H.L Mencken once called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” This is all I can think of as I gaze pensively into the perfect green orbs of my olives.
I used to quote Mencken’s musings about martinis when I met a promising guy at a bar. (Which rarely happen.)
Now I am sitting in an oversized bright red booth with picture of Lucille Ball and Charlie Brown looking down at me. They are screaming “SPEAK, YOU FOOL.”
Jamie is regarding me with piercing green eyes.
“Did I offend you?” He asks, gently.
“No, not at all. I probably had that coming. Taking myself seriously is actually quite a point of pride with me. It’s my normal. You just happened to catch me on a particularly out of character kind of day.”
“I’m not usually flirty. Normally, I wouldn’t have approached you. I just had a rare moment of being a free spirit.”
“You’re pretty intense.”
“I’m an actor.” Another disarming grin flash.
“Ok, the actor and the librarian. Could we start over?”
“Start over how?”
“Hi, my name is Dorothy, I work at the college library.” I extend my hand.
Jamie takes it in both of his. And bends down to kiss it.
“And I’m Prince Charming”
I whack his hands away.
“Come on, I’m trying to be more serious!”
“Alright.” He reaches his hand over the table. “Nice to meet you Dorothy, my name is Jamie. I’m a new company member at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro, Minnesota.”
I grab his hand and give it a firm shake.
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Jamie.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Dorothy.”
We end up talking for a couple of hours. We swap vital, basic first date kind of information about one another. Where we grew up, went to college, how many siblings, what are our parents up to now. Why we chose to get into our respective professions. It is almost too easy, and I feel my nervousness melting away.
I’m not supposed to be able to do this. I’m horrible at dating. Horrible at relating to men. What is going on?
Am I actually horrible at dating, or is that just the story I’ve been telling myself for 27 years?
We leave the bar and walk out into a delicious November evening. Dusk envelops us.
“Well, my car is parked behind the library–I’ll need to walk back to campus,” I offer.
“Mine is parked at the Center for the Arts. I’ll walk you part of the way.” He offers his arm, and I gladly take it.
We stroll along on the sidewalk. People in passing cars might even mistake us for a couple of college kids if they didn’t look too closely.
The walk is both long and short. Long, because it is our first walk together and possibly the start of something romantic, but also short because it is over far too soon.
Under the street lights of the CFA, we stop by a beaten-up red jeep.
“Well, this is me.” Jamie looks at me, maybe a little nervous.
“Oh, well, thank you for drinks. That was a lot of fun.”
“Yeah, it was.”
There is a long pause before I say, “Listen, I don’t want to be too forward, but I’d like to give you my number. You can either use it or not, but I want you to have it.”
I dig in my purse for a business card and write my cell on the back. I shove it in his general direction.
He takes the card and puts it in the back pocket of his well-cut jeans.
“Thank you, Dorothy.” He leans in and gives me a whisper of a kiss on my left cheek. “Good night. I’ll be in touch.”
And then he is gone. Driving into star-filled Iowa night sky.
The walk to the library parking lot is not nearly as exciting. I get to my car and sigh deeply. What a great night.
I notice the small town lights twinkling on the drive home. Some houses have already put up Christmas lights. They are small beacons of hope and goodwill towards humanity and light my way home.
I park my car in large parking lot behind the commercial buildings of Water Street. I lock up and start to head in my little side entrance, when I hear someone calling my name.
I turn around.
It’s Madeline. I’m not used to seeing students outside of campus.
“Where are you going?”
“Home. I live in the apartment above the bakery.”
“Are you doing anything right now?”
“I mean, are you busy? I’m meeting a few friends at the corner bar and I’d like to buy you a beer. It meant a lot to me, what you said earlier.”
“How old are you–”
“21. I’m a sophomore, but I’m 21. I took a year-long break after high school.”
“Well, Madeline, I’m flattered, but–”
“Come on, one quick beer–it’s practically across the street. And now I know where you live. Or would you rather I bought a six-pack and came up to your apartment.” She smiles mischievously.
“Ok, I’m in. Let’s go.”
The Corner Bar is a bar that has a unique ecosystem. It has an old jukebox, the long wooden bar, a pool table and a dart board. About half of the clientele (the locals) find this atmosphere comfortable and as it should be. The other half (the college students) find the redneck flair amusing.
We walk into a rousing rendition of Sweet Caroline on the jukebox. Neil Simon sings and half of the bar are his drunken back up singers.
A skinny girl with her mousey brown hair pulled back tightly waves at us from a small table wedged in the corner. I’m guessing that this is the roommate with the promise ring.
We alight awkwardly on high upholstered stools.
“Hi, I’m Rachel!” Probably promise ring introduces herself.”
“Hi, I’m Dorothy.”
“How do you know Madeline?”
Madeline jumps in before I can say a word.
“We work at the library together.”
“That’s great. I work in the department of Religious Studies. I love it there.”
Dear lord, Rachel is perky.
Madeline heads to the bar and am left alone with perky pants.
“So, what year are you?”
Shit, I’m going to have to be quick on my feet.
“What’s your major?”
Crap. Better stay clear of anything vaguely related to religion.
It sounds like more of question than a statement, but Rachel bobs her head up and down. She buys it.
“What productions have you been in?”
“I’m more behind the scenes. I’m on the design track. Costumes, mostly.”
“Oh, I see, that makes more sense. I was going to say, you don’t seem like an actress type.”
I laugh nervously.
“Yep, I mostly just stay in the costume shop.”
Please make the conversation about yourself. Please make the conversation about yourself.
“I’m a English Education major and a Religion minor.”
“Oh, how do you like that?”
She looks at me intently. “I love it. When I think of all the students that I am going to be able to teach when I graduate–all those students whose lives I am going to make a difference in, I get a little chocked up. I love it, just love it.”
Madeline comes back. She mouths “Sorry.”
I look down to see two shots of tequila.
I look at her. “I thought we were having beer?”
She shrugs. “Tequila sounded like more fun.”
This has been one hell of a day, and as I am masquerading somewhat believably as a college student for this evening, I shake some salt on my left hand.
Madeline looks at me, smiles and counts us off.
Yikes. This is obviously not top-shelf tequila. But it will do.
I stay with Madeline and Rachel for the better part of a hour. I make up a story about a term paper that I really should be working on, but insist that they stay and have a good time. Madeline giggles and gives me a hug and I exit stealthily.
I climb the old wooden stairs to my apartment, turn the key in the lock, and I am home safe.
The events of this afternoon and evening have filled me with both adrenaline and hope. I walk to my window to look out over Main Street. There are random groups of students that have trudged from campus, weaving in and out of bars.
A couple walks across the street. From a distance, the man almost looks like–Anders. I squint at the couple as they walk away and see that not only is the man Anders, but the woman is Linda Birch.
This can’t be right. Anders and Linda? She’s at least twenty years older than he is. I suppose stranger things have happened. (Like me going on a date with a handsome actor on a whim.)
This development is going to make the long drive to Minneapolis tomorrow much more interesting.