Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Date night, but not for us

As Thursday rolled around, I had spent several days congratulating myself for scheduling The Date That Should Not Have Been, due to occur in just two more days. I went out to my day of toil in the vineyards of overproduction, meeting up with the same agency types who had been recently feeding and clothing me, though not personally, but with money. I showed up fed on Corn Flakes (a former client) and clothed in Levi’s (I am Orthodox in my jeans choice). Just steps into the space, the account executive immediately sidelined me and said, “Can’t you look professional?”

“What do you mean?”

“This isn’t a jeans kind of shoot.”

I looked down at his suit from Yesterday’s Man. “I can’t do a photo shoot in a three-piece. I have to move around.”

“This is an important client. Next time we meet with them, wear chinos at least.”

He wandered off to smile while I did the work. The very concept of “professional” confuses me. What does it mean to “look professional”? It means to wear a suit. Wearing a suit is not difficult. All you have to do is put a suit on your body, and it’s done. You have mastered the process. What does that have to do with your professional abilities?

Another aspect of this myth is the letterhead. Why do deadbeats get printed letterhead? Because it “looks professional”. But what it really is is convenient. Nobody at General Motors wants their entire employee base writing out the address every time they send an envelope to somebody. They get the letterhead printed not for some abstract concept of what it means to be in business, but because it saves time and money for their company. Wearing jeans saves time and money for my company, and for yours if you hire me. For one thing, we’d just spent thirty seconds discussing it, and I bill by the half-second. That’s sixty-three cents you’ll never see again, smart guy!

But I got through it and returned home to more flashing from the only shining element of my life, the bulb on my answering machine. Pushing it turned out to be a let-down. Kerry was canceling the date that was going to change my life.

“Jack, hi, it’s Kerry, it’s about three-forty-five here. I’m really sorry to do this at the last minute, but they just asked me to go out to San Francisco, and I won’t be back until Monday. I really wanted to see you this weekend. The next week or two aren’t looking so good, but can you call me and we’ll figure it out? I’m really sorry, Jack, please don’t think I’m trying to get out of this. I couldn’t say no to my boss. Please call me, or I’ll call you when I get back. Okay. Talk to you soon, bye.”

I pulled from the freezer the just-begun glass of icy vodka that Kerry’s intrusion into my mindspace had interrupted my consumption of a few days before. It had been my backup plan all along, though I hadn’t known it. I sat on my couch and considered what game was afoot. There was the possibility that she was on the level. There was the possibility that she was telling the truth in the particularity of having to leave town, but nonetheless was relieved it got her out of our date. There was the possibility that she was making it up to get rid of me. There was the possibility that the entire date had been a ruse to punish me. They all seemed equally possible. I was even willing to credit as equally possible that she was completely not fucking with me. But I didn’t know which was the truth. I drank the vodka instead.

In Manhattan at least, Thursday is date night, as I have explained: the night for first dates between people who are auditioning each other for a starring role. I went out into the night and stumbled upon dozens, hundreds, an entire city full of these hopeful cases with their locked step and their crossed fingers. Not fair, under the circs. There is nothing worse than being stood up for a Saturday (the most serious of evenings out) on a Thursday (when you’d have to suffer through three whole days of other people’s dates). I headed for the bar, where the only dating was trying to figure out the era of each stain and burn on the bar. Some of them had happened since I’d been going, I was sure.

The bar was almost empty, which is not surprising, even though the neighborhood was crowded with drinkers: they wouldn’t be coming here. I knew I could relax among my fellow rejects from the dustbin of love. I swept into the room and sized up my evening: Crazy Leland, who only knew one joke and was still working on its delivery; Big Sal, who was curled up asleep in a booth, with his feet two feet over the side; Joey One-Nose, our local mafia don who always went home, with great willpower, after two beers and fourteen brandies; and — here I almost turned around and stalked back to my apartment — that firebrand of the drunken pool league, neighborhood girl Teresa, who I hadn’t seen in forever. But she saw me immediately, because she put down the pool stick from the game she was playing with herself and disappeared into the back.

I sat at the bar and called for a vodka. Never mix, never worry. Crazy Leland asked me if I wanted to hear a joke. Joey asked if I wanted him to buy me a brandy. From behind I felt a light smack and I turned to see Teresa back already. “Hey, it’s you,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m glad to see you,” I said.

“Ha,” she said. “Yeah. All right, buy me a drink.”

I ordered her a Jameson’s on the rocks, and she was impressed that I remembered. But I never forget a drink, or the drunk girls who drink them, especially when the last time I saw them we’d had abortive sex (my favorite). However, if it were up to me, I’d generally not put ice in a premium whiskey.

“So how you been,” she said, as we clinked glasses. I told her, “I been all right.” This was how to talk neighborhood.

I said, “I kept hoping I’d run into you again. It’s been a long time since last time.”

She said, “Yeah, you’re right, okay, buy me a drink.” I managed to sway the bartender back to our end of the bar right in the crucial moment of Leland’s joke, and he refilled her glass. I wasn’t quite to the same pace yet. She swirled her ice around and said, “I’m not having a good night.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Yeah, right. What’s right? It’s bullshit to talk about it, though.” That was probably the most wisdom I could expect from any of my emboozled colleagues that evening, but I agreed with it.

I put my hand on her shoulder. As the least drunk person in the room, bar staff included, I felt a fatherly responsibility. “Teresa, I’m sorry,” I said. “I wish things were better for you.”

“Ha,” she said. “You wish you could get me in the sack, is all. Like I’d be interested after last time. Or any time. Like I don’t have enough trouble already.”

I drank my drink and got another one. She was still swirling her ice defiantly. “It’s all the same shit,” she said.

I absently turned my head to take in a bit of the Joey-Leland-bartender conversation, which seemed to require prior knowledge. Teresa drank her drink when I wasn’t looking. I got us some more.

“Thanks,” she said, when the latest one was brought forth. “You don’t have any cocaine, do you?”

Cocaine, that substance that seemed to work for Other People. It bores me. I leveled my cocaine-poor gaze at her. She said, “I know you have some, you guys always do. Come on.” She took my hand, got down from the stool, and started off to the bathrooms, where the traditional cocaine feasts were held. They usually also involved touching.

“I don’t have any,” I said. She stopped, still bathroom-facing, and I took my hand back. She turned around and sat next to me again. “That’s all right,” she said, “it was just a thought.”

We drank in silence for a while. “I’m sorry you’re sad,” I said again, like a bozo.

“Thanks,” she said. We sat there for a while, drinking, not talking, and when she started to fall off her stool too often, I walked her home. She kissed me a bit at the bottom of the steps, and then a bit more at the top of the steps, and then I went home, thinking about Kerry and how she was such a jerk.

by Jack, February 1, 2005 8:01 PM | More from Drinking & Women | More from Kerry | More from Teresa

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