The Wasted Drink

She didn’t want to go. Then again, she never did. But as usual, she gave in to peer pressure. It wasn’t because she was weak. It was because deep down, she knew her friends had her best interest at heart.

When you’re an introvert, being surrounded by extroverted friends is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that she could sit back and let them do all the planning and talking. It was a curse in that it was very easy to disappear into a social void. At least, that’s what past history taught her. So why should tonight be any different?

Emily remained hopeful that somehow, her friends savvy social graces could somehow rub off on her. An ‘extrovertism’ so to speak.

Yet, the more she tried to step out of her self-imposed cave, the more her anxiety would rise and the deeper into her cave she would withdraw. It didn’t help that week after week, she had to watch as her friends got the attention that she wanted.

Of course, it didn’t help that that her Jackie and Melissa were prettier than she was (at least in her mind…and – she assumed – the minds of most men on the flirtation front). Sure, there were plenty of guys that she would have gladly passed on, but it sure would be nice to have the option to pass on them. Every now and then at least. The only problem was, nobody ever noticed her. She didn’t exactly make herself available.

If there was a silver lining, it was that not being noticed was preferable to being noticed and then passed over.

She didn’t expect tonight to be any different. In fact, her confidence level felt even lower than usual. Her face felt more oily than normal. And she felt bloated from the burger she at dinner, while her friends naturally ate a salad. She tried not to dwell on it. If she really wanted a salad, she should have ordered a goddam salad.

If it were totally up to her, she would have been content to order carry out and watch a movie – with friends, or alone. In fact, she would have been more than fine with alone. Where she didn’t have to watch people eat a salad

But once again, she succumbed to peer pressure, convinced it was for her own good.

Jimmy

He had every reason to believe that this weekend would follow the same script as any other one:

Slight buzz after half a drink.

False confidence.

Chickening out.

Diminished buzz.

Self-loathing.

Further loss of confidence.

And the acceptance that he was a hopeless romantic failure who never stood a chance.

Before he ended the night by jacking himself off to sleep.

He was growing tired of the same, tired weekend formula. His friends, Eric and Billy, on the other hand, lived for this. Of course, it helped that they were the ones who had all the fun.

Jimmy, on the other hand, was getting sick of getting his hopes up, only to get nowhere. In fact, he had stopped getting his hopes up months ago. Now, he simply went through the motions. Continuing to live life on the outside, looking in.

It wasn’t rocket science. But it certainly felt like it. How hard could it be to approach a member of the opposite sex and strike up a friendly conversation?

As far as Jimmy was concerned, he might have well have attempted to climb Mt. Everest as far as was concerned. He probably had a better chance at doing that.

Following each weekend, he didn’t need to recover from a hangover, but from shame and regret. He had neither the looks (in his mind, at least), nor the charm (again, in his mind) necessary to make things happen.

Yet, sure enough, halfway through the week – right at the point where he felt like he was never going back – he would slowly feel his confidence rebuilding. And next thing he knew, Friday would come and he would set out for another night of inevitable failure.

After last weekend – when he felt especially down in the dumps about his future prospects, he convinced himself that he would take a weekend off. And then – and only if he felt the urge to get back into the game – he would just relax and enjoy his time out with his buddies, rather than putting unnecessary pressure on himself to work up the courage to talk to a stranger. If it was destined to happen, it would. But as much as part of him believed it, life was not a movie. People do not meet cute that easily.

Or do they?

Perhaps, if he weren’t such a hopeless romantic, he would just take things as they came. The problem was, nothing ever came. (Not counting himself into a wadded up ball of Kleenex).

The following weekend, he stuck to his guns and stayed home Friday night. On Saturday, he ventured to an early screening at the art house on Saturday. His friends tried with all their might to change his mind. They nearly convinced him to join their ranks. But instead, he headed home after the movie, only to stop at Blockbuster along the way to rent Reservoir Dogs for the umpteenth time.

Why don’t I just buy it to own?

The following weekend, however, the tide finally began to turn.

Emily

“What do you have to lose?” Jackie asked.

“My dignity?” Emily responded.

“That’s the last thing you will lose!” Melissa said. “Oh, wait. That’s virginity, I’m sorry.”

“Shut up!”

“Get me drunk enough” Jackie said.

“She doesn’t even have the balls to say ‘fuck you’ when I most deserve it.”

“You know I don’t use fuck,” Emily replied.

“Or fuck in general,” Melissa said.

“Whatever.”

“Why can’t you just try to have fun?” Jackie asked.

“Because I’d rather be home. On my couch. Eating ice cream. And watching Disney movies.”

“Like any other night.”

“Because maybe I like it.”

“Don’t you want to find someone to do those things with?”
“I have someone. It’s called my cat.”

“Oh, my God, you are so pathetic…” Melissa said just loud enough to be heard.

‘I heard that.”

“It was meant to be heard.”

They entered the The Wasted Drink – a throwback lounge with more red on the interior than it knew what to do with.

They headed to the couches in the back lounge area. Jackie and Melissa sat next to one another. Emily sat in a chair by herself across from them. Anything that could be done to make her feel like an outcast.

Emily sank into her chair as Frank Sinatra crooned.

Love was in the air.

Jimmy

“What do you have to lose” Billy asked.

“My pride. My dignity…”

“Your virginity?”
“You know I already lost that.”

“Teddy bears don’t count.”

“That was just one time. And I don’t count that.”

“I don’t understand why you can’t just relax and have a nice time.

“Because, I just want to be home. On my couch. Drinking beer. And watching porn.”

“You do that every other night,” Eric said.

“Which is why going out with us is so important,” Billy said. “Otherwise, we’re all just losers!”

“Well, we’re still losers,” Eric said. “Just losers at bars, rather than losers at home.”

“What if I actually like sitting at home?” Jimmy said. “Did you ever stop to think about that?”

“Don’t you want to get laid?” Eric asked.

“You know that’s not how I’m wired.”

“Should we find you a gay bar?”

“No, I mean. It’s just not in my DNA to have random hook up with some chick at a bar. I’m not a one-night stand kind of guy.”

“That’s obvious,” Eric said.

“Look, man. Nobody said you need to have a one-night stand. But when I said getting laid, I wasn’t saying you have to get laid tonight. I meant, find someone that you get to know, go on a few dates with, then get laid. In other words, finding a girlfriend. Don’t you want a girlfriend?”

“What about you guys?

“We just want to get laid,” Billy said. “And you saw what happened when Eric had a girlfriend. It nearly ruined him.”

“It actually did,” Eric retorted.

“Okay, fine. I will do it,” Jimmy said, giving in.

“Do what?”

“Talk to a girl. Will that make you happy?”

“Fuck yeah!” Eric said with unnecessary enthusiasm.
“Your need to live vicariously through me is very disturbing,” Jimmy said.

They entered the bar. Although he had no say in the manner, it was the one bar he actually liked. He as a sucker for all things vintage. Though, in all honesty, if it were completely up to him, he would have much preferred a coffee shop. His home away from home. Where he went to write. He needed stimuli around him. Silence was a distraction.

And he knew that one thing as certain: silence was the last thing he was going to get tonight.

Emily

“Hello, ladies,” a voice said.

Emily rolled her eyes, already assuming it was yet another jackass coming to flirt with her friends while she sat on the sidelines.

“What can I get you to drink?”

It wasn’t a jackass. It was a waiter. But a waiter who looked like he’d be a jackass if he were off shift.

Her friends ordered a Stoli & Cranberry. She remained undecided.

“Ummm…”

It was always a struggle. She didn’t do enough drinking to have a favorite drink yet. In fact, she didn’t like alcohol all too much to begin with, much to the consternation of her friends.

“Do you have Mosquato?” Emily finally asked.

“Mosquito?”

“You mean, Moscato?” Melissa asked.

‘Yes. Moscato. Which is what I said.”

“Actually, you said Mosqauto,” the waiter said in a tone that sounded equally polite and condescending.

“Oh, sorry. Moscato, yes.”

“I’ll be right back,” the waiters said with a warm smile.

He sure was cute, but aside from not being quit her type, he was also a bit out of her league.

As the waiter walked away, her friends laughed.

“You might as well have ordered Kool-Aid,” Jackie said.

“Just be glad I ordered anything at all.”

“Oh, we’re honored you are drinking in our presence.”

“Whatever.”

As Jackie and Melissa carried on their conversation, Emily spotted a good-looking guy talking to a nearby girl at a nearby table.

Sigh.

When would that ever be her?

She watched as the guy took the girl by the hand and walked away.

“How come guys hardly hit on me?” she finally asked.

“Because you don’t make yourself open.”

“What do you mean?

“You do nothing to draw attention to yourself,” said Melissa.

“That’s not her style,” said Jackie.

“Why do you want to be hit on anyway?” asked Jackie. “You hate aggressive guys.”

“I wouldn’t mind it every once in awhile. At least long enough to get tired of it.”

The waiter delivered the drinks.

“You can start by not being such a goody two-shoes,” Melissa told her.

“I’m not.”

“You are. And men detect shit like that. Men are turned off by women who act holier than though,” Melissa said.

“Maybe the men you get,” Emily retorted.

“You guys, come on—” Jackie said.

“When was the last time you’ve been on a date?”

“I don’t know…that has nothing to do with anything. I’ve been busy with school, work –”

“And being a good little good two shoes.”

“Dammit, I’m not a goody two shoes.”

“Just look how much you’re struggling to finish just one drink.”

“We just got them!”

Melissa and Jackie pointed to their nearly completed drinks.

“Well, I’m just glad I’m not an alcoholic.”

“Whatever.”

“Is there a reason you’re ganging up on me?”
“We just want to help, that’s all,” said Jackie.

“I’ll prove to both of you that I’m no goody two shoes.”.

“How?” asked Melissa.

“Somehow.”

Jimmy

“What can I get you guys?” the bartender asked the three amigos at the bar.

Eric ordered an Old Fashioned; Billy a Guinness.

“You?” the bartender asked Jimmy.

“Still deciding.”

“Dude, come on!” Eric barked.

He ordered his default drink of choice:

“Umm, how about a Strawberry Cosmopolitan. Please.”

Eric and Billy both laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Eric asked.

“You know I like the fruity drinks.”

“Can you at least try?” Eric asked.

“Try what?”

“Nevermind,” Eric said.

And then he spotted her. And the whole world came to a grinding halt – or, so it seemed.

There she was. Across the room. Sitting in a chair by herself like princess in a throne. It felt as though she were placed there just for him and him alone. Of course, he knew this meant nothing. Because if past history as any indication, he sure as fuck wasn’t going to do something about it. He continued to stare nonetheless.

“Yo, Jimmy!” Eric said.

“Watch yourself, guy,” said the bartender as he attempted to serve Jimmy his drink.

“”What is wrong with you?” asked Billy.

Jimmy snapped out of his daze and noticed the fruity concoction placed beneath him, which featured an enormous strawberry that seemed too huge to be real.

“Nice fruit salad,” Billy said.

“Speaking of fruit…” Eric added.

Jimmy was too distracted by his new crush to notice the taunts. Though he had no shortage of crushes, he had never been so fixated on someone before. It felt like a magnetic force. Like a moth to a flame. Like a –

“Hello, McFly!” Eric said, running his hand pas Jimmy’s face. “Who in the hell are you staring at?
“An angel.”

“An angel?” asked Billy.

“Yeah. See those girls over there?

“Yeah.”

“The one on the left.”

Eric and Billy both looked.

“Go talk to her,” Billy said.

“Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious! Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Why do you always make talking to a girl sound like climbing Everest?”

“Well, for me, it is.”

“Maybe it’s time you reach the peak,” Billy said.

“The only peak he’ll be reaching tonight is the peak between his legs,”

Eric retorted.

“Let’s see if he can prove us wrong,” Billy said.

Jimmy tried to stifle his annoyance. Though there was a small part of him that appreciated their effort to find true love, there was something unwelcome and invasive about it. Not to mention a tad selfish – at least, that’s how he saw it.

“What makes you think tonight would be any different than last week?” asked Jimmy. “Or the week before that, or the week and five years before that? I suck at this.”

“Because this is a different week. The past no longer matters.”

Jimmy didn’t say a word. But he didn’t resist, either.

He just kept on dreaming.

Hoping, praying, that she would notice him back. After all, if he felt this drawn to her, there was no way it could be a one-way street.

Right?

Emily

“I think the guy at the bar is staring at me,” Melissa said.

“Stare back,” Jackie said.

“He’s not my type. He’s kind of impish. His friends are cute, though.”

“What do you think, Emily?” Melissa asked an oblivious Emily, struggling to nurse baby sips of her drink.

“Which one?”

“The one looking at us,” Melissa said.

Emily glanced toward the bar.

“Nobody is looking.”

“The dorky one on the end.”

“I think he’s kind of cute,” Emily said.

“I think he’s checking you out,” Jackie teased.

“Yeah, right. I’m sure he’s interested in you guys.”

“You’re probably right,” Melissa said.

Of course I’m right. Because things like this don’t happen to me. Why should tonight be any different?

Jimmy

Jimmy obsessively stared at his new muse, growing deeper into a trance.

Did she even notice? Do I want her to notice?

            Of course I do!

But only so I could go curl into a ball in a corner somewhere in embarrassment?

The endless loop.

She glanced in his direction and Jimmy quickly looked away. As soon as she stopped looking, Jimmy stared at her again.

“I think I want to talk to that girl,” Jimmy said.

“Then go fucking talk to her!” said Billy. “Stop talking about it.”

“I’m just not good at approaching strangers.”

“They’re only strangers until you meet them.”

Jimmy continued to stare, only to be brought out of his trance with a slap to the back of the head, courtesy of Eric.

“You’re going to freak her out!”

“Let him stare!” Billy commanded. “At least he isn’t bitching anymore.”

“If you ask me, I think her friends are far hotter,” Eric said.

“She’s more my type.”

“Of course she is,” Billy said.

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. It just means that you are attracted to the plain-Janes. Nothing wrong with that. Just stating a fact. And the fact that we are actually having this conversation is proof why you need to get off your sorry little ass and talk to her!”

Eric suddenly stood up:

“I hereby propose a toast,” Eric said, lifting up his glass.

“Oh oh, here we go again,” remarked Billy.

Jimmy goes through the motions and lifts up his glass, keeping one eye on his dream girl, totally unaware of the fact that he is spilling some of his drink.

“Dude, you’re spilling,” Billy said, tipping Jimmy’s glass upright, as Eric proceeded with the speech:

“May our good friend and personal whipping boy finds his balls tonight.”

“Here, here,” said Billy.

Jimmy goes through the motions and clinks his glass, keeping his eyes fixated on his muse, as more of his fruit punch leaked out.

“He’s already whipped and it’s only been five minutes,” said Eric.

Jimmy remained in his own little fantasy world, as Eric and Billy engaged in conversation.

After a few moments, he grabbed his drink and stood up.

“Holly shit. He’s going for it,” Eric said.

But he wasn’t. Instead, Jimmy sat down on the other side of his friends.

“What are you doing?”

“I wanted a clearer view.”

“Dude, just go over there!” Billy said.

“I want to…but I—”

“Can’t?” Billy interjected.

Jimmy nodded.

“Fuck that,” Eric said. “It really isn’t that difficult. You just have to walk over there.”

“What do I say, “Oh, hi, I’m Jimmy?”
‘Umm, yeah, that might be a good place to start,” said Eric.

“And then what?”

“Say whatever comes naturally,” said Eric.

“I don’t have a natural state.”

“You do: Awkwardly endearing. But first, you have to walk over there,” said Billy.

“And leave your fucking gay ass drink behind.”

Emily

Emily took a small sip of her still mostly full drink and flashed a nervous glance toward three amigos at the bar. The cute boy was staring at her once again. She quickly looked way.

If only I knew how to flirt.

Though he made her nervous and made her heart race, she felt extremely flattered. The only problem was, she still wasn’t convinced he was looking at her. This made more sense in her mind and was certainly consistent with past experience – whether real, or imagined.

Dear God, may I be wrong.

At least she wasn’t thinking about being home anymore.

“You know what would be neat?” Emily said.

“If he would come over here.”

“The imp?” Melissa asked.

“He looks sweet,” Jackie replied.

“He looks like a boy band reject,” Melissa said.

“He’s cute, though,” Jackie said.

“Jackie, will you go talk to him for me?”

“What is this, the tenth grade?”

“I don’t want him to think I’m a slut.”

“How would that make you slut?” Jackie said.

“He’s a guy. He’s probably hoping you are a slut,” Melissa added.

“Is it possible to get going and rent a movie or something?” Emily said “This is turning into a nightmare.”

“Only you would turn an opportunity like this into an nightmare,” Jackie said. “The only way this would be a nightmare is if you blow your chance.”

“No, I’m good. I just want to leave.”

“We need at least one more round before we consider leaving,” Melissa said, as she waved toward the water.

“Waiter!”

He raced over.

“Ready for another round?”

“Of course!” Melissa said.

“I’m all set.” Emily said.

“Fuck that. Bring her another Cosmo.”

“No, I’m fine. Really.” Emily insisted.

“Don’t worry, Mommy and Daddy won’t be mad. They know you’re in good hands.”

“It’s not that, it’s just … I’d really rather not puke my guts out tonight. I have to get up early to study tomorrow.

“Ignore her,” Melissa instructed the waiter, before she turned to Emily:

“If you puke, I promise to personally clean it up,” Melissa said. “Now down what’s left of your first one.”

“I don’t want—“

“Down it!”

Emily began to “down” her drink through a straw.

Melissa pulled the straw right out of her mouth and raised the glass to Emily’s mouth.

“I said down it!” Emily gagged, nearly spitting her drink out. Somehow, she kept it down. She then grabbed her strawberry and took a big to chase down the liquor.

It would take much more than that.

Jimmy

Jimmy took a big chunk out of his massive strawberry, as he continued to gaze at the girl of his dreams from behind his glass.

“I figured it out!” he suddenly proclaimed on the precipice of an epiphany.

“Dude, you have strawberry in your teeth,” Eric pointed out.

Jimmy licks it off.

“You figured what out?” Billy asked.

“What I’m going to do.

“Talk to her.”

“Nope.”

Jimmy stood up, then immediately sat right back down.

“Forget it.”

“C’mon! If you don’t do it yourself, I’ll drag your ass over there.” Eric threatened.

“She’ll end up falling for you.”

“I am definitely not her type.”

“Okay, fine.” Jimmy stood back up and hesitated, before he sat back down.

“What are you doing?” Billy barked.

“I’ll just regret it.”

“You’ll regret it more if you don’t do it.”

Jimmy reflected on this though. He was right. The time had come. He looked toward her.

Jimmy stood up.

“Carpe diem, right?”
“Crape what?” Eric said.

“Shut up,” Billy said to Eric. He then put a hand on Jimmy’s shoulder, looked him in the eyes and proclaimed: “You got this.”

Jimmy nodded, took a deep breath, took a big sip of his drink and took another look at the girl.

Jimmy approached the waiter, who was heading toward the girls.

“Excuse me…”

“What’s up?” the waiter asked, with a tinge of annoyance.

Jimmy pointed to his girl.

“The girl in the blue shirt up there. It’s on me.”

“Oh, okay. It’s $6.50.”

Jimmy took out his wallet. He has three dollars.

“Shit, hang on.”

Jimmy walked back to the bar.

“Can I borrow a couple bucks, please?”

“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Eric said, as Billy handed him some cash.

“Thanks,” Jimmy said, then quickly rushed over to the waiter.

“Sorry about that,” he said offering the cash.

“No problem. Anything you’d like me to say to her?”

Jimmy looked up.

“Umm, yeah. Just tell her I think she’s cute.”

“That’s it?”

Jimmy thought about it for a moment. Then nodded..

Is that the best you can fucking come up with?

            With his tail between his legs, Jimmy headed back to the bar, proclaiming: 

“Shit, shit, shit!”

Eric and Billy greeted him with high fives. Jimmy retreated to his bar stool and buried his face into his hands.

“Shit, shit. Fuck, fuck, fuckety fuck.”

“What’s wrong? You did it! Mission accomplished.”

“I feel so…dirty.”

“Because you bought a girl a drink? Dude, look, she’s flattered.”

Jimmy peered through his fingers as the waiter crouched down to explain the meaning of the drink.

“Stop being a pussy and enjoy the moment,” Eric said.

“Why didn’t I just go over there and talk to her?”

“That’s phase two,” Billy said. “You set the table. You’re well on your way.”

“Can we just leave now?”

“Hell no,” Eric commanded. “You started this story. Now fucking finish it.”

Emily

Emily was genuinely flattered. Things like this didn’t happen to her. They did in her mind, of course. But never in reality.

“Looks like somebody got their wish,” Jackie said.

“This is a joke, right? Like you guys are behind this?”

“Of course not,” Melissa said.

“Yeah, Emily,” Jackie began. “Didn’t you see us walk over and ask him to buy you a drink?” Jackie said.

“Should I go over there and thank him?”

“Naw, let him come over here. It’s only a matter of time.”

Jimmy

“Okay, at some point, you’re gonna have to go over there,” Billy told him.

“Like fucking now!” Eric said.

“They’re laughing at me.”

“They’re not laughing at you,” Billy said. “She’s flattered.”

“I’m just not equipped with the ability to approach girls. I’m the same way when I take medicine.”

“But sometimes, you have no choice but to take it.”

“But I do have a choice.”

“Not if we can help it,” Eric said.

“You can’t just force me to do something against my will.”
“We got you here, right?” Billy said.

“True.”

“Now, listen to me. And listen to me good…” Eric began, before he continued.

“Look, I may not be the brightest crayon in the toolbox, but I do know this: you’ve been single way too long for a guy your age who has no physical deformities that keep him from picking up women. And I know how hard you’re trying not to be single. And the way not to be single is to get off your sorry little ass and work that girl like she’s your job.”

Jimmy reflected on this for a moment, but still couldn’t find it within himself to complete his mission.

“I’m sure she’s waiting for you to come over there,” Billy said.

If I go over there—“

When you go over there …”

“I’ll tell her the truth, that I never felt so stupid in my life and that I’ve never done anything like this before …”

“Don’t script things out,” Billy said. “Just go over there and whatever comes out of your mouth will come out like poetry out of a poet.”

“And if you’re lucky, she’ll do all the talking herself,” said Eric.

“”If she was really interested, wouldn’t she just come over here?”

“That’s not the natural order of things.”
“This isn’t 50 years ago…”

“That’s not the point.”

“How about we just leave?”

“And let us miss all the fun?” said Eric.

“Just go talk to her, man. You already got her attention. That’s half the battle.”

“And what do I do if I go over there, and her friends start cracking up in my face. Or what if she slaps me—?“

“If you don’t talk to her, I’m going to slap you myself.”

“This whole thing is a mistake.”

“The only mistake would be not talking to her. You had the courage to get this far…”

“My courage is in short supply.”

“Bullshit.”

“You are way too insecure,” said Billy.

“I’m just not good at handling rejection.”

“You really are Marty McFly!” Eric asked.

“You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. And here’s the beauty of it,” said Billy. “You’ll never have to see her again.”

“I don’t think in those terms. Knowing my luck, I’ll end up working with her someday or something.”

“That’s your problem,” said Billy. “You think too much.”

“Take it from me,” Eric said. “Thinking won’t get your anywhere.”

Emily

Emily waited with dreadful anticipation, as she poked at the remains of her strawberry.

“Are you sure he isn’t waiting for me to go over and talk to him?” Emily asked.

“Positive,” said Jackie.

“And if he doesn’t come here, then he’s not worth your time.”

“The fact that he hasn’t come over here really makes me wonder if he was supposed to bring it to one of your guys,” Emily said.

“Why are you always so damn insecure?” Melissa asked. “And stop it with all the whining.”

‘I’m not whining!”

“Well, stop whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Take it easy on her,” Jackie said. “We were the same way once. Don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, like in middle school!”

“Just ignore her,” Jackie assured Emily. “It’s the alcohol talking.”

“Is he looking at me?” Emily asked.

She couldn’t bear to look.

 

Jimmy

“Is she staring at me?” Jimmy asked.

Eric and Billy looked over.

“No, but her hottie friends are,” Billy said.

“Will one of you please go over there with me?”

“I thought you were worried she would fall for one of us?” Eric reminded him.

“I changed my mind.”

“Well, so did I.”

“Billy?

“They’re all yours.”

“So you’re both just gonna sit here?”
“Yep,” Eric and Billy both said.

“Is she looking at me now?”

“Dude! Just go over there!”

“I need more time to think things through.”

“What the fuck is there to think about? “ Billy asked. “By the time you’re done thinking, she’ll be gone. Or some other guy will take over for you.”

“Bartender!” Eric shouted.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asked.

“Three shots of tequila, por favor!”

“Coming right up!”

“I don’t want any booze,” Jimmy said.

“Liquid courage, my friend,” Eric said.

“Not sure if this is a good idea,” Billy warned as the bartender lined up the shots.

“Of course it is!”

Eric moved the shots closer to Jimmy.

“Have at it!”

Jimmy reluctantly picked up a shot.

“Bottoms up.”

Jimmy took little baby sips until it was gone.

“Seriously?!”

“What about you guys?”

“All yours, my man.”

“I can’t drink that much.”

“Drink them!” Eric commanded. “And no baby sips. Down that shit.”

Jimmy gave in and gagged his shots down like a child taking medicine.

“Thatta boy!” Eric said, offering a high five. Jimmy high fived him, still gagging on his shots.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Billy asked.

Jimmy stood up and wobbled a bit, before proclaiming:

“Alright. The point of no return has arrived. Gentlemen, it’s been real.”

He then turned to face the music. And beelined it toward the girl of his dreams.

Emily

She could barely stand to watch. What was worse? Waiting for him to come? Or, bracing for his arrival?

What would she say?

What would she do?

She was about to find out.

Meanwhile, all she could do was squeeze Jackie’s arm for dear life.

Jimmy 

And halfway there, he stopped on a dime and headed back to the bar like a puppy with his tail between his legs.

“What..the…fuck?” Eric said, throwing his arm in the air.

“I can’t do this. I’m not in my element.”

“What element?” Eric. “Get your ass back there and talk to her!”

“Jimmy, sit down a minute,” Billy said.

Jimmy did, wanting nothing more than to be home.

“Remember when we were in the fifth grade and I dragged you onto your first roller coaster?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Remember how you were literally in tears as we got to the final stretch of the line? You tried to escape, but I held you back.”

Jimmy laughed, reflecting on the memory.

“Yeah?”

“I had to force you into the car.”

“Dude, where are you going with this?” Eric said.

Billy ignored him.

“What was the first thing you said to me when the ride was over?”

Jimmy thought about it for a moment, then looked up at Sarah.

“Umm, I don’t know, ‘Can we go on it again?’”

“’Can we go on it again?’” Exactly! Well, my friend, we are in line for another ride! How quickly you forget how much fun the first time was.”

Jimmy nodded, then looked her way.

Emily

“Okay, what is this guy’s deal?” Emily fretted. “See the luck I have? Why would a guy buy me a drink and then completely ignore me afterwards?”

“Come to think of it, maybe it was intended for one of us.”

“What should I do?”

“Either wait patiently for him to come back to you, or do something about it yourself,” said Jackie.

“Maybe I should go talk to him. But what would I say?”

“Thanks for the drink?” Jackie said.

“Then what?”

“Wanna fuck?” Melissa said.

Emily thought about it, then slowly got up, before quickly sitting back down.

“Then what do I do?”

“Whatever comes natural to you. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Emily slowly stood up and headed toward the bar, as Jackie and Melissa watched with eager anticipation.

“He’s waiting for you.”

Jimmy

“Holy shit, she’s coming over here,” Jimmy said. He wasn’t sure if he was going to vomit. Or, shit his pants. Or, both.

And then she ended up walking right past Jimmy and down the hall to the restroom.

“So much for that,” Eric said.

Jimmy stood up.

“What are you doing?” Billy asked.

“I’m going to follow her,” Jimmy said.

“Into the bathroom?” Billy asked.

“No, I’ll wait outside the door.”

“What are you a dog? Eric asked. “I mean, isn’t that sorta creepy?”

“No, not as long as I immediately make it look like I was just on my way to the men’s room when she comes out. Or maybe, she’ll come out just as I pass by the door.”

“And then you’ll talk to her?”

“Hopefully.”

“This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Don’t fuck it up.”

Jimmy nodded, then slowly stood up and headed toward the restroom.

Emily & Jimmy

They both splashed water over their face, before they stared at themselves directly in the eye. If it weren’t for the music, they might have overheard each other.

Jimmy: “Positive visualization. You can do this. You have nothing to lose. So don’t be a jackass. She’s probably waiting for you right now. She’s all yours.”

He attempted to pop a Tic-Tac into his mouth, but dropped it in the sink. He considered still eating it, then threw it out and tried to grab another one out of the nearly empty container, which he had to bang against the counter to pry one loose.

Emily: “He’s just nervous. Like you. Give him some time. There’s a reason he ordered me that drink. And when he finally comes over, don’t say anything stupid. Just be yourself. Or, better yet, don’t be yourself.”

She popped an Altoid into her mouth.

They each gave themselves one last look in the mirror, fixed their hair, before noticing the graffiti on the wall:

Him: “CARPE DIEM

Her: “GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT”

Truer words had never been scrawled in a bar restroom.

With one deep breath, they left their temporary shelter behind and suddenly finding themselves standing face-to-face.

The rest of the world failed to exist. Or, maybe it was just frozen in time? In a moment that felt eternal, the two ill-fated lovers managed awkward smiles and a mumbled “hellos” as they did an awkward dance around one another, before he gestured for her to go first.

Rather than seizing the day, they both retreated back to their people with their tails between their legs.

Jimmy

“You are the sorriest son of a bitch that ever walked God’s green earth,” Eric said. “She practically landed in your fucking lap.”

“It was a dumb idea,” Jimmy said.

Billy grabbed Jimmy by the shoulders and started him square in the face:

“You better get over there right now. Because you know what’s going to happen? She’s going to leave, and you’ll regret this night for the rest of your life.”

Emily

“What the fuck was that?” Melissa said.

“I chickened out.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?” Emily asked.

“Not sure. But you can walk over there and take matters into your own hands,” Jackie said.

“Or else, we’re leaving,” Melissa added.

Jimmy

“I made progress tonight. Next time, I will take it a step further.”

“Bullshit,” Eric said.

Billy points to the girls. They were putting on their coats.

“Your angel is about to leave the building.”

“Next time.”

“You ruined our fucking night, dude!” Eric said.

“How did I ruin your night?”

He looked toward yet another one who was about to get away. Only this time, it felt far more finite.

And then she was gone.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Eric said, throwing down a tip. Billy added another couple dollars, adding: “Cheap ass.”

His friends headed out ahead of him as he stayed behind in what could only be described as a state of shock. Devoid of all feeling. He never felt so numb.

Sure, he could have still chased after her if he wanted to, he couldn’t help but feel that the game was over. He was destined to be single forever. And he fucking deserved it.

Sure, he made progress tonight,

When it came to the opposite sex, progress could only be measured in small doses. Yet, he couldn’t help but feel he let his friends down – but more importantly, himself.

Just as he mustered the strength to leave, he spotted the fateful, wasted drink. Still mostly full.

Yet, he never felt more empty, especially after he stepped out into the subzero chill of a Michigan winter night. He could have sworn it was much warmer when they first arrived.

Emily

Emily sulked in the backseat of Jackie’s car, as Jackie and Melissa sang along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

“Do you think it’s because I didn’t finish his drink?” Emily asked.

Her words fell upon deaf ears. She repeated herself, louder.

They still didn’t hear her. Just as well. There was nothing they could have told her that would have made her feel better. In fact, it would probably make her feel even worse.

In the cocoon of her deserved exile and isolation, she continued to reflect on what could have gone wrong. How did she let such an opportunity slip away? And why did he? If that drink was truly meant for her, why did he throw away a perfect opportunity? Again, the question remained: was it a mistake? Was the drink was intended for Melissa or Jackie? As much as this made sense in her mind, another theory suddenly came to her: he was just like her. She put herself in his shoes and saw herself totally doing the same thing if the roles were reversed. And suddenly, her anger towards him turned into mutual sorrow over opportunity lost.

Before fate intervened on her behalf.

Jimmy & Emily

Jimmy stood at the corner of an empty intersection, waiting for the light to turn at the empty intersection as his friends waited across the street for him.

“Dude, you can cross!” Billy shouted.

“It’s a red light!” Jimmy shouted back.

His inability to take chances had no limits.

Better safe than sorry.

Fuck it.

Just as he was about to cross, a car pulled up at the light.

He suddenly found himself staring directly into the eyes of missed opportunity.

Was fate really giving him a second chance?

But a second chance at what? Making things right? Or, another chance to fuck up?

The two star-crossed wannabe lovers stared at one another, frozen in time, spanning all dimensions of time and space. And despite feeling like they were standing in eternity, it was all over in the blink of an eye.

It would be this very moment they would think about every day for the rest of their life in some shape or form. In fact, there wasn’t a day that passed that they didn’t think of one another.

It was imprinted into the very fabric of their being and soul.

In the days and even weeks the followed, there was the sharp sting of deep regret. Over time, the regret would remained a dim echo – with varying degrees of intensity. There was rarely a time when they were out in public when they didn’t keep one eye open for one another. It wasn’t even a conscious act. It was just part of their DNA. They both wondered if they did spot one another, would they even act on it? Or fall into the same trap? Only time would tell.

Though they promised themselves that this night would mark a lesson learned, it wasn’t the last time for either. In fact, their single years were a broken record collection of moments such as this. A greatest hits collection of missed connections and romantic failings.

Their mutual burden to carry.

The light turned green. As the car drove away, they each waved goodbye.

No longer frozen in place, Jimmy slowly crossed toward his impatient friends.

Meanwhile, Emily stared out the rear window as Jimmy disappeared into a black void as they each left the empty intersection behind them.

Along with an eternal sense of “what if?”

What if?

What if?

What if….

Published in:

Mid-American Fiction Review

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If You Need Anything…

“If you need anything, just let me know…”

He never turned down the opportunity to say this to a family member, friend, or acquaintance in need – which was surprisingly more often than he cared to admit. Though the passing of a loved one was the most common used of this phrase, opportunities presented themselves in all walks of life. He sometimes slipped and said it when it wasn’t even necessary or relevant. It had become that much of a habit.

But each time he muttered it, there was an underlying, dark little secret: he had no desire to do anything for anyone. In fact, if push came to shove, he knew he never follow through with it. As a result, it was only a matter of time before he was exposed for being the fraud that he was. He was surprised that no one had taken him up on his offer yet.

In the meantime, he got the satisfaction of offering a goodwill gesture…but with minimum output on his part. Despite this awareness, he still couldn’t help but say it. It helped that there was a low risk that anyone would actually take him up on his offer. (How often does anyone actually take someone up on this offer?)

As much as he knew he should have quit while he was ahead, sure enough, the next time the opportunity presented itself, the words fell right out of his mouth: “If you need anything, just let me know.”

And once again, he would get away with it. Deep down, he knew that eventually, the law of averages would work against him.

It was his biggest fear.

Vampire Style: An Essay

Years ago, I dated a vampire. Things started out very well. We had a lot in common, despite the 586 age gap between us. But she certainly looked good for her age.

And though she could only go out at night, it gave us plenty of time to snuggle during the daylight hours… as long as the shades were pulled. Good thing I was a night owl, anyway! Though it sucked that we couldn’t do daytime outdoor activities (like picnics under the summer sun, or trips to the zoo) we made up with moonlight picnics in the park. We also attended the annual Zoo After Hours event. They served cocktails!). The important thing was, we were in love. And we were happy.

At first, I had to get past the fact that the number of partners she had far exceeded my own personal resume, I just had to remind myself that she had been around much longer than me. Once I did the math, I realized she had averaged less than one partner a year. And then I no longer worried about it. Besides, her experience paid off between the. She liked to play rough – especially as far was biting concerned. Hickies are one thing, but for obvious reasons, I had to put an end to that before things got too far out of hand. The consequences would have been too severe.

And once she started talking about being together forever, I have to admit – I sort of freaked out. This was about six months into our relationship. And that was really when things began to turn.

When she first brought it up, I made it very clear that I would need more time to think it over (even though I knew deep down, I would never change my mind). I had never been in a relationship quite like this before and didn’t want to rush into anything. For awhile (at least), we both agreed to just enjoy the present. No relationship is perfect, but in case, the good things far outweighed the bad. And for a few months, we both seemed to be on the same page about this and things were relatively smooth sailing. But soon enough, the topic of forever was brought up again. After she dropped numerous hints – and soon enough – fanged threats, I knew the time had come to cut her loose.

It was certainly fun while it lasted and, of course, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. And plenty of life left to live. Especially as far as she was concerned.

If Only…

If only he got her e-mail….

It could have all been avoided.

He wouldn’t have left work early.

He wouldn’t have headed to the bar.

He wouldn’t have had his first Manhattan.

And then his second…

…and then his third.

If only he got her e-mail…

He wouldn’t have dropped his phone in a shit-streaked toilet.

He wouldn’t have struck up a conversation with the bartender,

who also happened to be talking to the attractive woman seated next to him.

And then a conversation among three people,

wouldn’t have become conversation between two.

If only he got her e-mail…

He wouldn’t have opened up to a stranger about everything.

He wouldn’t have explained how his marriage was over.

He wouldn’t have offered to buy her a drink.

And then a second.

He wouldn’t have had his fourth cocktail.

He wouldn’t have gone back to her place.

He wouldn’t have driven drunk.

He wouldn’t have gotten her pregnant.

He wouldn’t have been in a car crash.

He wouldn’t have broken his leg.

He wouldn’t have killed that little girl.

He wouldn’t have gone to jail.

He wouldn’t have been accused of date rape.

He wouldn’t have lost his job.

He wouldn’t have been divorced.

If only he got her e-mail..

He could have had children with his wife.

And another unborn child wouldn’t have been aborted.

If only he got her e-mail…

He would have known she was sorry.

He would know she didn’t really want to leave him.

He would know she still loved him, as he still loved her.

They would have gone for counseling.

They could have laughed about it all later.

They could have lived happily ever after.

If only…

 

 

Tinder is the Night

For a man who lived life on the straight and narrow for over 30 years, snorting coke and fucking a total stranger over the course of back-to-back weekends was an unexpected twist.

The coke caught Eddie completely off guard. However, fucking a stranger came with a pre-meditated sense of guilt.

His foray into uncharacteristic debauchery started in L.A., where spent a weekend meeting potential investors for the film he had been trying to get off the ground for over six years. (Things developed slowly for Eddie).

A Hollywood acquaintance that he met at a conference five years ago invited him to a party. And after one too many bourbon-soaked cocktails, he lost his sense of self.

When in Hollywood…

For most of the night, he sat on the sidelines, reminiscent of his elementary school playground during recess – an outsider looking in.

“Want some?” his acquaintance asked.

“Want some what?” Eddie said, oblivious to the line of coke awaiting him.

When he realized what was going on, he responded without trepidation, as though he were being offered a mere cookie.

Though he had stopped drinking over an hour ago, he apparently had just enough to impair his ability to say no to drugs.

Goddam bourbon.

Within seconds he went from a booze-induced zombie-state, to hyper-drive. He didn’t just feel high. He felt like he was fucking in flight.

As for his actual flight home the next day, he could barely remember a damn thing.

Had he even slept? He had no fucking clue.

His wife noticed his frazzled condition the second she greeted him at the airport. He blamed it on jet lag. No further explanation needed.

Despite still feeling the effects of his bourbon and cocaine cocktail, it didn’t stop him from attempting to have sex. Though it had been months, he figured five days away would be his best shot.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

He was wrong.

Not only did she reject his advances…but it led directly a prolonged argument. And as usual, she would rather argue about what a sex fiend he was for two hours, rather than just throw him a bone every now and then. In the rare instances they did have sex, she acted as though she was receiving a botched root canal from a crazed ape. She blamed her non-existent sex drive on her anti-depressants. But it was even worse when she wasn’t on them. At least when she was on drugs, she could do a better job of pretending to like him.

“If all you want is sex, why not just find someone else?” she asked him for not the first time, not the second time, but God knows how many fucking times.

“All I want? It’s been five fucking months! And how? Who? I never had game when I was single. Let alone now. Plus, I don’t want to risk you leaving me.”
“I won’t leave you. Just make sure it’s not someone I know.”

Though tempting, he couldn’t grasp his head around the fact that that she was willing to risk him falling for someone else, rather than just having sex with him every now and then. It had been over a year since he received anything as much as a hand job. Three years since his last blowjob.

This time, he wwawould do something about it. He spent the better part of the next day at work perusing sites like Ashley Madison and AdultFriendFinder, but quickly realized that he was too cheap to keep footing the bill. Plus, it was too risky, even though he did handle the credit card bills. Ultimately, he couldn’t but feel as though he were soliciting prostitution (though, in someway, prostitution would have been much easier). As desperate as he was to get laid, there was still part of him that wanted to first find someone he shared a strong mental connection with. He was never one to have random hook-ups. Not even in college. But he now found himself in a situation where he had no choice but to have exactly that. Of course, the last thing he wanted to do was fall in love with somebody else. At least, he didn’t think so….

Furthermore, after doing a fair amount of research, he realized that these sites were rife with “bots” – fake profiles that closed the lopsided gender gap with the sole aim of trying to lure men into spending more on the site And then there were the professional. “escorts” disguised as regular women. Which was worse? At least the latter scenario led to sex. The former just left you with a sad dick in your hand and a ball of wadded up tissue paper in the other at the end of the night. He settled on a tie. Then there was his fear of being cat fished.

Enter Tinder.

Despite being aware of its reputation as a hook-up site, he was a tad reluctant to become a Tinderfella. The fact that it interfaced with Facebook seemed just too much of a risk. And what if those he knew saw him? In fact, he had to make sure that the person he swiped had no mutual connections between them, which for most people, was probably a selling point. He had to remain discreet, yet he knew that not using a photo at all would give him no shot whatever. To limit detection, he avoided using a close-up and left part of his face hidden.

Once he got past his initial jitters, Eddie quickly learned to appreciate the left-right ease of the whole thing. It felt more like a video game to him, than real life. With potential to quickly turn into a wormhole. Perhaps, just right swipes alone would give him all the ego boost he needed. It wasn’t just sex he wanted. He needed to feel wanted. Needed.

However, the high of racking up matches could only last for so long before you just had to reach out and touch someone. It wasn’t long before he mastered the skill of being able to formulate a message short enough not to sound desperate, but enticing enough to get someone to take the hook. His initial interactions were a mixed bag (he once right-swiped a cheeseburger). His decision to be upfront from the start (married…but with a greenlight!) backfired. He got it that most women didn’t reply back. He wasn’t exactly an ideal catch… but he was tad surprised at how judgmental Tinder could be!

Many matches reacted to his honesty by immediately disappearing off the screen in a simple Poof! Some expressed some form of condolences before they disappeared. Some thanks him for his honesty. Some preached morality. One simply wrote: “That’s fucked up.” Another said: “sounds like a personal problem.” Another asked: “Why are you telling me this? I don’t get it.” Several asked point blank: “Why don’t you just get divorced?”

Great question. Why didn’t he? It wasn’t like he hadn’t pondered it before, but he couldn’t convince himself that lack of sex was a good enough reason for divorce.

Or maybe it was? And their relationship was certainly far form perfect in other categories, too.

One thing he knew for certain: though he was willing to cheat on his wife, he didn’t want to become a serial tenderizer. If he could just find a married person in the same boat as him. But did he want that extra layer of guilt? Cheating on his own spouse was one thing, but to cheat on someone’s spouse while cheating on your own spouse?

By the third day, he finally found a match willing to meet in person.

Enter Catholic guilt.

It was one thing to let his fantasy play out behind the safe confines of a screen.

But real life was a whole other situation. Dating was never his strong suit when he was single and he lacked the confidence to assume that any woman would be that willing to hook with him right off the bat. He doubted he could ever live up to a right swipe in person. And on top of the guilt he was already feeling, there was a growing sense of paranoia that he was getting himself into something that would require payment when it was all said and done.

And though he technically he had “permission”, he still felt like he was doing something wrong. The implied “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of finding a sidepiece still demanded a fair amount of sneaking around. He just had to keep reminding himself that he didn’t choose the circumstances that lead to this point in his life. But he could choose to accept them. And therein lies the rub.

And what could he have done more of himself to make things better at home? And should that be his focus now? Or, was it already too late?

Would his physical desperation be enough to eclipse everything else? He thought so. As he drove to the bar, every possible negative outcome swirled in its head. He arrived almost a half hour early and found a table outside on the patio. The chill of early spring was in the air, but he needed the fresh air. He would let her decide if they would move inside when she arrived.

In the meantime, he hoped that one Manhattan would be enough to both warm him up and take the edge off of his nervousness. But it didn’t. It only gave him more time for his conscience to kick in. What also wasn’t helping matters was the fact that he felt a massive shit coming on (a problem he remembered from his dating days). Everything pointed in the direction of just getting the fuck out. So he high-tailed it back to the parking lot, hoping to go undetected.

Back in the safe confines of his car, he sent her a text: “Can’t go through with it. Sorry. Pretty sure I will regret this.”

“Your loss,” she texted back.

And he immediately regretted it.

He took a day off of Tinder.

But like a gambler who just can’t help rolling the dice one last time, along came Maggie.

He right swiped and discovered that she was already waiting in the wings as a match. What ultimately appealed to him even more than her physical beauty was her quirky profile. Most profiles played it safe and cliché. Some didn’t even include a profile. Even though he was looking for someone to fuck, he knew deep down, he needed more than that. He needed a poet, which of course put him into dangerous emotional territory. If past history was anything, he simply wasn’t wired to have random hook-ups. But in his particular situation, it was probably best for the sake of his still salvageable marriage.

But was it salvageable?

However, there was one red flag at the end of her profile: “I’m not married. And neither should you be.” It certainly wasn’t the first profile he encountered with such a disclaimer, which proved one thing to him: Tinder was a breeding ground for desperate married men like himself. Though this made him feel a tad icky, he reminded himself that he had been granted a “permission card.” But then again, did he really? Did she really mean it? And how good would he be about covering up his tracks? It was probably only a matter of time before she found out. And then what? Would she stick to her promise? Or, leave him? Would she be curious to know who he was fucking? Would this somehow turn her on? The questions that clouded his mind were endless.

But his hormones finally won out.

Three hours later, through the sheer magic of his writing skill, lit aglow by a new, much-needed muse, a date was set for the next night.

“All you have to do is ‘woe’ me,” Maggie wrote.

“You mean, ‘woo’?” Eddie wrote back.

“Yes. No woe. Just woo.”

Though he lacked confidence in his ability to woo, he was confident that a wee amount of bourbon could be just what the love doctor ordered.

Their situations were a perfect fit. She was at a point in her life where she was tired of looking for the “right” guy and wanted a casual fling – a NSA FWB. Based on her looks, personality, and interests, she was exactly what he was looking for. But did he have the balls to go through with it?

As for his wife, he used the guise that he was headed out to write done, which he usually did a couple of times a week. He mind worked better when surrounded by the buzz and whirlwind of humanity…and more importantly, it kept him awake. Furthermore, he didn’t have to sit around and dwell on the sex he wasn’t getting at home. Out in public, anything felt possible.

As long he made it back home around his usual time round midnight, give or take, he was at least confident that his plan was relatively foolproof, lest in the circumstances of a car crash – or even, worse – death. His wife would have to live out the rest of her days wondering where he had been heading to. And why. Would she blame herself?

It was a risk he would have to live with.

Aside from that concern, the ease in which this was all happening sent off the alarms of paranoia.

He mulled over one thing in particular that she wrote: “You found me at a very vulnerable time. So you can fuck me anyway you’d like. But just be sure to cuddle with me when we’re done.”

Can’t be that fucking easy, can it? Was this another red flag? Do “real” women actually say this?

After all, it had been 12 years since he last dated and way before the social media age. A lot had changed.

As far as cuddling was concerned, it was even more absent from his marriage as sex. In fact, even more so. Both cuddling and any form of foreplay was strictly verboten.

Next thing he knew, he was on the road, concerned that the half-hour drive that loomed ahead would sound the trumpets of morality.

You want this. So stop prolonging it.

Surely, this is a ruse.

            If she’s fake, you will be able to tell in person.

            Are you sure?

            Nobody can ever be sure about anything.

Of course, if she did turn out to be legit, he had little faith that he wouldn’t come across as a complete, socially awkward weirdo, which would severely cripple his “woo-factor”.

Just be yourself.

That’s exactly part of the problem.

He finally arrived at the bar she suggested, which was conveniently not very far from her place. Before he got out of the car, he took a deep breath, and then said aloud: “You can do this.”

His window was down, along with the car next to him, of whose inhabitant happened to hear him. The awkwardness had already begun.

As he got out of his car, he checked his phone and saw a text: “Seated by the bear.”

Presumably neither a real bear; or a gay man.

As he approached the bar, he wondered if he was being tracked through the window and became self-conscious of the fact that the second she saw him, he would no longer be just a picture in her mind. It would be the real him. And he feared the real him couldn’t live up to a single, static picture. Since when did women find him attractive, anyway?

Maybe she feels the same way.

He finally reached the entrance, took a deep breath, and entered. He scanned the room, figuring he had a better chance at recognizing a bear before her.

But he couldn’t find a bear anywhere!

Where is the fucking bear?

He approached the hostess.

“Can you please point me in the direction of the bear?”
“I’m sorry. Who?”

Fuck. Am I in the wrong place?

“A bear. Is there a bear in here?”

“Oh, yeah. Right over there.”
She pointed toward a back corner. And sure enough was a bear, carved-out of wood. And just to its left, Maggie. She was as beautiful as advertised.

He nervously approached, feeling totally out of his league. She smiled eagerly.

“Maggie?”

“Yes. Hi, Eddie.”

He offered his hand. She stood up and greeted him with an unexpected hug, which did more to calm his nerves than he would have guessed. It had been over a year sine he last hugged his wife. And not for a lack of trying. As his wife liked to make clear: she wasn’t a “huggy person”.

Maggie smelled so nice. Would his wife smell it on him? Would that be all it took? Nothing he could do about it now. He could always blame it on a strip club.

They took their seats and he realized she was already halfway through a beer. Was she impatient? Or was she nervous?

He hoped the latter.

The waiter approached. He ordered a 7 & 7.

“Nervous?” she asked.

“That obvious?”

She smiled.

“So, are you?” she asked.

“A little,” he said, suddenly growing less so.

“You?” he asked.

“No. Should I be?”

“No.”

“This is all so surreal,” he said.

“What is?” she asked, with what sounded like genuine curiosity.

“All of this. Being here. With you. On a date. It’s been awhile.”

“You’re going to be fine,” she said, placing both of his hands into her soft, warm ones, dissolving his anxiety.

And she was right. Their conversation couldn’t have gone more smoothly – an endless, effortless stream-of-consciousness. Based on their chats the previous night, this shouldn’t have been too surprising. He honestly couldn’t remember a conversation with

somebody who seemed to interested in what he had to say. It felt like therapy.

“I feel like you should be charging me!” he admitted.

“Oh. You will pay me back,” she said. It sounded like a threat, but her seductive smile let him know that it wasn’t.

But where was it all heading? Should he wait for her to make the next move? And what exactly would that move be?

He would get his answer soon enough.

“So, I have gerbil who is an asshole,” she offered out of the blue as she finished her third drink.

The ensuing explanation wasn’t as important as the fact that she said it. Because somehow, it broke through the last remaining layer of ice.

“So when do you turn into a pumpkin?” she finally asked him.

“As long as I’m back on the road by 12:30, I should be good.”

She looked at him seductively:

“Would you like to come to my place and meet my gerbil?”

“I would love to meet your gerbil.”

And with that, he picked up the tab (she insisted they split it. He insisted otherwise. She graciously accepted).

He followed her back to her place – a five minute rive that ended on a dirt road at a dead end. He ignored all the signs.

If anyone should have felt in danger, it would be the female allowing a complete and utter stranger back to her home.

Is this normal?

He got out of the car and took in his surroundings. Though it was pitch black, the sound of honking geese made it evident that a pond was nearby. He looked up at the sky.

“Wow, you can really see the stars out here,” he said. She nestled in closer to him.

“It’s one of the main reasons I love living here. Even though I’m still close to the city, I’m still far away enough to see stars.”

“And the geese!” he replied. “Why are they still awake?”

Is that the best I can fucking do?

“Those are swans,” she explained. “And they’re probably looking for mates,” she said turning to face him, with a seductive glint in her eye. He pulled her in for a kiss, as though he had no other choice, even if he wanted to. Five minutes later, she was disrobing him in he upstairs bedroom and issued this mandate: “I want you to do to me whatever you want. But only after I take you in my mouth.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“I want you to do to me whatever you want.”

They made out passionately, before she decreed:

“I want you to fuck me,” she finally said.

“Shit,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

“I left something in my jacket. Downstairs.”

“What?”

“Insurance…” he said.

“I’m covered.”

“Aren’t you worried about diseases?”

“Should I be?”

Eddie wasn’t about to take any chances and started to head downstairs.

“No, I’ll get it,” she demanded. “In your coat pocket?”
“Yeah.”

He found her reaction slightly askew, but assumed that she didn’t want him to freely wander around her home, which was certainly reasonable.

While she disappeared downstairs, his cock turned limp, which gave him time to gave pause and ask himself:

What the fuck am I doing?

            Exactly what you have been wanting.

A cool, but comfortable breeze wafted through an open window, which faced the pond where the gees—swans!— honked their midnight melody. The curtains even bellowed, like something right out of a goddam movie. As his cock turned limp, he twirled his wedding ring for a second, then took it off. He wanted it out of sight. He didn’t want her to see it. He set it on the dresser and tried to ignore the fact that it was the first time it had ever come off. He felt a slight tinge of sadness, but it faded the moment Maggie returned with his the three-pack of condoms he purchased en route.

They continued to make out and his cock was returned to its full glory in no time.

And then they fucked.

It was a quick finish, which was not a surprise considering how long it had been. But for sake, he was able to keep going.

“Don’t you need a break?” she asked.

“No,” he said, thrusting harder. “It’s my superpower.”

“Wow. You’re amazing.”

And they continued to fuck.

And fuck some more.

And fucked and fucked and fucked.

And fucked some more even after they were done fucking.

And the geese trumpeted outside the window.

And the curtains continued to bellow.

And he knew he would be sore tomorrow in a way he hadn’t felt in years.

Every few minutes, he asked her if there was anything she wanted him to do, and she whispered the same refrain into his ear: “Whatever you want.”

What he wanted to do was give pleasure in equal measure.

“I want you to do to me whatever you want,” she repeated.

So he made her come three times. He came with her on the third time.

The third time, they came together.

They collapsed into one another’s arms, though he got the sense they could both go another round if they wanted to.

Instead, neither spoke. They held each other, their limbs interwoven like a pretzel, as swans echoed in the night.

“Thank you,” Eddie finally managed to mutter.

“Thank you,” Maggie said.

He looked at the clock, then loosened himself from her grip.

“I hate to do this, but…”

“You gotta go…”

He nodded.

And then, like an unexpected hammer to his face:

“So, you can leave $250 on the nightstand before you leave.”

He laughed nervously, but her face appeared to mean business.

“You’re joking, right?” Eddie asked.

“Don’t tell me you’re surprised…” Maggie said with a whole shift in demeanor. A mere flick of a switch.

“Surprised?” Eddie asked. “We just had sex. And now you are asking for money. How do you expect me to react?”

“Don’t tell you don’t know how to this works…”

“Prostitution? Yes. I do. But I didn’t think that – this – is what it was. You’re joking right?”

“You had voids that needed be filled. And I filled them. So now, it’s time to fill mine and pay. You got what you what you wanted, right?”

First, cocaine. Then, prostitution. What the fuck came next?

“I’m sorry for the confusion,” she continued. “I thought this arrangement was clear from the start.”

He scanned his mind for any evidence this would have pinpointed him toward this direction. But aside from the general paranoia he had felt, nothing specific came to mind.

“So, $250,” she said, as though he had forgotten.

“Yeah, well, there’s just one problem. Do you take credit cards?”

She laughed.

“You’re cute. But no.”

He fumbled for his wallet, opened it up, and revealed that he had only about $30 for cash.”

“Where is the closest ATM?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know…”

“Yes, I would, actually.”

“You got to be fucking kidding me…”

As he threw on his clothes, she gave him directions.

He felt a knot in his stomach. Though he could get away with charging anything and everything on his credit card, his wife kept close tabs on their joint ATM account. He thought about using his credit card to take out cash, but he didn’t know his PIN. And did he really want to deal with customer service at a time like this?

He realized that aside from the ATM issue, he was now going to be arriving home later than expected. Hopefully, his wife would be too sound asleep to notice, which was usually the case. And since he slept on the couch most nights, it was easy to slip in undetected. It was only when he came into the bedroom that she noticed him.

She led him to the door.

“I promise I’ll be right back,” he said as he headed out the door, where he

was greeted by the now familiar swan chorus, now accompanied by large black man with a parrot on his shoulder.

What the actual fuck?!

“This is Antonio,” Maggie explained. “Antonio, take this gentleman to Community Bank. He needs to make a withdrawal.”

“Come with me,” the man he presumed to be either her pimp, or personal bodyguard said. The parrot repeated: “Come with me!”

            You got to be fucking kidding me.

Antonio put a meaty, black hand on the back of Eddie’s neck and led him to his Navigator, complete with spinning rims.

Of course…

Antonio opened the passenger door.

“Thank you,” Eddie said, surprised to be the recipient of such special treatment, as he climbed in. He then realized it was more of a precautionary measure to keep him from bolting, rather than any sort of gentlemanly gesture.

Antonio went around and climbed into the driver’s side.

“Buckle up,” Antonio demanded, out of breath. Under ordinary circumstances, Eddie never neglected to buckle up. This was a rare misstep.

“Buckle up,” the parrot repeated, still perched on Antonio’s shoulder. Did this parrot hear this phrase often? Or did it just have exceptional repeating skills?

As Antonio pulled out of the driveway, he spotted Maggie in the doorway, half in shadow. He still couldn’t compute how a person that he connected to on such a dynamic level could turn out to be prostitute. He couldn’t help but feel impressed at her master con-artistry. In fact, he found it fucking sexy.

Antonio put on some slow jams and nodded his head to the music. Not a word was spoken. It was all so romantic. The soothing tones of Luther Vandross calmed Eddie’s nerves, which – considering his present circumstances – was quite a feat. Besides, what did he really have to fear? He owed someone money. And had the means to get the money. Problem solved. And nobody gets hurt. Not that he had any experience resembling any of this.

But then his creative paranoia conceptualized a whole new scenario: what if Maggie’s sole purpose was to teach cheaters a hard lesson? What if she were a black widow, who used Antonio as the hired assassin to finish the job? He certainly looked like a man capable of doing such a thing – at last as much so as any large black man with a parrot on his shoulder jamming to CeCe Winans could. Was this his mild prejudice kicking in? Nothing he could do about it now. But could he escape? Perhaps not without putting himself in even graver danger.

They finally arrived at the bank. Antonio must have trusted him enough to wait in the car as Eddie approached the ATM. Then again, he probably stayed in the car to make things appear less suspicious in the eye of any passerby or security cameras. At least now he could avoid the performance anxiety he was likely to feel had Antonio been looking over his shoulder.

“Buckle up,” the parrot said right on cue, despite the fact that Eddie already had beaten him to it.

Antonio drove them back to the Swan Queen’s house, serenaded by the soulful seduction of Isaac Hayes.

When they got out of the car, Antonio led Eddie back to the house with his strong hand on the back of his neck once again.

Maggie greeted them at the door. Eddie handed her the cash.

She took it without saying a word, clearly annoyed by the inconvenience he had caused.

“Are tips standard etiquette?” he asked.

“Up to you,” Maggie said.

He added an extra $10, wondering if 20% was standard. But fuck it. He never wanted to make this purchase to begin with.

She gave him a hug and even told him he was welcome back anytime.

As he headed home, he realized that despite the monetary setback (and the need to come up with a reason why such a withdrawal was made so late at night in a town he typically didn’t frequent), he realized that in the end, it was worth every penny. He got what he needed. And he looked forward to the following weekend, when he could simply just relax.

And maybe…just maybe…there would be a next time after all!

He pulled into his driveway, fully at peace with everything that had transpired that night. Hell, he finally had something new to write about.

He shut off his engine, then noticed something familiar was missing: his ring.

NPR Review of LOVE & VODKA by Zinta Aistars

“Worthy of Several Toasts”(***** out of 5)

by Zinta Aistars

Love, science reveals, is really just another form of madness. The brain undergoes similar changes, from the rational into the irrational, and the resulting pheromone chemical soup tastes like insanity.

Dearborn-native (Michigan) and author R.J. Fox would probably not debate any of that. It took all of twenty minutes for him to fall in love with a foreign exchange student he spotted in a line for an amusement park ride. When she returned to her native Ukraine, he followed her, engagement ring in his pocket. And more madness ensued.

In his memoir, Love and Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine (Fish Out of Water Books, October 2015), Fox recounts that initial meeting with Katya and the trip he took to Ukraine a year later to bring her back to the States again—as his wife. His adventures on foreign soil as he works up the nerve toward a marriage proposal and earn the blessing of Katya’s family are both outrageous and hilarious.

Babushka-wearing old women curse him, snarl and chase him, threaten to splatter him with bleach. Well-meaning hosts force vodka on him in toast after toast that he finds he cannot deny, resulting in drunken stupors, cold outdoor showers, and barefoot walks across sharp-edged rocks in his underwear. And so the story unfolds as Fox learns about a culture and a world far different than his own. Within its traditions and people, he finds himself in comical situations, but he also learns lessons about himself, love, and home.

What has remained with him from that mad and maddening journey these many years later, Fox says, “is the immersive experience of being in a whole other world than the one I know. Out in general public, people had a distrust toward me because I was not from Ukraine. This was in 2001, so not too far removed from the Soviet years when Ukraine was the center of missile-building during the Cold War. The distrust—it was the closest to feeling discriminated against that I’d ever known in my lifetime.”

In inner circles of what would increasingly become family, however, Fox found warmth, love, and family connection, not unlike what one would find in any family anywhere, and all liberally christened with yet more vodka. Although the resulting marriage would last only eight years—Fox is now remarried and has two children—he holds his memories of his Ukraine adventure close to his heart.

The memoir is the first publication of a new Ann Arbor-based publisher, Fish Out of Water, run by Jon and Laurie Wilson.

Pipe Dream

The genesis of my writing dream began in a hospital room the summer of 1992, just before my 10th grade “growth-spurt” year. My grandfather was hospitalized yet again, as he had been a significant portion of the last third of his life. One night, after coming home from the hospital, my mom told me that she met the daughter of my grandpa’s “roommate” – a 10th grade English teacher at my school.

“Maybe she’ll be your teacher,” my mom said.

“Yeah, maybe,” I replied.

Not only did Ms. Gautreau become my teacher… she became my lifelong mentor, guiding me through a dream that would culminate with the publication of my first book 23 years later. She is to whom that book is dedicated. And she deserves more than just a dedication page. She is worthy of an entire essay.

The seeds of my future were undeniably sowed in that 10th grade classroom at Edsel Ford High School in my hometown of Dearborn, Michigan. From that point on, every decision, thought, and sacrifice made was built around my writing dream. And thanks to Ms. Gautreau, it was a dream that I never, ever gave up on. Even when everyone else seemed to try and convince me otherwise.

Up until my 10th great year, I really had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life. My grandmother was my biggest influence at the time, but she was determined that her first grandchild was destined for Harvard. As a not-so-subtle hint, she bought me a Harvard sweatshirt when I was 10 – a not-so-subtle hint. (Allow me to point out another family connection to Ms. Gautreau: my grandmother’s long-term boyfriend Chuck’s ex-wife was married to Ms. Gautreaus’s brother. But I digress). Though I wasn’t remotely close to being the smartest kid in class, I was at least smart enough to know that I wasn’t Harvard material. Not by a long shot. But my grandmother never wavered. By the time I got to high school, my GPA (hindered mostly by poor math and science skills) obliterated any outside chance that I could get into Harvard – or any Ivy League school for that matter. I was only slightly above average in the other subjects (but God-awful in math) and I wasn’t exactly a language arts genius in the making (as far as GPA was concerned). In fact, when I took my English placement test for college, I was placed in two remedial classes (math, which was expected…and composition class…not expected!) Surely, there was some kind of mistake, so I begged and clawed my way into the general freshman comp class. And, aced it. (As I did all of my English and lit classes along the way). The only plausible theory as to why I failed my placement test to begin with was my horrendous handwriting. (Then again, I was rejected from my high school’s literary magazine, as well and my submissions were typed.) Though the rejection letter was signed by a student, it was clearly written under the gentle guidance of Ms. Gautreau: “You and the others who submitted are among a special folk that carry with them the guts to take a chance and put your talents to the test…we have to sigh and set some pieces aside. Unfortunately, your work was among these. However, don’t stew over this minor pitfall. Writing is an art that can provide inner sanctum for a lifetime. It is a personal experience and sometimes is meant to reward you and not to satisfy others.”

Fortunately, due to encouraging words of wisdom such as this, these early setbacks did nothing to rattle my resolve. My thick skin was forming.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, who had spent her entire career (50 years!) as a Ford Motor Company secretary, had a grandiose vision that her grandson would not only be an engineer at her beloved company, but would one day take over the reigns (side note: my hometown of Dearborn was not only home to Ford, but was the birthplace of none other than Henry himself). In her defense, it wasn’t like I had a back-up plan. The last time I thought I knew was in the 2nd grade, when I wrote in a report that I wanted to be a doctor. Even though I realized early on that I didn’t have what it took to be a doctor, my grandmother’s influence was so deeply felt, it appeared that my fate was sealed: I was going to be an engineer, despite my disinterest and – more importantly – lackluster skill in all areas remotely related to that particular field.

“It’s just a matter of mind over matter,” my Grandma always told me. “If you put your mind to it, you can excel in math, science, an anything else you put your mind to.” She was right about only one part of that – putting my mind to something against all odds no doubt contributed to my eventual “success” as a writer.

To further prepare me for a career as an engineer, my grandmother signed me up for high school engineering workshops at Ford, which required me to wake up bright and early on several Saturday mornings. For a teenager, there’s nothing worse. Not even a potential scholarship waiting for me at the end of the rainbow made up for that fact. Because I knew I had no legitimate shot at them. In fact, these workshops did nothing to inspire me (unless you count being inspired to do anything but engineering). In fact, I was completely bored, disinterested … and confused.

Mind over matter.

And my mind was made up. Engineering did not matter to me.

Yet, despite this minor detail, my grandmother continued to believe that somehow, against all scientific reason, I could train my mind to both like and excel in math and science. If this were the case, it wouldn’t have been a matter of science. It would be magic.

My experiment in engineering coincided with my 10th grade year, which paved the way for Ms. Gautreau to come to the rescue and teach me the true meaning of following a dream with every ounce of your heart, mind, and soul. Her unbridled faith in my ability to succeed as a writer and filmmaker has kept me focused on my dream every step away and through every pitfall along my path. Despite a cavalcade of wholesale life changes I have encountered in my life, there has always been one constant: my dream…and the teacher who made it all possible.

Following years of elementary and middle school misery, there are actually two teacher heroes that came to the rescue, one of which I had the year before and through the entirety of high school: my band teacher, Mr. Otto (affectionately referred to as “Uncle Otto”). From that time on, I no longer felt ostracized by my peers. It didn’t take long for my entire social circle to be made up entirely of fellow band geeks. I had found a home. As I wrote in an article for the school newspaper: “Whenever I need to seek comfort or help, all I have to do is walk through the band room, and someone will be there for me. There is a back hall with couches, where band and vocal members meet in the morning, for lunch, and after school. When I enter the back hall, I feel a sense of relief, like the way I feel when I walk into my home.”

Mr. Otto is quoted in that article as follows: “Band has a special unity. They look out for each other, get the job done. Teamwork and family describe best what it’s like to be in band.”

So even though I found a safe haven and refuge in the band room, I found my soul in Ms. Gautreau’s classroom. I not only felt at home there…but at home with myself. And that truly made all the difference.

Along with Mr. Otto, I had Ms. Gautreau for the remainder of my high school years, which included 10th grade English, creative writing courses, and film studies. In fact, it was in her creative writing class that I began writing my first screenplay – an adaptation of Robert Newton Peck’s Soup on Ice; a gift from my grandma when I was a little boy.

To put it succinctly, Ms. Gautreau epitomized everything that a teacher should be. From an instructional standpoint, her lessons were always engaging and inspiring. However, far more important than any lesson she ever taught me was the fact that she helped me discover myself…and never stopped believing in me. By extension, I have never stopped believing in myself. I should point out that she was the only teacher who recorded any notes on my progress report: Progress report: “Contributes to class./Is a pleasure to have in class./Shows interest and desire to improve./Assumes responsibility/shows initiative.” I hope she realizes how much of an impact such a small gesture had on me. So teaching often goes.

Ms. Gautreau not only inspired me to pursue my dream, but has greatly influenced my teaching “day job”. Though I can never come even close to reaching her level of greatness (my dream ironically prohibits me from the being the selfless teacher she was), I strive to do everything in my power to emulate her teaching style, with the sole mission of encouraging my own students to latch on to dreams of their own…and never let go.

Aside from the constant encouragement to pursue my dream, Ms. Gautreau went above and beyond her job duties. When I was her student, she would frequently give me press clippings from various magazines and newspapers (New York Times and The New Yorker in particular) that pertained to writing, film, or baseball. I have saved every single one of them. Now, yellowed and tattered, they comfort me like a tattered security blanket. The clippings extended well beyond the walls of my high school. I still get them till this day, twenty years later! The epitome of life-long learning.

At least once a year, Ms. Gautreau and I get together to watch an Oscar contending film and to chat. And with each visit, my creative juices are recharged and I walk away feeling like I can conquer the world. When we get together (usually around the holidays), she usually hands me over a giant manila envelope filled with accumulated clippings. Sometimes, she sends them in the mail. Or e-mail. Recently, she joined Facebook, so now “clippings” get directly posted to my wall. Her presence in my life is greater than ever before.

Though Ms. Gautreau is now happily “retired”, she certainly hasn’t quit teaching. She currently teaches writing courses for senior citizens who realize that it’s never too late to discover their voice. And of course, there is no doubt her influence will continue to live on in the hearts of every student she has ever inspired. I hope that in my own small way, her legacy lives on through my own teaching (despite the limitations my dream puts on it). I remember how disappointed I was when she retired the year before I did my student teaching. Initially, I felt like I missed out on a golden opportunity to truly become the young Padawan to her Yoda. But I later realized, the power of her force everything was already buried deep within my soul. As it always will be. There was nothing left to learn.

I can pinpoint the precise moment when my dream truly set sail. And it all comes down to a blue notebook. My holy grail. Like most English teachers, Ms. Gautreau required students to keep a journal. Several times a week, we would either have to respond to a specific prompt, or write wherever our pubescent muse took us. Our notebooks would be turned at the end of each quarter for feedback. I didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, I probably wasn’t even consciously thinking about it. But when I got my notebook back the first go around, the margins were filled with numerous brief, witty comments that outweighed any letter grade (which was an A+, by the way). Even though many of her comments were usually one or two words, this written “conversation” provided the spark of inspiration I so desperately needed. And it made me feel excited about writing in a way that I had never felt before.

Suddenly, life was full of possibility.

And my dream was born, as this passage indicates:

“By wanting desperately to become a successful Hollywood filmmaker, I put myself at great risk. I believe in myself, however. I know I can do it, but it will be no easy road. While pursuing my dream, I look for inspiration wherever I go. I get most of my inspiration from Ms. Gautreau…I have never been told that I can’t make it, but I have been told that it is just a pipedream and that I have no big chance (not because of lack of talent, but because of the odds). Well, I’ll show them. Somebody has to make movies, right? Why can’t I be one of them? Life is all about taking risks. It is those risks that happiness is most commonly found.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that “I love to write because it allows me to escape the chaos of everyday life and relax. I take pride in my writing and if someone else doesn’t like it, I don’t get mad. I just work to improve it until it is as good as I can get it. I prefer to write light hearted comedy-dramas that make people good. I find that combining tears with laughter works good in any film. To me, making a person feel good about life is the best cure for anything. To me, literature is the best way to relax, whether you’re reading it, or writing it.”

The true impetus and value of this notebook came to light after Ms. Gautreau’s father passed mid-way through the year. While attending a viewing at the funeral home, she introduced me to her family with great enthusiasm:

“So you’re the one with the journal!,” one of her family members proclaimed. I felt like a supertar! As it turned out, Ms. Gautreau had shared my notebook with her family in the hospital’s waiting room. It was a tremendous feeling and it was at that moment that I knew right then where my destiny lay.

As Ms. Gautreau told my hometown paper, The Dearborn Press & Guide in an article that came out after I published my first book, “His journal was magic to read…I can still remember the delight and the wonderful quirky observations he would make about life and the wonderful, unique ways of articulating his ideas.

“He had this dead-on, droll sense of humor,” she continued. “He would always spot the absurdity of life. He was always the guy who was willing to go out there and take a chance, take a risk. But at the same time I think he was very honest in his own heart.”

Meanwhile on the homefront, my dream wasn’t exactly a greeted with open arms. The general consensus of my family toward my dream fell along the lines of: “It’s just a hobby,” (Bobby’s Hobby!) or “it’s only a pipe-dream.” It wasn’t so much that they didn’t support me. They just didn’t encourage me. Or is there any difference? But let me get one thing straight: I couldn’t ask more loving, generous parents and am extremely grateful for all they have done for me and all they continue to do (you know, like keeping me despite being an oopsie daisy and staying together to raise three children, despite my dad being just days out of high school upon my birth). In some ways, their ambivalence toward my dream only added more fuel to the fire. And made me want to prove them wrong.

In the meantime, I just had to accept that “Bobby’s Hobby” was never going to be taken seriously. And with Ms. Gautreau’s guiding light, I was determined to prove their doubts wrongs (and for over 20 years, they were right). Even though it took that long, I never once doubted that it was only a matter of time. Just how much time was a whole other matter. Sometimes, I wonder how long I would have stuck with it if I knew how long it would actually take. I certainly never would guessed it would take as long as it did. The longer it took, the harder it was going to be to turn back. You don’t put that much time into something, only to turn around with your tail between your legs. Fortunately, there were always enough clues (contests, optioned scripts, publication of short stories, etc.) along the way that I was at least on the right track. That I wasn’t time on something I had no business trying to get involved with. As long as I kept trying, there was always going to be a chance – or at least more of a chance than somebody who never tried at all. In essence, it came down to one basic principle: my dream was never a matter of if…it was always a matter of when. No matter how many setbacks. It was this mindset that allowed me to freely sacrifice so much of my free time and social life over the years. My dream always lay ahead like a lighthouse beacon surrounded by a dark, stormy sea. I just had to follow one simple rule: “Never give up.” It’s no surprise that my daughter learned to say “Daddy doesn’t give up” at the age of two. My dream is that my children will follow their own dreams just as daddy did, despite the frustration that is bound to result.

From the time my dream was hatched in Ms. Gautreau’s classroom, I have done everything in my power protect it at all costs. I have directed most of my prayers toward it. In fact, every major decision has revolved around my dream, including my decision to become a teacher. After toiling around in the media business after college, I couldn’t resist the allure of summers off and frequent breaks. I even spend my planning period writing, rather than grading or making copies because it is when I know I will be at my creative peak for the day.

Though I never once considered throwing in the towel, I would often wonder if I was doing enough. Or I would ask myself why was I still in Michigan, rather than Hollywood? A decision I still regret from time to time, until I remember that had I moved out there, I wouldn’t have my two beautiful children (though I would possibly have two different children, so I thereby lament the fact that I never got to meet the two children I would have had if I had moved west. Or perhaps I would have none at all?). The best outlook to assume is that I am right where I am supposed to be.

Before I got married, whenever I felt the urge to follow my heart to Hollywood, I convinced myself that I could still make my dream come true…from the comfort of my parents’ couch. And since I stayed home for college, my parents had grave concerns that I would spend his weekend nights sitting at home on the couch writing. Not only were they were worried I would be single forever, they were worried I would be single and sitting on their couch forever.

Writing my life away…

It wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends (this wasn’t elementary school after all!). It was just that I was under the spell of my dream. Though I could certainly see understand their concern, it was ultimately through writing that I fell in love (which in turn, ultimately made my dream come true).

Flashforward to Y2K: I was on the cusp of receiving my English degree and working part time at Ford Motor Company (thanks to my grandma’s connections) – but not as an engineer as she had envisioned: I was working in public relations, writing promotional materials for the Ford Research Laboratory. Although I had fallen short of Harvard, at least I fulfilled her other wish: working for old man Henry.

However, with graduation looming, I was at a crossroads in my life. Since it was clear that Ford would not be offering full time employment anytime soon, it was time to get serious about my future. So I decided to apply to the top graduate film programs and cast my fate to the wind. If, by some miracle, I got into one of the top programs, my decision would be made for me.

But life had other plans.

For my final spring break, I headed to Hollywood to take some film workshops, including Robert Mckee’s famous Story seminar. Little did I know my own personal Hollywood story was in the making.

My trip began with a fateful encounter with one of my childhood heroes while waiting at the gate for my flight. I spotted a man sitting across from me whom I was pretty sure was legendary Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson.

“Is that Sparky Anderson?” I stuttered to the gate attendant.

“Yes, it is,” the attendant replied. Now that I knew for sure, I headed over to my boyhood idol, trying to keep my nerves under control.

“Mr. Anderson?”

“Yes?” he replied.

I offered my hand. He shook it.

“I am so happy to meet you. I am a big fan,” I said, before congratulating him on his recent induction into the Hall of Fame.

I thought for sure that he would brush me off, but instead we chatted for a few minutes about the Tigers and their upcoming season. I then offered him my pen and steno pad, which he signed on the first page: “To Bob. Thanks for being a great baseball fan. Sparky Anderson.”

He shook my hand and I returned to my seat, where I waited to board. I might as well have been on Cloud 9. The next and last time I saw him, I was heading down the aisle in search of my seat. Sparky was seated in first class, already asleep and I realized that I just had the rare privilege of seeing a Hall of Fame coach in repose.

When I finally located my seat, I scribbled in my journal: “My trip’s off to a good start already. Perhaps it’s an omen.” How little did I know how much of an omen it truly was.

The workshops I was attending were on opposing weekends, leaving me with plenty of time to be a tourist and ponder whether I should roll the dice and move out west, or remain in my comfort zone back in Michigan.

And then came March 7, 2000.

The rain-soaked day (in fact, almost my entire trip was rain-soaked. I quickly learned that L.A. had a rainy season) began with a dream tour of The Price is Right, which had been arranged through a family friend of Ms. Gautreau (even though I would have much preferred if this contact was able to place my scripts in the right hands, this was a close second).

I should probably point out that I had a rather unhealthy obsession with this show … due in part to the fact that I had come to associate this show with being unhealthy, accompanied by chicken soup with crackers, chamomile tea and gag-inducing cold and cough syrup. And standing there, on the set, it was as though I walked right through my television set, just as I dreamed of in a fever-induced daydream. As I wrote in my journal, it was as though “I had stepped foot on sacred ground.”

I was taken aback by how small the studio was. It was as though I was standing on a miniature replica of the set – not the actual set itself. There was no way it could possibly be this small. But it was. Even the Holy Grail itself – the Plinko! board seemed too small to be real, not to mention the Showcase Showdown wheel. I asked her if I could give the wheel a test drive, but was told that CBS has a strict policy against spinning the wheel unless it was during game time. Beggars can’t be choosers. Years later, I got to attend a taping of the show – just a couple of years before Bob Barker retired. Since I was in attendance as a guest of a CBS employee, I would not be permitted to have a chance to “Come on down!,” but both experiences were the next best thing.

As magical as my Price is Right encounter was, it would pale in comparison to what happened next. After the tour, I debated whether or not to head to Universal Studios on the account off the damp weather, before ultimately deciding that a little rain wasn’t going to hurt me. So I took a $80 cab ride (which caught me totally off guard). Though I immediately regretted by decision, it would turn out to be the best $80 I ever spent.

After wandering the park for awhile in a melancholy daze, I spotted an attractive woman who also appeared to be by her lonesome on the Terminator ride. I lost sight of her and then later spotted her entering the E.T. ride. We were both eating peanut M & M’s. So I followed her in (making me a quasi-stalker). As fate would have it, we would ride together. We struck up a conversation and I learned she was an exchange student from Ukraine, living in Mississippi. Twenty minutes later, we were going our separate ways, with contact info in hand.

We became pen pals. At first, we started writing one another. First monthly. Then weekly. Then daily. E-mails soon became instant messages. Perhaps most importantly, she had read all of my scripts, showing more interest in my writing than anyone ever had in my life with the exception of one special teacher. Before we knew what hit us, we had fallen in love…through writing. Before long, our love blossomed until it was too big for even distance to contain us. Just over a year later, I headed to Ukraine with an engagement ring in my pocket.

Following the most amazing, magically surreal experience of my life, in which every moment felt like the coolest independent film ever made, I immediately got to work on a semi-autobiographical screenplay based on this experience, in the cold, dark shadow of 9/11.

A few years later, I optioned the script to a producer (for a whopping $1.00). My dream was finally coming true!

But then it didn’t.

Following extensive, excruciating re-writes, the script became more and more fictionalized, but I was willing to go along with whatever changes the producer suggested. But then the producer suggested that the location of the script get changed to Asia, on the account of potential Asian investors that he had waiting in the wings (somehow, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive cowboy comes to mind). Fortunately and unfortunately, the producer abandoned the project and the option expired. My script was an orphan again. And I was devastated. The rug had been completely pulled out from under me. Though I had fallen to my lowest point, I wasn’t willing to give up the ghost. Drawing upon the wisdom of the bestselling self-help book Who Moved My Cheese, I … moved my cheese and set screenwriting aside and try my hand at prose. At first, I felt like I was abandoning my dream. But then I realized, my end goal remained the same. I was just seeking an alternate route; I would have to enter Hollywood through the backdoor.

No longer bound by the constraints of screenplay structure, writing prose was an incredibly liberating experience. I was therefore able to go back to the original draft of my script and resurrect previously cut scenes. Furthermore, the script was essentially a skeleton outline, so all I had to do was add meat to the bones. The biggest challenge was to learn how to write prose that didn’t read like the sparse choppiness of a script. By the same token, the brevity of screenwriting also came in handy. It was just a matter of finding the proper balance. Over time, I got into the groove. And thus a book was born.

Sadly, around the time I was completing my book, my marriage had begun to unravel. And I would be in denial if I didn’t admit that my writing had a lot to do with it. If you marry a writer, know that writing will be your spouse’s mistress. Perhaps, the best advice I could give any writer is not to marry. It only ends up hurting people.

During the last couple of years of my marriage, there was a lot of pressure to stop writing. To abandon a dream that clearly wasn’t ever going to happen And at one point, I did. For the sake of my marriage. And I had never been more miserable in my life. I never felt more incomplete. I felt like an addict without a fix. When I’m writing, I never feel more alive. A literal high. In fact, I usually feel more awake and full of energy on the heels of a late night writing session than I do on a full night’s sleep. So once I lost that lifeline, I unraveled. Dear God, did I unravel.

Asking somebody to give up on something you put in so many years and sacrifice into is just about the most selfish thing you can ask someone to do for them. Quitting would mean everything was all for naught. It would have been one thing if I lost all faith in myself. But my faith never wavered. Yet, I wanted to do what I could to spare my marriage. Consequentially, it destroyed it. It is perhaps no coincidence that for most of this period, communication with Ms. Gautreau was at it lowest peak, short of an annual Christmas card. In fact, it was the longest stretch I had gone without seeing her. I wasn’t even conscious of it at the time. But looking back, it is no coincidence that it paralleled at this point in my life.

Though broken, I wasn’t completely beaten. And then I started writing again, but did so secretly. I was a closeted writer. A painful, daily reminder that the person who once shared in my dream – who I fell in love because of her support of my dream – had forsaken me. So after trying to hold on as long as I could, I pulled the plug after eight years of marriage. And just like that, I was left with an unpublished book about a love story that no longer existed in reality.

The craziest thing about this was the fact that my divorce – as tragic and painful as it was – wasn’t my lowest point. It was the period when I had stopped writing.

When I first fell in love, I wondered if my Hollywood dream was only a ruse by fate to lead me to my soul mate on that fateful, rainy day at Universal Studios. I now realize that falling in love was actually part of fate’s grand plan that would lead to the book that would later make my dream finally come true. With no shortage of sacrifice, pain, and tears from two people, who once upon a time promised live happily ever after.

Five years later, my book was published. And as exhilarating and magical the experienced has been, I would be remiss to ignore the bittersweet melancholy that has accompanied me on this journey. On one hand, with every revision, I got to re-live my life’s most amazing experience over and over again. It is as close to time travel as the human mind can get. At the same time, these memories are soaked in regret when I think about how it all ended. And though I take comfort in the knowledge that this life-altering experience will live on forever in the pages of my book, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to the regret of not sharing in this experience with her by my side. No matter how many book signings I have done and no matter how many copies I will ultimately sell, there will always be a deep, melancholy hole in my heart.

When the time came to write a dedication, the choice was simple: I knew I couldn’t dedicate it to my ex-wife. And I certainly wasn’t going to dedicate a book about my ex to my second wife. So it was only fitting I would dedicate it to Ms. Gautreau – the person who most made this publication possible. In an e-mail to her, I wrote:

 

“I never even had to deliberate my decision to dedicate the book to you. And seeing your name on the dedication page was almost equal to the feeling of holding the book itself for the first time.”

I sent her the first copy of my book along with the invite to my book launch (which fell on the eve of her 70th birthday). And here is what she wrote:

Dear Bob,

 

Who knew that that shared room with your grandfather and my father in residence at Oakwood Hospital would lead to such connections?

To find your book in the mail after returning from Japan was pure delight.

The dedication gave me a thrill shiver and goose bumps.

I never anticipated such an experience.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

This old gal is very touched and pleased!

Looking forward to seeing you soon.

 

All the very best to you and yours,

Anne

 

Consequentially, one of the most joyous moments of my life was being able to introduce Ms. Gautreau to the packed house at my book’s launch party at Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor. That very moment was the culmination of every ounce of sweat, blood, and tears shed over the past 20 years, going all the way back to the moment that an awkward, directionless boy first entered that 10th grade classroom, only to exit with laser beam focus.

The next day, Ms. Gautreau wrote this on a Facebook post:

“Bob, you were surrounded by autograph seekers after our launch; so I want to let you know how touched I was by your remarks. I felt as though I were going to burst into tears when you offered your kind remarks to me. Your reading was the best. I have attended a helluva lot of readings over the years. Yours hit all the right notes. The audience was enchanted and enthralled, tickled and touched. If I had ever had a song I would have wanted him to be exactly like you. I marvel at your keen-quirky mind, your self-discipline, your willingness to be a risk taker, and your sheer determination. BRAVO! Also, it thrilled me to be inside a NEW independent bookstore. It tickled me to see a younger couple risk starting a new publishing company. It delighted me to see people scrambling to find copies of your book down on the first floor. Finally, I hope lots and lots and lots and lots of people realize that your novel would make great Christmas gifts. ALL THE VERY BEST TO YOU FOR A GREAT SUCCESS!”

As the above comments demonstrate, as long as I live, her influence will always be felt through the deepest reaches of my soul every time I put pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. No matter how much further my success carries me and no matter how many setbacks I must endure, every brick of my future will be built upon the foundation that Ms. Gautreau laid down for me.

I will conclude this essay dedication with a Christmas card from 2004 that encapsulates everything that is great about this guiding light in my life. On the envelope to the card were two rubber stamped Shakespeare quotes: “This above all; this thine own self be true.” Along with “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Inside the card, in her own magical handwriting:

 

“Continue to create. It’s significant energy, important to counterbalance the forces devoted to destruction on the planet. The creative process is necessary, meritorious and precious.

All the best, Anne.”

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