“You have an impressive amount of knowledge regarding Finnish dart players. How did you-” he paused for a moment to complete a very slow blink and take another staggering swig of beer. “How did you do that?” he continued, pounding his hand on my shoulder and stammering, “How did you learn so much about Finnish dart players so-so well?”
I shook his heavy hand off with twenty three years worth of unrelenting social anxiety and the strength of having superior aforementioned knowledge of Finnish dart player Marple Kantele (almost to say, “Excuse me, don’t you dare touch me! Do you have any idea just how MUCH I know about Marple Kantele?”). Long story short, I accidentally stumbled on an article about him while looking up Maple Syrup in the encyclopedia. However, just as I lied about my name, I will lie about my vast knowledge.
“Oh, I know this because I am a Finnish dart player,” I said, sipping my Manhattan perhaps too matter-of-factly.
“You’re funny. I like funny. It’s sexy. Like really sexy,” he grumbled, blinking one eye at a time, which was actually quite impressive. “My place?” he asked. His eyes began alternating between rapid and slow blinks. I wasn’t sure what he was doing at first and began to worry what I would do if he was having a stroke or a brain aneurism. I stood dumbstruck, staring at his face for half a minute before I realized what was happening. Then I laughed and threw up in my mouth at the same time. He was trying to wink at me.
I cringed and turned to Claire, who was schmoozing with a man she’d met an hour earlier.
“Can we go?” I whispered.
Claire shot an “I’m-not-going-to-get-laid-because-of-you-again” eye-bullet at me. I nodded and pointed to my cigarettes, mouthed the word “outside,” and started making my way past various people I’d met through the night.
There was the older woman who leaned in a little too closely when we were chatting. I became slightly nostalgic for a moment, reminded of the hard-of-hearing lunch lady in elementary school, who hunched over us eerily when she couldn’t hear what we were saying. They both also smelled like some sprayed cheap perfume on expired meat. Ah, yes, just one of many disenchanted childhood memories I can save for further self-psychological analyses.
She was talking to the man who confused the word “décolletage” with “dénouement,” which ironically brought on the abrupt end of our short-lived bar friendship.
Despite trying my best to keep my eyes down, I accidentally made eye contact with the guy who “spoke like this, right? And made everything a question, right? I’m assuming he also called girls ‘broads”, am I right guys?”
I finally found my way out.
One match. Wind. Two matches. Wind. Three matches. I bit the filter softly and let out a quiet sigh. The night was warm, which is generally nice. Tonight, however, in this dirty back-alleyway, it carried the unsettling aroma of hot garbage and sex.
“Need a light?”
Startled, I turned around to see the silhouette of a man at the backdoor of the bar. He stepped into the light, looking normal enough. He had a big nose and curly hair. Small built, but fairly tall guy. He didn’t exactly look like a murderer or a rapist, but I didn’t want to take that chance.
“I have a taser,” I said only half-jokingly. It’s a phrase I’ve familiarized myself with very well.
He started checking his pockets and the floor. I squinted at him suspiciously.
“Oh, sorry. I thought I may have left my knives sticking out of my pockets. Nope, they’re all hidden well enough.” He held out his drink thoughtfully, “could I interest you in some chlorophyll? Woops, vodka. I mean vodka.”
“All right, all right,” I said through my teeth. There’s generally a maximum quota of pompous dolts per conversation, which I almost always fill. He smiled sheepishly at me, holding out his lighter as a peace offering. I gave in and smiled back.
“How’s your night been?” I asked, lighting the Parliament.
“You know, I always say that I can’t complain when the weather is warm with alleyway sex and trash,” he said nonchalantly and searched for a lighter in his pocket. I stared at him for a moment, as he patted his pockets. I held out the Bic he’d lent me.
“Thanks,” he said, the word filtering out carelessly between his lips, teeth, and cigarette. As he concentrated on lighting his cigarette, I gave him a quick up and down. He was slightly boyish,
but still unusually attractive in this light. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“B,” I said.
“Oh, how very chichi Hollywood of you. One letter, very nice. ”
“I prefer to think of it as more Bea Arthur. Less chichi, more golden girl.”
“Ah-ha, I like the cut of your jib.”
“J,” he said, blowing smoke. I raised my eyebrows. He chuckled, “It’s Jack.”
From there, we began discussing work, family, the occasional self-deprecating jokes for the sake of humor, and eventually spiraled into an argument between which of us grew up with more socially traumatizing experiences.
“In middle school, I couldn’t convince the school nurse that I’d always been this pale, so she ended up sending me to the hospital.”
“Middle school is so late. School sort of fell at the first hurdle for me. First grade was my first and last sleepover at Mindy Hamilton’s house. We’re all putting on our pajamas, and I lay down on my back to button up my flannel.”
“My mom was a funeral director, that’s how she’d get us dressed in the mornings when I was in preschool,” I said, realizing it again for the first time in years. “Come to think of it, I still get
dressed that way.”
“That’s a little Burton-esque,” he mused, putting his arm on my shoulder and leaning in. “But I think I have you beat,” he whispered. “My Greek immigrant parents never got the hand of English colloquialisms, so, on a daily basis, me and my siblings were exposed to phrases like ‘If you don’t stop arguing, we will kill everyone in this car right now.’”
“Lovely,” I said, laughing airily. I looked down at my feet and sighed.
“What’s the matter?”
“My feet hurt.” The heels I bought the day before obviously had no intentions of letting me live. “My heels are trying to kill me, I think.”
“We should switch shoes,” Jack said thoughtfully. “Turn this Woody Allen film into a Judd Apatow film. One day, when I finally make enough money to be called ‘eccentric’ instead of just ‘bat-shit insane’, I will wear heels in public and make it popular for men. One day.”
“Hmm. That would still constitute as a Woody Allen film though,” I replied.
“We should probably actually do that right now.”
“We should do something crazy.”
He leaned in and childishly asked, “Would it be crazy if I kissed you? Probably, right?”
I didn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to. I discovered one of my own kind, roaming around freely in a bar, and I just wanted to roll with it. He came in close to my ear, as if he was about to whisper something he didn’t want the drowsy hobo nearby to hear.
“It wouldn’t be crazy, it’d be hasty,” I whispered.
He smiled. “All right, shoes it is.”
“No,” I laughed.
“Take off your shoes.”
“I won’t do it, Jack Moreau. I may cry and I may bleed, but these shoes are my own and they will remain my podiatric artillery.”
“Then I was wrong about you, Beatrice Cane!” he belted. He closed in closely on my face again. I didn’t flinch. “And that is just not the type of girl I pegged you for.” He closed his eyes and whispered, “We can’t be hasty for a short, short second, right?” He breathed softly, neither of us moving.
Suddenly, Claire came bursting through the door.
“We need to leave right now, B.”
“What happened?” I asked, composing myself.
“Big fight, my fault. I’ll explain everything in the cab, go, go, go. I want to get married and live to see Jon Stewart become president some day. GO!” And with that she rushed to the taxi out front.
I didn’t have enough time to debate whether I wanted to leave this exchange with Jack as one of those lovely moments that just happen once in a blue moon or if I’d want to take the risk of finding out that real life doesn’t operate the same way that meeting nice strangers do. I didn’t have enough time set up the least awkward circumstance under which I would ask for his number, or he’d have to ask for mine.
Instead, I hastily pulled my lipstick out of my purse and wrote my phone number on the exit door, neither of us saying a word. I know I’ll over-analyze this later. I’ll over-analyze our conversation, and our body language, and the fact that my number will be here for strangers to steal. But for the moment, I’m just going to write my phone number with this lipstick on this door and hope that maybe Jack will have the right mind to preserve this night and never call me and ruin our moment. Or that perhaps he was actually just blowing smoke the whole time. At the very least, all I can hope for is that maybe, if he is ruthless enough to write my number down to call me later, he’ll be smart enough to smudge this shit illegible.