Sometimes You Ride the Wave, Sometimes…

7 July 2011

From very early in my childhood, older members from the fraternal side of my family have told me how much I look like my father. As I got older, I was told the resemblance grew stronger. I never quite saw it, but they were referring to me looking like my old man when he was whatever age I happened to be at the time. The first time it made any sense to me was shortly after I split with my ex-wife.

I had just shaved my head for the first time – ending a marriage leads most people to some radical changes – and my hair resembled the extremely close cut style my father favored in the 1960s. Whilst unpacking a box at my new loft, I came across a picture of my father from that era and I had to look at it twice to make sure that it wasn’t me. I finally got it.

My dad is a good looking man and it was comforting to finally see what others saw and to know what I was going to look like as I got older.

All these years of hearing it and me finally seeing it for the last decade or so didn’t prepare me for this week. It didn’t prepare me for the first time my mother called me by his name. It didn’t prepare me for the next evolution of our relationship as this wasn’t a slip of the tongue.

Some days are are chicken, some days feathers. I’m tired of eating feathers these days.


Looks Like a Duck, Quacks Like One Too, But We’re Calling It an Escape

2 September 2010

Wanna grab a drink after work tomorrow?” read the text message from Jessica.

I’ll be in Pittsburgh for the day but should be be back in time. Can we say 7pm, but in pencil rather than indelible pixels?” I replied.

I returned to DC a little later than planned; Jessica worked later than she anticipated so we skipped drinks and went straight to dinner.

She walked into the restaurant in a navy blue pencil skirt with big brass buttons on the back, and a lacy, racy top that I know she didn’t wear at work. The peep-toe platforms probably weren’t standard 9-5 issue either. Her make-up was perfectly applied – striking a balance between effortless, displaying effort, and it’s Friday night.

I stood to greet her and for just a moment, had a flash of awkwardness – it’s not supposed to be a date, but we’ve already been pretty familiar – wondering about the appropriate level of physicality in our salutation.

Where I had doubt, Jessica possessed absolute certainty. She sauntered more than walked towards me, dropping her work bag from her left shoulder as she went. She leaned forward on her toes and placed her right hand against my cheek guiding my lips towards hers for a hello that was two beats too long to be friendly.

I thought this wasn’t a date” I stated in a whisper just loud enough to be heard over the bar’s iPod playing a Latin version of Take 5.

It’s not” she countered as we released our hug. “This is a ‘I’ve had an incredibly shitty week so I decided to wear something really pretty and have some escapist fun with a man I’m not supposed to like.’”

You practice that on the way in?” I teased.

Yeah, you wanna make something of it?” Jessica shot back with a mock tough-girl look.

Our night of escapism unfolded as expected. We didn’t talk about her suburban lifestyle & desire to have children. Nor did we discuss my night-owl nature and its incompatibility with her early rising.

A few days later I sent Jessica an email asking her to have drinks with me in a couple of days because I had a meeting with a restaurant in her neighborhood. Her reply came quickly and in the affirmative, but with some caveats.

I would love to have drinks with you, especially since you’ll be just around the corner. But just to be clear: I won’t have shaved my legs for two days, and I will most definitely be wearing granny-panties.

Fair enough, I laughed/mumbled to my computer.

The universe has a really strange sense of humor.

Reader Question: assuming you are the kind of person who places oneself in situations where one must actively avoid, *ahem*, entanglements, what steps do you take to avoid such things?


So I Need to be Careful What I Ask You For

6 August 2010

I am man enough to admit that I haven’t been a very good blogger lately (yeah, yeah, I know some of you are thinking “lately?”) I haven’t posted much this summer, I bailed on doing NaBloPoMo in July, I’ve abandoned a few stories without finishing, and I’ve been terrible about responding to the comments left by the lovely half-dozen readers that are still here.

Thus, when a few people suggested that I go on a date with a woman who may or may not be a complete nutter, I decided I had to do it. Not just because, as the Foggy Dew noted, being hot can overcome a multitude of failures (yes, my friend, I paraphrased you; get over it.) But really because as my favourite blonde wrote “if [I] realllly loved [you]…[my] loyal readers..[I] would court her for sport… and record it here for our enjoyment.”

I am not a fan of dating for sport. It’s cruel, objectifying, demeaning, and I know Suicide Blonde didn’t mean it that way. I am no more a fan of the fade-away technique, slow, fast or intermediate speed, it just doesn’t work for me. As my favorite Yogi noted, I “don’t want to be one of THOSE guys who just disappears, further adding to the cynicism and doubt that’s now inherent in online dating.”

So I’m going on a date tonight. I’m gonna dress in a first date suit and wear a particular shade of optimism. I will keep my mind open… but yeah, I’ll be twittering during bathroom breaks… assuming that it lasts that long.


Navel Gazing of No Great Importance

1 August 2010

I was walking through a familiar and frequently traveled neighborhood but had no idea I was lost and mostly adrift until I ran into a professional acquaintance who asked me where I was headed. I paused for longer than can be ignored in polite conversation before finally responding “I have no fucking idea.”

All of the makings for a delightfully lazy Sunday where there – absence of agenda, a couple of cigars in my bag, and Washington Post and New York Times under my arm. Yet, I didn’t find comfort in this but was rather awash with ambivalence and on a quest for something I could no better define than I could reasonably hope to find.

I stopped at a too-slick-for-its-own-good Irish bar for a Half & Half and to watch some baseball. I left after three innings and one pint, driven away by annoying Philly fans (redundancy intended) on my left and a couple of blathering, bobble-head blondes to to my right.

I had another iced americano at a corporate coffeehouse and watched nothing of significance occur while trying to tackle some of the tasks on my too long to-do list. A summer rain, that I found more annoying than refreshing, began to fall. Any excuse to go find a beer.

I moved down the block in search of something but willing to use a beer as a proxy for the unknown and was struck by the sight of a hotel that had some memories attached to it. The memories and the woman associated with them had never been too far from my thoughts but rarely were they this close.

I once wrote “Time plays parlor tricks with memories of all but the most horrific relationships, and time was pulling half dollars from my ear for what was surely too long.” This was another one of those moments – every good moment, every great conversation, every stolen glance, every perfect kiss and every perfect night was stubbornly in my head. I’m not certain of how long I stood there, or how long it took for harsh reality to mingle with utopian ideals, but of course they did.

I wasn’t certain then, nor do I have definitive clarity as I write this, if that moment helped crystallize the void I could not label or define. By the time I got to my next band-aided destination, the question was immaterial. I did, however, engage the bartender in a toast to “muddled memories, definitions of the murky, and women that got away.”


Laws of Attraction, Theories of Relativity

2 June 2010

My dear friend, who writes I’m Gonna Break Your Heart, is tall with long dancer’s legs that make women and men alike swoon a bit.  That she almost always adorns those legs with very high heels means that she is solidly north of six feet tall.  The aforementioned facts are only relevant because it was her height and the moronic on-line dating messages her stature inspired from substantively shorter would-be suitors.  One message (and the accumulated impact of many like it) inspired a blog post about the type of men who feel compelled to contact her with some variation of the “you don’t know what you’re missing” theme.

Her post was built of frustration and fatigue, but it was the comments, which struck a more unforgiving tone, that got me thinking.

I agree that the men who are sending those messages are Napoleonic troglodytes with massive chips about their shoulders and serious insecurities.  However, no one addressed the issue of the origins of said shoulder chips or active insecurities.

Boys are reared in a Lord of the Flies type of world where whomever is strongest, most virile always has the conch.  For better or worse, height is frequently perceived as a component of that strength, height is part of virility, and in that context height has virtue.  That socialization doesn’t go away simply because we have reached adulthood.  Therefore a lot of men read “you must be this tall to ride this ride” as you must be this GOOD to ride, and they have read that/been told that for the better part of their lives.  It may not be conscious but it is certainly looming in the subconscious.

To further complicate matters, it seems that the definitions are limited to tall and short (at least as it pertains to dating) with tall being at least six feet.  Given that every man under that magical number of inches is well aware that the average height of adult males in the US is 5-9, it stings twice when men of average stature are told they’re too short (read not good enough.)  Do all of these factors lead to attempts at over-compensation? Of course.  Do the majority of those attempts have some sort of douchetastic ramifications? Probably, and that’s what shows up in my tall friend’s inbox every so often.

Quick aside: if you are a woman dating a man who tells you not to wear heels, you should generally be distrustful of people who ask you to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of theirs.

The final complication is added by the fact that too many women typically take no ownership of their role in this issue.  As men have been socialized since childhood to place virtue in size and strength, women have been socialized to place virtue in the physicality of size zeros.  Women have been socialized to be the “fairer” sex and a part of that is having a man who is taller and bigger.  I get it and I am not trying to demonize any woman who wants that, but it would be nice if we could at least call it what it is.

So a man is being told he is too short to be dateable (read not good enough,) even though he knows he is about average, and most women who make the claim don’t acknowledge that their explicitly stated preference has even the tiniest root in their own body issues.  That might get frustrating for a man.  I am not now, nor would I ever excuse less than gentlemanly behavior, just offering a theory of its origins.


Didn’t Know about the Protruding Nail Until I Walked into a Hammer Shop

17 May 2010

In the black community, the Barbershop has long been the great equalizer, a faucet tap for the social consciousness, and a place where all manner of cultural, educational, and professional differentiation are brought low by the common need to get a haircut and discuss the problems of the world while doing so.  For the better part of the last 70 years, it didn’t matter if you lived in the toniest of areas, worked in the most gilded of towers, black men still needed to go back to their metaphorical Harlems to get a cut.

The bankers would wait next to the bus drivers.  The lawyers would talk sports with the restaurant cooks.  The professors would share space with the guys who were students of the streets.  It would make for excellent networking opportunities if discussing one’s occupation wouldn’t violate one of the more inviolable rules of barbershop etiquette: work talk usually means you’re bragging, being uppity, an asshole or all three.

The unwritten rules are complicated, filled with exemptions, and new ones can be added by the singular consent of the guy with the scissors.

And I had no idea how much I had missed it all.

For the past year or so, I have been getting my cuts from a lovely woman who doesn’t work in a traditional barbershop… actually Sydney operates from a beauty salon that caters mostly to Latin American women.  The conversations I could hear were mostly in Spanish and the ones in English were unfamiliar to me at best and of the “men-need-to-steer-clear” variety at worst.  Recently work has kept me from my normal every three weeks schedule and I was at least ten days overdue.

Dear non-black-male readers, I know that every three weeks may seem a bit excessive to you.  I know that some of you may also be wondering “but your hair’s so short why would it matter?”  The answer is within both of the questions.  Because my hair is closely cropped, it doubles in length in 21 days.  If your hair grew twice as long as you prefer to keep it, you might be sprinting to the shop too.

I walked into my backup barbershop a couple of days ago because I still couldn’t get an appointment with Sydney.  I sat for about 90 minutes as the entirety of the shop partook of conversation about the NBA Playoffs, President Obama, DC elections, Strivers Row, and a few more things I cannot recall.  Some of the talk was serious, some of it got called out as ‘barbershop woofing’, but all of it was a social balm.  There’s a “No Profanity” sign on the wall – it seems irrelevant because there is a varnish of reverence at all old-school shops.  We would no sooner curse here than we would in a church undercroft.

The cut wasn’t quite as tight, and surely didn’t feel as good absent the scalp and neck massage that I get from Sydney.  But I certainly don’t get the same visceral needs met with her.  As much as I made a big deal about finding Sydney, I think it’s time for me to tell her that we need to have an open relationship.


Dreaming in Metaphors

11 May 2010

I have discussed my insomnia in this space on more than one occasion. For me, insomnia manifests in waves.  Over the last twenty years, I’ve faced calm sleeping seas and consecutive years of high swells. Through numerous conversations with my doctors, I have steadfastly resisted their entreaties to allow them to medicate the problem (and me) into submission.  Until recently, that is…

Three nights of little green pills have produced nothing more than fitful sleep and the strangest of dreams.  What follows is an adaptation of one of those WTF!#?? dreams in which the characters and situations have no discernible root to my life.

I thought Jade and I had exorcised all of our relationship demons before getting engaged.  We’d seen each other in crisis, had traveled together, found agreement on all of life’s big ticket items, and I was as mad for her as I was for her four year old son.  For almost two years, we dated and never saw a problem we couldn’t solve with honest communication… and maybe some champagne too.

About a month before our wedding day – small ceremony in the chapel of her undergraduate alma mater – we went to a Mother’s Day lawn party hosted by her classmate and would-be Matron of Honor. The women all seemed to be wearing sundresses and the men all seemed to find a shade of pastel as harbinger of late spring.  After my first hamburger but before my second beer, Jade ended a phone call and headed my way bearing the electric smile that helped me fall for her that first night we met.

“Why are you so happy?” I asked.

She laced her arm around mine and uttered the sentence I never thought I’d hear her from her lips, the sentence that would end our relationship.

“You’re looking at the new chair of the Palin 2012 campaign.”

There aren’t many things that could render me incapable of verbal communication, but this was near the top of a very short list.  The room was spinning like I had the hangover from hell when Jade finally stopped the rotation with “Well, say something.”

“You’re a democrat, a democrat who’s pro-choice, pro-gun-control, pro-green, and you went to Smith for fucksakes!”

And that was it.  Our relationship, our life together shattered in as much time as it takes for three “you betcha’s” and a couple of winks.

I grabbed another beer and went to find Max, the little boy who wasn’t going to understand any of this.

“Max, I need to talk to you” I said just after he stuck his dismount from the Moonbounce.

“Max, your Mom is going to have a longer conversation with you later but the short version is ‘I’m not going to be around for a while.’”

His little head, with surprisingly large ears, nodded up and down – Jade conceived through a sperm-bank and I always kinda suspected that Will Smith was the donor.  I continued “There are some things I may not be around to tell you, but that you need to know in this life:

  • You’re going to get in trouble, you’re going to do something wrong and get caught;   when that happens, never lie about it, that only makes it worse.
  • Steer into a skid… and that doesn’t just go for driving
  • Black and White photographs are always cooler than color
  • The correct number of eggs for an omelet is two not three
  • There is no such thing as ‘out of your league’
  • If  your cab driver is listening to NPR, tip them a bit extra
  • Always make friends with the bartender
  • Never draw to an inside straight
  • A night of bad theater is better than a good night in front of the TV
  • Never do business with someone you wouldn’t drink with
  • Never wear loafers with a suit
  • There is no good sartorial application for polyester
  • People who only have self-taken pictures in their dating profile have no friends
  • Never pass on the opportunity to pay an honest compliment
  • Always wait for the second generation of a new technology before you invest
  • When you’re at a party, only tell one joke; always leave em’ wanting more
  • Quartz watches are for suckas
  • There is no car that looks good in yellow
  • Miller Lite is not beer… but that doesn’t make it evil on a really hot day
  • Learning how to dance early will yield exponential dividends later
  • Do go on that semester abroad
  • Do not gamble with pool players who have multiple word names like Philly Mike, or Six Fingered Tony
  • Chewing gum in public isn’t inherently bad, but everyone else knowing you’re chewing gum because your mouth resembles a bovine with a hunk of cud is bad
  • Daydreaming is a virtuous activity, practice it often… but not in class
  • Do not trust people who begin conversations with ‘Can I be honest with you’
  • Also not worthy of your trust are Yankee fans not from New York… or Yankee fans in general, might as well ad Red Sox fans to the list too
  • Do not see any Kevin Costner movie that doesn’t involve baseball… except maybe The Untouchables
  • Learn the word ‘feckless’ and use it whenever appropriate
  • It is always better to be the irresistible force than the immoveable object
  • Free advice is usually worth exactly what you pay for it, and ‘your mileage may vary’ applies to this list and just about everything you will ever learn as there are very few absolute truths…
  • Among the world’s absolute truths is that you will be judged for your ringtone – choose wisely.

And then I got in my yellow sports car, adjusted the tie on my polyester shirt and steered into my nocturnal skid.


How We Met… Telling My Story

1 May 2010

Given my disclosed fascination with “how we met” stories, I decided that it was about time that I shared the only really good one I’ve ever had…

It was the kind of early spring Friday that is the balm for the last couple of winter months when the fun of the first two has turned to fatigue.  Nothing was going to keep me in the office (I was in a prior career back then.)  I took the top down on my car, lit a cigar and took the longer but prettier route back into the city. About an hour later (suburbs suck or as my friend Lexa would say “suburbs are something that happen to people,) I was driving down U street, your standard issue four lane urban road through a kinda trendy area.

At 9th and U, a woman  driving the car next to mine at the stoplight waves at me just before the light turns green and we drive to the next light.

“Forgive me, have we met before?” I asked the woman who waved, although I was 95% sure we had not because despite my occasionally sieve-like memory for faces, there was no way I could have forgotten the acquaintance of a woman this stunning.  She strongly resembled a younger and Latin American version of Penelope Cruz.

“No… I was just flirting with you” She replied just as the light turned green and we drove to the next light.

“Was this random I’m-bored-on-my-ride-home flirting or deliberate flirting?” was my next question.

“Oh, it was very deliberate” she replied when true to our timing the light changed again.

Down this block she moved into the left lane so I shifted to the right. Now at the 15th street light, I asked “So since this was deliberate, if I gave you my card you’d give me a call sometime?”

“Probably” was all she could get out before the light changed again.

The business card was already in my hand by the time we reached 16th street.  I tried to hand it to her passenger, but she (intentionally, I think)  couldn’t quite make the reach before the light changed and the shockingly pretty woman who had waved at me turned left while traffic forced me to go straight.

It would be two blocks before I could make a left turn to look for her, but I was determined not to have the story end this way.  It just couldn’t end with being two inches short of “maybe.”

I drove around the very trendy neighborhood for what felt like ten minutes without success.  Could she be going further South?  Should I stay on this street, turn left, turn right?  The questions bounced through my mind until I made one lucky turn and saw her giving her car keys to the valet at a restaurant.

I found a close-enough-to legal parking space and walked toward the restaurant.  The two women were already at a table.  I went to the bartender and told her I needed a favor.  I told her the whole story… the bartender (who has since become a friend of mine) promised me she’d take care of everything.

Before the unbelievably pretty woman and her stingy armed friend ordered food, the bartender went to the table with two glasses of champagne and my business card with a note that read:

“The story about meeting a woman at stoplights needs a better ending.  I hope you’ll give me a call.”

******

Post Script

She waited an agonizingly long two days to call – That annoying book, The Rules, was still popular back then.

We had our first date the Thursday following the Friday we met

I swear she got prettier by the day

We Dated for almost a year, broke up for almost a year, got back together for close to a year, broke up for another two years or so, got back together for a couple months, broke up for good.

Our love was very real, but there were a couple of fundamental incompatibilities.


In Other News, Clichés are Clichés for a Reason

17 April 2010

“There is nothing more dangerous that a woman does than getting drunk in public.”

That chauvinistic declaration, with some elements of truth, belonged to my father and the first time I can recall hearing it was around age eight.  For reasons best left to a therapist to explain, those words have stuck with me and resonated in my behavior.

The thought crossed my mind recently as I watched a 30somthing woman weeble her way down a subway platform taking anything but the shortest distance between points A and B.  She wasn’t my responsibility and I had no intention of making her so, but I did keep a cautious eye on her… just in case something really bad was to happen.

When the train arrived we both made our way to the same door.  She grabbed different poles with each hand but still was less than steady as the train moved.  At one point, she leaned her hip against the pole I was holding, pinning my hand there.  My instinct was to prop her up, offer a steadying hand, but I resisted because no one wants to be seen as the guy trying to take advantage of the drunk girl.  Two stops after our boarding location, we exited the train. She walked the first set of escalators – zigzagging her way.  When we reached the second set of escalators, she again walked for a bit before surrendering and standing still.  I walked past her for a few steps before the momentum of nature or nurture (jump ball) could not be quelled and I turned to ask her “When we get topside, may I help you get a cab?”

“No, no, I’ll be ok” she replied with a surprising level of syllabic acuity.

I assured her that “we’ve all been there” and that it’s “not a big deal” while I tried to make the argument that walking home, even the two blocks she needed to travel, wasn’t a good idea.  I volleyed, she countered but her protestations where not very vehement.  Eventually, after we had ascended the last escalator, I had to exercise the guilt option – “My grandma would be really upset if I let you walk home by yourself; I’d walk you home myself but you don’t know me so that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

“It’s only two blocks, I can make it” she said before taking my face in her hands, getting kissing-distance close and saying “I’ll be fine.”

“I’m not worried about your ability to get there, I’m concerned about all of the people you’ll pass on your way there – look there’s a cab right now” I said while waving him over. “Cab’s here, just take it as fait accompli.”

She got in the cab and I paid the driver enough to take her those two blocks with a sufficiently large tip that I am hoping he made sure she got inside as I asked him to do.

Two nights later, I was sitting in the bar where I was headed the night that I helped that woman into a cab when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“We met the other night, but I never caught your name” the same woman said.

“I’m Restaurant Refugee” I replied using my full name for introductions the way that Miss Manners has taught me.

She thanked me for getting her home, insisted on buying me a drink as compensation, and then explained that despite the fact that she was grateful, thinks me a gentleman and kinda cute, cannot date me because she could never get past the embarrassment of our first meeting.

…and the trend of good deeds not going unpunished continues.

…as does the trend of attractive women mistakenly thinking that the dating decision is entirely theirs regardless of their behavior.


The Date I’ll Never Forget

1 April 2010

I will never forget this date because it’s the day when I finally, blissfully, decided to stop fighting the want within me.

Like the song says, It began to tell round midnight.  Round midnight we shed the artifice of friendship and accepted what had been fait accompli to those around us, to strangers on the street and close friends alike.  In random places, random people would frequently comment “you make such a lovely couple” while friends would charge “really… nothing happening there????” with the usual follow of “why not?”

We dated for more than a year but none of our dates were capital D dates with a capital C crush, or a big R romance.  We dined, we went to theatre, we walked down streets arm in arm only to part each night with fond memories and protestations of friendship.  I don’t know what took me so long and my only defense is that whenever you decide you want to start the rest of your life to begin, everything before – the good, the other dates, the mistakes, the placeholders – was not time wasted, but precursors and preparation… to this date.

So round midnight on this date, this celebrated day in spring, I asked the question and she gave the answer that will bring our lives together, welcome what we ignored until ignoring it wasn’t an option.

On this date, we’ve each had our last date.  On this date, we grabbed the haystack needle and agreed to happily tilt at windmills together. On this date, I happily entwine my life with a woman on my blogroll.  On this date I introduce you all to my future wife I’m Gonna Break Your Heart.


Front, Back, Side to Side… and Don’t Forget to Dodge the Divide

15 March 2010

Andi, Monica and I were a couple of hours into our salutatory conversation, yet it already had the patina of easy friendship – two old friends and the imperfect stranger having a drink in their neighborhood Chicago bar. The Katty Kay revelation and discussion of my blog were the impetus for our bonding – sharing secrets with people who don’t live in your town is an infectious habit.  I shared, Andi shared, Monica shared, and I shared some more.  We covered lost loves, drunken sexcapades, famous crushes, and a few things that I cannot recall.

When Monica asked about my plans for the rest of the weekend, it felt like a natural extension of the conversation rather than a veiled invitation.

I’ve got a lot of work to finish in reviewing this business plan” I said while patting the stack of papers to my left.  “So that should take me through most of the day tomorrow.  I was thinking about finding a place to Step tomorrow night, but a) most people go to the Step joints with a partner, and b) I might not be finished with my report by then so it might be a moot point anyway.”

“You’ve got to finish in time because you need to take us steppin’ with you” Andi exclaimed.  To bolster the point, she added “we never get to go any more… just can’t convince our friends to learn.”

I began to chuckle a bit before Andi gave me a playful punch in the shoulder and asked “What’s so funny; are you laughing because I just asked you out?”

“No, I’m laughing cuz I’m wondering how Irish and Italian girls from Evanston learned to step” I replied still laughing.  My continued snickering earned me another punch to the shoulder.

Monica jumped into the conversation to correct me; “I’m from Evanston, Andi’s from Highland Park.”

“There’s a difference?” I mocked while moving out of punching range.

“Yes, and we’re all going stepping tomorrow night or I’m gonna find your blog and leave a bunch of comments about how you refused to take two hot women dancing so you could hole up in a hotel room with a bunch of spreadsheets” Monica stated with a tone that was a mix of joke and threat.

The Lady had a point.

“OK, we’re going steppin’ tomorrow night” I replied in what was a not too difficult capitulation.  “There is one problem – despite the rumors on the bathroom walls, I don’t have an ego big enough to think that I can take two women dancing at the same time.”

Andi was quick to intone “Monica will bring her ex – he can step, and they need to have some post-break-up-sex anyway.”

The statement was a small conversation grenade.  Monica gave Andi a look that seemed to say “that’s true, but did you need to share that with the stranger at the bar?” I blushed at the candor but tried to ignore it… it was consistent with our theme of sharing after all.

“Since I’m the out-of-towner, I’ll leave it to you two to pick the place; and if you’ll grant me one more indulgence, can we meet at the bar of my hotel for a cocktail first so I can have as much time as possible to finish my work?” I offered as a solution.

The plan was accepted, digits were exchanged, and a friendship, the seeds of which were planted earlier in the evening, had its first bloom.

Saturday’s sun came and went quickly.  I spent most of the day in a coffeeshop’s corner trying to preemptively rid myself of work guilt.  Ninety percent complete would have to suffice because just after 8pm and a little over an hour to get back to my hotel, eat, shower, and get dressed was about the right amount of time.

Scrubbed, shined and with my steppin’ shoes on, I elevatored down to the hotel bar.  Having made friends with the bartender earlier in the week, I took him up on his offer to “let [him] know about anything [he] could do while I was staying there.” I was fairly certain that he was referencing call girls and blow (there are certain signs that industry pros will notice) but all I wanted was a table by the fireplace, which he kindly reserved for me.

I took the liberty of ordering a bottle of Prosecco (bubbles before all things – my wine mentor used to say.)  Monica’s ex was the first to arrive.  Derrick was my almost five inches taller mirror image, African-American, the frame of a former athlete whose lines had softened just a bit, short grown-up hair, clean shaven, and well tailored black three button suit with a dark shirt underneath. He walked straight towards me and introduced himself with “you must be Refugee, I’m Derrick.”

I stood and met his hand before Derrick said, by way of explanation, “Monica said that I should look for a guy who looks and dresses a lot like me; since you’re the only other brother in here, I was pretty sure I headed to the right table.”

We shared a slight laugh that was more shared knowledge than humor.

I poured a glass of Prosecco for Derrick, we toasted to “new friends” and took our seats.  Monica and Andi entered a few minutes later, turning every head in the room in the process.  They were both casually, but well, attired last night when we met; tonight however, they were dressed in cocktail attire.  They both shared Italian and Irish lineage but did so inversely – Monica took the shockingly pale skin from her Irish mother and dark curly hair from her Italian dad; Andi had the red hair and green eyes of her Irish father, but the lightly olive skin and strong features of her Italian mom.  They both were simply stunning in dresses that fell just above and just below the knee.

Derrick and I watched them cross the room towards us and both stood to greet our nominal, but questionably accurate, dates.  Cheek kisses were sent all around as was mutual admiration for how well all of us “cleaned-up.”

After we drained the bottle, again leaning on the bartender’s offer for assistance, I had the hotel’s town car waiting curbside – there was a fifty dollar handshake on my exit.

Twenty minutes later we walked into an uptown ballroom filled with late 30 to mid 50 something Black Chicago Society.  I’ve been, and frequently am, the only Black person in the room for many situations.  It’s never been by design just circumstance of social/professional circles; and I rarely take stock of that circumstance.  Yet there I was suddenly, instantly aware, and slightly discomfited by the fact that Derrick and I were the two “Black guys who brought the White girls.”

The socio-political implications of race are too fraught with peril but never more delicate than within the Black community.  The far too simplistic explanation of my feeling is: I know that I am not that stereotypical successful Black man who wears a Caucasian woman on his arm as an accessory or trapping of that success, and I know that our pairing that evening developed organically.  However, I sensed that too many people in that room, rightly or wrongly, assumed that we were that cliché because the evidence of their life and the media told them it was most likely the case.

Our foursome ordered drinks at the bar and chatted with just a touch of the awkwardness of 8th graders at their first junior high dance – who will be the first to ask whom for that dance?  Right about the midpoint of our collective and individual glasses, the song changed and it seemed like the logical moment to extend my hand to Andi.  Derrick followed suit.

Andi stepped better than me – she never answered that question about how she learned – like, I-need-to-really-pay-attention-to-not-screw-up, better.  When I had moment to glance over at Derrick and Monica, they were really good too.

We took a few turns on the dance floor before the ladies went to the restroom and Derrick and I adjourned to the bar.

Standing at the bar next to a couple of early 50s Black women, Derrick and I ordered a couple of Bourbons for me and Monica, and a couple of glasses of generic red wine for him and Andi.  The woman nearest me, a younger Nancy Wilson clone, leaned over to me and whispered, almost conspiratorially, “at least they know how to step.”


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