Saturday, March 9, 2013

Marvelously Fresh, Decidely Vague

Part III of Fail-Safe

Kickboxer Guy was also a golf champ (3rd from left)
     He was almost standing at attention: arms extended forward, one hand clasped over the other, legs rigid with knees locked, and feet hip width apart. It reminded her of the way high school athletes posed for their yearbook photos, concealing their rough and tumble little boy playfulness with aggressive stances and serious expressions. Introductions seemed superfluous; they'd recognized each other immediately. Pleasantly disarmed by his wholesome all-American vibe, she thrust out her right hand for a perfunctory first-meeting shake. "Hey, Brad. Nice to meet ya. How long you been sitting here?" Taking a slug of coffee, he rearranged the small pile of notepads and trade journals scattered on the table to make room for her. "Thirty minutes or so," he replied in a distinctly non-Southern accent. "I got here early to avoid the traffic. How 'bout I get you a cup of coffee?" 

What? We're out of coffee? Hold that putt...I'll be right back!
     "Uh, that's OK. I'll get it myself," she said, noticing that they both had tattooed left forearms. What a strange coincidence... Nope, she didn't want to feel the least bit indebted, especially not over something as essential to her health and well-being as battery acid. Her fondness for coffee had become a running joke between Allen and Julie after a visit to Iowa in which she discovered Julie didn't have a coffee maker. Quelle horreur!  That near-freakout prompted the two of them to assemble the following rules for her future romantic interests:
Allen & Julie, status post devising "The Rules"

  1. Proceed with caution until she's had her first cup of coffee.
  2. Never let her get hungry.      
  3. Dark chocolate isn't just a food group; it's instant diplomacy.      
"HotPants" (age 15, 2nd from left) was no 98-lb weakling!
She turned, heading toward the cafe's entrance, encouraged by what she'd seen so far. "Be right back." Despite what she considered a vast wealth of experience appreciating the opposite sex, this was the first "real" athlete she'd encountered, someone who actually played ball instead of armchair quarterbacking. She made her way to the counter, only to find him two steps behind her. This was a little awkward. Thinking she'd somehow been rude for not offering to fetch him a second cup, she fumbled with her wallet apologetically. "Here, let me pay for yours." He politely refused. There they stood, in the quiet discomfort of strangers who'd just met but hadn't quite crossed the threshold of familiarity that's prerequisite in buying each other coffee. Once their separate orders were filled, they returned to the patio together. From then on, it was smooth sailing. 

"What if?...."
     Before she knew it, it was ten o'clock, and they were the only people left sitting outside. They'd spent the last two and a half hours in a little world of their own, drinking in the marvelously fresh promise of new acquaintance, studying each other's faces, hearts and minds set aglow with each newly revealed morsel of compatibility, leaving them imagining "what if?" The more she learned about him, the less she knew about herself. Possibility is a real game-changer; it reworks one's perspective, casting new light on opportunity, sometimes rewriting emotional history, just to give intimacy a fighting chance. In two short hours, they'd managed to fill in most of the blanks, their conversation drifting casually from one topic to another. They chatted about their uniquely placed tattoos, her divorce, his brothers, her kids, their work, her upcoming trip to San Francisco, Zen Buddhism, the Tao Te Ching, and Alan Watts, but mostly, they talked about growing up and life as they now knew it.

     He was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan, the youngest of four brothers who were always the best of friends. When he was six, his mom died of breast cancer. She was only 43.  Oddly enough, his oldest brother, Jeff, also died at the age of 43, presumably from too much booze and Valium. Even though his family moved to Alabama, and later to Pennsylvania, he still considered Michigan his home. In 1984, a year after graduating from
The Brothers Crowe, circa 1969
Shippensburg State University with a degree in business administration, he left the east coast to join his brother, Greg, in San Francisco. Jeff and his other brother, Brian, both lived in Orange County, and at various points during his eight years in California, Brad lived with them, too. Information technology was just taking off back then, and he landed a job in computer networking. For four months in 1990, he lived and worked in Japan. Around that same time, Brian and Greg moved to Atlanta. Brad followed suit after returning from Japan. Jeff never made it back east, though; he died in 1994. For the past fifteen years, Brad had worked as a network analyst for Intercontinental Hotel Group. He'd never been married, and seemed to be a bona fide bachelor. Two years ago, he
and his girlfriend of eight years broke up after she issued a commitment ultimatum. He loved her, but it depressed him to think "is that all there is?" Now, his online dating membership was about to expire. After his recent disastrous encounter with a big German gal named Helga--whose profile photo had to have been at least twenty years old--he was thinking of letting it lapse for good. 

     "Wow, it's really getting late," they chorused in unison while glancing at their watches. Suddenly, she felt broody. "Yeah, I'm on call tomorrow," she said, lamenting both the inconvenience of her crazy work schedule and the fact that the evening was coming to an end. She hadn't expected to like this guy at all. It was more than unsettling; her mind was totally blown. Flooded by images of 
Goofus and Gallant, she couldn't help but compare California Boy's inept closet narcissism with Kickboxer Guy's quiet humility. Privately, she wished she weren't going out of town next week. Just a few moments before, they'd shared their most intimate secrets, and now, they were back to being strangers. Decidedly vague about details such as where they'd parked their cars and whether their immediate futures favored a second meeting, they clumsily shook hands and parted ways, each of them nagged by the feeling of something that was left unsaid. 

Part I: Fail-Safe
Part II: Detour   
Part IV: From Cupcake Epiphany to The Future Now     



  1. This is usually a very good sign, when two people meet up and although they are both new to each other, everything seems to flow as if they'd known each other since birth. Hours pass by so quickly when you click, and then despite saying your goodbyes you are already longing to see or be with that person again. Something tugged at the inner heart strings that is hard to explain. Something automatically tells you this is the one. I'm not sure how to explain it but I know what I mean as I've been there before. It feels like the start of something new. All of a sudden, life has new meaning.
    I really liked your 'What if' picture Helena. It fits perfectly with this post and with what you were saying at the time. Great post mate.

    1. So true, RPD. It's that freshness that allows us to reinvent ourselves, to feel safe in being vulnerable again, to give ourselves another shot at happiness. There's a level of risk involved, too, which makes new relationships so intoxicating. I'm guessing that there are some people who never experience a dizzying level of intimacy, even after years of marriage. The chemistry of attraction is a strange and wonderful thing!

  2. Keep it going, my dear. So fun to hear a little bit more about your partner in crime.

    1. Thanks, Janene! Yes, he's lived an interesting life.

  3. Helena, I was holding my breath when you began. You paint a rich, colourful portrait of the 'dates' even as you unfold the story, one exciting minute after the other. The parting was bittersweet. I am hanging around for the next installment!

    1. Uma, I remember that parting like it was yesterday. It's so strange how you can bear souls to one another and feel so safe and comfortable with someone you've only just met, and then revert to awkward social convention when saying goodbye. Both of us wanted to kiss each other, but neither of us had the nerve to initiate!

  4. Kris, who wouldn't love your insight-packed writing with memorable lines like "drinking in the marvelously fresh promise of new acquaintance." Pure poetry in prose. New beginnings-we need them to refresh our soul and our enthusiasm for living.

    1. Aw, thanks, NP. Writing this made me think of so many of our discussions about intimacy and secrets, especially opening ourselves up to strangers. The risk that's involved, saying "oh, what the heck?" and putting ourselves out there is what makes new beginnings so alluring.

  5. Kris, you capture those halfway moments so well in a detailed plot - meeting, getting comfortable, talking, what if (?), & then parting. That `what if? pic really is a gem!

    & feeling of unease here is great piece of work -
    `There they stood, in the quiet discomfort of strangers who'd just met but hadn't quite crossed the threshold of familiarity that's prerequisite in buying each other coffee.' How true!

    btw, I've always liked that Peggy Lee song. (Have you heard PJ Harvey's version?) One of my ex's once described it as "calculated misery beyond belief".
    Cheers, ic

    1. Thanks for your detailed and thoughtful comment, Ian. I was really trying to capture that feeling of knowing and then, suddenly not knowing, the ease with which one can share intimate details with a stranger, and then plunge back into anonymity because of awkward social conventions. I LOVE that Peggy Lee was showcased in a fantastic 80s film called "After Hours"...have you seen it? I will check youtube for PJ's version...I absolutely adore her. I agree with your's really quite a bizarre song.

  6. Kris, this is such a wonderful and engaging post that I came back and read it three times. I thoroughly enjoy the way you craft a story and build the suspense. You’ve captured that special moment of a first encounter with possibilities wide open. The "What if?" photo with your dreamy, quizzical gaze to the future, perfect! My favorite line is the one that begins: "Possibility is a real game-changer." It expresses everything about opening one’s heart to new beginnings.

    Kickerboxer Guy’s backstory and the comparison to California Boy with the Goofus and Gallant reference really brought together the impact of that first meeting. I like that Kickboxer Guy is a go-getter and not one to let adversity get the better of him. How fascinating that his online dating membership was about to expire and here you came along, and even with similar tattoos. Does seem like kismet.

    Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is” with the film noir feeling in the video, excellent choice! I love that song. "If that’s all there is...then let’s keep dancing," a message of continuing to look ahead, to dream, despite discouragements. (Even though Edith Piaf never sang this particular song, somehow I could always envision her singing it as well.)

    Btw, Julie not having a coffeemaker? Cannot be without coffee to jump start a morning. Would have been "Quelle horreur" for me too lol! Like those rules (especially agree about dark chocolate). Love all your photos and captions. Very cool that Kickboxer Guy was an Irish America's cup golf champ.

  7. I love this story and how the more she knew about him, the less she knew about herself. It a a disconcerting and lovely surprise to consider "what if." As the evening unfolds, I feel as if I am there with your characters, going through the swirl of emotions. Like them, I feel the story ends too soon and leaves me wanting more.

  8. Another great one. I could really sense that underneath all of that apprehension, there was a real connection. I also felt a bit of sympathy becasue Im sure it is difficult to find time to date and find someone under such a demanding occupation. Looking forward to the next installment!