate my Grandfather’s barely audible voice. “Every single time I see him he asks me the same question. Like it’s some metaphysical question that’s gonna have a different answer every time he asks it.
“So I always respond with something like, ‘Hey Grandpa. My car’s running just fine. I just put some new tires on it last month because they said I had to so I could pass the state inspection.’ Then of course, he wants to know what kind of tires I bought. And I’m like, ‘I don’t know Grandpa… The round black kind without whitewalls. They’re just tires… I don’t know what brand they are.’”
“All grandpa’s are like that,” she says. “My grandpa gives me an update on his health whenever I see him. I get to hear about everything right down to the new corn on his foot.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“What about your immediate family?” she asks.
“Hmm? Yeah, I have one of those. But I don’t know where I’d start…”
“How about starting with your brothers and sisters. Do you have any?”
“I have one older brother. I told you about him right?” I ask.
“No, you haven’t.”
“His name’s Paul and he’s six years older than me. And at the moment, he’s studying to become a minister. So needless to say he’s very, very uh…”
“Religious?” she asks, trying to help me finish my sentence.
“Yeah, I guess that’s the word I was looking for. The word ‘conservative’ would apply pretty well there too. Most people don’t even believe we’re brothers because personality-wise, we couldn’t be any more different. And he has red hair, which by the way, doesn’t run in the family. So that sets us apart even further.”
“A minister? What denomination?” she asks.
“We were raised Presbyterian.”
She nods. “So how’d he get started in the ministry?”
“That’s a good question. I’ve been trying to figure that one out my whole life. How did my brother end up so damned religious when his younger brother is such a sinner…” Whoops, I almost forgot Dawn is a churchgoer. I’m going to have to be careful about comments like that. She smiled though, so I guess she wasn’t offended.
“I think it had a lot to do with him being the first child,” I say. “My parents over-sheltered him and he grew up pretty introspective and shy. And you know, then I pop out as kid number two and I’m like, ‘Hey, where’s the party? Let’s rock!’ I was a complete maniac as a kid and I think my parents just gave in and threw up their hands and let me run amok.”
“Run amok?” She giggles.
“Yeah, I was always running amok. I was running amok in our yard, in the neighbor’s yard – pretty much all over the subdivision. Our neighbors would be like, ‘Hey, look out! Here comes that Mitchell kid – he’s running amok again!’ Heh.
“But anyway, we were complete opposites even as kids, and then Paul got in a really bad car wreck when he was sixteen and I think that had a lot do with it. They didn’t know if he’d make it. I was only ten and I have these vague recollections of hanging out at the hospital for weeks at a time. But he recovered and when he was on his feet again I think he was full of God superpower from that point on.”
“I can relate to that,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of my patients do that. They survive something like that and then they give up the rest of their lives to religion. It kind of frightens me in a way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I guess it’s positive in a way. When someone gets hurt that badly. I have to admit, religion gets them on their feet faster than anything I’ve seen,” she says. “But some of them get a little scary with it. They immerse themselves in it to the point where they’re no longer living life anymore. It’s almost like they live only for religion, like they’re wearing blinders to shut out the rest of life.”
“Yeah, it sounds like you know my brother. Religion is his one and only focus in life. You can’t talk to him about anything without him relating it back to God again within a few sentences. It’s really a pain in the ass sometimes. But I’ve learned to live with it. I have this little game I play with him. I bring up some really obscure subject like organic farming and then I make little mental bets on how long it’ll take for him to veer the subject back onto religion again.”
I shrug. “I mean I don’t have any problem with religion. Don’t get me wrong…”
“You don’t have to worry about me where talking about religion is concerned,” Dawn says suddenly, apparently picking up on my nervousness about the subject. “I go to church but I’m not super-religious. I guess you could say I’m a believer in God but I’m not a big believer in churches or collection plates. I wouldn’t go at all but I think it’s my responsibility as a parent to at least introduce Lindy to religion so she can make up her mind on her own about it at some point.”
Our waiter shows up with a bottle of Cabernet – Mondavi Reserve.
I enjoy drinking wine every so often. I’m not completely stuck on beer – just mostly. I’ve sampled quite a few different varieties of alcohol in my lifetime, and if there’s anything that can be said about wine, it’s that it has its own unique effect on the senses. For me it’s a warm and giddy sort of glow that sneaks up on me and before long I’m hopelessly maudlin, and pathetically reminiscing about some dirt bike I had as a kid.
I let Dawn order the bottle because other than possessing the knowledge that most White Zinfandels taste like diluted sugar water, I really didn’t have a clue what to order. (I knew I was in trouble when she said, “How much do you want to spend?”) She doesn’t smell the cork, but the waiter pours her a small glass and she takes a sip, and after a moment, she nods her approval.
“So what about the parents are they still together?” she asks, taking another sip.
“My parents? No, they’re divorced. My mother lives out in the country, right outside of Pacific and she owns a small arts and crafts business. And my father? I guess you could say he’s a globetrotter. He’s an executive for some Fortune 500 company. I don’t even know what they do exactly. He’s tried to explain it to me over the years but I still don’t understand it completely. It’s something like his company insures other insurance companies.
“Apparently they make money hand over fist because he’s usually out of the country pulling in new business. I get to see him every once in a while, usually around the holidays or whatever.” I spin my wineglass, letting the dark red liquid coat the inside of the glass. “What about you? I’ve met Darla and your daughter. But what about the rest of your family?”
“I don’t have any other brothers and sisters. Just my ‘sis.” She toys idly with a loose strand of hair and tucks it back into her braid. “My father… he’s retired. I guess you could say he tinkers around on old cars in the garage part time, and he bugs the hell out of my mother full time.”
“Heh. What do you mean?”
“He’s your stereotypical crotchety old man. I mean it,” she says chuckling. “Luckily there aren’t many kids in their neighborhood because if there were, you can be certain Dad would be chasing them out of his yard with a rake screaming ‘Get off my property!’ He’s just a big crank. He complains constantly… about my mother’s cooking, the hole in his shoe, the school district my daughter will be attending in the fall, basically whatever he can think of.”
“Does he chase Lindy off his property with a rake, you know, for practice or whatever?” I ask.
“No, actually they get along pretty well. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. She’s figured out a way to disarm him somehow. I’ve been hoping when she gets a little older she’ll teach my mother and I how she does it.”
“What about your mother? What’s she do?”
“Mostly she immerses herself in volunteer work for the church and I think she spends the rest of her time organizing anti-abortion protests with her fanatical, half crazy pro-lifer friends. I couldn’t have a more different opinion on the issue, but I guess it keeps her occupied and distracts her from the cranky old man’s complaining.”
“So what’re you having?” I ask, putting down the gold-embossed menu.
“I’ll think I’ll go with the New England Cod,” she says.
“Excellent choice,” I say with a French accent.
“What’s with this ‘excellent choice’ business?”
“Oh, I don’t know how it started but it seems like in the last year or so, when you order at a fancy restaurant, the waiter always pretends to find your choice of entrees ‘excellent.’ I think it’s supposed to make you feel like a culinary professional or something. How much you want to bet… wait, here he comes,” I whisper.
“Are you ready to order?” the waiter asks, checking out our wine bottle and shoving it a little deeper into the cooler.
“Yes, she’ll have the New England Cod,” I say, not breaking fancy restaurant protocol by ordering for the lady. “And myself… I think I’ll have the Monkfish Tail.”
“Excellent choice Madame,” the waiter says, nodding to Dawn. He takes our menus and heads off into the kitchen.
“He didn’t say ‘Excellent choice’ to you on your Monkfish tail,” she points out.
“Yeah, you’re right! I’m feeling pretty ‘dissed here. Maybe he’s mad I didn’t order the baby pigeon.”
“Or maybe you should consider the possibility that the Monkfish tail sucks…” she says. Then she smiles at me over the top of her wineglass. And for a girl who originally told me she didn’t drink, she’s almost through with her first glass while mine’s still half full. (Notice how optimistic I sound? I could have said ‘half empty.’)
“So tell me something weird about yourself.” she says.
“Yeah. Tell me something unique or interesting about yourself, something I wouldn’t find out until I’ve known you for a year or so.”
“Hmmm. That’s an interesting request. What kind of weird are you looking for here?”
“Anything…” she says, running a hand through the air.
“What if I said I liked to wear women’s lingerie and that I do a nightclub act on the East side and bill myself as the ‘The Great Boogy-Ass Craiger?’”
“I’d have you take me home after dinner – not before I should I stress, but after because this place is pretty extravagant and I’m hungry. But then I’d never go out with you again, and I’d be really glad I found out about it early on,” she says.
“Well then none of that’s true,” I say. “Let me try to come up with something that is.” I give it some thought. I have to give her credit, it’s a really good question. Think about it. What makes you unique or interesting? What separates you from the rest of the crowd? That’s a tough one to answer. But the sooner I answer her, the sooner I can turn it back around on her. “Well… I don’t really know if I can come up with something stellar about myself on the spur of the moment. How ’bout I give you a little collage instead?”
She nods and rests her head on her hands, apparently signaling I have her complete attention.
“Ok. Uh… when I first get up in the morning, usually for the first half hour I don’t really say a whole lot. I don’t think many people would say they fall into the absolute morning person category. But me, I take it to extremes. It takes about a half-hour of sunshine to clear all of the dreams out of my head. And I’m not really totally awake until right before lunch.
“And I guess while I’m talking about sunshine, I should mention it’s as important to me as food or shelter. I get really bummed out when I get up in the morning and it’s cloudy or storming. It takes me a lot longer to wake up and it’s a lot harder for me to get into a good mood. And when we have one of those months when it’s cloudy for weeks, like remember last April?”
“Yeah, how can I forget? That was horrible,” she says.
“Uh huh. When it’s cloudy that many days in a row like that I get really depressed. You know, I dig out my Goth music collection, light a few candles and bide my time listening to Joy Division or Bauhaus. I watch sad movies like ‘The Razor’s Edge’ and ‘The Deadzone.’ I turn it into a regular depression party. Is that good enough?”
“Tell me one more thing,” she says, holding up a finger.
I sigh in mock exasperation and roll my eyes at the ceiling. “Alright, fall is my favorite season – especially the month of October. I love it when the leaves change colors and the smell of burning wood fills the air at night. I love Halloween and ghosts and goblins and hayrides and apple cider, and carving pumpkins and watching scary movies. I love it when a great big full, orange harvest moon rises into the sky.”
“And now it’s your turn. Tell me something weird about yourself,” I say, raising my glass to her.
She thinks about it for a few seconds. “I’m celibate. I haven’t had sex in years.” She grins.
“Yeah, that’s weird. I agree with you. But that’s something weird I already know about,” I say.
“I’m just giving you trouble,” she says. “But it’s funny you should bring up the moon because I’m really into it, but for a different reason. You’re gonna think I’m a complete weirdo but I have this silly little superstition regarding the Chinese Lunar calendar,” she says.
“The Chinese Lunar calendar. You’ve heard of the Year of the Dragon, or the Year of the Tiger haven’t you?”
“Yeah, it’s sort of like their version of traditional astrology right?” I ask
“Kind of. I like to think it’s a little deeper than the astrological signs,” she says. “You mind if I explain it to you? I happen to think it’s pretty cool.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Ok. The start of the lunar year is based on the cycles of the moon. And because of that, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. A complete cycle takes sixty years and is made up of five cycles of twelve years each. Are you following me?” she asks.
“Their calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. And as the legend goes, Buddha summoned all of the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. But only twelve came to send him off. So as a reward he named a year after each one – apparently in the order they visited him.
“And here’s where it gets neat,” she says. “The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on their personality. They have a saying that translates to ‘This is the animal that hides in your heart.’ And having said that… what’s your birthday?”
“Because I have a superstition that my perfect mate has to be born on a certain year in the cycle.”
“Don’t you think that’s being a little picky?”
“Yeah. So what? Everyone’s superstitious in one way or another. I married Richard and he was the wrong year and look what happened,” she says.
“And you honestly believe that’s the whole reason things didn’t work out?”
“Absolutely.” She smirks.
“Ok, Miss Picky. I was born February 18th, 1969, on the last day of Aquarius. And I’m a pretty unforgiving landlord where animals living in my heart are concerned. With a little help from my lawyer, we could get that deadbeat animal evicted and get a new one in there in no time – if he’s the wrong one that is.”
She smiles. “No, settle down… You’re the Year of the Rooster just like me. And coincidentally, that makes you my perfect match.”
“Oh yeah? So what’s so unique about our shared Year of the Rooster?” I ask.
“It indicates you’re hard-working and that you’re not wishy-washy. You’re definite about the decisions you make and most importantly – you aren’t afraid to speak your mind. The rooster is a strong animal, often boastful, but dependable and stable. Roosters can be counted on to communicate their thoughts and feelings.”
She twists one of her rings in a circle on her finger. “It’s silly, but I was determined to find out your birthday on the first date but I never got the chance.”
“Yeah, I’ve had that happen on a few dates before. Sometimes that’s the first thing they want to know. And my reaction is always, ‘Hey look, you just met me and you’re already wanting to buy me a gift?’ Heh. But I know what’s up with the birthday question. They want to know if you’re a Cancer or an Aquarius so they determine whether you’re the mysterious Capricorn person who figures into their horoscope.”
“I know it’s crazy,” she says. “And now you probably think I’m a total flake for believing all that mumbo jumbo…”
“No, I don’t. Honestly. The Lunar Calendar thing is pretty cool. And it’s a hell of lot more intriguing than getting all caught up in horoscopes written by some goof named Sydney Omar. Besides, the whole point of the question was to come up with something really interesting and you have me beat there. I mean, I’m superstitious too but it’s in all the totally ordinary ways. I can’t claim to have any historical influences on my neurosis.”
“How are you superstitious?” she asks.
“You know, like knocking on wood and I have a million little ceremonies regarding good and bad luck.”
“Let’s hear some of them.”
“Oh, I don’t want to say. Most of them are pretty cornball,” I say.
“Hey, I told you about my thing about my Year of the Rooster thing. I felt pretty stupid telling you about that because it definitely strays into ‘cornball’ category. So tell me about yours.”
“Alright,” I shrug. “I’m just gonna say in advance I know this is completely ridiculous, but with superstition… I dunno. You just get started doing something and then you’re afraid to stop.” I take a sip of my wine. “Ok. When I was a little kid I used to have horrible nightmares. And to make a long story short, my parents took me to see a counselor who specialized in child nightmares.
“They probably spent a small fortune for me to go see this guy. He was this bald guy with a big shiny egghead and he spent weeks asking me the same questions in different ways. I remember even as a kid, I knew what he was up to. He was trying to get to the bottom of what was causing me to have all the nightmares. But in the end it was kind of silly. He had a really simple solution.”
“What was it?” she asks.
“He told me the moments right before you go to sleep are important. He implied they were magical. ‘If you think about things you want, your dreams or wishes,’ he told me. ‘If you think really hard about those things right before you go to sleep at night, sometimes you’ll get them – and your dreams will come true.’ Looking back, I think I misunderstood what he was saying. He probably meant your hopes and wishes could come true in your dreams at night. But like any kid, I took what he said at face value.”
“You thought your dreams would come true in real life?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I grin. “I remember the first thing I wished for was this really cool Huffy dirt bike a bunch of the kids in the neighborhood had. I wanted Santa Claus to bring me one for Christmas. I wished every night for half of a year. Heh. And when one was sitting underneath the tree that Christmas morning… man, let me tell you – I was a believer.”
“What about the nightmares. Did they stop?”
“Yeah, almost immediately in fact.”
“So where’s the superstition in all of this?” she asks.
“I never quit wishing.” I smirk. “After the bike, the sky was the limit. More than twenty years later, I’m still doing it. I mean, not every night. I’m not compulsive about it or anything. Sometimes I pass out on the couch in front of the TV, or forget to or whatever. But I wish for a lot these days. I’ll spend about five minutes before I go to sleep at night whenever I remember to.”
“And do your dreams come true pretty often?”
“Well after the bike, I wished that I could fly and that one never came true. I was pretty bummed because I really wanted that one to happen. I would’ve been the only flying kid in school and I think I would have made me a pretty big hit with the other kids in the third grade. But I wasn’t discouraged. But to answer your question, over the years about a fourth of the things I’ve wished for have come true. And if you think about it, that’s a pretty good success rate.”
“What are some of the things you’ve been wishing for lately?” she asks.
“Sometimes they’re broad wishes – like how I want my life to be, and then sometimes they’re specific things I’m after.”
“Tell me some of them.”
“I can’t do that,” I insist.
“Because that’s another one of my superstitions. Actually, I’d say it’s a pretty common one. You know the rule about when you throw a coin into the fountain or you blow the candles out on the birthday cake. It’s the same thing… If you tell someone what you wish for, then it won’t come true.”
Luckily the subject gets dropped when the waiter shows up with our salads. Because I don’t think I’ve spilled out something that sappy about myself in years – not even when I’m drunk. So how did it spill out? Maybe expensive wine packs a bigger punch and makes you even sappier.
“Thanks for dinner. This place is really incredible,” Dawn says while we’re waiting for the valet to bring my car.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ll admit, it’s a little foo-foo. But it’s foo-foo in a good way, you know?”
“I’m trying to take what you’re saying in context here, but I’m not sure I know what fufu means,” she says.
“It’s foo-foo, and yeah, I’m sorry. I’m kind of a verbal packrat. I have a ton of little phrases I’ve picked up over the years from friends or crowds of people I’ve hung out with. Sometimes I take it for granted that people are going to understand what the hell I’m talking about.
“Foo-foo is kind of a general phrase to describe anything that’s just a little too cute for its own good. And it can also apply to things that are somewhat contrived or pretentious. You might describe this restaurant as foo-foo or you could use it to describe pink girlie drinks. So a Strawberry Daiquiri would be considered…”
“A foo-foo drink,” she says. “Ok, I knew I’d heard it somewhere before.”
Finally the valet shows up with my all-green auto. I tip him and he opens the door for Dawn and then runs around to open mine.
“Well, once again I didn’t set anything in stone for the rest of the evening because I wasn’t sure how long dinner would take,” I say, bucking my seatbelt. “But I have a few ideas if you want to hear them.”
“Shoot,” she says
“Ok, I don’t know if you’re into musicals, but West Side Story is playing at the Muny. It’s already started but we could grab some of the free seats in the back. That clock on my dash is wrong, but I think it’s probably about 8:45 so we could catch part of it,” I say. “And then the other option is there’s a gallery opening down in the West End I have an invite to. That might be fairly entertaining. Whatd’ya think?”
“I think tonight would be a beautiful night to sit out under the stars and see the end of West Side Story,” she says. “It’s really ironic you would choose that as an option for tonight because I keep seeing the commercials for it on TV and I’ve been wanting to come down and see it before they move on to the next production.”
Wow. Even though I know in advance I’m going home sexually empty-handed, this date is going really well. You know, some women are really good about giving you signals they’re enjoying themselves and Dawn is one of them. Her smiles have gotten bigger and warmer. Her laughs have gotten… I dunno – for lack of a better word, her laughs have gotten “crazier.” Because I’ve told you about her laugh already, right? It’s too unique to try to describe.
And another thing, if I’m not mistaken, I think her cheeks have actually gotten rosier. Or maybe she put more blush on when she was in the bathrooom, I dunno. Now I don’t know if the fact that she’s openly joking about her celibacy is a good thing… I can’t decide if I think it’s funny, or if it just pisses me off. Maybe it would be funnier if my sex life weren’t part of the punch line.
“I didn’t know the Muny advertised a whole lot but then again, I don’t watch a whole lot of TV,” I say as we’re pulling back onto the Interstate.
“Well then you’re not going to get along with me very well,” she says. “Lindy and I are TV addicts. We watch Friends, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, ER – and that’s the short list.”
“I’ve watched some of those before. They’re pretty entertaining. I guess my big thing is it never occurs to me to be in front of the television at a certain time on a particular night. And also, I’m not a big fan of commercials. I’ll sit down and start watching TV and then they’ll go into ten minutes of commercials and I get up to go do something and forget to come back.”
“Yeah, they’re getting out of hand these days,” she says. “And it’s at its worst when they repeat the same annoying commercial every single break.”
“Exactly,” I say. “Like during the nightly news tonight they kept showing the same commercial for some new sandwich called “The American Chicken Sandwich.’ I saw it so many times they almost had me brainwashed into booking us some reservations for us at Burger King tonight. But luckily I managed to turn off the TV before they had complete control of me.”
She laughs. “So what’s American about it?”
“I don’t know. That’s what’s so stupid about it. I saw it about five times tonight and I don’t have a clue. Maybe they serve it on fried toast and slap a couple pieces of American cheese on it, and then top it off with a huge greasy slab of bacon. That’s pretty American.”
“You have to pity the marketing people though,” she points out. “It seems like they’re running out of ideas. What if you had to write copy for chicken sandwiches or come up with zingy ideas for new sandwiches?”
“I could do it, that’s my job. Here, lemme see,” I say, toying with my chin. “Ok, how about this, ‘Come into Burger King today and experience our world of surprises. Debuting this month, The French Chicken sandwich. It’s an entirely unique experience in chicken. We serve it on a croissant and jam a French flag into the top of it. Your mouth will experience the wonders of Paris and the Louvre when you chomp down on this bad boy.’”
“Hey, that’s pretty good.”
“Hey look!” she cuts me off. “Over there!” I don’t have to follow her finger. The western sky is ablaze with bright red and white circles of fireworks.
And then I almost plow into the back of an Eclipse that’s riding his brakes watching the show. I slam on the breaks and throw an arm up to pull Dawn back from the windshield.
“Whoah! Sorry about that!” I say, but I don’t even think she noticed how close we came to crashing.
“Oh! Can we pull over and watch?” she asks.
The shoulder is already starting to line with cars watching the impromptu show. A few families have gotten out of their cars and are sitting on the hoods of their cars. What are these people thinking? Here kids, come sit on the hood of the family truckster while cars whiz by a few feet away doing 70 miles an hour.
“Sure, why not.” I weave in between a few cars and pull to a stop.
Now they’ve started the “boomers.” The trick is always the same. They paint the sky with orange, and green and white, and another one bursts and some of those willowy gold things slide down the sky. You know, the kind that make everyone go ‘Awwwww…’ And then you see a few brilliant white pinpoints that sneak up in the background of it all and a split second later… BOOM! BOOM-BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!!!!!!
“What do you think the occasion is?” she asks, resting on her arms and head on the dash to look out the window.
“I dunno, maybe one of the bigger neighborhoods on the Southside is having picnic or something. Or it could be Maplewood Days, they have those outdoor fairs about this time of year.”
“This is so beautiful.” She sighs. “My parents never would let us have fireworks when we were kids because they were ‘dangerous.’ They wouldn’t even take us downtown to the VP Fair to see the big display because they were worried one would get aimed into the crowd by some freak accident….” She pauses to watch a particular brilliant cascade.
“Oh… look at that!” She giggles.
They’ve painted the whole western sky red. At least five or six bursts fill the sky in a few moments time. Maybe they really like the color, or red fireworks were a real bargain this year. Or wait, maybe it’s a celebration for some championship high school basketball team named the ‘Red Devils.’ Well, whatever the reason, it’s really kind of surreal and beautiful all at the same time to be sitting on the shoulder of the Interstate, ewwwing and awwwing with a crowd of strangers watching a fireworks display.
“I remember once when Darla and I were pretty young, we were staying with some relatives while my family was moving,” Dawn says, still watching the display. “And there was some sort of Labor Day picnic going on and my sister and I snuck away with some of the neighborhood kids into the woods because they had some contraband sparklers left over from the 4th of July.
“For my sister and I, it was like stealing fire… Or maybe that’s mixing metaphors. It was like forbidden fruit to us. We spun those sparklers through the night and painted pictures and patterns in the air. We danced around with them through the woods. And what made it even more delicious is we knew full well that our parents would kill us if they found out.
“I may have forgotten everything else that happened that year, but I’ll never forget that night.” She laughs. “I even remember the rest of the kids called me and my sister ‘retarded’ because we were so fascinated by a ‘dumb sparkler.’”
“I think they’re getting close to the finale,” I point out.
The amount of fireworks in the sky has doubled. White circles of stars, then red! Blue! Light blue… then the boomers sneak into the background again.
BOOM!!!! BOOM BOOM BOOM!!
“No, it can’t be ending!” she yells over the explosions. “It just started!”
Then it starts slowing down again. It’s the fireworks equivalent of a band saying goodnight and walking off stage, only to return a few moments later to the thunderous applause and chanting of the audience. More! Encore. Yeah right guys. We knew you were coming back on stage anyway. Boy are we surprised…
But this band comes back on stage with a barrage of bursts of orange, and then the gold willowy things again over the top of it. And there’s music – those whistling things… What the hell do you call those? Streamers? Screamers? If you were sitting right here now, I’d be making sound effects like a five year old. I’d have spittle flying out of my mouth in an attempt to imitate them for you. Pppphhhhhheeeewwwwwwww!!!!
“You’re kind of quiet Craig. What do you think of this?”
“This is incredible. It really is. We probably have a better view from this hill on the Interstate than the people watching the it from the ground.”
“But what do you think of fireworks?” she asks.
I’m never sure how to answer a question like that. It’s sort of a rhetorical question. I mean, how would you respond if someone asked you, ‘Hey, what do you think of fruits and vegetables?’ Or ‘What do you think of weekends?’ Would your reply really be much more than, ‘I like apples, oranges, and salad. And I like weekends’?
“I like them.” I say.
“Yeah, and what else?” she says without looking at me.
“More than I like them?”
“Fireworks… Ok, most of the time I’m running through life thinking about a few dozen things at once. When I’m writing a campaign at work another side of my brain is hard at work thinking about how I’m going to pay the bills next month. And when I’m out at the bar on a Saturday night talking to my friends, in the back of my head I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with my Sunday.
“But when I’m watching fireworks,” I say. “I’m not thinking about anything else. I stop worrying about whatever’s been on my mind. It wipes my brain slate clean – it strikes me silent. The colors and the overlapping bursts of color and the sound, and the smell of gunpowder on the air… How can you possibly focus on anything else?”
“Okay,” she chuckles. “You win the writer’s award for the most profound way to describe a fireworks display.”
“Hey, I tried to get away with ‘I like them’ but that wasn’t good enough for you, right?”
“I wish we could go out and buy some fireworks tonight,” she says, making eye contact again. “But they don’t sell them in Missouri anymore do they?”
“I think it’s legal to sell them in St. Louis or its counties. But I know you can still drive out to the country and buy them.”
“Oh, ok. So how far is the country then?” she asks, with a sly grin.
“It’s about half-hour drive west of here.”
“They’d be closed by now wouldn’t they?” she says.
“No, I think Molly Brown’s stays open all night. You know, as if someone might have a need for a gross of bottle rockets at two o’clock in the morning.”
She nods, but she’s distracted. So am I.
The sky is white now, with sporadic bursts of yellow and red. They’re picking up the pace again. And here come the boomers. I just spotted a couple bright white spots hiding behind a circle of blue.
BOOM! BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!!!!! BOOM!!
This time I think the fireworks display is finally reaching it’s finale. The band is working up to a crescendo. Every single firework we’ve seen throughout the entire display is in the sky now. Orange, red, blue, white, light-blue, and a gold willowy rain in the middle of it all. And then the boomers sneak in behind it all.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM-BOOM!!!!! BOOM!! BOOM!! BOOOMMM!!!!
People are clapping from the cars around us. And then the last of the boomers go off and it’s apparently over.
“Let’s take a roadtrip and go buy some fireworks,” she says, turning to me.
“You want to?” she asks. “C’mon, it would be fun. We could get some Roman candles and sparklers… and those Black Cat whatcha’ma-call-its.”
“You really want to?” I ask. “I mean, we’re not really dressed for it,” I say, tugging on my tie.
“Who cares? We’ll be careful,” she almost whines. Then she starts to settle down. “But you wanted to go to the Muny. I guess I’m fine with that too.”
I make eye contact with her. I don’t pick up on the subtleties very well. Ordinarily, you have to hammer me over the head before I’ll take a hint. The thing is, I could be wrong, but I think Dawn is hammering me over the head with a baseball bat on this one. She wants to go buy fireworks.
“Ok. Let’s go buy some fireworks,” I grin.
“Really?!” she asks. I think she’s suspicious I’m being sarcastic.
“Yeah, really,” I say, pulling back on the highway again. “But one thing. Have you ever used a punk before?”
“Is that a kind of firework?” she asks.
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