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August 20, 2004

The Art of Living Foolishly

Something there is in a woman that craves outside, tangible, indisputable verification of their learned status. They flock to the ivory towers in the perpetual quest of higher learning…a more prestigious degree. An MBA…a doctorate. Some absolutely worthless piece of paper with some ink smeared on the front from this or that university or college. Women flock to schools like sinners to church on Easter Sunday.

A woman may be dry-humping a job making $30,000 a year. But, she’s inevitably attending night school at some tumbled-down university on the wrong side of town that’s perpetually on the brink of losing its accreditation and collapsing into financial insolvency. You can see it in their faces….hollow, sunken, and fallow…large, circular raccoon eyes.

A lascivious, vicious tirade against everything and everyone. Guaranteed to offend most intelligent people. If you didn’t feel offended, then you’re probably too obtuse to understand it.


Chapter 1: The Reality Aquarium


I woke up this morning with a three-alarm hangover. My hands were tattooed with those irritating little bar stamps, and a phone number was scribbled on the back of my right hand, inverted and illegible in any event. My rental car, twisted and mangled, was stuck in a pine thicket in the back of the property in six inches of snow, for reasons that weren’t clear to me. I harbored a vivid recollection of losing control of on ice coming over the pass in the wee hours of the morning, and going backwards down the road into a snowdrift. Somehow, I didn’t go off the ridge, but why I drove down into the pine forest, I can’t speak to.

So, after I swallowed a river of caffeine and enough Advil to make a warthog die a slow and painful death from internal hemorrhaging, I climbed, numb and naked, into the shower and steadied myself, uncertainly, trying to wash away what I could from last night. I carefully washed away the phone number and the bar stamps. My girlfriend was due to arrive on the scene at some point in the evening; obviously I had no intention of telling her that I’d spent the better part of last night carousing like a tom cat with woman half my age and handing out C-notes like Rockefeller handing out dimes to street urchins.

As I toweled off, I looked down from the top floor of the house at the car, resting incongruously in the woods out back. Ravaged earth behind and before, where I’d tried every trick I knew in a drunken stupor before finally admitting defeat and hiking out through the shin-deep snow, winded and gasping at the gelid air.

I made a mental note to check the grill for teeth, hair, fingers, and bodily fluids, once the snow melted, of course. I wasn’t about to trudge down in the snow to try to free it again. If I felt ambitious, I’d try to tow it out of the forest. Otherwise, I’d just wait until the sun chased the snow from the hills and then drive it out.

Clumps of melting snow left the trees and crashed onto the roof. Curious Magpies with razor blue tails inspected the truck. They seemed more concerned about my predicament than I did, and I wondered what that implied about me.

But, I should back up a bit.

Chapter 2: The Death of Hope

Rotary worked in the “Human Resource(HR)? department. “Human Resource? is one of those absurd euphemisms like “collateral damage? and “friendly fire? that leave the uninitiated embarrassing short of understanding when the word is trapped by the ears and funneled into the brain for processing. Human Resources, or more recently Human Capital, is the department where the employees are processed. Humans are hired, fired, investigated, and retired by the HR department.

Gossips and the scallywags are drawn to HR like sea lions to an oyster bed. It is a sort of corporate asylum for all of the social deviants, rumor mongers, and vapid soles in the organization. I know, because I work in HR.

In any event, Rotary sits outside my office. She doesn’t get an office, because she’s just a pawn…just another serf in the organization. I’m a consultant, so I get an office with a door and big glass windows, looking out at her transparent, fishbowl double-cube that she shares with some other org-chart leper.

Her dad worked for the phone company, and that was where her name came from. It wasn’t a name that lent itself to abbreviation, so we all called her Rotary. She said she liked the name, because she’d never met anyone else named Rotary, which wasn’t hard to imagine.

Rotary was gorgeous. She looked like the poster child for the Hitler youth. She was blonde haired and blue eyed, and had an honest, plain beauty about her that allowed her to waltz through life sans makeup.

The alpha geeks from the IT department were constantly milling about her cube, dreaming up perceived network issues like dropped packets and phantom network outages. One of them spent more time in her cube than he did in his own office, though he was rumored to be happily married with a gaggle of toe-headed rugrats.

At first, I had Rotary pegged for just another gossip-happy, rumor-mongering plebe. Even worse, in my never ending quest to prejudge everyone, categorize them, and write them off without a formal hearing, I imagined her to be a granola-crunching, tree hugging, glassy-eyed liberal.

Over time, I found the courage to speak to her, and I discovered that, although she was sufficiently infected with the critical flaws inherent in most women, she did not appear to be a glassy-eyed liberal. At times, she showed signs of independent thought, backed by rational analysis. Rare qualities to find in a woman, particularly one as fresh from those scurrilous, indefatigable bastions of liberalism – the ivory towers of campus of Babel.

She was so attractive, that should she could easily end up serving as Exhibit A in a “justifiable rape? case. So, in the unlikely event that the male population left her to go stare at the photos of their own miscreants, Rotary and I would shuttle off to Chipotle and order one of their mind-bending burritos.

Several times, she had suggested to me that I should meet her friend, Maggie. I countered that I was reasonably sure that her friend had a face like the south end of a north bound bulldog, or tipped the scales at a deuce and a half. She would always insist that her friend was about her size, and fairly attractive.

Eventually, some hair-brained scheme was hatched whereby I would follow her home after work, and her friend would join us for drinks. Although I wasn’t optimistic about the evening, it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to go. And, as I was sitting at her kitchen counter, paying homage to the remnants of my first beer, Maggie walked in.

Margaret Bebermeyerstein’s name was too long to fit on a standard questionnaire, so she went by Maggie. Her married name was Jones, but when she got a divorce, she promptly changed her name back to Bebermeyerstein.

Maggie had long blonde hair, blue eyes, and was easily one of the best looking women I’d ever met. She was the kind of girl that would make you drain your savings accounts, and I knew immediately that I’d never be able to have her without a struggle. Any sexual relations between the two of us would either involve more cash than the GDP of a Central American country, or would result in criminal charges.

As a group, we had drinks, swapped stories, and ordered pizza. When the sun fell below the horizon, we went indoors and continued drinking and mingling. Each time I finished a beer, somehow, Maggie was taking my old one and handing me a new one all in one motion, before I even realized that I was through with the one I had been drinking. Somewhere along the way, someone had broken her in well. I suspected that she may have been beaten like a family mule over the better part of a decade, but it was just idle speculation on my part.

As the evening took care of itself, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me, the two girls lifted their shirts enough to reveal their pierced navels, and asked what I thought of them. It was more than I could bear. I felt like I had swallowed my tongue. I began to feel my oats, and, as I’ve always fancied myself as somewhat of a raconteur, we got louder and sillier, and the stories became funnier, and somehow more believable. Maggie was laughing so hard that she had beer coming out both nostrils and begged me to stop, and at some point I left and managed to drive myself home without getting lost any more than absolutely necessitated by the left-hand rule.

On the drive home, I thought about Maggie. I would have given anything to be with her, but I knew that it would never happen. She was the kind of girl that made you stay up at nights thinking about her. Made you go back and recall everything you’d said to her. Every reply she’d made. Every story that her friend relayed. Each comment had to be remembered and analyzed. Once the tea leaves were spread on the table, then you had to read them. Always, with the preposterous optimism of the perpetually dejected. Always putting the best spin on the comments. Until, finally, you realized that you were trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. She was unattainable, and any reasonable individual could have ascertained that from the start. The fact that she displayed her pierced naval and laughed at my jokes didn’t mean that she wanted to sleep with me.

When I went into the office Monday morning, I saw Rotary. All weekend I had wanted to call to ask how I had done. But, I waited until I saw her in the office. I had anticipated her questions and my replies. She’d ask how I liked her friend. I’d reply in a sort of half-interested way that she seemed nice, but that I wanted to get to know her better. I wouldn’t mention that she was possibly the best looking woman I’d ever seen. That wouldn’t help me any, I figured.

Instead, on Monday morning, her friend didn’t say anything to me about Friday night. Didn’t mention it. My mind raced. I hadn’t anticipated this, but of course, that’s what she would do if it didn’t go well. She wouldn’t bring it up. No need to mention it. After all, it wasn’t really a date in any event. Later on, she told me that she hadn’t talked to her friend about me. This seemed implausible, but not worth challenging. All the signs were discouraging.

I staggered through the office, clutching my Diet Pepsi much too tightly. The soda became my Talisman, as I stumbled through the day staring at the carpet. I walked by people that I should have greeted, lacking the courage to look up and look them in the eye. I felt like I’d just placed my head on a T-ball stand and handed her the bat. This was why I sought refuge in my cocoon like state of seclusion for the last few months, I decided. Reality was just too bitter to face.

And then, when I’d talked myself into a complete impasse through a mental soliloquy, and finally realized that she was unattainable, I drove to the airport. I couldn’t help but feel like a smaller person after having met her. It was like someone had shown me a window to a perfect world and said “There…see that? Get a good look, because that is a place you’ll never go.?

Chapter 3: The Spring Thaw

When I got back from California, I was in a much better state of mind. The winter began to thaw, I started dating Laura, and I would periodically mention to Rotary that I wanted to go out with her friend. It didn’t really matter to me whether she wanted to go out with me or not, as I was in a much better state of mind. I had pretty much written her off, and was really just giving her friend a hard time, for lack of anything better to do.

So, when Rotary sent me the following email at home.

Rob or should I call you the ultimate SLACKER??????? I was going to give you my friend's phone number because she said that she would go on a date with you, if you asked her, but you never come to work!! I guess I can't give it to you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Although I had planned on skipping work, I got dressed and drove into work with great speed, without bothering to reply to the email. I got her phone number, and called her and scheduled a date for Saturday. I couldn’t imagine anything would come of it, but it was worth a shot. Better to go down swinging than to never get to bat.

At the office, Rotary began to lecture and interrogate me.

“You’d better be a gentleman when you take out my friend.?

“Why? What makes you say that??

“Where are you taking her??

“To a clothing-optional bar.?

“You’d better not.?

“Why not??

“Nothing scares off a Bebermeyerstein faster than a low class man.?

“I beg to disagree. Your friend married a man that was sleeping with a prostitute.?

“He wasn’t sleeping with a prostitute...she was a stripper.?

“Oh that’s rich. My point is still that I’m not clear she’s so keen at distinguishing the scoundrels from the blue bloods.?

“You’d better call her. She wants to know what to wear.?

“I’m sure I couldn’t do that.?

“Why not??

“What does she like to wear??

“I told her you’d probably wear jeans, and she said ‘Good. I want to wear jeans.’ ?

“OK. There good. See…that’s what I need. I need you to tell me everything you know…just like that…that was good…that’s what I need to know? I replied. Then I continued “This is going to be a disaster.?

“Why??

“Because, Rotary…what’s the worse thing that can happen when you’re chasing a purse snatcher??

“I don’t know…what?? Rotary replied.

“You could catch him.?

“That doesn’t make any sense? she mused.

“It makes perfect sense? I countered.

Chapter 4: The Fall of Austin

I knew that I’d take her to Austin, just because it’s the only one of my old stomping grounds I could make it to without a plane ticket or a passport.

I knew Austin. We had taken its spleen out back during the Y2K embolism. We’d ridden roughshod over the town for 18 months, living on the expense account. We incinerated the evenings over filets and martinis, margaritas and fajitas. We drank at most of the bars in town, made foolish, immature bets amongst ourselves, handed out hundred dollar bills to strangers, and we perfected the poorly understood art of destroying rental cars.

Back then, I was renting a house in Austin. We were Exhibit A in a trial of overpaid consultants raping the corporate expense account. Just to give you an idea of what an absurd amount of money we were making, one of the consultants made over $69,000 in the month of July, in the year of 2000. So, that gives you an idea of how close we came to becoming completely unfettered. We carved the heart out of Austin and devoured it like the local CDR man eating homemade ice cream in the summertime shade of one of those resplendent Ficus Banyan trees that plague the University of Havana.

And, when the consultants were out of town, or no one else would go out with me, I’d go hunker down in my favorite watering hole and drink alone. My buddy Brian, the bartender, wouldn’t let me buy a drink there. He swore my money was no good. He never asked what I wanted to drink – he knew. They wouldn’t charge me a cover at the door. It wasn’t like that. We were way beyond the normal modus operandi. We took Austin by the ears and skull-fucked it.

So, that’s why Maggie and I drove down into the valley for dinner last Saturday night.

Chapter 5: Blonde Hairstorm

As I mentioned earlier, Maggie was a slippery little number, a full decade younger than me, with a perfect complexion, Disney Blue eyes, and shoulder-length blonde hair. She was about five foot two, had legs that went all the way to the ground. Although she claimed to weigh 107 pounds, that may have been her fighting weight, but she appeared to be well shy of a hundred. You knew at a glance that if you ever took her out, you’d spend half the night fighting with strangers, and the other half carrying her over your shoulder like a sack of rice.

Maggie was young enough that she hadn’t caught the fear. She was outrageously flirtatious, and burned like a roman candle as she stalked up and down the pedestrian mall. I followed behind her, a dog on an unseen leash, trying desperately to get my arms around her.

I steered her into a Mexican restaurant that makes a margarita called the “Near Death Experience?. They’re so vicious, that they won’t serve you more than three.

They carded Maggie when we walked in the door, but not me. They probably thought I was her father. The hostess handed me a pager the size of a grapefruit, and I suggested to my victim that we have a margarita at the bar while we waited for our table.

Something there is in a woman that craves outside, tangible, indisputable verification of their learned status. They flock to the ivory towers in the perpetual quest of higher learning…a more prestigious degree. An MBA…a doctorate. Some absolutely worthless piece of paper with some ink smeared on the front from this or that university or college. Women flock to schools like sinners to church on Easter Sunday.

A woman may be dry-humping a job making $30,000 a year. But, she’s inevitably attending night school at some tumbled-down university on the wrong side of town that’s perpetually on the brink of losing its accreditation and collapsing into financial insolvency. You can see it in their faces….hollow, sunken, and fallow…large, circular raccoon eyes.

“I’m not getting much sleep. I fell asleep at the red-light this morning.? They’d say. “Just six more years of night school and I’ll have my master’s degree in Future Theology Administration. Watch out then.?

“Where are you going to school?? I asked Maggie over the salt covered rim of liquid social lubricant.

“Did Rotary tell you I was going to school??

“No. It was just a hunch.?

The Frisbee sized pager they’d handed me started flashing and vibrating like it was an integral part of the Civil Defense System. It flashed like a UFO in the Deep South, and vibrated like jumping beans in a warm skillet. The hostess showed us to our table and we resumed our tenuous, tepid conversation.

She explained that she was going to some local community college to get an MVA or a GPA or a WPA in Applied Psychobabble. Once a woman digests an armload of psychobabble texts, no man within earshot of her is safe. She’ll spend the meal deconstructing the stories, reading the body language, and ferreting out the relevant birth order covenants instead of drinking the margaritas and enjoying herself.

It never ceases to amaze me how delusional and addled women can be. They cling tenaciously to the most whimsical and superfluous ideas and beliefs with only the most superficial attempts at verification.

Over the first margarita, she explained how birth order affected relationships, and then switched predictably to astrology, and volunteered that she was a Gemini.

“My dog is a Gemini? I casually allowed.

It is always best to go one crazier when dealing with a woman. My theory is that they might possibly wake up and realize how ridiculous and improbable their beliefs are, and although that seldom happens, it’s always amusing to pretend to be as crazy as they are, at least for an evening.

Somewhere into the second margarita, she allowed as how she’d been five and a half months pregnant when she got married. Then, the second kid had been a surprise, and then the third was thrown in just to cement the relationship.

“I don’t blame you for leaving your ex-husband? I started, trying to steer the conversation into the here-to-fore uncharted realm of reason and respectability. “I mean…after all…if he was cheating on you with a prostitute…?

“She wasn’t a prostitute. She was a stripper.?

“I apologize. I meant no ill-will to the strippers, I can assure you.?

“And, I didn’t leave him over that. I forgave him.?

“Sure. That’s understandable. A man has needs…? I offered whimsically. The train was clearly off the tracks, despite my best intents. I took a sailor-sized swig of my margarita.

“And, he’s not my ex-husband. He’s my husband.?

Batten down the hatches. Looks like we’re in for stormy weather. I felt the warmth of the Tequila flee my spine, replaced by the familiar, queasy chill of chartreuse yellow fear. My brother, four years my junior, had always warned me about getting caught with another man’s wife. He told me stories across the campfire that made me cringe – grown men chummed into fish-meal and carefully strained into the borderless swamps along the southern coastline.

Laura’s ex-husband was in prison in Canyon City, and short of a jailbreak, he wouldn’t be out in my lifetime. So, that was easy enough to deal with. But this was unexpected. I was out serenading a married woman, with my back to the door.

Maggie looked at me directly. A woman can sense fear better than a Rotweiller in a van full of illegal immigrants. Nothing stinks worse than a coward, and when I looked at Maggie, I was swimming in fear.

“Our divorce won’t be final until May. May the 19th? she offered. Somehow, assigning a date to it made it seem more palatable.

“Where’s your husband?? I asked her, eyeing the door and suddenly sizing up the jug-eared waiter. Would he be able to help me in a barroom brawl? Would he defend the patrons if an insanely jealous husband stormed the patio, seeking to defend his wife’s honor? Or would he cower and run, like a Yankee carpetbagger?

“He’s in Ohio.? Somehow, Ohio seemed far enough away, and I slowly found myself slipping under the spell of the Tequila, the Disney Blue eyes, and the mesmerizing blonde hairstorm.

During the third margarita, she showed me her belly button stud, which she’d gotten a month or two prior. She’d shown it to me before, but I was still fit to be tied. I wanted to lean over and lick her navel, but I didn’t feel like spending the rest of the night in the police station explaining why I had my head under the table at Rio’s salivating into a married woman’s pierced belly button.

What I did instead was gaze at her belly button paraphernalia like a cheetah eyeing a newborn gazelle, and then I reached out and caressed it very gently.

“That’s nice. Have you ever taken the stud out and put a ring in there?? I asked, squinting, and trying to hide my fear. Everything seemed like it was a re-enactment on Forensic Files. In my minds eye, I could see grainy black-and-while re-enactment video; the perpetrator reaching out and caressing the young victim’s naval.

“No, but I can get one. I don’t have any scars? she volunteered.

I swallowed a piece of ice the size of a peach pit. “Come again?? I queried.

“I don’t have any stretch marks or any scars from childbirth.?

My mind was racing. I felt like I needed to be sedated. Perhaps she had a horse tranquilizer in her purse, but how could I ask?

“I did have my gall bladder out, but there’s only four little teeny-tiny scars from that.?

My eyes ceased to function. I couldn’t focus clearly. The waiter’s ears began to wave at me like a prostitute at Mardi Gras. The lights appeared to wax and wane inexplicably and my tongue grew heavy and turned as black as a Chow’s. I wanted to push a cocktail napkin across the table, hand her a pen, and ask her to sketch out where I might find the scars. But fortunately, Dumbo glided by our table just in time and I caught his eye and, in as steady a voice as I could muster, I stammered “Check please!?

She’d pushed aside her third margarita after drinking about half of it. I finished the rest of her margarita just to make absolutely certain that I was over the legal limit, lest there be any doubt. It’s always a miserable affair when some poor white-collared worker wanders into the police station and blows a .1 on the police harmonica. They process the paperwork with a sullen indifference. But when someone is half-way into their exhale and the machine is showing a .3, then everyone gets excited and the cops all jockey for position around the machine, laughing and choking on their own saliva, bitch slapping each other and high-fiving the trustees.

“Did you see that?? they’d say. “He blew a .39! That’s a new record. He’s legally dead! Where’d you find him??

“He rolled his rental car on the pedestrian mall. We found him strapped in the driver’s seat, upside down, trying to get the engine started.?

Chapter 6: Staining Pallid Flesh

So, let me see, where were we? Oh right. We had just rolled out of the Mexican restaurant, when she decided that she absolutely had to get a tattoo and, worse still, that I had to get one also. I was in a full-scale panic. When she looked in my eyes, I was lost. She looked like one of those trophy brides that you see in Sunday church – the ones that a child could see at a glance would be more at home treading gin in a martini in Coco Bongo’s in Cancun than in a church pew. A delectable little morsel with breasts that seemed to defy the insidious, relentless tug of gravity.

Suddenly, she was calling her friend’s roommate from her cell phone to ask for directions to a tattoo parlor. She was giggling and laughing, talking into the phone. I grabbed the phone from her, but couldn’t get a response from anyone on the other end. I began to wonder if she had really come unglued and was pretending to talk to people.

I stared into her eyes. She looked like one of those models you see in the magazines, rolling around on the beach in a silver thong on the coast of some Banana Republic down in Central America in those few magic moments just before the sun sets when the atmosphere filters out the blurring blue rays and everyone has that warm magic glow. I was in deep trouble, and I knew it. I was falling under her spell and she was clearly certifiable. I was standing on the precipice of a major calamity.

“Look? I reasoned. “Rotary would never forgive me if I dropped you off at her house tattooed like a Vietnam vet. She would never speak to me again.?

Maggie appeared to be dialing her friend on her cell phone, and, in an instant, she seemed as though she were in the midst of a bargaining session with someone. I grabbed the phone from her hands, convinced she was delusional, babbling into the void. Instead, I heard her friend’s voice.

“Rob. She won’t do it. She’ll just chicken out. Take her to a tattoo parlor. She’ll change her mind.?

I was shocked that she was actually talking to someone.

“Rob. Are you there? Where does she want to get tattooed?? The voice in the phone was pulling me down, reluctantly into a bad Twilight Zone episode. Maggie was bouncing around the pedestrian mall like a ping pong ball in a dryer looking for anyone willing to pin her down and push needles of indelible ink to parts of her body I’d never see without a trial.

“Rob. Are you there? Where does she want to get tattooed?? The voice in the phone persisted.

“She says that there’s a tattoo parlor up on the hill that y’all went to when you got your belly buttons pierced last month.? I replied distantly, mouthing the words in slow motion into the cell phone connected to the twilight zone.

“No, I meant ‘Where on her body?’ ?

I was about to swallow my tongue. It was more than I could deal with. Maggie was standing there in her black, Matrix-length coat, with her perfect complexion, and fine blonde hair, looking at me with those anxious puppy-dog eyes, hoping against hope that her little friend would agree to allow her to permanently tattoo some part of her anatomy that’d I’d never see without a struggle. I couldn’t imagine where she wanted to be tattooed. It wasn’t something I felt comfortable discussing or even contemplating. I was afraid that if I thought about it too much, my eardrums would start to bleed. I decided to ignore the question.

“Down boy?, I said to no one in particular. My eyes squeezed shut of their own volition. I began to twitch uncontrollably. Barely perceptible, stress-induced spasms, racked my torso, punctuated by the tell-tale tongue protrusions of a lifelong Valium addict.

The plan as best I could understand it was to take her to a tattoo parlor and call her bluff. The evening was spiraling wildly out of control. All of the sudden I knew what the Columbia astronauts felt like when they re-entered the atmosphere. My mind was skipping like a stone and refused to function properly.

“Well?? Maggie asked, her hands clasped together before her, like a minor pleading to be escorted to an R-Rated movie.

“She said no? I lied, licking my lips and putting my arms inside her Matrix-length coat and encircling them around her candy cane waist.

“You’re lying? she correctly guessed, as she spun free and raced up to a homeless person, asking for directions to the nearest tattoo parlor. He was more ruffled and scraggly than most, as the homeless go. He was alarmingly intoxicated, and when he tried to walk, it was obvious that someone had stolen his rudder.

He staggered past her, ignoring her completely. He was drunk and homeless, but he knew how this operation was financed. Even the destitute, stoned, homeless degenerates could see by the light of the moon that I was the venture capital that was backing the blonde.

“Say gov’ner. Can you help me out??

“I’m sorry? I lied. Not only does compensating the homeless equate to rewarding failure, but it’s like feeding seagulls. Pretty soon, you’re surrounded by them, and you end up leaving in a dead run.

The only thing to do was to steer her away from any known tattoo parlors before we ended up indelibly inked like rainforest cannibals. So, I leaned over and kissed her. After about a second, she twisted free and started stalking down Pearl Street. I knew that I had to change the balance of power, or this would be our last date, so I chased her down like a stray dog in a second-world village. When I cornered her, I threw her over my shoulder like a sack of flour and started carting her off toward my favorite watering hole. I knew that there would be a live band playing down in the Catacombs, and if I could get her on my turf, I felt like things would go better.

“I’m too heavy for you? she gamely laughed.

“You don’t weigh 98 pound dripping wet.? I countered.

I set her feet down on the sidewalk, but didn’t turn her loose. Instead, I kissed her again, and again she turned away.

“Look. What are you doing to me? Do you want me to take you home??

“I don’t kiss on the first date.? She explained.

“This is our second date.?

“The first one didn’t count.? She countered.

“Look. I’m not interested in debating you on semantics. Do you see us going out again, or not, because, otherwise, you can just cut your losses now and we’ll head back. It’s no skin off my teeth.?

I had learned a long time ago that people will treat you just as bad as you will let them. A woman craves structure. She wants a man with a spine, and is repulsed by a man that gives her everything she wants without a struggle. And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, the worse you treat someone, the more they’ll like you. And anyone who tells you otherwise is no student of human nature.

I can’t really remember what she said at that point, but I have a hazy recollection that she allowed as how she liked me in a tentative sort of way, and would be willing to go out the following Saturday night.

Chapter 7: The Squalid Underbelly of a College Town

In any event, we stumbled down into my watering hole. I recognized only one person behind the bar. He was a spike-haired upstart with horn-rimmed glass, but I couldn’t remember his name.

“What’s your buddy Froggy’s name?? I asked a girl behind the bar.

“Larkin.?

“Larkin? I called. “Mike Larkin. How’s it going??

“Good Rob. I haven’t seen you in forever. What can I do you for??

“Gimme a Lone Star…make that two. By the way, where’s my buddy Brian??

“He’s bartending over at the theatre.?

I led Maggie through the bar to the live band, midway into their first set. I grabbed some chairs, got her planted, and slipped my arm around her. They say that music tames the savage beast, and it did impart a much needed calming effect on the evening. Goodbye birth-order, astrology, and psychobabble. Hello beer, bass, and percussion. Things seemed like they might be falling into place.

After about a half hour, we left and went to the Austin Theatre to find Brian. I waived off the guy at the door, explaining that I was looking for Brian. For some reason, he let us both in for free. The Austin Theatre is one of those places where they have all-night rave parties, and people gobble down the alphabet soup drugs like B, G, and X and then canoodle like animals in heat.

I wasn’t there to do drugs or maul anyone. I just wanted to see if Brian was still alive. I found him behind the bar, and could see in the dark that the years had not been kind to him. Somehow, he appeared to have squandered his youth in front of me. He sold his evenings for hard currency in the squalid underbelly of a college town.

“Brian…What’s up, cool??

“Rob, how’s it going? He immediately started pulling me a beer, and waved off my cash as though I had been in last night and ordered the usual.

“This one’s on me? he said, setting the frothy beer in front of me. I honestly couldn’t say if Maggie got a drink or not. In all probability, she did, but I was losing touch with my surroundings, slipping insidiously into a funnel cloud of alcohol.

I shouted a few words at him over the background din of drug-addicted minors gyrating on the dance floor like grunion on the beach beneath a full moon. I really didn’t have much to say to him. So, I reached into my pocket and pulled out some cash and handed it to him.

“Brian. Here you go. Thanks bud.? He took it and shoved in the tip jar without looking at it.

“Brian. He just tipped you a hundred dollars.? Maggie was explaining, somewhat surprised.

He checked, grinned like a possum eating yellow jackets, and shoved it back in the tip jar. I hid my drink in my coat and we slipped out of the theatre, thanking the guy at the door as we passed his position.

On the walk back to my truck, Maggie asked me if I would consider taking her out on a second date. I assured her that she was much too crazy for me and that she should consider dating adrenaline junkies or suicide bombers, as they would probably be better suited for her lifestyle.

When she looked up at me, I threw her over my shoulder again, and ran with her screaming up to a window of a restaurant. Inside the restaurant, the real world unfolded sedately. Critically white people, dressed in their Easter Saturday finest, dined on bland, reasonably priced meals, sipping white zinfandel as their life floated away from them like wine corks in a stream.

Outside, a deranged lunatic struggling through a brutal midlife crisis hoisted a blonde half his age up to the glass of the restaurant-turned-reality-aquarium and chastised her to lick the plate-glass like a one-eyed cat.

Chapter 8: A Murder of Crows

Laura and I awoke on Monday morning. She was a crowder. One of those justifiably maligned women who somehow managed to force you to the very perimeter of the bed, even though it’s a King-size bed and would easily sleep a dozen illegal immigrants. Presently, she perched herself up on her elbows and asked me what time it was.

“I don’t know, baby.?

“Don’t you have an alarm clock in your bedroom?? she marveled.

“Why? I’ll wake up soon enough. What difference does it make what time it is??

“But, is it like 8 in the morning, or 3 in the afternoon?? she wondered aloud. The master bedroom has a plethora of windows, but an equal number of 1970’s vintage, brown window covers, that kept the master consistently dim, even in the middle of the day.

“I’ll go see what time it is baby.? I offered. No point in letting her get rattled. It was easy enough to check. I went downstairs and turned on the television. The time in the television is always correct. It’s updated by an array of satellites in geo-synchronous orbit above the equator.

“It’s 9:02, baby.? I explained. “The deer are still sleeping.?

I watched her with concerned disappointment, the way my grandmother used to look at me when mom wasn’t in the room. I didn’t set an alarm clock. I hadn’t set one in years. In Houston and California, I didn’t even have one. I don’t wear a watch, and I don’t change any clocks twice a year either. I eat when I get hungry. I go to sleep when I get tired. I wake up when I wake up. It’s pretty simple really, but some people don’t get it. They allow other people to decide when they should wake up. Where they should go during the day. What they should do. Some people aren’t cut out for this lifestyle. They can’t make the adjustment. And I was beginning to get concerned about Laura.

Presently, I got up, put on a pot of coffee and read my email. Laura disappeared, which was good. No one wants someone who’s always underfoot. There’s an art to being a guest in someone’s house. They shouldn’t feel compelled to entertain you 24/7, or you won’t be invited back. When you’re in someone else’s house, and they give you the run of the place, you need to make yourself scarce. If they want you, they’ll come find you. That’s just how it works.

When I found her, she was sunning in a chair on the redwood deck in her panties, crunching the snow beneath the balls of her bare feet.

“How do you like your coffee, baby?? I asked her.

“I like my coffee like I like my men…black.? It’s a line from Airplane, but it’s still a good line.

“Coming right up.? I poured her coffee.

“Try this? I offered. “I’m only used to making one cup at a time.? I had been alone for years. I was glad to have a reason to attempt to make a full pot of coffee. I looked at her, reclining nude, save her panties, beneath the warm spring sun. After a rocky start, she seemed to be recovering nicely. Perhaps she could adjust to the lifestyle after all.

“Why is your rental car parked down there in the woods?? she queried.

“I wish I knew. I woke up and it was down there. Still had a full margarita in the cupholder.? I mused.

“You won’t get in trouble, will you??

“For what??

“For me being out here with no clothes on…?

“No one is going to see you, and even if they do, it doesn’t matter. We’re on private property, in unincorporated county land. No city ordnances. No homeowner associations. No CDR man.?

The CDR man is the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution guy. In Cuba, he’s the one that makes sure everyone in the neighborhood has a job. I was reasonably sure we didn’t have a CDR man. The closest thing we had was a UPS man.

Besides, if anyone did see her, it wouldn’t be any skin off my back. I had my pants on. I was deathly afraid of the sun. I was so pale I could get a nasty sunburn from a flashlight.

The two of us sat, lounging on the redwood deck, watching the songbirds build their nests. The deer finished chewing their cud, stood up in turn, and vigorously shook off the night. Somewhere out of sight, a hawk vocalized that piercing screech they do when they’re battling crows for territory.

“You hear that, baby? That’s a red-tailed hawk.?

“I didn’t hear it…?

“Keep your eyes peeled. You’re about to see a murder of crows come in and they’ll run that hawk down through the valley right behind the car.?

The car sat uneasily in the snow. The snow was melting fast, but I was in no rush to free it. I didn’t really need to go into work any time soon.

Presently, a few crows infiltrated the pine trees and began a raucous assault on the unseen hawk. He eventually fled silently, but not along the path I had predicted.

“Why do the crows chase the hawks?? she asked.

“Because they hate them.? I replied.

“But why don’t the hawks gang up on the crows?? she continued.

“Because, baby, hawks are solitary birds. They live alone. All the birds of prey are like that.?

And, as we sat with our legs extended to rest on the railing of the redwood deck, looking down on the deer that were timidly inspecting the rental car, I wondered if I wasn’t like a hawk – destined to spend my days in solitude and die alone.

Chapter 9: The Poser Exposer

Monday afternoon, thunder rumbled down through the valley floor, resonating, and echoing between the canyon walls. People opened their blinds or walked outside to look at the sky. The thunderheads rose high above the valley, releasing waves of precipitation that would never know the Earth. The drops evaporated into the air before they reached the ground. I decided to salvage the car before the woods turned into a mire, and I was able to get it into the garage.

The lights dimmed and flickered as the lightning raced through the power lines and shocked the transformers. The electricity spikes and ebbs at the hint of a storm so all the electronics must be connected to a surge protector.

Outside, the sky darkened, and the property continued in its downward spiral. The woods looked like a war zone, thanks to the blizzard, the DUKW, the weasels, the car, and the pine beetles.

On Tuesday, I decided to go into work. I got cleaned up, put on a suit, and started down the canyon. I called Rotary from my cell on the way into work, and the news wasn’t good. Apparently, I’d driven through their neighbor’s yard in the rental car, leaving ruts as deep as a swimming pool. To make matters worse, her friend Maggie indicated that she was in serious fear for her life, and had sworn off dating men altogether.

“So, I’ll just call her then and we’ll straighten this whole thing out.? I offered.

“No. Don’t call her. She was really upset. She thought she was going to die.?

“But…she didn’t die, did she? I got her home, safe and sound, and, I kept her from getting a tattoo.?

“Don’t call her. Please. She just wants you to stay away.?

I thought back and tried to recall as best I could how the night had ended. I had to admit it wasn’t a soft landing. I remembered driving back on highway , filming her with one of my Sony digital camcorders with night vision. (I have two of them – don’t ask why.) I made her take the wheel, while we were barreling down the highway, probably some time around midnight. She was protesting, but not in a way that made me think she was scared for her life.

I’d met women like her before…pathetic, sheltered, pretentious posers, pretending that they were wild, but not really cognizant of what being wild entailed. At the first sight of true danger, they caught the fear and wanted to race back into the safety of their inexcusably banal existence. Monday morning quarterbacks, bantering over the office water-cooler, and filching quarters from the communal coffee fund. They were posers, content to squander their lives on the sidelines, afraid of playing the game.

I’d only ever met one woman that I couldn’t shock into convulsions of fear in an automobile. That was my roommate’s sister in college. She was wild. When I put my 1987 High Output Fuel-Injected 302 5-speed Mustang GT into a series of four-wheel drifts on a two-lane blacktop road through hairpin turns with oak trees crowding the edge of the road, she just laughed like Brer Rabbit. She didn’t have the fear. Didn’t know the meaning of the word. I doubt that she’s still alive, but I can personally guarantee you she didn’t die on her knees, cowering and quivering in the shadows like some fetid poser.

I didn’t really have any business chasing a married woman with a litter of ankle-biters anyway. I was just infatuated with her, nothing more.

Somehow, I ended up with a lipstick in my pocket, but I wasn’t sure whose it was. I pondered my options. If I walked up to Laura and asked her “Is this your lipstick??, and it wasn’t, then I had just dug myself a grave and climbed in it. I opened it up and sniffed it like Arnold Layne. It was pretty exciting, but didn’t really help me to divine the owner. Then, when I was closing it, I noticed that it had a blonde hair in it, so I threw it in the trash.

Just then, Rotary stumbled into my office. “Besides? she offered ? I think I have another girl for you anyway. I’ll just check with her and make sure that she’s OK if I set you two up.?

I just smiled at her and fiddled with my tie. Things were beginning to look up already.

He who lives alone, dies alone.
He who lives with many, still dies alone.
- Unknown


Posted by Peenie Wallie on August 20, 2004 at 1:02 PM

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