“Well the truth is out… Yes, she’s my daughter.”
You know it’s times likes these that I feel really, really old. I’m not an old man, just 29 years of age. But it seems like just yesterday I was making out with Kim Terrell behind the Pantera’s Pizza after a junior high dance, struggling pathetically to get her bra unlatched.
It seems like just yesterday I didn’t have to worry about dating married women. In Junior High, my only worry was that my hair wasn’t combed right. And now I’m on a date with Dawn, mother of Lindy. I’m an adult. She’s an adult and for some reason it’s just really weird. I still feel young. I don’t feel I’m of the age that I should be attending PTA meetings.
“Please tell me you’re not married.”
“No,” Dawn says. “The Ex-husband is out of the picture. We’re divorced.”
“The ‘D word’ huh?”
“Yeah and you said it right. ‘The D Word.’ I hate to even say it. I never thought of myself as a ‘D Word’ person.”
“So who’s taking care of Lindy tonight?” I ask changing the subject.
“My real sister Darla. She’s in her thirties and they get along great. She’s kind of a homebody and doesn’t get out much so it’s not too hard to persuade her to watch Lindy. Plus my house is unique in that I have Girl Scout cookies year round. Darla’s an addict and she’s turning Lindy into one too.”
“I thought they only sold those once a year?” I ask, instantly remembering what a Girl Scout Thin Mint cookie tastes like. I just realized I haven’t had one in years.
“Well, yeah. But Lindy’s a Girl Scout and I buy like ten cases every year. Even with Darla around it’s hard to go through that many.”
“Man, can we just skip dinner and go back to your place?” I’m somewhat serious. Dawn is pretty cool. I think I could sit on the couch with her, watch Seinfeld and eat Girl Scout Cookies for the rest of the evening. “Speaking of dinner, we’d better figure out what the heck we’re gonna order before Mojo Nixon the waitress gets pissed at us.”
I don’t have a clue what I want to order. I could order Spaghetti and Meatballs, the house specialty. But I’m wearing one of those fancy-pants shirts of the fabric type that has to be dry-cleaned and I don’t want to get Marinara sauce on it.
“I think I’m just going to get a salad.”
“Just a salad?” she asks. “You’re gonna make me feel like a pig. I was thinking about ordering the Spaghetti Bolognese. You want to split some of it with me or something?”
Mojo Nixon the waitress comes around to take our order. I decline another Mickey’s Big Mouth after Dawn orders another Iced Tea. The candle on our table has gone out but the waitress pulls a Harley Davidson Zippo from the pocket of her apron and relights it. The flame flickers wildly within the stained glass holder casting patterns of light across our faces as we talk.
I hate to bring the subject up again. After all, I just met this girl and I don’t want her to feel obligated to tell me her life story on the first date. I don’t want to push my luck and press her for too many personal details… but I do anyway.
“So why does your daughter call you by your first name and refer to you as her ‘sister’?”
“I have her trained,” she says. “I’m lucky enough to get dates at all. I don’t want to scare them off by freaking them out that I have a four year-old daughter.”
“Well they’re bound to find out eventually.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But my hope is that once I get them charmed they won’t mind that I have a daughter. The word ‘daughter’ tends to make single men leave long black skid marks in my driveway trying to get away.”
“I guess I can understand that.”
“You can? Does that mean you’re taking me home now and I’ll never hear from you again?” she asks smiling warmly.
“Probably.” One hour into the date and we understand each other’s sense of humor.
Dinner goes pretty well. We talk about music. We don’t talk about the Clinton scandal, which is good, because I’m sick and tired of hearing about it. We exchange tips on cool places to buy furniture. We eat. We talk about the haircuts we had in high school. She had a bob. I had a new wave haircut: shaved in the back, long bangs in the front. We find out that we share a common fear of snakes. Which leads us to talking about Riki-Tiki-Tavi and then somehow we end up talking about pets we’ve had.
“When we lived out in the country we had this really smart dog named Baron,” I say. The waitress shows up at our table and carts off our plates. I pause in my story as she reaches in front of me to grab my napkin. “He was a Rhodesian Ridgeback, you know, one of those African Lion hunting dogs? He was the coolest dog ever. It’s almost like he was a person. Won’t ever be another dog like him for me. At any rate, we had this really long driveway and all this land. You know, horses, horse pastures… not too many close neighbors. I like to tell it like no one lived close enough that I couldn’t go out and get the mail in my underwear.”
“You went out and got the mail in your underwear?” she asks. “Why?!”
“I’m kidding, I didn’t. But the point is I could have if I wanted to. We didn’t have any neighbors close enough to see. So anyway, we trained Baron to go up the driveway and get the newspaper. He was really easy to train and before long all you had to do was say, ‘Hey Baron, I’ll give you a treat if you go get me the paper’ and off he’d go. Then after awhile he went on auto-pilot. We didn’t even have to ask him anymore, he brought the paper everyday and we rewarded him. For a year he went and got that paper. It was great. But one month the family was running a little low on money because of some higher than usual Vet bills on our horses and my mom discontinued the newspaper delivery service.
“I thought Baron would be kind of bummed but it worked out ok because the papers kept coming even though we’d cancelled the subscription. We checked with the carrier to make sure we weren’t being billed, and we weren’t.”
“Free papers?” she asks.
“Well yeah, that’s what we thought at the time. But after a few weeks of free papers, he started coming home with two, maybe three papers a day. And finally we figured it out. When the paper stopped arriving at the top of the driveway that didn’t stop Baron. He just took a hike down the road, followed the newspaper delivery truck and started stealing all of our neighbors’ papers.”
We laugh. There’s her crazy laugh again. It starts like a chuckle, but then escalates into loud laughter.
“He must have been grabbing papers from all over the neighborhood, trotting a quarter of a mile down the road to grab some of them.”
“So what’d you do?” she asks.
“Nothing. We rewarded him, gave him more treats and he brought us someone else’s newspaper every day. We never had to subscribe again. It was great.”
“So you trained your dog to rob innocent people of their newspapers?” she says laughing.
“Yeup. That’s the way things worked out. I guess dogs are kind of like kids. You have to be careful about how you raise them.”
She smirks. “Well remind me later and I’ll tell you a funny dog story of my own.”
“Speaking of later, I didn’t really have anything planned after this.” I look to her for some sort of reaction but get nothing. “Since Randall set this up, I didn’t have much of a clue who you were or what you might want to do after dinner.”
“Oh, I don’t care, whatever will be fine,” she says.
Danger sign. “Whatever” is never fine where women are concerned.
I have to watch her close now because she might be one of those ‘I don’t care, whatever’ women who have their own agenda but guard it like Fort Knox. That sort of woman expects you to pick up subtle clues in their voice, tone or facial expressions that belies what they really care about and don’t.
“Well, there’s this really cool bar downtown that just opened called ‘My Uncle’s Shed’, we could…”
“I don’t drink,” she says.
“Uhh, ahhh, I’m sorry?” I stammer. “I missed what you said.”
“I don’t drink,” she repeats, smiling subtly. Is she joking? I can’t tell. I’ve never met a girl who doesn’t drink. No subtle clues here to have to figure out, nothing subtle whatsoever. She’s made it clear she doesn’t drink and doesn’t want to go to a bar.
This worries me. This worries me bad.
“Uhhh, let me think for a second, going out for drinks after dinner is the usual next move but I’m creative. I’m not your ordinary guy. I can come up with something else….” I drum my fingers on the table and look at the ceiling. I watch the patterns of light the candles make on the drop ceiling and try to figure things out. I start thinking about this campaign I’m writing at work.
I look back to her again, we make eye contact. But nothing… she’s not helping.
Maybe she’ll admit she’s joking. Some time passes, I don’t know how long, but no jokes are admitted and the somewhat ordinary guy is still struggling for something witty and unique to do. I keep rolling back to the thought: man, she doesn’t drink. I can’t believe this.
Why did Randall set us up? I drink like a fish. He asked me a ton of questions and I’m sure it came up at some point. How could he match us as boyfriend/girlfriend material? She’s not a normal girl. She’s not even a foo-foo drinker, you now, the sort of girl who drinks pink fruity drinks of the Amaretto Sour or Daiquiri variety.
“How ’bout coffee?” she asks finally. “I know this great little coffeehouse in Kirkwood. It’s a stones throw away as the crow flies.”
“Wow, you’re really up on your Missouri lingo aren’t you? Normally getting anyone to talk Missouri-speak is like pulling hens teeth,” I say, matching her with another Missouri idiom.
She smiles and I realize I’ve found a kindred soul, someone who enjoys the somewhat unique, archaic, often farm animal related phrases that live on in our Midwestern town.
“Great, then let’s kick the tents and fire up the mule,” she says as we get up.
Kirkwood, Missouri is a beautiful town. Lots of trees, quaint little streets and a mainstreet that probably hasn’t changed much in a hundred years. Watching the shop windows pass as we drive through, you can almost imagine people walking out of a 1920′s bakery carrying bundled loafs of still-warm bread or a scrappy looking kid peddling newspapers on the corner.
Of course, there’s a Venture department store right down the street with the typical ugly orange, black and white nightmarish color scheme and the usual sales on monster bags of kitty litter and shopping cart-sized cases of toilet paper. But you can overlook that. You really can. This is a beautiful town.
“Check it out,” Dawn says. “The cops are busting the homies…”
We’re stopped at a light and on the corner a cop car has corned a pack of white suburban teen “gangsters” up against a storefront. About four kids stand there, leaning heavily on one pedal or another of their expensive mountain bikes looking really awkward in their high-top basketball shoes, baggy jeans, LA Raiders starter jackets and backwards baseball caps. And the cops loom over them ominously in their pressed uniforms, holstered guns and buzzing radios.
These are suburban teens. They’ve never “popped a cap” in anyone’s ass because of a drug deal gone bad. They don’t rob liquor stores. They probably don’t get detentions in school and can only dream of being Crips or Bloods. Living in this quiet suburb of St. Louis, the closest they’ll ever get to a driveby shooting is the lyrics of Grammy award nominated Snoop Doggy Dog and the rival gangs are their parent’s curfews and these bored suburban cops who probably never cease to hassle them.
“You remember in grade school when ‘Officer Friendly’ used to visit your third grade class and pass out baseball cards to the boys and lip glaze to the girls?” I ask. “You know, it was like a campaign to brainwash us into thinking cops were ‘our friends.’”
“Yeah, I remember that,” she says. “They’d come in and talk about safety, and those bad, weird ‘strangers’ you weren’t supposed to talk to. I remember thinking it was hokey even as a kid.”
“Well my pan on the whole thing is that I grew up liking cops,” I say. “My parents knew quite a few cops for some reason, even a few FBI agents. Now that I think about it’s a little suspect, I guess I should corner them some day and find out why.”
We watch the cops search one of the kids pockets. He pulls a pack of gum out of the kid’s baggy jeans and examines it closely. Nope not drugs, Grape Bubblicious. “But yeah, I grew up totally comfortable with cops. I guess the free baseball cards worked on my impressionable gradeschool mind. The thing is, by the time I got to be a teen the cops had started a totally new campaign. They didn’t give us baseball cards anymore. Instead, the hassled us whenever they got the chance.
“They’d stand there and get in your face like a drill instructor, sniffing out the slightest anger or insolence you might feel as a result of being cornered on your bike in front of Wal-Mart. And in retrospect, we weren’t really doing anything wrong, just riding our bikes around, playing video games at the fast food joints and being bored like any other kid.”
The light turns green and we head down North Kirkwood road, bound for a coffeehouse called the Grinning Cat. I can see the place just down the block. The parking lot looks kind of empty but if Dawn says it’s cool and she doesn’t drink then she must have an angle on cool non-drinking places to hang out.
We pull in just as the place is closing. The lights in the store go out, followed for some reason by the streetlights in the parking lot. We’re sitting in darkness lit only by the lights on my car’s CD player and the dash.
“Ok, so we don’t go for coffee,” she says.
We sit in silence for awhile taking in the darkness and watching the employees mop the floor and take out the garbage. “Wait a minute, I think I have a Gutterfrump Times under your seat. Maybe we could see what bands are playing tonight,” I say.
Dawn reaches under her seat and fishes around. She pulls out a few soda cans, a pen or two, some bills I need to pay, a lipstick case. Shit.
“That’s not mine.”
“I can’t find it,” she says finally.
I undo my seatbelt and lean across the green car to grab for the newspaper but it’s sort of awkward. We’ve been at a distance all night and suddenly without much warning we’re within inches of each other.
“Umm..” she says.
“I think this is…” I start to say.
But neither one of us ends up finishing the sentence.
The odd thing about times like these is that you rarely forget the actual kiss but later on you’re clueless as to how it happened in the first place. Ok, I think I remember. The lights went off in the parking lot. And we were talking about the shop being closed, and I reached under her seat to get that newspaper and.. wait, how did that happen again?
Dawn’s hands are in my hair and mine are around her waist and we aren’t talking anymore. The only thing that’s missing is Air Supply on the radio. Luckily I put in Mathew Sweet CD when we left the restaurant. That’ll have to suffice.
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