Call it a defense mechanism, but I gave up on romantic relationships a long time ago. Let’s face it; if attraction is the currency of romance, then I have Beverly Hills tastes with a poor man’s budget. In other words, the women I want will never, truly, be attracted to me. Sure, I’m great as a rebound guy. There’s something about how genuinely I present my feelings that reinvigorates a woman’s self-esteem and convinces her to get back into the dating world of better looking men after, of course, a very quick and non-confrontational dumping of me. I’m also very good as a human scrapheap. Women whom I will never attain can readily pick at me for examples of good qualities and say things like, “You’re so (funny, smart, talented, etc.)!” But, like the rest of the detritus in the junkyard, I’m only good for parts and they’d never consider taking me — in my entirety — home with them.
And that’s alright with me. Someone has to be undesirable so that others can be. I know my place in the world and I accept that. I choose to deal with Fate on her terms. So I go through life, squelching any impulses of pursuit whenever I come across an attractive girl. As the years pass, it’s getting easier to deny my motivations, almost becoming reflex. In this manner, I have caged Fate — or caged myself, however you want to look at it — and kept myself away from Fate’s deadly grasp. Sadly, I suffer from moments of weakness now and again when I carelessly step too close to the bars and Fate takes a lethal swipe at me.
I have no one to blame but myself, of course. I continually and stupidly prance before the bars, just out of arms length, making faces and jeering Fate. Though I never pursue women, I always flirt with them in the over-the-top obvious way that men sometimes do so that they can play the flirtations off as a joke if they’re rejected. The reason this is dangerous is because sometimes the women are seemingly receptive to this approach and I am always left wondering if this is true attraction — have all my lonely nights finally come to an end — or if this is simply bait to lure me closer to the cage bars. What’s most insulting is that whenever I am fooled, I am tricked by the same unimaginative and recognizable formula that Fate has employed my whole life. She allows me to think I’m making progress, intimating no falsity whatsoever and assuring only success. Then, after she sees me take every precaution and check and double check the fail-safes — even offering the girls “outs” – Fate will hold very still and watch me closely with calculating eyes as I crack the cage door open. Then she pounces on me, unleashing the awful truth that she was just standing me up to knock me down.
Afterwards, I’m left to simply shaking my head and sighing at my own gullibility.
It starts with the rehearsal.
My brother decided after thirty years of bachelorhood to get married. He and his bride chose a quaint hotel out in Temecula next to a quaint winery for the location of the wedding. This meant a wedding rehearsal. Since I was in the party — not the Best Man, just in the party (a trespass my father will never forgive my brother for) — I was curious as to whom I’d be escorting. It turns out I was going to escort the bride’s best friend, J: a girl, I was told, of surpassing beauty and ample breast size. Her greatest attribute, however, was her diminutive stature. I shrugged the prospect away, ambivalent. It wasn’t as if beautiful women were strange to me. I had seen them before and I would see them again.
The day of the rehearsal was pleasantly warm and bright. The two families and the wedding party meandered until the coordinator was ready to herd us all together. Standing amidst the giggling femininity and the stoic masculinity, I shuffled through the girls with my eyes, discerning which one was mine. Too tall. Too annoying. Too related to me. Ah, J. At last. She was dressed in a blue spaghetti strap top and stark white pull-on pants. When the sun hit her backside just right, I could make out the sliver of purple thong she was wearing, like a glimpse of vein through too pale skin. Her stormy blond hair was pulled neatly back and clipped behind her head, exposing the supple flesh of her neck. When she turned to face me my first reaction was that she was pleasant to look at, but not overwhelmingly sexy as to destroy any hopes of approach except the most brash. On the other hand, she wasn’t ugly. She had a nice symmetrical face with a non-descript nose, sitting inconspicuously above two lush — but not bloated — lips. Her eyes were average, picking up the light easily and flashing brilliantly now and again. Given the proper makeup and attire and hairdo, I could tell that this girl could be devastatingly gorgeous, crushing the strongest man with the weight of her gaze. Now, dressed as she was with only the face God gave her, she was just beautiful.
I introduced myself plainly and we engaged in very brief, very small talk. Soon enough, the coordinator had us rehearse the procession. While we waited for our turn, arms locked, I took the opportunity to expand the small talk. I find that I am very calm when I speak with people I don’t know. All of those years of serving, making the most of the tiny conversations I engage in when I greet a table, have taught me that there is no room for awkwardness when speaking to strangers. I was natural. I didn’t hang onto every word she said, nor did I just wait for my turn to speak. I also noticed that she wasn’t awkward, as most girls are when an ugly guy assaults them with conversation. It was simply a pleasant talk. Granted, there was still the rigid coldness of a business interview about our words, but the heat of our bodies pressed against each other’s sides and the warmth of our breath caressing each other’s cheeks were quickly melting the ice.
“So, what do you do?” I opened. Left step.
“I’m a server at the Yardhouse.” Right step. Ah, so that explains her conversational skills. She was employing my own tricks against me. Clever, clever.
“You going to school?” She did, after all, look young. Left step.
“I’ve already graduated.”
“How old are you?”
“24.” Step, step.
“Where’d you graduate from?”
“USC.” Left step. “I went to college just to become a server,” she sighed.
“What was your major?”
“Psychology.” We got to the steps where my brother and the Best Man stood and J and I parted silently.
“You can’t just let go like that,” my brother interjected, “You have to say something.”
“Next time,” I said and took my place. Now I don’t know who objected to the formation, but before the first run through was completed we were called back to starting positions so that we could create a more appealing arrangement. This wasn’t so bad since it afforded me the opportunity to say some parting words to J when we reached our newly assigned places on the second run through.
“You look beautiful,” I whispered in her ear, with just enough of a “rehearsal” tone to keep things light.
“Thank you,” she said bashfully, drawing out the final vowel. And that was the last of our interaction throughout the length of the ceremony until it came time to practice the recession.
As soon as she took my arm I asked, “So, do you have a boyfriend?” Step, step.
“Oh, where do you live?” The question raised in pitch towards the end.
“I see. We don’t have to keep talking.” I patted her arm condescendingly. Author’s Note: This tactic of sudden dismissal is one of those dick moves that are oddly effective at manufacturing desire in women. The effect is further augmented in beautiful women who are accustomed to never being dismissed, especially in fields where one survives by their physical appearance. Therefore, it is quite possible to create a kind of faux desire within a beautiful woman. The downside is that she will eventually discover that her desire was simply to be desired and if you haven’t capitalized on your “in,” then you’re screwed and she’s gone.
“You didn’t let me finish!” J exclaimed.
“I’m sorry, go right ahead.” I wasn’t even looking at her anymore.
“I’m moving back to California in three weeks.”
“Well, well. There might be hope after all.” I smiled at her as we joined the others and parted. In my mind, that was going to be the extent of my flirtations with J. She had been something to keep me distracted from the heat and something to prevent the inevitable ennui from setting in. Now that I was free and clear and had only the luncheon to get through, there was no need to talk to her. Besides, the bride’s mother concocted a scavenger hunt for the wedding party to play. As a twist on an already irritatingly childish game, the bride’s mother incorporated an amateur Madlibs story to go along. The two teams, boys versus girls, had to get separate items for different parts of the story. The men, of course, mobilized with military efficiency and filled in their blanks with appropriately funny — and easy to locate — items. Though I still wish the men had gone with my suggestion to write in the word “nothing” for each blank to make our task ultimately easy. Alas. The women, on the other hand, locked their keys in the car and had to wait for a tow truck.
An hour after the men returned, the women showed up with their items and the torture continued as the “story” was read by the bride’s mother and the items presented by both teams. Early on it became painfully obvious as to which team had grasped the exercise correctly. When the bride’s mother read, “When the bride said she would slip into something more comfortable, she pulled out…” the men produced a quart of motor oil. However, when the bride’s mother read, “When the groom opened the door, he found the room filled with burning…” the women produced a box of candles. Very creative. But in the end, the bride’s mother decreed that the men lose and be forced to sing a love song to the bride and groom. The men remained silent. After some prodding and goading, the Best Man piped up and said, “I refuse to sing out of principal, now.” Then he ate his cheesecake defiantly.
Throughout the luncheon I had sat with my family and didn’t give J a second thought until the very end when I was glad handing and saying good-bye to everyone. I took J’s hand in mine and told her that “I consider myself the luckiest groomsman.”
“You are!” she replied sassily. Ah, that quick server wit!
Fate had been docile the whole day. She had allowed me to go so far as to finger the bars of the cage with no retribution. The impulse was as strong as ever to hit on J, and I might have toppled over under its weight, but experience and instinct propped me up on the other side. So, I walked the razor’s edge, prepared to sheer off an ankle at the first misstep. Somewhere in the middle of the night, between rehearsal and wedding, I decided to make a game of pursuing J. I decided that I would try to get her to kiss me: a wild, unattainable goal, but if miraculously achieved, would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was into me. Not even Fate would go to such lengths just to get my hopes up.
The groomsmen got together that night for one last hurrah before my brother consigned himself to eternal damnation. I told the guys about my plan and they immediately scoffed at my chances, citing that no girl would kiss a guy after just meeting him and, furthermore, she was more than likely going to be caught up in the wedding and would therefore be unsusceptible to advances.
“You should go for the digits,” my brother chimed in, “she’d probably give you her number even if she wasn’t interested.” I never cease to be amazed at my brother’s ability to miss the point. The groomsmen assured me that their low estimation of my chances had nothing to do with my abilities. The odds simply reflected the situation. Just the same, faced with such negativity, I grabbed my tux and left.
I threw caution to the wind and yanked the cage door open so mightily it nearly came off its hinges. It swung its full arc and slammed against the bars with a frightening and ominous clang.
The limo ride with my family to the wedding was slow and languid and I fell asleep on the way there. Like the other groomsmen, I was dressed in black slacks and a cream colored coat with a black bow tie and cummerbund. I had spent an entire hour sculpting my hair, parting it to the side to mimic an older, classier style. In my mind, I had hoped to look like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. My friend, M, would later tell me I looked more like the skittish, effeminate, and undesirable Peter Lorre.
The limo pulled up to the hotel and my father and I were lead to the bridal suite in the hopes of finding my brother. As soon as we got there, a faintly recognizable blond bombshell came out of the room and nearly bumped into me. It was J, wearing the appropriate clothes — a sleeveless, green bride’s maid’s gown that slung low in the back and draped almost to the floor — sporting the appropriate hairdo — done up eloquently and swaying at the back of her skull — and wearing the proper makeup — barely noticeable, in fact, she had obviously spent some time tanning since I last saw her and her skin was a lovely bronze — to make her look devastatingly gorgeous.
She crushed me with her gaze.
“Do you know where the rings are?” she asked, distracted.
“We can’t find the rings.”
My phone rang. It was my brother. He told me he was on the lawn taking pictures and that my father and I should meet him there. I asked if he knew where the rings were and he said the Best Man had them. I told J and we started walking down the long hall alone together. I turned to her and said, quite frankly, “You look absolutely stunning.” Whether or not she felt the same about me, J crumbled under the obligatory pressure to compliment me back.
Once in the yard, we were separated and I made the rounds, greeting extended family members I only see once a year or on anomalous special occasions like this one. From there it was about another hour of taking photographs, so opportunities with J were meager. Even then, I kept my advances at bay to show her that I wasn’t an asshole and using the wedding as an opportunity to satisfy my libido.
Soon the ceremony was upon us and J and I were once again locked at the elbow. This time our slow march was performed with the utmost solemnity and when we reached the steps I whispered simply, “Thank you,” in her ear and she said I was welcome and we parted.
The ceremony was standard faire. Love is eternal. What God binds together let no man tear apart. Blah, blah, blah. The divorce rate was conspicuously missing from the sermon.
With the sun starting its descent towards the horizon, I watched my brother, newly married, jaunt happily back up the aisle with his wife. I then took J’s arm and we said the things people say to each other when they don’t know what to say at weddings.
“I can’t believe they did it.”
And then it was more picture taking. While the photographers were getting the required people together, a fire alarm pealed out from the hotel. Slowly people began trickling outside, shaking their heads in confusion and frustration. I figured some kid tripped the alarm or it was some kind of malfunction. Nevertheless, the loud ringing continued throughout our picture taking for a good twenty minutes. While I was waiting for the next shot, I passed the time speaking to a cousin of mine who was getting married herself in the near future. J stood with her back to me, talking to her sister. Moments later, she started rolling her head side to side, stretching it out. I immediately broke off conversation with my cousin mid-sentence and stepped up behind J and asked if she was alright. She said her neck was a little stiff. In a brazen move I placed an arm around J’s waist and began massaging her neck with my other hand.
“Let me know if this gets annoying,” I insisted.
“It feels good,” she replied, reclining her head back a few degrees, “I’m not going to tell you to stop.” So we stood there for a minute, in the eye of the chaos swirling around us, my fingers rhythmically rubbing her neck in circles and her entire body rocking back and forth gently.
And then the firemen destroyed our moment.
As soon as their red trucks were spotted coming down the road, hotel patrons and wedding guests alike started cheering and clapping. Some started laughing and jeering when the fire trucks missed the turn up the hill to the hotel and had to backtrack. The photographer made a quip about taking some pictures of the truck for posterity’s sake and another groomsman and I took that as our queue to ask the firemen if we could pose in front of the fire truck. The firemen — strapping likenesses of Adonis, young and not so young — agreed and volunteered to pose with us after they checked out the building. After they entered the bowels of the hotel, the wedding party made its way down to the trucks and tried to take orders from the photographer who yelled at us from a ledge above through cupped hands. From what we gathered, he wanted us to strike a funny pose: something like people swooning into the arms of someone else. Jokingly, I allowed a groomsman to swoon into my arms.
Then the photographer, an amiable fellow with a long face and a warm smile, gesticulated bigly and pantomimed that he wanted the guys and girls to mix up. Apparently, we had polarized into gender groups. I quickly nabbed the spot behind J and prepared for the next “silly” photo. I grabbed her about the waist and let her fall back into me. There we held our intimate pose for a minute while the photographer adjusted his lens and directed others into better light. Holding the pose was strenuous, but I didn’t complain. The smell of her hair mixing with the scent of her skin gave me strength. Afterwards, while waiting to find out if we were taking more photos with the truck, I handed out gum to the hungry and thirsty ladies. Author’s Note: Women are attracted to the man who displays the most utility in any given situation. For most practical purposes, that utility is physical appearance. It just so happened that in this particular situation, what these girls wanted most was a breath freshener and I was the only one with any. In the Altoid-less world, the man with gum is king.
The girls swarmed around me like rock band groupies. Before I could capitalize on my new found fame and start autographing tits, someone waved us back up to the reception area where my brother and his wife were to be announced. I walked with J in silence. Throughout the whole of the picture taking we had passed time with chitchat and any conversation now would feel forced. Also, I had been coming on pretty strong up to this point — not obnoxiously so, mind you, but strong nonetheless — and I decided it was time to let the reel go a bit to give her some space.
I walked over to the fountain, struck a relaxed pose with my hands in my pockets and all of my weight on my heels and gazed pensively off into the distance. No doubt J was being accosted at that very moment by every girl and being asked what she thought of me in the giddy gossipy way that women do. Certainly, J or one or all of the girls would steal a glance my way as a visual aid to their estimation of me. I couldn’t blow my ghost of a chance by letting my guard down and be caught adjusting my penis through my pockets or excavating my ears with my pinky tips. No. It was all Bogart.
Even if I did look like Lorre.
“Do you mind if I bask in your aura of coolness?”
I turned and found one of the groomsmen approaching. Of all the guys the previous evening, he had been the one to give me the lowest chances in getting the coveted kiss.
“Please do,” I replied and went on to explain that I could use the company now that I was giving J some time on her own. As we spoke, the Best Man came up to tell me that he loved watching me give the neck massage. In complete awe, he pantomimed with his fingers.
I turned to the first groomsman and asked, “So what are my odds like, now?”
He considered the question for a moment and replied, “Eh, I’d say pretty much even.”
“That’s not bad,” I said. If I was winning over the guys, then things were great. Somebody poured champagne and my brother and his wife descended a flight of steps into the reception area and the announcer announced Mr. and Mrs. Garcia. The Best Man gave an impromptu speech and while I’d normally try to recount it now, I don’t have enough memory of the verbiage to do him justice. Just know that the speech hit all the right notes. It looked fondly back on the past. It was hopeful for the future. It was humorous. It was sincere. It was concise.
And then came the first dance between man and wife. The band began playing something jazzy and my brother and his wife – having taken dancing lessons for months before, specifically for this moment — danced in a most rehearsed and unnatural manner. While they moved about the dancing area, they almost appeared to be marching and the utter concentration on their faces exposed the silent counting of steps and mental visions of numbered black and white feet patterns connected by dotted lines.
Even J noticed and she said as much to me. I chuckled, fully understanding. Then she told me something I didn’t know. Apparently, the fire alarm had set off the sprinklers on the second floor of the hotel and the entire story had been flooded, including the bridal suite.
“Do they know?” I asked, pointing with my eyes.
“No way. Of course not.” The fire alarm actually had farther reaching repercussions than the flooding of the room. Because of the water, electricity had to be cut. This meant we didn’t have any lights outside after the sun set except for these tiny candles on the tables. This also meant we didn’t have the juice to run the proper cooking equipment for the meals. That meant the caterers had to pack up the food, take it to the nearby restaurant at the winery, cook it there, pack it up again, bring it back to the hotel and then they could serve it. Despite these mishaps, everyone maintained a great attitude and no one complained.
My brother was having good time dancing, so there was no need to bring him down with the flooding news. As I watched him, however, another fear sprang to mind. I recalled that the wedding party traditionally dances after the bride and groom.
There are two necessary things in life that I cannot do. The first is swim. If I’m on a boat and it sinks in the middle of the ocean and I don’t have a life preserver, I’ll be able to dogpaddle for a few minutes and then I’m dead. The second is dance. I loathe dancing. I have no sense of rhythm. I can’t tell where the beat is. I can’t even tap my foot to music in time. If I ever have to choose dancing in public or being dead, I’d rather be dead. When I was seven I was forced to dance to Madonna’s True Blue with a cousin of mine during my own birthday as some kind of sick Gong Show exhibition for my entire family.
My cousin and I just stared at each other, unsure of what to do. And then the first stanza hit us like a wave of nausea and we were forced into moving.
I’ve had other guys
I’ve looked into their eyes
But I never knew love before
‘Til you walked through my door
I’ve had other lips
I’ve sailed a thousand ships
But no matter where I go
You’re the one for me baby this I know, ’cause it’s
We swayed back and forth, trying to keep rhythm, while family members began whooping and hollering and enjoying the hell out of our embarrassment.
You’re the one I’m dreaming of
Your heart fits me like a glove
And I’m gonna be true blue baby I love you
As Madonna started into the next stanza, the raucous died down and the family grew bored with our swaying. Amidst the silence an aunt finally asked, “Is that all they’re gonna do?”
I’ve heard all the lines
I’ve cried oh so many times
Those tear drops they won’t fall again
I’m so excited ’cause
Mercifully, my father ordered my brother to end the song midline and my cousin and I were excused. We had defeated dancing with our stubbornness, a lesson I would take to heart. I vowed I would never dance in public again, especially fast dance. Years later when I tried my legs at swing dancing, I sucked at it so badly that I stopped listening to big band music for a time. If I have ever slow danced with a girl, it has always been very private occasions. Why I even bothered to dance with those girls is either a testament of my devotion or of my penchant for masochism. Take your pick.
Author’s Note: The most embarrassing dancing moment I’ve had was probably in high school. I had been part of the Key Club and the school was hosting some kind of Valentine’s dance and each club was required to send two representatives. By some cruel joke on God’s part I been voted to go with a girl named Z, an academic Latina girl one year above me who had the potential to be attractive, but always mitigated it with boring clothes and that south of the border sass. Anyway, I was so worried about the dance and what I might have to do that I went to my friend’s home after school and practiced some ridiculous dance moves in his room, much to his delight. The actual dance was a bigger disaster. Z was looking really hot in a tight fitting sequined number and her hair and face were done up attractively. To ease into my ridicule for the evening I asked her to dance a slow dance with me. Our first dance consisted of Z giving me encouraging instructions on when to move my hips and lift my feet, keeping time with the changing tempo. When the song changed into a fast song, everything went to hell. I became a marionette doll, with Z pulling at my arms, telling me how to move. Her remarks quickly turned biting when I failed to move my legs simultaneously with my upper body. At length she gave up and did her own thing, while she looked past my shoulders uncomfortably. I told her I was going to get something to drink and went home.
Back at the wedding, normally, I would find a convenient excuse to ensconce myself in the men’s restroom for the duration of the music, but before it came to that, perhaps J didn’t know how to dance either and wouldn’t want to. Then I could just blame her. The least I could I do was find out.
J made another comment about the way the wedding couple was dancing and I took the opportunity to interject, “I couldn’t dance to save my life. You don’t like to dance, do you?”
“Oh, I love to dance,” she said.
The song came to an end and I saw my brother looking around for something. When he saw me, he began waving me over towards him. From what I could tell, he wanted me to dance with the bride.
Evasive maneuvers were activated and I deflected the order onto the Best Man. He walked onto the dance floor uncertainly. I thought this would buy me enough time to hide, but then I saw the Best Man get paired up with the maid of honor. My brother was still waiving me towards him.
It was like an all consuming vortex: inescapable and insatiable, no matter what I threw into its gaping maw. All I could do was dive in, head first and hope that I emerged on the other side in one piece. In an instant I was seven years old again, swaying side to side, tripping over the pant legs of my tuxedo now ten sizes too big. I dismissed the image and strode back to the wedding party table to set my champagne down. Then I grabbed J by the hand and led her out to the dance floor.
“This is gonna be ugly,” I muttered.
Sensing the rigidness of my body, J replied, “I’ll just do what you do.”
I wrapped my right arm around her inviting waist and took her right hand in my left, slightly extended upward to our side and we began turning in slow rhythmic circles in place. I tried to be mindful of the beat and to make sure I didn’t crush her toes. Then, in a masterful show of bravado, I took her right hand and placed it on my chest, cupping the back of it with my palm and drew her closer. I’d like to say that this was one of those movie moments where we lock gazes and lose ourselves in the thought of each other, but that didn’t happen. We smiled politely when our eyes met, but for the most part we looked past each other’s shoulders uncomfortably. I’d say it was on par with most middle school slow dances.
Finally, the song ended and I thanked her for the dance and she thanked me back. Someone said salad was being served so we all took our places at the tables. I rarely do salad. Even more rarely do I do gourmet salad with all those special oils and dressings and weird looking greens that look like weeds. So I gave my plate to the starving maid of honor, a typical annoying teeny bopper with an ebony fetish and an unusually hairy back — so hairy that we nicknamed her Chewbacca. Instead of eating, I paced the tables and lit the candles that continually blew out in the breeze. When the maid of honor got up to take care of something, I announced that I would keep her seat warm for her and sat down next to J.
I had had enough of this pseudo-courting. It was time to see if there was any substance behind the pretty face. Author’s Note: When delving into conversation with someone you’re pursuing, what’s most important is the illusion of conversation. That is to say, it doesn’t matter if you’re really getting to know the other person or if you’re even listening. What does matter is that the other person thinks that they’re revealing themselves to someone who really cares. For getting-to-know-you conversations, an effective tactic is to control the conversation by asking questions where you can anticipate the answer and therefore have a ready response. This tactic only really works when you have some knowledge about what they’re talking about. For instance, I knew that J went to USC, but I wasn’t about to ask her about USC specific things, because I wouldn’t have anything to add. Instead, I might ask her a general question about classes, ready to follow up with something interesting about my classes. By doing so, a kind of compatibility is subliminally suggested.
I asked her what convinced her to move to California. My follow up response would be my history in California: when I moved here, where I lived, etc. She gave me a brief history of her life, revealing that she originally lived in California, but moved to Colorado after college.
“Why Colorado?” I asked. A weak question because I had very little working knowledge of Colorado. At best, I’d have to follow up with insights about Matt Stone’s and Trey Parker’s movie Cannibal the Musical being shot there or the Kobe Bryant rape case. Both unsavory topics.
“I wanted to be with my sister while she was away at college and I just wanted to get out of California for a while.”
“So what brings you back?” Good. Bring it back to familiar territory.
“I want to be an actress.” Of course. “And LA is the place to do that.” Luckily for me, I had had some experience in this area and I was able to keep the conversation going.
“That’s a tough business to break into.” I then gave her a few humorous anecdotes about my stint at becoming an actor in Hollywood. Also, I mentioned how M wanted to get into film school and film yet another modern day Hamlet. Jokingly, I told J that she was welcome to audition for a part. “Have you had a lot of experience?” I asked. Follow up response: talk about stage performances I’ve done.
J talked about an acting class she took on a whim in Colorado and how the class consisted only of her and another girl and how the male instructor, at the end of the quarter, told her in not so many words that she needed to be in LA, acting. I resisted the urge to ask if the instructor was into her or not. Author’s Note: Pretty girls are quick to take praise at face value because they are so starved for genuine consideration after a lifetime of men saying whatever they have to just to get into their pants.
Instead I said, “I would love to act professionally. I’ve done some shows here and there, but nothing professional. More importantly, nothing that paid.” I paused for a moment to allow J to talk about some musicals and plays she acted in before continuing. “My mistake was that I tried to become an actor without having a day job. Things got too expensive and I had to quit. You got something lined up when you move back?” Follow up response: talk about the many work anecdotes I have well rehearsed.
“Yeah, I’m gonna transfer to the Yardhouse in Pasadena.” Ah, a restaurant. Pay dirt. I readied my arsenal of restaurant questions and responses while she told me a bit about what the Yardhouse was like.
“Tell me, what’s the most annoying thing a customer can do?” Follow up response: tell her everything a customer does is annoying then launch into funny anecdote.
“Probably asking for one thing at a time instead of all at once.”
“I totally agree. It’s like, if they know they want crushed red peppers with their meal, why don’t they ask for it when ordering instead of after they get their entree and making me run around the world for it and then complain when it gets to them too late?” Pause for commiseration and shaking of heads. “So, since you’ve been a server, have your tipping practices changed?” Follow up response: talk about how I tip bigger, but am now hypercritical of service.
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve always tipped well, but on the other hand, I’m the customer from hell.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need everything to be the way I want it exactly.”
“Oh no, you’re not one of those…”
“Like the water. I can’t have any ice in it, so I always ask for no ice. Or if there is ice, I have to have a straw.”
“Why a straw?”
“I just can’t drink water with ice in it. I end up with water all over my shirt.”
“Well, if we ever go out for dinner I’ll have to make sure you get water with ice and no straw.” Then I flashed an exaggerated leer. She smirked politely, but wasn’t particularly receptive. A low point, I know, but in situations like this you gotta keep things away from the friendship tip, even if it means coming off crass. Now, before I continue, allow me to say that even though most of our conversation fell on the mundane side, keep in mind that it was also full of nervous giggles and languid gazes and short pauses betraying the things one doesn’t want to say because those things might betray the attraction building inside.
We continued to talk at length, smiling delightedly and holding glances a little longer than practical. The sun was touching the haze on the horizon and I asked if she was getting cold. She said that her sunburn was keeping her warm for the time being. I told her that when she needed it, my coat was reserved for her. She said what she really needed was some aspirin for her head. Ever the utility man, I recalled that someone had brought some Tylenol and I went to track them down. Having got the bottle I headed to the refreshments table to get J a cup of water to wash the pills down. I filled the cup with ice and then, remembering, dumped the ice out and just filled the cup with water. I went back to the table and found J missing. Someone said that she had headed up to the hotel. I found her at the top of the flight of steps with her sister. I gave J the painkillers, which she thanked me for and then escorted both J and her sister back down the steps, saying, “Please after you,” when I let her sister by. To which J responded with, “You’re such a gentleman!”
I let her observation pass without comment. We were met by J’s parents at the bottom of the steps — two ironically tall people when taking J’s 5’3” stature into consideration.
J introduced me.
“Mom, Dad, this is R. He’s an actor too. He knows my pain.”
“It’s a pleasure,” I said, extending my hand.
“Ooh and a gentleman, too!” her mother exclaimed.
“See, your mother approves of me,” I said, smirking at J. “I’m just trying to earn brownie points with your daughter,” I explained to her mother.
“Brownie points!” her mother echoed, laughing. Then she told J that she had to go and that her father would take her home. They said good-bye and I noticed that the sky was deepening into purple so I offered my coat to J once more. After a moment she agreed and we engaged in the age old pair bonding ritual of the Coat Switch.
One should never underestimate the meaningfulness of the Coat Switch. First, it says that the man is willing to sacrifice his personal comfort for the woman’s and in this case he can only do so for that woman alone since he only has one coat. He is making a particular sacrifice for a particular woman — nothing to shrug at. Secondly, the acceptance of the coat is a kind of branding of ownership in the singles world. She will not accept the coat unless she is willing to wear that label. One of the deepest cutting rejections is when a guy offers his coat to a woman and she opts to freeze rather than maintain any kind of connection with him. Author’s Note: The female equivalent of this pair bonding ceremony would probably be the holding of the purse. The woman gives the purse to the man to hold while she uses the restroom or tries on some clothes, trusting him not to rummage through it and discover all of her dark secrets. Likewise, the man will only accept the purse if he is willing to be flagged to all around him that he is with this particular woman as he tries to hold the purse as manly as possible, cradling it in the crook of his arm like a football. Author’s Secret Note: Whenever I have to hold a purse I like to wear it naturally to make people think it’s mine.
I savored the moment, helping her slip an arm into a sleeve, watching its flaccid state suddenly grow firm as her hand slid down its shaft, feeling the gentle downward tug from where I held the coat at the collar. She slid the other arm in, I slid my arms across her shoulders and the ceremony was complete. And none too soon, too.
The firemen returned from their task, sweaty and soiled, their uniforms undone just enough to reveal the collar of their athletic shirts and their heaving manly chests. All of the young girls, J included, immediately flocked to the firemen who towered over us like fire retardant titans. I turned away from the spectacle and joined the Best Man and muttered something about how easily hard work can be destroyed. Too many times in my life had I been in this situation, instantly losing the girl to the prettier face.
“It’s the uniform,” the Best Man said to console me.
All I could do was hope that I had built up my connection with J enough to weather the muscle-bound storm. Worse yet, after the girls’ photo op, when they began serving the main course, a time I would wisely use to recoup whatever damage the firemen had done, I was sent on an errand to get my mother some maxipads. The clerk at the store, noticing my coatless tux and the single item I was buying, gave me a commiserating smile.
“One of those nights,” I said.
“We’ve all been there,” he replied.
When I got back to the reception, it was dark and everyone had finished eating, leaving me to eat my now ice cold herb chicken and garlic whipped potatoes with asparagus spears at the wedding party table, alone, while J passed the time speaking to another guy: the Cockblocker.
It wasn’t as bad as all that. It all played out that way, but the devil is in the details. I found out later from a female cousin that on their way to the overpowering masculinity of the firemen she had asked J if she was getting sick of me. J admitted that she was still receptive to my attentiveness and once again stated that I was “such a gentleman.” I have no illusions that J was still thinking of me while under the arm of a fireman, but the fact that she was thinking of me until then is good enough. Additionally, while I was a pitiful sight, eating my cold food alone, to be sure, I caught J stealing glances my way out of the corner of my eye while she conversed with the Cockblocker. Furthermore, her conversation with said Cockblocker was nothing compelling. It was just a rehash of the conversation with me and, having used up her vigor to share her life story with me, was giving the Cockblocker truncated, terse responses to his getting-to-know-you questions. Best of all, though still a Cockblocker, the dude wasn’t really a threat because he was engaged to some big nosed faux Goth chick also at the wedding. All things considered, I was looking alright, even though I got most of these details post facto.
I finished my meal, walked past J and headed over to where some groomsmen were passing time with old high school friends of yesteryear. Having followed my example, the girls were now wearing the coats of the guys. Apparently, I was the topic of conversation. The consensus now was that I was going to easily achieve the kiss. One friend said that I had potential to go all the way. I dismissed the possibility of that almost immediately, but hung onto that fantasy for days to come. I told them that my next step was to dislodge the Cockblocker.
Everyone at the table leaned back to look over my shoulder and then leaned forward again to hear my plan. It was short and sweet, but had high potential to be very effective. I went to work.
The cake was now being divided and dished out and since J hadn’t had a chance to try the cake, I nabbed a piece and casually started to eat it. And then I nonchalantly meandered my way over to J who was shorter now that she had removed her heels, which she carried at her fingertips. She smiled at me, mid-sentence and I asked if she had tasted the cake, even though I knew she hadn’t.
“Not yet. Is it good?”
“You tell me.” I scooped a moist morsel with my fork and gently slid it between her parted lips. C-C-C-COCKBLOCKER BREAKER!!!
Mmmm. J commented favorably on the cake. And then somebody announced that they needed all single women front and center. It was that time so J went to fulfill her womanly duty. Before she scampered off, she asked me if I’d hold her shoes for her, which I gladly did. That left me with the Cockblocker.
He walked away after a moment.
With the tossing of the bouquet and the garter, the reception wound down and as family and friends packed themselves into respective vehicles, the wedding party busily tried to make the bridal suite as beautiful as they could. On my way to lend a hand, I ran into J’s sister. I stopped her and asked for her take on my chances with her J and if I should even continue my pursuit. She genuinely agreed that I should, once again citing how much of a gentleman I was. Are nice guys so rare? Bolstered by the sibling support, I headed upstairs to see what could be done.
The second floor looked better on the whole than I thought it was going to. The carpet was soggy, sure, and there was some wet and crumbly trash stacked up against a wall from God knows where, but overall, it wasn’t that bad. Amidst the clean up, however, the guy who was staying in the room across the hall had just returned and stood in the doorway of his room, gaping at the disaster within. The inside of his room looked like the bottom level of the Titanic. Debris floated in puddles. Wallpaper bulged and tore in long strips down the walls. The windows still streamed with rivulets of water. The man stood mesmerized. It was like staring into the awful face of God and he could not look away. I flagged down the hotel owner — a gruff man made gruffer by the current circumstances — shook his hand, introduced myself and asked if he could get someone to haul the trash out of the corridor before my brother and his wife came up. He agreed and I gave another once over of the room, which was alive with all of the bodies bouncing around straightening this and lighting that — the candles from the scavenger hunt were put to good use. As a finishing touch, the bride’s mother laid an open Bible on the bed. I don’t know about you, but the word of God always puts me in the mood for some wild wedding night sex.
As we vacated, one of the groomsman whom I don’t know very well whispered, “Second base, man, second base,” in passing.
So this was it. End game. I could see checkmate in twelve moves. I was already imagining J’s soft lips on mine, preparing myself not to react too much to that little surprise I feel when a kiss takes my breath away before I take it back. I was also impressed with how I had rallied the troops against insurmountable odds, drawing even deserters and draft dodgers into the breach once more, dear friends! More than that, people I didn’t even know were giving me knowing smiles and winks. It was an invigorating feeling, to be sure.
While I hunted down a pen — there were none to be found in the hotel room or the lobby — I rehearsed how it would play out between me and J at the end of the night. I’d get her alone, probably be walking her to her car, and then get her number, which, by all accounts — including mine — was a forgone conclusion. And then I would say that I would like to see her when she moves back to California in three weeks. She would say that “she would love to,” which was, once again, also a forgone conclusion. Then we would hug each other goodbye and while embracing I would say something line-ish like, “Three weeks is a long time, how ‘bout a little something to look forward to?” She’d pull away just a little bit, taken aback by my boldness and ask, “Like what?” And then I would look down pointedly at her lips, nibble on my own and then lock eyes. She’d pull away and say something like, “Oh I don’t know…” And then I would say “And I thought I made a better impression on you that…” and then affect a crestfallen demeanor and throw puppy dog eyes her way. She’d hesitate, calculating the day’s events, deciding if she was going to maintain her reason or allow herself to be completely swept off her feet. At which point I would jump in with something funny and say, “I’ll tell you what. Kiss me once. If you don’t like it, then we don’t have to do it again tonight.” She’d laugh and then I would throw my arms out to the sides, tilt my head, and ask, “What do you say?” The tension will have been sufficiently deflated by the comic relief and she will take those small few girl steps toward me, prop her arms on my shoulders and we kiss with awkward shaped mouths because we’re both fighting to suppress stupid grins. Then she’ll say something witty, like “There; that had better tide you over until I get back,” and then she’ll scuttle off to the car that’s been running, with her father and sister waiting patiently inside, watching the whole thing go down.
I snagged a pen from one of the caterer helpers who were chowing down leftovers. I tested it on my wrist and then slid the sleeve back over the blemish. On my way to find J, I met up with the Best Man and we strode through the halls like men with purpose. We arrived at a small reception area where we found the bride and J making the most of their last-minute-not-going-to-see-you-for-three-weeks-enjoy-your-honeymoon-girl talk. An obstacle, but not an impasse. The Best Man, a good guy to have in a tight corner, immediately understood what he had to do: distract the bride so I could do my thing. The Best Man went to work and J got up to give my coat back to me. As I was putting it on, a cavalcade of people poured into the room. The bride’s mother. The bride’s father. The bride’s sister. A family friend. They began chatting it up and embroiling J into their conversations. A pre-fucked feeling washed over me, but I was fighting from strength and kept it together. I couldn’t very well pull J aside, considering that these were the last moments she would see the bride — her best friend of twenty-four years — for almost a solid month. More than that, the goal could not be achieved with this kind of audience. I had to bide my time and look for an opening if it presented itself. A big “if”, considering the circumstances. Now, the Best Man came through once again. He simply modified his part as the distraction. Rather than just distract the bride, he knew he had to distract the whole family by taking the bride out of the equation. Doing that meant getting my brother. The Best Man left to take of that. For the time being, the ball was in J’s court.
She spied me standing out of place in the crowd and walked over. I was prepared to hear her say something like, “walk me to my car” or “let’s get out of here.” Instead, she said, “Well, it was nice meeting you. If you ever do that movie, let me know.” The walls shuddered and the pre-fucked feeling intensified. The goodbye was going to place here, in front of God and all of humanity looking on this tense poker game. It was the final table and it was heads up between J and I. Oh well. If that’s what it would take to get the kiss, then so be it. In poker, you don’t just play your cards. You also play the other person. I felt I had played her pretty well the entire day so I was all-in even with my seven-two, off suit: the worst hand in poker. Before I could move, J extended her hand for a handshake. Pre-fucked instantly turned into fucked in full force. A handshake? Oh my God! What the fuck?! The walls shuddered again. The kiss was impossible now. If she wasn’t willing to give me a hug, how could I ask for a kiss? Still, I had to save face and walk away with at least the number. As I was shaking her hand, I began to utter the question, “Can I call you?” But J, almost preemptively, replied, “If you need to get a hold of me, just ask the bride and she can get in contact with me,” and my question died on my lips. Holy shit! She won’t even give up the digits? Worse yet, it wasn’t “ask the bride for my number” it was “ask the bride and SHE can get in contact with me, not YOU, please GOD, NOT YOU!” No kiss. No number. A pair of bullets. Pocket aces. We dropped our hands, she gave me a mirthless smile, said she was leaving and walked away. The walls shuddered and sagged like tarp, finally falling to the ground in painted heaps, revealing the steel frame of the all too familiar cage. The light faded to black. The people melted into puddles. The furniture crumbled to dust. And J turned around, ripped off her face like in a Scooby-Doo cartoon and revealed the awful visage of Fate, lips curled into a tight grin.
In one mighty swipe, she clawed out my heart and devoured it whole. Then she pounced on me and, laughing hysterically, ripped and tore at my face so not even that could be saved. And I lay there like the ball carrier, inches away from goal, watching the final seconds on the clock tick away, crushed under a three hundred pound lineman named Failure, staring up at the sullen faced groomsmen and other diehard fans feeling ridiculous in their war paint, suddenly silenced by my defeat. After she was done with me, Fate threw my useless body aside and she collapsed into a corner, breathing heavily, fat and sated and still grinning through sticky red lips. I got up, brushed myself off, walked out of the cage and very gently shut the door. And then, shaking my head all the while, I went to find the Best Man and my brother to report my complete and utter disappointment.
The failure, here, was on my part, of course. I ignored two very strong, very important warning signs. First, during the entirety of our getting-to-know-you conversation, not once — NOT ONCE — did she ask me anything about myself. It was always me asking the questions and then volunteering information about myself to show compatibility. That was a very bad sign and I got burned for not paying any heed to it. The other warning sign was that all the while I sat eating my cold meal alone at the table with J looking back at me every so often, she never broke off her redundant conversation with the Cockblocker to keep me company. If attraction wouldn’t prompt her to do so, you’d think simple sympathy or friendly interest would have. Alas. I should have scrapped the whole plan after those two trespasses, but I was too blinded with proving the groomsmen wrong and the idea of persistence and wearing women down. Too many years of living have taught me that no woman I’m attracted to will ever give me any consideration unless I wear her down with persistence. In some sense, I understand that the same could be said with J. I just have to be persistent with her and wear her down, but you know what? I don’t want to work that hard. The beautiful women I have had the privilege of dating — the ones I have never had to make excuses for their looks — were only attainable after YEARS of chipping away. Hundreds of handwritten letters. Dozens of audio cassettes. Countless drawings. A thousand late night phone calls. Four hundred dollar phone bills. Plane tickets. Promises. Professed love.
I’m not going through that shit again. So in a way, I can say that I rejected Jodi by refusing to be persistent, but you and I both know that that’s just some group-therapy-rationalization-bullshit to take the sting out of reality. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not adverse to hard work, but breaking a woman down is not a satisfying way to start a relationship.
I rode with the Best Man on the way home from the wedding. After rehashing the night we fell silent for a few miles, mulling over our own private thoughts. And then, almost in unison, I screamed, “FUCK WOMEN!!!” while the Best Man — separated after his wife cheated on him — leaned forward, bared his teeth, gripped the steering wheel violently and cried out, “YEEEEAAAAAHHHHHAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!”