I’m amazed. I’ve just experienced nirvana and the best part is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Kurt Cobain. I feel like I’m about to start chanting or speaking in tongues or both. Where’s Mecca? I feel compelled to look in that direction, maybe even bow.
I’ve often thought only two people knew about Prefab Sprout, an 80′s band that got completely overlooked by the mainstream. History has lost this band and now only two people remember them: Me and God.
“I know this is an absolutely geek thing to say,” I’m telling her as I hang a right on Manchester Road. “But of all the CD’s sitting in my car, you picked my favorite album of all time.”
I reel myself in. Restrain yourself, restrain, restrain. When a girl picks your favorite CD out of a stack of fifty sitting on the seat of your car on your first date and asks you to play it, or she starts pretending to share your interest in computers or movies and art, maybe she’s just trying to get in good with you and make conversation. Or worse yet, maybe it’s just horrible luck she shares this single interest. You know, she loves Prefab Sprout but she thinks the Spice Girls are just as cool.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to give her credit for knowing about this band. She’s more than welcome to join me and God in knowing about them. But what are the chances?
“It’s my favorite too,” Dawn says, looking over the song titles. “Except I don’t have ‘Two Wheels Good.’ This one actually has a bonus track I don’t have. I have the import, same titles, same exact album but it’s called ‘Steve McQueen.’”
Oh my God. She knows about ‘Steve McQueen,’ the British Import of the album. As the story goes, someone affiliated with Steve McQueen’s estate got upset about the album title and due to that fact and our crummy American legal system, the band had to change the name of the album for the US market. Steve McQueen the actor loved motorcycles throughout his short life. So they changed the homage to ‘Two Wheels Good.’ This geek fact aside, if she has the import, well it only stands to reason that…
“Hey, I know we’ve just met and all. But can I just say you’re really cool? And I really mean that.” I’m doing my best not to spout and get all obviously excited and seem like some sort of music fanatic even though that’s exactly what I am. “It’s like, I own twelve hundred CDs…”
Whoops, that one’s out of the bag. “Music is one of my true passions in life. I worked in a lot record stores over the years and in college…”
I pause. Some guy is doing half the speed limit in front of me, driving one of those lame boxy sport jeeps. I look for a gap to get my green car around him. From time to time the passing street lights briefly illuminate the inside of my car and despite the fact I’m driving, I can’t help glancing over at the passenger seat whenever I get the chance.
She’s beautiful. And I should clarify that statement: not beautiful in a Pamela Anderson or Christy Turlington way. That’s traditional beauty. That’s obvious beauty. That’s unnecessary breast enlargement, unnaturally dark tan, too much makeup, way too skinny, and cookie-cutter facial features. Dawn’s is a different kind of beauty. I don’t know how I’d describe it.
She’s… she’s… how do I say this? She’s… oddly beautiful. You know what I mean? She’s fairly attractive from the word go. Ask a friend what they think of her and you’ll get a “not bad” or “she’s kind of cute.” But sit next to her in an all-green car with the passing street lights casting an occasional glimmer of light across the dash and her face and notice the way she smiles, and the way she laughs and the way she plays with her hair from time to time when she’s answering a question and suddenly she’s more beautiful than any supermodel is ever capable of being. Because she’s real. Because she has flaws. Because she’s a few pounds overweight and doesn’t attempt to hide it.
That’s beautiful if you ask me. That’s what beauty is all about.
“Twelve hundred!” she nearly screams. “I have like eight hundred and I thought I was a junkie!”
“Well, consider I used to work in new and used record stores and was able to buy a majority of them really cheap. And let me tell you how cool it is to be able to buy great CDs you’ve been wanting for years for two bucks, three bucks, maybe four bucks if you’re feeling generous and they have some hard luck story about a boyfriend being in jail or something.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she says laughing. “That’d be an offer I could not refuse. I love my sister but I think I’d have to send her out to work in a factory or something to support my CD habit.”
We pause as I make a last minute decision to run a red light and blow past the slow-mover jeep guy. What the heck is up with this guy anyway? He’s driving this sporty little white jeep with a “No Fear” sticker stuck prominently on the back window and he just got passed by a guy driving a totally green family car. Maybe that should be a clue to him.
Wait a minute, as I look in my rear view I notice that he’s talking on cell phone. That explains everything. Let history note right here, right now – people who talk on cell phones while they’re driving are complete fucking idiots.
“But anyway, yeah. I have a whole wall of ‘em. And you wanna know the truth?” I say. “If there was a fire at my apartment, knock on wood, but if there were a fire and I only had time to grab one CD. I’d grab ‘Two Wheels Good.’ There just hasn’t been a better album, not ever. Nothing else has ever compared for me.”
“Yeah. I’ve tried to turn friends on to it over the years,” she says, playing with an earring. “The weird part is they just don’t get it. Most of them don’t understand. I think you have to have your heart broken really badly at some point in your life to truly appreciate that album…”
Understand me when I say I may ask this girl to marry me by the end of the night. I’m kidding of course, but man, so far so good.
“You nailed it right on the head. That’s exactly it! It’s an album about a lot of stuff: growing up, living up to your parents expectations, falling in love, infidelity, falling out of love, getting married. But the songs I love the most on the album, you know, the ones that really hit home with me? You’re absolutely right. They’re about having your heart broken. One song says it all… ‘Bonny.’”
“That’s the one.” She says. “I count the hours since you slipped away. I count the hours that I lie awake. I count the minutes and the seconds too. All I stole and I took from you.’” She smiles.
“Yeup. That pretty much sums it up doesn’t it?” I ask not knowing what else to say. I pull the green car into the restaurant’s parking lot and find a space near the door.
I could be wrong, but I wonder who broke this girls’ heart.
In Italian restaurants there are usually three areas: smoking, non-smoking, and the darkly lit area where they put people on dates when they suspect they’ll be eating Spaghetti out of each others mouths Lady & the Tramp style after a few glasses of wine.
That’s where they put Dawn and I. In a corner, at a small table with a candle and some guy with a bushy mustache playing an accordion. Actually, I’m lying about the guy with the accordion. At Va’san Culo Ristorante, they don’t have accordion players. Instead, they have a jukebox which is presently spinning Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.”
“This place is pretty cool,” she says. I watch her face for any signs of sarcasm. She’s serious. Cool, she likes it.
Va’san Culo is an interesting place because first off, it has this totally Italian, hard to pronounce, authentic sounding name. The food is authentic. But the atmosphere? It’s anything but authentic. Rick Springfield on the jukebox. Our waitress is wearing a Mojo Nixon T-shirt and ratty jeans. And a couple of people are playing Monopoly a few tables away.
“What can I get you to drink?” the waitress asks.
Dawn orders Ice Tea. I ask what beers they have.
“We have Corona, Fosters Oil Cans and Mickey’s.”
“Mickey’s Big Mouth! Oh wow, that’s really cool. I haven’t had one of those since college. Give me one of those.” I look across the table at Dawn and she’s giving me one of those disapproving looks. I hardly know her but where women and disapproving looks are concerned, the look is pretty standard-issue.
Should I try to figure out what I’ve done wrong? It’s a first date and I order a giant malt liquor? Well she can just lighten up, I’m not going to get bombed. In fact, if she’s drinking Iced Tea then I’m really gonna be careful. I don’t want to get tipsy and end up telling that story about how I…
“So what do you do for a living?” she asks. Hey! That was my job! Conversation starter. She just beat me to it.
“I work for Blockbuster Entertainment,” I reply.
“You rent people movies?”
“No, I don’t rent people movies.” I grin. “That’s what nine out of ten people assume when I say Blockbuster Entertainment. But no, I work in marketing. I’m a copy writer.”
“You copyright movies?” Dawn asks.
“Not Copyrighter… Copy Writer. I write copy. You know, like ‘Blockbuster has thousands of titles the whole family will enjoy. From Sandra Bullock to Harrison Ford. We have the movies you want to rent. We have a convenient selection of children’s movies so you can stuff your kids in the basement with the TV, the VCR, ‘The Apple Dumpling Gang,’ ‘Escape from Witch Mountain’ and a box of Ho-ho’s and forget about them for half of the day. And we’re always delighted to rape you for $3.00 or more for a one night rental. Why? Because your wallet is open and we force our employees to dress like Catholic school children. That’s right! Everything but the plaid skirts.’”
“So you write commercials?”
“Well, not really. Sometimes I aspire to that glory. But mostly this asshole who sits next to me gets to do that sort of stuff. I just write signage, employee propaganda, in-store flyers and that kind of thing.”
“That’s really interesting,” she says putting her menu down.
“Not really. But it’s in my field. Or rather, I wanna write for a living, maybe some books and I guess this is as good a start as any.” My Mickey’s and Dawn’s ice tea arrive at the table.
I look for the pull-top to open the beer but apparently they’ve changed it over the years since college. Now the big huge cap twists off and there’s some sort of weird little sniglett of a joke written on the inside of the cap. “Don’t look at your own butt,” it says. That’s super. I think I like this beer more now. Hats off to Mickey’s marketing crew. Great job guys.
“So what do you do?” I ask.
“I’m an occupational therapist.”
“Cool. So can you give me some therapy and get me a better job?” I ask.
“Isn’t it funny how you can tell someone what you do and they automatically take whatever you say 180 degrees out of context?” she asks sarcastically.
“Hey, I rent movies for a living. Remember? And I have this friend who works for the University of Missouri in a clerical job and everyone assumes he’s a professor when he says he works there.”
She smiles. “Yeah, I guess everyone has the problem.” She opens one end of her straw, sticks the open end in her mouth and attempts to blow the paper wrapper at me. But it must have a small hole at the end because the wrapper ends up a dud and never takes flight.
“Here, give me that.” I take the wrapper, give it an expert twist on one end and hand it back to her. “Now try it.”
She gives it another blow and this time it sails across the restaurant and lands on the Monopoly table. The two girls playing the board game look over at us with clearly ‘What the hell?’ expressions on their faces.
Dawn’s blushing. I’m laughing. No damage done, it’s a straw wrapper for Christ’s sake, not a driveby shooting.
“Don’t mind us. We take the short bus to school,” I say. They go back to their game. “This is great. I haven’t had this much fun since maybe the 9th grade, Mr. Grimes, 5th hour.” Dawn’s looking around the restaurant, apparently concerned if anyone else saw the straw wrapper fly.
“So anyway, I’m an occupational therapist which basically means that when someone gets in a really bad accident or suffers some sort of paralyzation or physical handicap they’ve had no experience with, and the physical therapists have nursed them back to whatever health they will enjoy for the rest of their life. My job is to get them trained in some sort of job they can handle.”
“Wow, that’s really, really heavy.” I don’t know what else to say. “I thought I had a real job but I don’t. You do though.”
“That’s just it, you just hit on the problem. It’s too real. The biggest battle isn’t in training these people for a new profession. It’s in making them want to get out of bed every day. They lose their sight or their hearing or their ability to walk and they just don’t want to go on. They give up.”
“So what do you do?”
“Well, that’s a tough question because there’s a different way to handle every situation. But in a nutshell, I figure out what sort of person they were before the accident and I try to draw them out. I joke with them and sometimes I find out there’s a wise-ass hiding under that depression.”
“God, what a great job.”
“No, not really. I don’t know how much longer I can do it. The worst part is that all of the male patients fall in love with me.” She grins.
“Well, can you blame them?” I say, smiling.
“Imagine being single and having something really horrible happen, a horrible accident that nearly kills you,” she says. “And you’re ready to give up and one person gives you the hope to pull out of the nosedive and to give it another try. You’re pretty much gonna fall in love with them right?”
“Yeah. I guess that’s pretty much what would happen. But what if the therapist had this huge wart on their forehead? You know, right in the center so they looked sort of like the Cyclops?” I point to the center of my forehead and go cross-eyed. “And you couldn’t stop staring at the wart. Would they still fall in love with the person?”
“Well, I can already guess. If it was you I’d say you’d fall in love with the wart,” she says, grinning sagely. “Yeah, I’m willing to admit that perhaps I’m a little too good at my job. I’m an overachiever but I have to be honest, I don’t know how much overachievement I have left in me.”
She takes a drink of tea and hooks a glance over at the jukebox that just started playing the Pixies “Monkey Gone to Heaven.”
“I just don’t have any of my own life anymore. Between Lindy and my job, I just don’t get out much. All my friends have given up on me. They don’t even call anymore because I always turn them down on going out.”
“Which is where Randall and Girlfriend-Express come into the picture?”
“Yes. When someone calls and says you have a date in two hours you don’t necessarily have time to think of excuses. You go,” she says.
“He only gave you two hours notice?” I ask. “That’s weird. He gave me whole day’s notice and I’m not even a girl. I didn’t have to do my makeup and hair and pick out an outfit and all that jazz.”
“He gave you a day notice! He didn’t even ask me and suddenly he has a date set…” Dawn says, raising her voice.
I really have her now. The days notice thing was a complete lie. But maybe I’ll get to see some temper here. Maybe some horns will grow out of her head and she’ll start chanting “Satan is my master.” This might work out to my benefit, because you know, a woman’s temper is always good to find out about right away.
“I can’t believe him!” she says shrilly. “I.. I.. had all this stuff to do and I just had to drop it. And he gives you all the time in the world, and only gives me five minutes to think about it. I just got my daughter home from school…”
Whoops. She looks me in the eye. And yes, I heard it.
“Is Lindy your daughter?”
No wonder she gave me the finger. I’m taking her Mom out on a date.
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