My only gift is I do voices. Not perfect, but in a noisy bar my Cagney sounds okay, my Cary Grant even better, and the LBJ is a killer, although my fellow Americans did boo me off the stage recently on Open Mike night at that dingy Chinese restaurant on Sheridan Boulevard. Those dirty rats! Voices and, I guess, a certain pluckiness in outlook.
I’m not much for formal Philosophy, being practical-minded and interdisciplinary by nature—about all I learned in Doc Buehler’s Intro course before I dropped out last fall was to begin sentences you want to have impact with “Insofar forth” to generate testable hypotheses, and to pronounce the name of America’s foremost pragmatist Charles Purse, not Peerce. But there’s one philosophical approach that I’ve recently adopted applying the Categorical Imperative to the Sociology of Dating, the result of a term paper for which I received a grade of D+ but whose central premise, I believe, remains valid nonetheless: Ask some girl at a mixer, a party, or a bar who her favorite Beatle is and the response will indicate how likely you are of success at pursuing a romantic liaison. To me, reducing guesswork in this manner exemplifies philosophy in action—Utilitarianism in the service of Hedonism, marrying classic ideas popularized in Ancient Greece with those of early 19th Century Britain. The reality is that at least 50% of the young ladies so addressed will just roll their eyes, edge immediately away, or say they can’t stomach any member of that annoying Fab Four, leaving you high and dry, like a complete doofus. This should not really faze or discourage one, however, because it also means the odds are high that a percentage will smile, or share an opinion, which, empirical research demonstrates, is always more than half the battle.
Here’s how it works in practice. First, among those who do respond, if one volunteers that, “I’m in love with . . .” any of the four mop tops, just smile, nod, and begin to back away in half step increments if you hope to avoid potential entanglement in a mess you’re sure to regret.
To the unimaginative majority who say their favorite is Paul, terminate contact as soon as is polite, because why waste energy failing to meet unrealistic expectations? I mean, I’ve personally been called a lot of things, but even a cursory glance my way and you’ll know that “super cute” is not among them. If you yourself are lucky enough to have been, well, congratulations, and there’s no need to read any further. In fact, there’s no need to do just about anything but reap the benefits.
For the rest of us mere mortals who must struggle through life (especially those, like me, cursed with features reminiscent of Larry from The Three Stooges), John turns out to be more promising an answer, indicating personality types that are complicated and deep, although likely a bit troubled. So, I always follow up hearing John mentioned with another question, in his approximate voice, of course: “Yuh said Jun, now, did yuh? Why’d yuh like him, luv?” Depending on the answer I might be encouraged to linger nearby and act moody, or sarcastic, or to project some smirky rebelliousness, all of which are easy enough poses to strike in the short term, while biding time to see what might develop. More likely though, I just fade into the background, reasoning that many a John enthusiast will lead you into dark ambiguous corners best not explored. It’s a judgment call, but with low risk/reward potential.
Rarely mentioned, George turns out to be the ideal answer, an almost sure thing, in fact. With the subtlety of lights flashing on a pinball machine, the words “George Harrison is my favorite” (a less than one in ten occurrence, at best) broadcast that the young lady in question prefers the sensitive type without much apparent male ego, an amazingly simple act to pull off. Trying to be low key and not talk a lot requires minimal effort, allowing one to exude genial humility, to conserve energy and just smile with pained shyness while waiting to capitalize on the right opportunity. George fans tend to be sweet, nurturing, and, if approached with appropriate restraint and self-effacement, most liable to slip you their number. Be patient, they are out there.
Option Four, the one that portends problems serious enough to trigger a wild flight response, is Ringo. Warning signs should flash: Run, Don’t Walk! especially if the bloke who sang Octopus’s Garden and Yellow Submarine’s name is proffered without hesitation, unabashedly, as though it’s perfectly natural because, well, there are four of them, aren’t there? So, the odds must be one in four then, right?
While in reality only an infinitesimal number of the gals you encounter will admit to the goofy drummer, the unthinkable did happen to me during a recent lapse in applying my Who’s Your Favorite Beatle philosophical dating system. Which serves me right, I suppose. Maybe I didn’t want to know. And, I must say, I did have my suspicions, but only after having become completely hooked on a certain Olympia Romaniello did I note that adorning her bedroom walls were not one but two larger than life Ringo posters.
Why? I asked, pointing, concealing my horror with a laugh, daring to hope that the explanation would involve some measure of irony.
“Oh, he’s so adorable,” Olympia said, which ranks among the worst of all conceivable responses. (Although, to be fair, a girl I fell hard for in high school also swooned over this most problematic of Beatles, in her case because she felt sorry enough for him that a latent maternal urge surfaced, which is a far more dire circumstance, introducing multiple layers of complication.) But self-control had deserted me, the train having already left whatever meager cargo of common sense I have back at the station. In the throes of a full blown infatuation, powerless to resist, I fabricated all kinds of convoluted “If . . . then” propositions to the effect that Olympia is one of those rare exceptions that proves the rule. That in this singular instance, ignoring the rational guidelines I’d established for myself wouldn’t be so terrible. Although, and I’m skipping ahead a bit, even now I wonder if perhaps this relativistic thinking may yet turn out to be the correct approach.
The reason our connection developed in the first place, I should explain, is that we both found ourselves employed at The Ventricle, so there was no need for a break-the-ice “pick up line,” no normal progression narrowing down the list of eligibles. Very dangerous. I cooked, she waitressed, and watching her flounce around the sub-kitchen in her tight black satin miniskirt uniform soon got the better of me. Working over a hot grill, orange flames roaring, pheromones flying everywhere—it’s fertile ground for flights of fancy. It’s not surprising, in such overheated surroundings, that runaway lust might lead one to abandon first principles and toss pure reason out the window. Which also explains what led me to ignore the ironclad prohibition I’d laid down against socializing with co-workers, insofar forth as I rationalized again that “for every rule, there must, by its very nature, be an equal and opposite exception.” Or something along those lines, at least in the foggy, muddled excuse that I use for a brain lately.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself though, because what happened after we met is a whole other trip.
“You got to be tough with them chicks, hombre,” Carl, the Ventricle’s head cook, warned me as I was chopping onions for the soup du jour one fateful morning in May, a few weeks after I’d joined his jolly crew. He wore a floppy straw hat, and his face was a medium rare sweaty pink. Each time Carl’s knife thwacked the cutting board he made a “hut” sound, like a quarterback calling signals. “Too soft and they’ll take advantage, hut, sure as shooting. Hut!”
“Advantage?” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks. Putting my knife down on the aluminum utility table, I collected the onions I’d peeled and chopped into a garbage bag, wiped my forehead and eyes with a sopping wet side towel, and took my mug through swinging doors into the coffee station.
“Where you off to, hippie?” I heard Carl say. “Richie Schorr, I’m talking to you, boy!”
Surveying the carnage of glassware and plates in the now empty dining room, I stirred cream into my fourth coffee of the day, as Uncle Tony waddled over carrying a clipboard and his own mug, the one the size of a beer stein that reads Da Boss.
“Taking a little unscheduled off-the-clock break,” he asked, “are we?”
“Can’t you see: I’m baking freakin’ brownies, sir.”
“What are we, on the rag today, kid? Didn’t get none last night?”
“Me? I got some. Not enough, but some.”
“Greedy pig, you,” Uncle Tony muttered, patting his beach ball sized stomach. “Last time I got some, it’s so long, I can’t remember. Turned so fat now I can’t even see it, except in the mirror.”
“Well,” I said, dabbing sweat from my eyes with a cloth napkin as Uncle Tony emptied a third packet of Sweet ‘N Low into his coffee, “don’t feel bad. The truth is, I didn’t get much.”
“Yeah?” Uncle Tony grabbed me by the matted curls. “When I was your age . . .”
“Two-ninety an hour, baby,” I said to him, tugging the collar of my balloon-like white shirt, gesturing to a grease-splattered apron covering the stiff black and white checked trousers I’d been issued, their cuffs rolled up several times. “Think how good I’d do if I could ever afford to buy someone a drink.”
“Here two weeks, this guy’s hitting me up already!” Uncle Tony said. “Do me a por favor, cutie pie: talk to me about moolah in January. If you last that long.” He hit my shoulder with the clipboard. “Now get your skinny minimum wage ass back out of sight and into the kitchen.”
I shuffled off, opened the doors, and saw Carl bent at the waist, cursing, scraping down the blackened grill with a wiry metal brush. “Why, you goll-durn no-account hippie,” he said when I passed behind him. “Where you run off to, pole cat, you?”
“Just hitting Tony Boy up. Told him I’m more qualified and that he could save all kinds of bread if he gave me your job.”
“My job?” Carl stopped scrubbing, straightened up and smirked. “Trust me, you don’t want the headaches. Listening to Uncle Tony bitch all day.”
“Answer me this: If you’re going to wear a toupee like he does, why pick gray?”
“Good question. Hey, run your ugly butt down and bring me up a few more big bags of onions. Forty pounders. We’re low on soup here, Rich-er-oony.”
“Taking lunch first.”
“Lunch? We got us serious work to do, boy. Get down like I told you. Forget we’re shorthanded?”
“Yeah, well, I’m taking my thirty minutes first.”
“Eat standing up,” Carl said. “What, do I have to cut your hours, you ornery cuss? Guess you don’t need this job after all!”
Uncle Tony mandates that cooks and dishwashers take their breaks hidden from public view, either in the sweltering kitchen or the upstairs dining room, which is shuttered until five when the Happy Hour crowd arrives; but screw that, I prefer the open air terrace where I can clear my lungs from all the grease I’ve breathed in, check the cars sailing down Kensington, and pretend I’m like a semi-normal human being for a few minutes, free to come and go.
A blast of wind made me blink as I yanked the terrace door open. On this particular shift Olympia, who I’d had my eye on, although she mostly cocktailed at night while I mostly worked lunch, was the girl stationed outside. At the furthest of the eight empty tables, she sat huddled with her back to me, swathed in a charcoal gray sweater, wrapping silverware in paper napkins, filling a plastic bucket, and singing, “One way or another, I’m gonna getcha, getcha, getcha . . .”
“Mind if I park it here?” I asked, hovering at the table behind her, trying to balance a wooden salad bowl, bread plate and coffee mug.
She stopped singing, turned around, and covered her mouth, one eye closed against the cool silvery sunshine. Then she looked up at me, smiled and, squinting into the wind, shook her head in a languid arc. Wisps of shoulder length shiny black hair were whipping her pale cheeks.
“Uh-oh,” I said, easing into the chair, “someone’s going home broke. So how’d you get on Uncle Tony’s shit list, why’re you the lucky one?”
“Does it matter?” She raised her plucked eyebrows, moistened her lips. “Less hassles really. You make peanuts at lunch anyway.”
I tipped the chair back and gulped some already lukewarm coffee as she resumed wrapping. “You one of the lucky few just here for the summer?” I asked, over the piercing scream of a police cruiser.
“Un-for-tun-ate-ly,” she said, pausing between each syllable, adjusting her chair to partly face me, “no.”
“So, you’re in school still? When you’re not here in purgatory?”
She grimaced, whisked hair from her face, stuck a plastic barrette between her lips, then fastened it behind her. “One year left. Hope to God!”
“And your major’s what? Advanced silverware wrapping?”
She laughed without sound, then said, “Sociology?”
“Oh, that’s a good one. Really practical.”
From the way her eyes narrowed I got the feeling she doubted that I even knew the word.
“So, you into my man Max Weber or you more of a Durkheim kind of girl?”
“I don’t know,” she said, jiggling her head side to side, “I’m just my own person. What about you? You have a major?”
“Well,” I drew myself up, cleared my throat, “I’m kind of not in school at the moment. Technically. Was working on a degree, but, I don’t know.” I speared a leaf of spinach and put it in my mouth, wiping my lips on a sleeve the instant she looked down.
“Degree in what?” she asked.
“History. But don’t tell anyone around here,” I leaned in, whispering, “I beg of you.”
“Oh, trust me,” Olympia said, showing me her palm. “So you have some weird compulsion to study the dead?”
“Not right now,” I said. “Get back to it someday. Maybe, I mean. Maybe not.”
She swiveled all the way around, her glossy lower lip drooping. Our eyes glued.
“I had to stop,” I explained, after a few heartbeats. “I mean, I was getting too cut off. Not living life, you know? Decided to follow my dream. Not cutting onions, trying to break into comedy.”
“Amen to that,” she said, her dark eyes widening. When she edged her neck forward I got a whiff of patchouli. I noticed her mildly buck teeth, one of which was almost a snaggletooth, discolored and jagged.
“The more educated I’d get, the less I’d understand. About life. Was getting half-buried, trying to memorize all that knowledge. Disconnected. So I’m going to let it slide for a while and just start over. From scratch.”
“That,” she said, nodding, stroking her chin, “is a beautiful thing.”
“Really? I’m Richie.” I extended my hand.
Resting her head sideways on the back of her chair, she exhaled and just stared at it for a moment, as though studying an exotic specimen.
“Olympia,” she said then, reaching out and shaking it.
“Want to meet me for a drink later?” I asked her, just as the terrace door burst open.
“There you be,” Uncle Tony said, pointing. “Carl’s looking all over creation for you, throwing a shit fit. Needs help with the ribs, young man. Pronto! And quit holding hands.”
After work I checked the two week schedule posted in the coffee station. No more lunches. On three nights this week, cocktailing upstairs, but none of our shifts overlapped. I looked her up in the phone book, copied the number and address, and stashed the paper in my wallet. Two days later, I was upstairs after lunch, when Uncle Tony breezed over and started ripping the wait staff. He reeled off the names of five or six “airheads,” as he called them, that he intended to 86 as soon as he hired replacements and then, casually, I slipped Olympia into the conversation.
“Chick’s a real basket case, don’t know which end is up,” he said, burping, passing over her in his zeal to justify having axed one of the bartenders for overpouring the night before.
Later, standing shoulder to shoulder with Carl, hacking ribs apart, I maneuvered the conversation to the part-timers, and then asked about her.
“Who?” Carl said. He stopped, opened his mouth and waved the badly fraying straw hat in his face to circulate the blood-scented air. “Who’s that, pardner? New filly?”
“You know,” I said, gulping ice water out of a plastic jar, “medium height, spacey smile, Sociology major?”
“Socio-what?” Carl frowned, and I couldn’t recall any distinguishing characteristics.
“Wait, the one girl who’s not blonde,” I finally remembered as we resumed cutting the meat. “With the shiny, you know, like dark-colored hair?”
“Oh, her!” Carl said, clapping. “B-52! Why didn’t you say so?” He beamed, cupping both hands over his chest, moving them forward and back a few times. “Wow-wee! Va-va-va-VOOM!”
“Hey, what are you, man, twelve? Or thirteen?”
Whenever I mentioned her after this to other male staff though, each also referenced what they referred to as her inordinate “guns,” or they whistled, gave a thumbs up and said something like, “Whoa, what a pair!”
Two weeks later we were both scheduled for a Friday lunch shift, I couldn’t calm my stomach, I kept ducking into the bathroom, checking the mirror all morning before most of the waitresses arrived.
“Larry Fine,” I said, pinching my cheek. “At your service, toots.”
“Got the runs today, pal?” Carl asked me when I returned to the kitchen. “Wouldn’t be in there pulling the old Louie-Louie, by any chance, would you?”
Olympia stormed through the kitchen almost twenty minutes late, harried and a little disheveled, her blouse partially unbuttoned, her eyelids heavy, and her skin all pasty. By the time she got squared away she had four tables as well as Pauline, an enraged assistant manager, barking commands in her ear and grabbing her by the arm.
Carl kept banging his metal French-fry tongs on the steam table, cursing everyone, as I hunched at his left, dropping burgers onto the grill or placing sandwich portions into the micro-wave, in response to the orders he kept shouting nonstop. To my left stood Tommy the Twerp, a skinny high school dropout who helped out on busy days, mixing salads, slapping cold sandwiches together and, in imitation of Carl, who had given him his nickname on his inaugural shift, spraying indiscriminate insults at the waitresses.
“Hey! B-52!” Carl yelled at the height of the chaos, pointing his tongs at Olympia. “Yeah, you! Take your goddamn fish fries for that deuce at 23 out from under here, for God’s sakes, they’re getting soggy, girl.” There were two platters emitting steam under the heat lamps. She glanced at them, then rushed out of the kitchen empty-handed.
“Goddamn airhead!” Carl yelled, sweat dripping from his face onto a crock of sizzling chili.
“Shut your hole,” I told him, without looking over. “So much noise, how do you expect us to concentrate?”
Tommy gave me an elbow and winked.
“Telling me to shut up? You Bohemian asshole, you! You better watch. Holy shite!” he said then, smacking his forehead, picking up another two dupes a waitress had just dropped in the order basket. “T’row on four more burgers, rare, medium rare and two well done, another three jumbo franks, two double ribs, and two fried clams. Holy shite!” He shook his head, looked at me and Tommy. “Them bitches is bombing the shit out of us, hombres. This calls for Super Cook.” He ripped open the snaps of his white cook’s shirt, tossed it to the floor and began racing around in a sleeveless undershirt, dropping a whole large bag of French fries into the bubbling fryolator. “Full speed ahead, boys, fire at will. Wahoo!”
After the hubbub, I kept my head down, wiped the surfaces and reset my station, refrigerated the perishables and cleaned each utensil I’d used. I noticed two splotches of brown gravy on my sleeve. While Carl was calling produce orders in, joking with salesmen, I hit the men’s room again, brushed my greasy hair back, sniffed my armpits, then hurried through the main dining room where one busser was going from table to table loading the remnants of lunch into a rectangular gray plastic bucket. Entering the terrace, I spied Olympia, her back to the dining room, seated in the same position as when we’d talked a few weeks earlier.
Striding over, I touched her shoulder. “Hey,” I said, “Crazy lunch. I have to apologize.”
Startled, she looked at my hand. “Hey. About what?”
“The kitchen. The way Carl carried on. Totally uncalled for.”
“Aw, he’s just Carl,” she said, turning back to refill salt shakers. “Doesn’t mean anything, he just gets keyed up.”
“So, I wasn’t sure you even worked here anymore. How’ve you been?”
“I . . .” she said, breaking off. She looked up and bit her lip. “Excuse me, what do you mean, though, ‘How’ve I been?’ You’re new, aren’t you?”
“You don’t remember me? Really?”
“I mean, have we had the pleasure?” She extended her hand. “I’m Olympia.”
“Richie,” I said, shaking, looking out at the empty gray street, swirls of wind lifting the pages of a discarded newspaper off the ground. They flapped against the window like the wings of a wounded bird. “We did have one brief conversation a few weeks back. Involving History. And Sociology.”
“Oh. We did?” She smiled. “Are you being serious?”
To say I was intrigued is an understatement.
“Look, would you meet me for a drink sometimes?” I asked her. “Or to go for a walk? I’ll carry your big Sociology textbooks home from school.”
Amazingly enough, she gave me her number, I saw her a few more times. We went to the zoo, to a vegetarian café, and we met on campus and walked around the art museum. It was laid back and comfortable, and the more I got to know her, the more I understood how out of the ordinary she was. She may have worn black stockings with her uniform, she may have driven around town in her rusty VW bug all summer in short shorts and a shirt tied at the midriff a la Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, but none of these things, in fact nothing about her that I could tell, fit any of my preconceptions. She was uninhibited, not rule-bound. And, as already indicated, even though she remained a mystery, or maybe because of that, I was smitten.
When she said, “You don’t have to spend money taking me out, that’s silly. You want to come over for dinner? I’ll cook,” my heart almost leapt out of my chest cavity into my throat.
Make no mistake, to me this was a huge deal, but I forced myself not to answer right away. I tried to channel Marlon Brando, pursing my lips, rubbing my chin and blinking a few times. “Uhhh,” I said, pausing, “yeah, sure, sweet-hot. That would be, um, most cool.” I forgot to say thanks, I looked off in the distance, but she just laughed. Unfazed.
A few nights later, when I knocked at her door, she didn’t answer for about five minutes until I knocked again. When it swung open she was barefoot, wearing a lavender kimono, her long hair wet, with her forefinger through the ring of a Folonari Soave jug she was toting over her shoulder.
“Welcome,” she said, taking the flowers I gave her, hugging me around the waist. “I’m just in the middle of finishing up the sautéed chicken. You like chicken, I hope? You like wine?”
“Yeah, baby,” I said. “Love, not like. I love everything. I’m full of love.”
“Okay, love child, I need to be in the kitchen concentrating, by myself, so why don’t you relax in here,” she handed me the jug, “and I’ll let you know when it’s ready. I’m sorry, but I really can’t even talk until everything’s done. It’s a very complicated recipe.”
“That’s fine,” I said and she returned to the adjacent kitchen.
A table was set up for two, with candles, and my heart started firing out of control, so I grabbed one of the glasses, filled it up, and downed the sour lukewarm wine in almost one gulp. I poured myself another glass, even though it tasted vile. I sunk into the couch, then immediately bounced up to turn the TV on. It was broken. I also saw a shattered wine glass on the floor.
“Hey, Olympia,” I called out, “you have shards of glass all over your living room in here and you don’t have shoes on. Can I clean it up for you?”
She didn’t answer. So, is she going to think I’m a rude jerk, I was wondering, for even pointing it out? Maybe she didn’t notice, maybe it was a roommate, maybe she’ll cut her foot. Take matters into your own hands, dopey. I picked up the larger pieces and started searching for a garbage can, which I couldn’t find. I opened one of the doors and there it was—Olympia’s bedroom with the two Ringo posters.
“Ta-da!” she said, coming into the living room, carrying two dinner plates of steaming chicken with grapes, rice, and broccoli. “What are you doing in my room? It’s private.”
“Wow, I’m sorry, I was looking for a garbage pail. You have broken glass on the floor and I didn’t want you to cut your foot.”
“Oh, my,” she said, “that’s sweet of you. Mary Ellen must have been so drunk last night she didn’t even realize she broke a glass.”
We cleaned it up together quickly, then sat down, clinked our wine glasses, “To new friends,” she said, and I tried to keep my hands from shaking.
When I broached the issue of Ringo, she was all smiles.
“Why? He has the best vibe of all of them. By far.”
“Care to elaborate? It’s something that really interests me, why people like each of the different Beatles, but I’m not sure I understand ‘vibe.’ As you’re defining it.”
“Ringo’s so not conceited for someone that talented. He’s like a regular laid back guy who just likes to have a good time. To keep the beat.” And that sent her into a swaying reverie. It was also all she apparently wanted to say about it.
So, for the rest of the dinner, and from then on, I vowed, try and act really goofy, feign buck teeth, project that all you care about is having a good time, and stop worrying. But I couldn’t very well do Ringo, his full-on Liverpool accent. So which impersonation of mine might she not identify, that conveyed “laid back” more so than any of the others? And then it came to me: Dennis Hopper, from Easy Rider.
“Man,” I said to her, stroking where my mustache would be if I had one, “it’s kind of freaking me out how beautiful this whole dinner scene is.” I rubbed my cheek. Then I leaned forward and cupped both hands over the one of hers resting on the table. “Wow, man, thank you. I mean, really: thank you.”
Amazingly, her eyes started to shine.
“So, tell me every little detail about Olympia, I want to know everything.”
“Okay,” she said, withdrawing her hand, picking up the knife and fork to cut her chicken, “but you realize you just started talking a little different? Like you’re from the south or California or something.”
“Oh, man, it’s how I sound when I’m like really into something.”
“So?” She looked in my eyes, and smiled, then her eyes started to bug out. “”What are you so into?”
“Being with you. Here and now. I mean, to most people, like Uncle Tony, or Carl, all I am to them is someone who needs a haircut. You’re different, I could tell. Deeper. From the moment I met you, man. You’re the kind of rare individual who can just change direction, and go with it, man, I can tell that.” What’s insane, it occurred to me, is how I can get into these bullshit voices and then just ride them with so little effort.
“Well, Mom always called me a devil child. I cried every night growing up. I was actually left unsupervised most of the time. Didn’t have any friends, didn’t have much, just my big brother and sister. Must be my lot in life, that’s what I thought. Lonely. Then, at fifteen, I got all wrapped up in my first love, an Air Force guy. After that didn’t last, of course, I picked a lot of the wrong boyfriends.”
“Hey, with that kind of background,” I told her, “it’s amazing you’re not even more nuts. I mean, that’s not what I meant at all. I meant ‘nuts’ in a good way, you know? Like, ‘hey, that’s nutty.’ Like cool, not brainwashed by society.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m used to it. Guys are sometimes a little keyed up around me, for whatever reason, they don’t know what to say.”
“I’m not,” I said. “I’m like the opposite of that, man.”
At that moment we heard something crash in the apartment next door, then a man and a woman shrieking at one another, more things being smashed, the weird part being it went from quiet to mayhem in a second, with no build up. The walls started to shake.
“It’s a trip,” she said. “That is the sound of conflict. A reminder of what I’m trying to overcome in life. They’re always screaming and yelling and fighting over there and acting crazy. It’s so unnecessary. But that’s okay, it doesn’t bother me. Uncle Tony offered to go over and put an end to it, once and for all, but I asked him not to.”
“Uncle Tony’s been over to your apartment? Really?”
“Oh,” she said, covering her mouth. “No. I mean, I just told him about it. You know? Because he told me I look tired, and they do this sometimes in the middle of the night. Then they, quote-unquote, make up. Which is even louder.”
She was mesmerizing. The scary part being, every word dripped out infused with honey, slowed down, spacey, in such an unconsciously sexy way that I couldn’t bear it, unevolved and imperfect as my consciousness is. True confession: I had an unprecedented steel bolt hard on that caused a lot of discomfort (and would have been embarrassing if it had been visible) every second of the time we spent having dinner.
“Richie’s a guy,” she said, clearing the plates, “he’s looking for shortcuts. Am I right? I think he’s very sweet, but I can tell, he likes to label things. And life’s just not like that. He has to learn to just be. Labeling everything is a way of cutting yourself off. Disengaging. And, Richie, I mean, you do all these voices, but what’s your voice, you know?”
“Wow,” I said, as she disappeared into the kitchen. “That’s some deep insight. Excellent. So, what are you doing Friday night?”
“Going to my consciousness elevation group.”
She kept talking but I didn’t hear a word, I just kept anticipating the treasures that lay underneath that kimono, and how long it would be before it was opened.
I got up when she returned, holding a pineapple, and I went to kiss her, but she turned her head away.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I just really like you. Am I being too forward?”
“No, I like you too,” she said. “I do. You’re sweet. But I’ve become celibate again. As a way to express my love for the world in a more pure and perfect form. Without conflict. The other way, the way most people are, is just too complicated for me, it ruins my appreciation of the beauty in people, the oneness, and, I don’t know, I’m just not into it right now. The whole desire trip. Possession. It’s better for me this way. At least for now.”
“I get it,” I said. “All good things come to those who wait. But let me ask you this, let’s say old Ringo Starr himself were here and not me? Would you say the same thing to him? Would you feel this way then?”
“Oh, wow,” she said. “That’s a really hard one.”
Then, I decided, the heck with it, and broke out my Ringo. “You know, love, this bloke here really cares about you. He’d like to show you aboard his yellow submarine.”
“I know he would.” She reached across the table and we touched fingertips. “But I have to be true to myself, don’t I, Ringo? To try and overcome all this societal brainwashing about who I am. And what I am. People hitting on me all the time, I mean taking my car in for repairs, at the record shop, customers at the restaurant, and my not knowing what to do. When to say yes, how to say no. I’ll come out of it someday, I’m sure, but for now . . .” she trailed off, sighing. Then she pushed her chair out and got up. “It’s just cleaner this way. Freer. Excuse me, I have to go use the restroom.”
She was gone for a long enough while that I could calm down and think about how hopelessly hooked I was, and I could feel how it ached. And how it was going to ache even more.