Some mornings you get what you deserve. You drank a lot last night and hey, you’re going to pay for it. You know that. A + B = C. ‘A’ represents Guinness. ‘B’ represents Maker’s Mark. And ‘C’ equals the hangover that’s going to kick your ass.
Certainly there are precautions you can take. You might get off a sneaky preemptive strike, drink a ton of water before you go to bed, take a few aspirin or whatever, and make sure to get a solid eight or ten hours of sleep. But you know as well as I do that that rarely works and the chances are still very good that you’re not going to walk away from this feeling like anything less than a very large puddle of raw hell.
But then there are those mornings when you get far less than you deserve, that rare occasion when you rise from your hangover like Lazarus. You were a cold dead guy the night before but you skipped out of your tomb this morning, went out and bought a bagel and grande Latte with an extra shot, and everything worked out just fine.
However it happens, divine intervention or otherwise, you emerge on the other side of night completely unscathed. You wake feeling amazingly rested, normal, confident, and with a spring in your step you head into work, ready to put your nose to the grindstone and write some really remarkable copy about a wholly unremarkable movie like “Tin Cup.”
“You hungover?” Tim asks, drifting through the room on a waft of cigarette smoke and cologne that’s perhaps been applied a little too liberally.
I shake my head. “Nope. Superman,” I say, pointing both arms at the ceiling.
“Me neither.” He takes off his coat off and throws it over the back of his chair. “I don’t know how we pulled that one off but I suspect we’re due for some Karma reversal at some point.”
“Hear from Laura?”
“No, but it was a tough night,” he says, looking down at the front of his denim shirt suddenly as if he noticed a thread that needed to be pulled.
“Shit, man, I thought you’d just go home and pass out,” I say.
“How’s that Police song go? ‘The bed’s too big without you?’ Without her I mean,” he says, correctly guessing that I was about to make some joke about coming over to his apartment and cuddling with him in the morning.
“At least you didn’t have to have a fight this morning before work. I dunno what to tell you Tim, you’ve heard all that shit. There are other fish in the sea but their teeth aren’t as sharp, it’ll get easier as time passes, and that kind of thing.”
“I know, I know. I mean, I really know, Craig. It’s like sometimes you break up with someone and you have all of those second thoughts. A few days pass and you’re ready to throw in the towel, call her and patch things up. But I have to say this is the first time I’ve ever known so absolutely that I did the right thing. There’s no question about it. I know we needed to break up. It’s like I was telling you the other night, I’ve known for a long time now.”
“Exactly. You’re being positive about this. That’s the way it should be, man.”
“Yeah. I guess so. But you know how it goes, it’s hard to get used to being your own captain again. The bed’s empty. The apartment’s empty. I’m gonna come tonight and there won’t be any cooking smells, or the sound of ‘Friends’ on the TV in the other room. It just sucks.”
“Why don’t you just get a pet or something? Everyone says a pet helps ease the pain of loneliness, and keep you company. Frankly, most of the time they’re just plain annoying but I guess it’s a good replacement for how annoying she was.”
“I don’t have time to take care of one,” Tim says, shrugging slightly.
“What… what are you talking about? Don’t take this wrong way or start getting even more bummed out on me, my friend. But now that she’s gone you’ve got nothing but time. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother with these girlfriends at all. They steal all of your time night and day. They decorate your bathroom with all kinds of flowery shit and decorative soap. And then without warning, they’re gone and you’re left wondering ‘How in the world did I ever get started storing my mouthwash in an Estee Lauder makeup bag under the sink? and ‘Where did these scented trash bags come from? I didn’t buy these!’”
“Scented trash bags,” he chuckles. “No really. I don’t want a pet and besides, you know what the sign says. ‘NO DOGS ALOOOUD!’” he sings in a deep voice, mimicking some old cartoon I vaguely remember.
“Who said it had to be a dog? What about a nice cat? I’ll give you mine. He’ll live in your shower and you’ll hardly notice he’s there,” I say.
“Your chubby cat wouldn’t fit through my front door, man and something tells me you’d be opposed to me using a crowbar. And besides, I don’t think I could handle all the random cat barf.”
I laugh. “Random cat barf?”
“Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. You come home from work and take your shoes off and you’re ready to relax on the couch in front of the TV… when you notice the small pool of cat barf near the lamp or the hairball sandwich on the floor at your feet. Maybe you step in it by accident. It’s totally disgusting, man. I hate cats for that. They’re always barfing all over the place. I mean, what’s up with that? You know, you have your cute little girlfriend over to your place for the first time and you’re getting heavy with her on the couch and all of the sudden, from somewhere in your apartment you hear the opening notes of the Cat Barf Sonata in C Minor. ‘ACCCCK! ACK! ARCA! ARKA! ACCCK!’” Tim arcs his head up in the air mimicking a gruesome event I am quite familiar with.
“It ruins the moment, you know what I mean?” he insists, looking back at me again. “You’re no longer thinking of taking her bra off, and she’s no longer thinking about what a totally sexy guy you are and your tongue on her earlobe. You’re both thinking of that pool of cat barf that, with any luck, is right smack dab in the middle of your bed. And then when you finally get into the bedroom, you’re totally paranoid that you’re going to step in it, or lay down in it, or ski across the room on it when you happen to miss it while you’re running for the bathroom. But of course, you can’t find it – not anywhere! And then you have the creeping suspicion, you know, you have to learn to live with the horror that the only reason you can’t find the evidence is the disgusting little bastard probably ate it!”
I double over in laughter. “Yeah, I know. But I’m thinking they’ll have a product on the market soon that will solve the cat barf problem. Like ‘Try the new and improved Tender Vittles today! With patented RCB protection you won’t be cleaning up those frequent little messes.’
“RCB protection? Well you’ll write the copy for it. I’m sure of that,” he says.
“Hey, speaking of copy… what do you think of this for ‘Tin Cup’?” I clear my throat and hold up the sheet of copy like I’m about to do a book reading. ‘Tin Cup totally sucks ass.’ How about that?” I throw the paper and watch it drift to the floor near his feet. “It’s short. It’s sweet. And best of all, it’s right on the mark as far as being truthful. Whatdya think?”
Tim cups his chin and rubs his face a little. “I like it. Yeah. It works.”
I decided to give Dawn a call around lunchtime, partly because it occurred to me that I had her work number in my wallet and also because… I don’t know. I suppose I found myself thinking about her quite a bit as I spun off mindless copy about lame golf movies.
Now I don’t usually call women at work. I really don’t. For one thing, there’s almost always a nosy receptionist that wants to know exactly who you are. And she never lets you get off the hook by you just saying your name because it’s my guess that simple names, in and of themselves, don’t have enough bang to fuel the office gossip mill.
“Pennyman and Associates. Can I help you?”
“Yes, Can I speak to Ms. De Christina please?”
“Sure, can I tell her who’s calling?”
“Craig Mitchell,” I say.
“And you are…” she says, leaving a nice long pause. But I don’t bite. “This is pertaining to…” This is what I’m talking about.
“Ok, I’m a salesman. You caught me. This is a sales call, alright? I want to sell Ms. De Christina a gross of tube socks, a ten-dollar lube job for her car and a subscription to ‘Better Homes and Gardens.’ Can you please put me through anyway?”
“Uh, sir… it’s against office policy to put sales calls through to our…”
“I’m kidding. I’m kidding you! I’m a friend.” I laugh. “Can you please put me through?”
Something tells me she doesn’t believe me and I’m certain she’s going to hang up on me but then… “Just a minute sir, I’ll see if she’s available. Your name is really Mr. Mitchell?”
“Yeup. I wasn’t lying about that and I really am her friend. I only sell tube socks in my spare time, ok?”
She exhales loudly. And then I have to listen to a few minutes of ‘Four Seasons’ before Dawn suddenly comes on the phone with an abrupt clicking noise that puts Vivaldi out of his misery.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hey,” I reply. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, not a lot,” she sighs. “Trying to get in a working mood today but after a few cups of coffee I don’t think I’ve succeeded yet.”
“Yeah, I know how that goes…”
“Wow, something just occurred to me,” she says. “You actually called me at work.”
“Our relationship’s moved up to a whole new level.”
“Well that’s good,” I say. “Because we sure missed out on the chance to move it up two or three levels last night.”
“Jeez… I left myself wide-open on that one,” she says dryly.
“Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist getting a jab in there.” I laugh. “So do you have any more of a sense of humor this morning than you did last night?” This comment surprises me as soon as it’s left my lips. I didn’t call her up to take pot shots at her but that seems to be what’s happening anyway.
“I think I’m going to have to apologize to you for last night,” she says. “I wasn’t in a very good mood.”
“You seemed pretty chipper to me,” I lie.
“No, I wasn’t. Lindy was getting paint all over the bathroom. I masked everything off but I totally underestimated her destructiveness when I overlooked a few things like the light on the ceiling and the carpet outside the bathroom door. And I couldn’t very well mask off her ears, or her hair, or her nose and she got paint in all of those places too.”
“You’re kidding me…”
“No I’m not,” she says. “But I was kind of a bitch to you and I’ll be the first person to raise my hand and say you didn’t deserve it.”
Suddenly I start seeing spots in front of my eyes and I feel my body falling backwards in my chair before I realize I’m about to faint and pull out of it. “You’re apologizing?” I ask, rocking forward in my chair and putting my elbows on my desk.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’ll have to make it up to you.”
“You know Dawn, I hope you won’t take any offense by my saying this but I nearly fainted a moment ago.”
“What? Why?” she asks.
“I don’t think I’ve ever… no scratch that, I’m absolutely certain that I’ve never dated a woman who was willing to admit to her bad moods, much less apologize for them. I mean, I don’t want to make you feel all self-conscious about it or think that you made a mistake in distinguishing yourself like that. And I don’t want you to think that I’m poking fun at you. I’m not. If you’ll allow me, I’d just like to say that I think it’s pretty extraordinary.”
She laughs nervously. “C’mon. You’ve never had someone apologize for being in a bad mood? I find that hard to believe.”
“Yeah, people have apologized before. My boss apologized once. A few friends here and there… but you don’t get it very often from women you’re playin’ all smoochy with. “
“Excuse me, but did you just say ‘smoochy’?”
“Uh huh. As in ‘playin’ smoochy.’”
“Oh, I see,” she says.
“Have you ever noticed how the English language has a fair number of words to describe just about anything you can imagine but when it comes to describing anything about relationships or attraction you’re left with this handful of words that don’t really do the job?”
“You mean like ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’?”
“And ‘dating’ and ‘mistress’ and ‘lover’ and ‘courtship.’ It’s difficult to say any of them without implying a whole bunch of other stuff. So I make up my own terms. I hope you don’t mind.”
“So we’re ‘playing smoochy’ is that it? We’ll I suppose that’s fairly positive. Should I start introducing you as my smoochy partner? Or would it be ‘my friend that I’m playing smoochy with?’”
“Mister Smoochy, please. No wait, Doctor Smoochy would be ok too.”
“Ok, you got it,” she says, followed by a fairly long, nervous pause. “What were we talking about before we got smoochy? Oh, we were talking about my apology.”
“Where was I going with that?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “You lost me with all the smoochy talk. Oh yeah, I think you were saying you thought it was amazing that I would apologize to you for last night. And really Craig, I’m flattered and all but it’s not that big of a deal.”
“Well, it is to me. So thanks. And I was probably a little pushy too so I should be making my own apology.”
“It wasn’t that big of deal,” she says. “Really. But what was the deal with tube socks and magazine subscriptions you were telling the receptionist about?”
I laugh. “Oh, she was being a nosy little bitch and I was giving her shit. Wait, can I say bitch?”
“Yes you can.”
“I normally don’t use the B-word around women. Because it’s sort of like the N-word when it comes to racism. There are only certain people who are allowed to say it and most of them are rap stars, and maybe Vanilla Ice if he’s lucky and no one beats his ass down.”
“You can say it because she is a bitch. Emily Watson, receptionist and super-bitch. Put it this way, if you’re Doctor Smoochy then she’s The Dean of Bitch.”
“I got that impression. I mean, is it just guys that get this kind of treatment or has it happened to you too? You try to call a woman and you can’t get past the receptionist without twenty or thirty questions. They want to know what it’s pertaining to,” I say, imitating the snotty receptionist. “And somehow they know it’s not a business call – maybe because of the tone of your voice or whatever. So they start getting all nosy.”
“I’m guessing it happens to men more than women because of the perception that women are stalked more than men, or at least, it’s a little more common than the reverse. But yes, I’ve gotten the same thing before. I think it all boils down to the fact that being a receptionist is a horrible and boring job that turns decent people into totally nosy, bitter jerks. I feel sorry for them. I almost think that their jobs should be like social work where they rotate you in and out, supposedly before you get too jaded or burned out.”
“I guess so,” I say. The receptionist discussion is followed by another one of those nervous pauses I hate so much. Why do phone conversations so often make me feel like a trained seal at Sea World, trying desperately to keep the multi-colored beach ball in the air?
“So what are you doing for lunch?” she asks finally.
I look at my watch. 12:48 PM. And then I glance over at my friend’s desk but his chair is empty. “I don’t know. I hadn’t given it much thought. You want to meet up somewhere? Maybe a good halfway point… somewhere in the Des Peres or Warson Woods area of town?”
“Sure, did you have a place in mind?”
“Lemme see…” I say, weighing the options. “How long of a lunch can you take?”
“Usually about an hour but I put in some overtime last week and I don’t have any appointments this afternoon. I could take the rest of the afternoon off if I felt like it,” she says. “Why, were you wanting to go downtown?”
“No, I was thinking more along the lines of meeting up at my apartment…” I laugh subtly, try to play it off like I might be joking. But in fact, I’m one hundred and fifty percent serious.
“Hmmmm,” she says, toying with the idea. “As irresponsible as it would be for me to do something like that… I have a feeling if I don’t, I won’t be able to get it out of my head for the rest of the day wondering what would have happened.”
“That’s a good way to look at it,” I add.
“But how is this going to work? Because to tell you the truth, that’s something I was wondering if I had come over last night. How can we have plans to have sex?” she says, her voice dropping into a whisper. “How does that work?”
“What do you mean, how does it work?”
“Well, you’re a guy so maybe it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to go from talking with someone on the phone to a knock at the door of your apartment and then ravaging each other on the threshold. But for me that’s kind of like going to a theme park but there’s no line for the biggest roller coaster in the park, and then you’re shocked to find out that you’re not going to be towed up the first big hill. Instead, they strap you into a seat and you go plummeting down the biggest hill right from the start.”
“And why’s that a problem?” I ask, sarcastically. “It sounds like a hell of a lot of fun to me.”
“There’s no time for anticipation… You know what I’m saying? Suddenly your arms are up in the air and you’re screaming down the first hill before you know what hit you, and there’s no time to… you know… there’s no time to drive yourself crazy – to get worked up about it. And it’s not just anticipation either I guess. Women need to be wooed. Our rockets are slower to fire.” She sighs. “I don’t think I’m doing a very good job of making my point.”
“No, you are,” I say. “And I knew what you were talking about anyway because I thought it was a little weird at first too. I mean, having plans? But to be completely honest with you Dawn, I had that kind of anticipation all day yesterday, and beyond that, I’ve had it since Saturday night.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry that things had to…”
“Hey. I’m not trying to guilt you into doing this and you’ve already apologized so don’t worry about it. Just come over, alright? I’m not going to promise you that I won’t ‘ravage you on the threshold,’” I chuckle. “So that’s something to think about. You can stand in line for your roller coaster on the way over by imagining me ravaging you. And when you get there we’ll see what we can do about some additional anticipation and wooing.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“Ok, I think you talked me into it.”
“Alright! But hey, are you sure you’re ok with this?”
“Yeah, I am. Never mind. I’m just nervous like a schoolgirl,” she says. “Now look, my boss leaves for lunch in about twenty minutes. I know that’s short notice but it’d really be the best time for me to leave if we’re going to do this…”
“I can pull it off.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry about it…” I say. “So I guess I need to give you directions.”
“Just give me your address and I’ll get directions off the Internet and I’ll call if I run into any problems.”
“Ok. 1522 Timberlake. Brentwood.”
“1522?” she confirms.
“Yeah. So I’ll see you at about a quarter after or so then?”
It isn’t until we’ve gotten off the phone that I’m suddenly conscious of how loud I might have been talking, or if anyone around me has been listening in. That’s a risk you take in most offices. Even if your work area has walls, and mine certainly doesn’t, you run the risk of your coworkers turning your life into their own personal soap opera. Before I get a chance to survey my situation though, Tim plops down in his chair and spins around to face me.
“They fired Tarah White this morning and we made it all the way to lunchtime without hearing about it,” he says.
“What?” I shake my head.
“They fired Tarah White,” he says again. I’m hearing what Tim’s telling me but after the conversation with Dawn I’m sort of on autopilot already. Mr. Instinct has put the punching bag down and is straightening my desk for me, and I’m turning on my monitor to type off some complete lie of an email to my boss about why I’m going to be gone for the rest of the day.”
“Can you believe that?”
“That they fired her, or that we didn’t hear about it?” I ask.
“I guess I’m not so surprised she got herself canned. I don’t think she’s turned in anything in or made a goal in about four months. And the thing about slacking is that you at least have to maintain the guise of getting work done. But it is kind of shocking that Sarah didn’t bring us our copy of the Gossip Digest this morning.”
“I think she’s been in meetings with Universal all morning,” he says.
“Well, that’s a total drag. I always thought Tarah was pretty cool really. And regardless of the possible sexual harassment aspect of it, I know you were pretty jazzed about staring at her tits during meetings,” I whisper.
“I’ll have to stare at Sarah’s now,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m more bummed because now I have to find another canary.”
“No, why would Sarah be a canary?”
“How am I supposed to know, Tim? I don’t even know what the hell all this is all about. I thought you meant ‘singing like a canary’ or something. Kind of like a gangster ratting on his friends or something.”
“No, I meant that now we have to find a new canary. Aren’t you familiar with the canary in a coalmine thing?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I don’t know if this still goes on. I suspect they’ve gotten a little more sophisticated by now, but miners used to keep a caged canary nearby where they we’re working to detect leaks of poisonous gas. Because of it’s size, the bird would always die first so they knew were usually safe as long as it was alive,” he says. “So Tarah, she was our canary. As long as she hadn’t been canned and you were doing more work than her, you knew you were safe, right?” He laughs at his own joke.
“That’s just plain cold! Stone cold,” I say, putting my jacket on.
“Where are we going to lunch?” he asks, shutting his monitor off.
“Mmmm,” I mumble. “I can’t go out today. I have plans.”
“Plans?” he asks, smoothing out his denim shirt across his stomach.
“Yeah, I’m meeting up with Dawn and you can’t come because we’re meeting up at… at my apartment in fact.”
“Can I watch?” He grins.
“No, I’m sorry. You can’t,” I reply. “Now leave me alone for a second, pal. I have to come up with a good spur-of-the-minute excuse for being gone for the rest of the day.” I type out the first couple of sentences of an email to my supervisor: ‘Hey, I don’t know if I told you but I haven’t been feeling that well lately. I’ve been having these weird stomach pains and I’ve had a hard time getting an appointment with my doctor. Well one opened up this afternoon and I’m going to be out for the rest of the day…’”
I glance over at Tim and he’s still facing me, slouched down in his chair and grinning like an idiot.
He shrugs and I think he’s going to turn back around to his monitor but then he starts doing the beat-box rap thing and making mock record-scratch noises and rapping. “I’m a freak in heat, a dog without warning. My appetite’s for sex cause – Me So Horny! AhhH! Me So Horny! Aohhh! Me So Horny! Me love you long time!”
“Man, that’s… that’s… Listen, will you please shut the hell up? Please? Tim! Hey! Shut the 2 Live Crew off and listen to me.”
“I’m like a freak in heat, a dog without warnin’…”
“Tim!!! If anyone asks I have a doctor’s appointment,” I say in a whisper. “My stomach is bothering me again and I got a last minute appointment. Alright? And after I leave, do me a favor and wait about five or ten minutes before you pull Sarah out of her meeting to fill her in, alright?”
“Have fun,” he says from behind as I run for the door.
1:07 PM. Twice now I’ve thought I’ve heard someone knocking at the door but I’ve climbed down the stairs to find no one there. I am seriously hearing things and I’m beginning to think that my hormones are the culprit. However, as I’m climbing the stairs back up to my apartment for the second time I hear the doorknocker… Now my hormones never use the doorknocker and neither does anyone else I know so I’m guessing it has to be her this time. I open the door.
“Hi.” Dawn smiles. She’s standing on my doorstep clutching her purse and a bag of sub sandwiches from Ammagheti’s.
“How can you expect me not to want to ravish you on the threshold when you …” I decide not to finish the sentence and smile instead.
“Dressed so business conservative?” she offers.
She’s wearing a white skirt and stylish matching jacket and beneath that, some sort of silky light-blue blouse and small gold chain with a pendant. Her long brown hair is even styled differently, parted and pulled back from her face and showing more of her forehead. She’s wearing heels. Frankly, I was about to ask her ‘How can you expect me not to want to ravage you when you look like a different beautiful girl every single time I see you?’ but I wisely decided at the last moment that she would probably interpret that to mean I’m fantasizing about different women instead of what I really meant to say – that she absolutely blows me away every single time I see her.
“No, you look knock-down beautiful. We’re casual at Blockbuster and I guess this sort of distraction is what I’m missing out on. C’mon in.”
“You’re not missing out on much except for high dry cleaning bills,” she says. I follow her up the stairs, once again experiencing the smell of her perfume that I noticed the other night.
“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you… I’m not the sort of guy that’s normally smitten with perfumes but the one you’re wearing, what’s it called?” I ask.
She turns to face me at the top of the stairs. “I’m not wearing any,” she says, smirking. “Maybe you need to face the facts that what you’re really smitten with is me.”
“C’mon. What is it?”
“I don’t know. Do you know German? Whatever it’s called, it’s a mess of German words. My parents brought it back from their vacation in Europe last summer. I’m going to have a devil of a time tracking this stuff down when I exhaust the bottle they brought me.”
“I’ll have to track it down if you don’t.” I look down at the bag of subs. “Hey, thanks for bringing the food. It’s silly, but it didn’t even cross my mind to pick up some actual food on the way and there isn’t much around here…”
“Somehow I figured you wouldn’t,” she says.
“So do you want to eat now? Are you hungry?”
“No. I’ve been snacking all morning and I ate a bag of pretzels from the deli on the way over. How about you?”
“I’m not that hungry,” I say.
“Are you sure?”
“Are you really sure? I don’t want you to go hungry because of me,” she insists.
As a side note, can I point out that one of the more annoying aspects of a new relationship is all the jockeying you do to second guess each other, to make sure that neither of you is making unnecessary concessions for each other. ‘Are you sure you want to go there? We can go someplace else if you want…’ and that kind of thing. I almost wish there could be a buzzer like in the game shows. ‘Zzzzzt! Your time is up Contestant #1. You’re going to Spizzolio’s for dinner tonight whether you want to or not.’
“No really, I’m not hungry.”
“I’ll just put it in your refrigerator then,” she says, walking into my kitchen. And it’s then that it suddenly occurs to me that I’m not even sure what’s in there at the moment. So I’m running after, offering to do it for her and I’m envisioning her opening the door to find a year old pizza or a McDonald’s bag that used to be white but now it’s a pale moldy green.
“I got it,” she says, correctly guessing my apprehension and quickening her pace. I catch up and come up behind her in front of the open refrigerator.
“Let’s see here, Craig,” she says, peering inside. “We have some ketchup, some mustard… some Taco Bell Fire Sauce. And here’s two seemingly homeless bottles of Bass Ale. Is there anything else in here?” She bends down to look over the lower shelves. “Oh, and here’s the remainder of a twelve pack of Mountain Dew. We can have those later with our lunch.”
“Witness my bachelor-tude…” I say.
“Oh it’s not so bad. At least you don’t keep moldy food around.” She shoves the bag of sandwiches onto a shelf. “You don’t cook though?”
“Sometimes,” I say. “But mostly I don’t think it’s really worth the time or mess to cook for one person. I eat out a lot.”
“You should come over for dinner some time. Lindy and I love to cook.” She turns around to face me and then we’re nearly nose-to-nose and it’s a full five minutes later before either one of us stops to realize we’ve been kissing in front of an open refrigerator door.
“My father would seriously turn back flips and spin around like a top if he saw this,” she says. “Not us kissing like this of course, but the open refrigerator door. You know how that goes.”
“Ah, who cares? Times are a changin’. It’s like, look out world! We’re the Open-Refrigerator-Door Generation!” I say, kicking it closed. “Wait, that was rude. Can I get you something to drink? Bass, Mountain Dew? A glass of water maybe?”
“A glass of water would be nice.” She rubs my arm briefly and then steps out of the way.
I turn to the dishwasher, which naturally, is the place where all of my clean dishes are stored. And I pull out a pint glass and start examining it for any trace of cruddy dishwasher stalactites. Not that this is a common ailment for my clean glasses but it would be just my luck to have it happen now.
“Ice?” I ask. I turn around but she’s gone.
“Yeah, a few cubes would be nice,” she answers from the other room.
I round the corner into the living room to find her picking through my CD’s. “You weren’t kidding about your thousands,” she says. “This is either completely crazy or amazing. I’m not sure which.” I hand her the glass of water and she takes a sip.
“Do you want me to hang up your jacket for you? I have a black cat lurking around here somewhere and if you sit down wearing all of that white… well, you’re in for some trouble.”
“Where is he?” she asks, twisting to take the tailored jacket off. I brush a few black hairs off of her that have already found their home on the stark white and help her out of it. “Is it a he?”
“Yeah. His name is Pork Chop,” I reply. “And don’t expect to see him until the heat of the moment if you know what I mean. He’s kind of annoying like that.” I grab a hanger from the closet and file her jacket away.
“So what now?” she asks, arranging her blouse which in addition to being silky is also pretty much sheer. Ouch. She must not take the jacket off very often during the day.
I glance down and make it a point to let her catch me looking and she smiles. “You wanna talk or watch part of a movie or something? We could smoke some cigarettes for the fun of it. A friend of mine left a pack of them over here a few weeks ago,” I say.
“You know what I’d really like right now?” she asks, putting her hands on my chest.
“No. I don’t.”
“I think I’d like to dance with you.”
“You want to dance?” I ask.
“Slow or fast?”
“Fast… I mean slow!” she corrects herself.
“Right here in the middle of my living room?”
“Uh huh. Let’s give this scene a little bit of the old Prom anticipation. And after Prom is over we’ll go in there,” she says, motioning to my bedroom.
“Ok, you wanna pick out a CD?”
She laughs. “You have to be kidding me. I don’t know where to start. Do you have the Dewy Decimal System going here or anything?”
“No, they’re kind of in alphabetic order by genre.”
“I’m sorry Craig, this is just too overwhelming. Why don’t we turn on the radio and see what we can find?”
“Yeah, right. This is St. Louis,” I remind her. “So what we’re going to find is a bunch of bad classic rock and that Third Eye Blind song.” She takes off her heels and stretches her toes.
“C’mon,” she says grabbing my remote control off the top of one of my CD racks. “Give it a chance. We’ll go with the first song we can both agree on.”
“Alright, it’s a deal,” I say.
She hits the power and my stereo comes to life. “Which one starts the…” I nudge in alongside her, change the source to FM, and almost on cue, some Bachman Turner Overdrive comes on.
“Shhhh. Be patient.” She flips through the stations… Queen, Boston, Ozzy Osbourne… .38 Special… “How about this one? This is nice and slow and I think it just started.”
“First of all, that’s Easy 95.4 and secondly, that’s Stevie Nicks, sweetheart.”
“I know it is. But I like her.”
“I like her too. But this is different. This is bad Eighties-style Stevie Nicks and worse, it’s that ‘Leather and Lace’ sappy duet with Don Henley.”
“Sappy is good,” she says, grabbing me around the waist. And then we’re dancing, or rather, standing close and slowly rocking from one leg to other. But does it matter if it’s really dancing? The main thing is you’re up close to her, and you’re not too busy doing other things to notice the way her hair smells, that slim fading tan line across the small of her back, the light brown freckle near her nose, and the exact shade of her eyes.
Dawn has her head nestled up against mine, a hand on my shoulder and one around my waist and we’re actually a pretty nice fit. I don’t have to hunch down and she doesn’t have to stand on her toes.
As we pass in front of the windows, I reach out and pull the cord to bring the curtains down and she looks up briefly from my shoulder. “More intimate that way,” I say, giving her side a squeeze. “Too bad the light burnt out on my strobe light.”
I don’t get a reply out of her except for a smile so I decide to shut up. But I suppose my need to make silly comments has more to do with fighting down my own desire at this point than trying to make her laugh. Sure, being this close to her makes you notice all kinds of things you might otherwise miss and you can do your best to be a gentleman and be noble. But try as you might, you begin to notice other things as well – how close her pelvis is riding yours, her tongue pausing briefly on her lips, the heave of her chest against yours, and that tiny little zipper coming down from the neckline on the back of her blouse…
We luck out and get a second slow song and a reasonable one by my tastes as well – Madonna’s “Crazy for You.” But after a few minutes that song ends and as you might expect with even the easiest of slow and easy rock stations, something much faster comes on. “Wait, this is…” I say, but I can’t call it.
“George Michael.” She smiles up at me. “‘Faster Love.’ I actually own this one.” The song starts off like one of the latest R&B songs complete with the cheesy synthesizer hooks but before long it’s pumping along at a pace that’s a little too fast to slow dance to.
So it’s to the lyrics of Mr. George Michael that desire gets its chance to run around the track.
“So why don’t we make a little room in my BMW, babe
Searching for some peace of mind
Hey, I’ll help you find it
I do believe that we are practicing the same religion”
And as weird as it might read, a comparison to running around a track is quite appropriate because in short time, perhaps ten or twenty seconds into the kiss, slow dancing has given way to a race of sorts. I can feel her hands undoing my belt and the top button of my jeans while I’m struggling with whatever strange puzzle of a lock is preventing me access beneath her bra. Who the hell designs bras anyway? I realize it’s important to have them be tightly clasped so there aren’t any boobs unexpectedly exploding out their bras at inopportune moments. But I’m not so sure they have to be so complex as to prevent burglary as well if you know what I mean.
I’m still struggling with the damned clasp when the phone rings.
“You’re not answering that,” she gasps, breaking the kiss.
She’s right. I’m not. Because I’ve finally gotten the clasp undone and the blouse is coming off too.
“No, no, I’m not taking your kindness for granted, I really enjoyed it,” she says, shrugging away from my post-coital efforts to lick her in one swipe from her chin to the bottom of her shoulder. “Stop that!” she shrieks, pushing me off of her. “I can’t remember if anyone has ever serenaded me naked, much less singing Stevie Wonder.” She giggles. “But you got the words all wrong! And it wasn’t really that you got the words wrong as much as it was the uniquely Freudian way in which you did it!”
“What?” I ask. “What’d I get wrong?”
“You did just fine with the ‘la-la-lah’s’ and you had most of the words right up until the chorus. But it’s ‘My Cherie Amour, pretty little one that I adore. You’re the only girl my heart beats for.’ And NOT ‘My Cherie Amour, pretty little one night stand, I adore.’”
I laugh. “I did that on purpose. I was just being silly.”
“Oh yeah, sure you were. How can someone that works with words every day of his life get such a classic song so blatantly wrong?” she asks. “I think you should start considering the possibility of a Freudian slip.”
“Hey, give me a break here. I’m just a normal, average guy. At least I didn’t start screaming ‘Oh Veronica!’ or ‘Oh Peggy!’ awhile ago.”
“Is either one of those your mother’s name?”
“That is not funny.” I grin.
“I’m glad you brought that up though,” she says, playing with the hair behind my ear. “How many Peggy’s and Veronica’s do you have out there right now?”
Stunning computer graphics suddenly fly across the screen of my mind. Glistening golden football posts rotate in the sun, and goliaths of wide receivers dive gracefully into the air to catch computer animated passes before hitting the ground and running for the end zone. It’s the pre-game show. Former quarterback Terry Bradshaw is on the screen, sipping his coffee and looking as bald as ever. “Craig Mitchell, injured in last weeks game against the Titans, is expected to make a recovery of epic proportions in today’s game…” he says. But that’s as far as he gets before Mr. Instinct take him out with a swift left hook.
“You mean am I dating anyone else?” I ask. Of course, I know damned well what she means but I’m trying to buy myself time because of Bradshaw’s annoying interruption.
“Ok, I guess I can level with you. I’m sorta dating this one other girl.” I manage to get out before I mentally duck and cover. But after a few moments I raise up to find my apartment still intact, and Dawn still lying naked beside me. I had always heard that if you mixed male honesty with female jealously there would be some sort of nuclear explosion to rival Hiroshima but apparently there wasn’t enough of one of the elements to set that kind of thing off.”
“You’re sorta dating her?’”
“Ok, here’s the scoop,” I say. And then I fill her in on Elizabeth, telling her about how she was my second date from Girlfriend Express after the apparent celibacy of the first, but stopping short of telling her that I streaked through a Taco Bell and had sex with her in the very same bed where we lay right now. “So that’s what happened,” I say. “And it’s totally not my fault because if you’d just been honest with me to begin with we might have been…” I stop short, not sure what to say next.
“Oh, sure. It’s all my fault, Craig. Wait a minute, what did you just say? We might have been what?”
“I don’t know. We might have been ‘happily ever after’ or something equivalent – which isn’t necessarily saying we aren’t right now,” I say, verbally stumbling, and quickly veering away from a theme that might further get me in trouble. “But at the very least, I wouldn’t be stuck dating two women right now.”
“Poor you,” she says, nuzzling up against me again. “How about being stuck dating just one of them?”
“I could deal with that I think.”
We don’t say anything for thirty seconds or so and I’m certain the subject is going to be dropped when she asks, “So are you going to continue dating her?”
“Uhh. Do we have to talk about this now?”
“Of course we do. I’m no dummy,” she says. “I’m taking advantage of man’s greatest moment of weakness – the afterglow of some really great sex. You made your bed,” she says, slowly pulling down the covers down to expose her breasts. “Now you have to sleep in it.”
“Look, I respect your attempt to hit me in my moment of weakness and I think you’re really clever and all. And I can take my best stab at telling you what’s going through my head right now but I can’t honestly say that it won’t be… what’s the word I’m looking for here?” I pause. “I can’t honestly say it won’t be colored, yeah, tainted even by wanting to stop talking about all of this and roll over and kiss you right there,” I say, tapping a spot in the middle of her thigh.
She looks down momentarily and then makes eye contact again. “I can give you a break now but you know I’m going to lean on you at some point. And probably real soon too.”
I nod my understanding of this.
“Ok, as long as you know…” she says. “I don’t know why it has to be such a big ordeal for someone to say how they feel anyway. You do know somewhere in that knucklehead of yours don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. But I’m not a woman, Dawn. I have one of these between my legs,” I say, motioning under the covers. “And for some reason having one of these is sometimes like a mini-restraining device prohibiting emotional expression.” I stop myself and backup, “No wait, not mini – really huge, magnificent restraining device. Sorry, I had my adjectives confused there.”
She laughs. “Restraining device or not, what’s so hard about saying what’s on your mind? I don’t get it. How can you be a writer and not have original words to describe what you’re feeling? I’m so disappointed. I thought I was in for a real treat. A really good looking and wonderful guy that could actually express the way he feels.”
“Hey, give me a break, ok?” I grimace. “I’m really not so bad in the ‘expressing’ department but I’m not a walking romance novel either. In fact, that’s just it. That’s what’s so tough about expressing yourself these days. It’s nearly impossible anymore to be original. Someone should write a book called ‘How to Express Yourself Without Sounding Like a Hallmark Greeting Card or the Latest Chick Flick.’”
“But then you’d end up sounding like the author of the book wouldn’t you?” she points out.
“Uh huh. That’s the problem. I think rock music and movies have been suffering from the same thing for the past decade or so. How do you express something that’s been expressed hundreds of thousands of times before without sounding cliché and trite? It’s hard to do.”
“I sort of harbor the notion that everyone’s just gone lazy. No one ever said it had to be eloquent – just heartfelt, you know?”
“Yeah, well a lot of writing can be like that sometimes. It’s well written, all of the words are there and in the right place, but there’s absolutely no heart in it,” I say.
“I know I could get you to express other things for me,” she says. “Just not the love or attraction. Like what if I asked you to express why you like writing for instance. What would you say?”
“Why I like writing?”
“Yes, what really turned you on about writing? I asked you once what you thought of fireworks and you had a pretty good answer for me. So why did you go to school and decide you wanted to get into journalism? And don’t say you just fell into it or some cop-out like that.”
“I guess I really like words.”
She punches me. “Not good enough, sir. Please elaborate.”
“Oww. Jesus, Dawn, I was being serious!” I insist. “I like words. I like the sound of them. I like stringing them together for one effect or another. I like that they can mean so many different things and that you can look them up in the dictionary and still miss the point because they’re so subjective. You know what I mean? It’s really kind of cool when you stop to think about it.”
“Give me an example.”
I think about it for ten seconds or so. “Archetype.”
“Smart ass,” she says.
“I ask you for an example and you answer with a word that means ‘the perfect example.’”
“No, that’s what it means to you,” I reply. “And that’s why it’s the perfect example.”
“What does it mean to you?” she asks.
“Archetype? It’s not so much what it means to me… Wait, maybe I can kill two birds with one stone here. What if I said you were an archetype?”
“Yeah, I could mean that you’re the perfect example of something or more likely, the example of a specific type of person, right?”
“But there’s another definition of the word. Actually many definitions so I’m going phrase it in my own words. The definition I’m thinking of reads ‘the original pattern for which everything thereafter is patterned.’”
“Ok,” she says.
“So by saying you’re an archetype… You see?” I was honestly hoping to leave the sentence hanging right there, that she’d get it but she doesn’t so apparently there’s little hope of getting off that easily.
“What I might say with the word ‘archetype’ is that every single girl I’ve ever dated doesn’t hold a candle to you… that they’ve all been cheap copies or knockoffs of everything you umm… simply are. Do you see what I’m saying? I’m saying a lot more than you’re unique. I’m trying to tell you that you’re an original, that there’s absolutely no one like you, and that there’s never been a mold for you because there never could be.” I may be wrong but I think I’m beginning to blush. “And if I said that we stand a good chance of you and I becoming an archetype? Together? Well, then I end up sounding like a Hallmark greeting card just like I promised.”
“No, then you end up making me swoon,” she says, rolling back on top of me under the covers.
After awhile she breaks the kiss. “When do you have to be back?”
“I don’t. I took the rest of the day off too.”
“Very smart man,” she says, and leaves it at that.
If there’s a down point to the whole afternoon it’s that Dawn has to pick her daughter up from school at 3:30. I could have stayed in bed with her all afternoon and been in total bliss but now she’s in the shower and I’m laying in bed hoping to catch at least one more glimpse of her before she puts her “business conservative” outfit back on again.
I can hear Pork Chop in the close busily ripping up something – probably a pair of my shoes and one that I really like because that’s how he seems to work when he’s angry. Oh well, it was worth it. It got rid of him for awhile and stopped him from jumping up on the futon every five minutes and interrupting things. Poor dude. More than anything, I think he’s just curious about all of the sounds. When else but occasionally during sex do human beings sound so much like cats?
I glance over at the answering machine and there’s the message light blinking away. I’d almost forgot about the call earlier. So leaning across the futon and getting in a great big stretch in the process, I peg the ‘Play’ button.
The ‘beep’ is followed by the sound of someone chewing something, and not just chewing, but chewing obnoxiously. They chew for about ten seconds or so and I’m about ready for Tim’s voice to come on and for him to start singing the 2 Live Crew song again. But the chewing is followed by a sudden coughing fit and I don’t why, but I’m I’m beginning to recognize the timbre of Stewart’s hacking and wheezing.
“You there, Mitchell?” More chewing. “Pick up… I called your work and they said you had a Doctor’s appointment.. which I really doubt, and the guy that answered the phone at your work sounded like he doubted it too by the way. Just so you know.” More chewing. “Alright, well I wanted to break this news to you in person but since you’re too much of a wuss to answer the phone apparently… I tracked down that Girlfriend Express place for you and you’re gonna shit when you hear…
“What would you say if I told you that you could walk to their offices?” He leaves a nice long pause for effect. “Believe it or not, they’re in that industrial court behind Rally’s off of Manchester in Maplewood – right down the street from your fucking apartment. I took a drive by there this afternoon but there wasn’t much to look at. It’s a just a plain nondescript warehouse converted into smaller office spaces. Anyway, the address is 1577 Cullenmiere Industrial Drive. Suite #23. Give me a call when you get a chance.” Click.
“You have no more new messages.” My answering machine says.
“You found them, huh?” Dawn asks, startling me. She’s standing in the doorway with my small blue, shredded bath towel wrapped loosely around her.
“Yeah, apparently so.” I jump out of bed, fully intent on grabbing her up and taking her back to bed.
“No don’t, I just took a shower!” She shrieks. “Daughters notice little things like men’s cologne…”
“Please tell me you have time for another one…” I plead.
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