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?


Cooking for Those Racing to the Bottom

1 September 2010

I got the call way too early for my taste [ed. note – the way my insomnia manifests varies, but lately it has me finally finding sleep just after sunrise. So calls before 9am are highly unpleasant.] Her voice was way too perky for pre-caffeinated discussion. However, she quickly identified herself as a new client, so I rallied my attentions to have a good conversation. We coverec her planned date (last Saturday,) how she came to contact me (referral from this client,) the number of guests, style of food, and then I heard the two words that stir concern in the heart of any service industry professional:

Bachelorette Party

I have long considered the pre-marriage descent into bacchanalian excess to be to be in the same category as tequila shots, dates with ex’s, and Kevin Costner films*. That is to say: things that have the patina of a good idea but whose shine quickly fades leaving nothing but the dull hue of impending regrets.

Against better judgment, and all prior experience, I took the gig anyway. Mostly because it was a referral from a good client, but also because August is too slow of a month to turn down business. I did have a couple of conditions:

  • I will not be making anything in the shape of a penis.
  • I will not use any cheesy double-entendres in the names of any dish, cocktail, or wine.
  • Should there be any strippers involved in the evening, they may not appear until after the dessert course had been cleared.

…and I still knew that it was a bad idea.

The second indication that I should have rejected this gig, was the host preference that I not hire an assistant for service and prep (six guests are not too much for me to handle solo, but the evening goes so much more smoothly with another set of hands.) I certainly should have expressed more concern when the wine order included double the booze that I would have stocked for my hard-drinking friends.

The host, the bride-to-be, and two bridesmaids were already there when I arrived four hours before the cocktail hour. The first hour of prep proceeded without a hitch… then they all came into the kitchen. I don’t mind questions while I cook but after the second bottle of champagne was popped, their queries took a decidedly more lurid tone. It was the laziness and insincerity of the flirtations that bothered me most. None of them were truly directed at me as much as they were intended for an objectified me – I was simple a placeholder representing any man in their proximity. The pack dynamic was fully displayed with each of these woman trying to one-up the others. It was unseemly.

By the time I served the Prosecco Poached Berries with Hazelnut Whipped Cream I had endured a handful of inappropriate touches, too many flaccid innuendos to count, and overheard a baker’s dozen of suggestions about ways to use “any sauce [I] had left over.”

[ed. note: I am not suggesting – even for the split second it takes to over-poach an egg – that my experience is in any way comparable to what too many women endure in the presence of undignified men.]

As I was cleaning, the host and the maid of honor came into the kitchen to thank me for my efforts, and to “apologize if the girls got a little too rowdy.” The host, followed that by placing a handful of bills in the back pocket of my jeans as a tip.

I was almost done packing my things when she came into the kitchen once more.

Refugee, everything really was lovely, I’m never cooking for a dinner party again. Are you available the first Saturday of October for another dinner of about the same size?”

No, I’m not” I replied with a full stop that I hoped would prevent further inquiry.

Oh, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re booked that far in advance” the host said with a slight slur.

I should have left things there, but my lessor demons shouted down the better angles so I responded “I didn’t say I was booked, just that I’m not available.”

*exceptions made for The Untouchables & Bull Durham… and maybe Dances with Wolves too


I Asked, You Answered, I Dated, and I…

10 August 2010

I was looking forward to my date with the Conservative Nutter in the way that I anticipate an ultra deep tissue massage – you know it’s gonna hurt like hell but the results (a good blog post at worst) are worth it.

I prefer to arrive at first dates (especially online dates) early. Call it a function of my anal-retentive punctuality, or a tactical decision to get the seat with the best vantage points, either way twenty minutes before the appointed hour, I was seated on the courtyard patio of one of my favorite winebars.

CN was on time but underwhelming. From fifteen yards away, I could tell that her pictures were 30 pounds out of date. Five yards out, I could tell the pictures were 5 years old too. It’s not that she was suddenly unattractive or that she was outside of the rather broad range of women I find appealing, rather it’s the feeling of being duped. Bait-and-Switch is not a phrase that should apply to dating and I’m also not thrilled about the self-image issues associated with clearly deceptive images. The thoughts bounced through my head but weren’t given display on my face or in deed.

We seemed to have a certain instant comfort – there was no awkward “is that really you” moment, no hug-oops-handshake-oops-hug – and we jumped quickly into typical first-date conversations.

I wish I could you write that there were some particularly blog-juicy moments, or some grand manifestation of our political differences, but they just weren’t there. CN was about as conservative as she seemed but she wasn’t really a nutter as much as she was grossly uniformed. While there wasn’t overt flirting (at least from my side of the table) there was some casual curiosity if not a very low flame of chemistry. But that was it. No great stories to be told, or lines to be relived.

The woman I met at the bar after I left my brief date, yeah, about her there are stories to be told and a night to be relived… and I’ll tell that story tomorrow.


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.


For Whom Doth The Sexy Bell Toll?

19 April 2010

My very dear friend, The Only Slightly Sleazy Lobbyist, and I deluded ourselves into thinking that we were still athletes one recent Sunday.  We played a couple of hours of “hang-over tennis” on a gorgeous afternoon.  After removing protective knee braces, ankle supports, and our respectively bruised egos, we made our way back across the river to grab some beer and sit on his patio with his neighbor and our friend, The Pistol.

The Pistol earned her nickname because of her fierce mind, liberal politics, staunch feminism, irreverent wit, and more than occasionally profane vocabulary.   She is near the top of both of our lists of favorite people.

As we were leaving the corner store with a few six packs of Bell’s Oberon in tow, OSSL told me that he had recently received an email from Southern Charmer, once a relatively recent college grad who OSSL helped land a job in his field.

“Refresh my memory, which one is the Southern Charmer?” I inquired.

“You met her that night at Cashion’s.”

“OSSL, over the years, I’ve met more than a couple of women with you at Cashion’s, more information please.”

“She was the one with the really see-through shirt and the great rack.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I remember her now. How’s she doing?”

“Eh, she’s alright I suppose… she’s just contacting me because she wants to change jobs.”

“Refresh my memory about why you stopped dating her?” I asked.

“We weren’t dating, I was just helping her out.”

“You took her to a nice restaurant, you each dressed for the occasion, you paid the tab, you two flirted.  Call it whatever you want but it still smells like a rose.”

“Fine, whatever, but it stopped that night you two met… it was the hypocrisy that really turned me off” OSSL declared in a partial confirmation of the rosy aroma.

“What hypocrisy?” I asked.

“Well, she wears this see through shirt with her rather large rack on display in some fucking Victoria Secret Wonderbra, and then bitches about how ‘gross’ it was that men always leered at her.  I mean, you can’t have it both ways.  When a woman wears a shirt like that it’s because she wants men to leer at her.”

“Pump your brakes for a second” I replied.  “I’m not saying it’s likely you’re wrong, but it is dangerous to ascribe motivations to the actions of others.  I’ll concede that she might have been foolish not to expect the looks, but it’s not appropriate to suggest that she actively wanted them.”

“I call bullshit on that” OSSL fired back, “Women who dress that way want that kind of attention.”

By this point, we were parking the car. I tried to make my point more clear – “I’m saying that you’re probably right in your assertions about Southern Charmer, as you are probably right about most women who attire themselves that way, however, it is a bridge too far to suggest that all women who wear something revealing or particularly sexy do so for the attentions of men.  Perhaps they dress for themselves, perhaps they wear something like that because it makes them feel sexy.”

We argued for a few moments more before I said “Let’s let The Pistol weigh in on this… and I’ll bet she’ll agree with me.

The Pistol was already sitting on OSSL’s porch when we rounded the corner of his building.  We popped three bottle caps and immediately delved into the conversation.

“I gotta say, I am more aligned with OSSL on this one” The Pistol said in a declaration that surprised all three of us.  “For most women, sexy is inter-related with how other people react to us… and I would bet that the same is true for men too.”

“I’m not saying that reaction from women isn’t a part of it for men, and vice versa for women, just that it is only a part of it.  More importantly, I am stating that surely some women, and men too, dress exclusively for how it makes them feel.  She surely would be a fool to expect that with her boobs essentially on display that men wouldn’t look.”  It was another unsuccessful attempt to convince OSSL and The Pistol of my point.

“Refugee, are you seriously telling me that when you wear one of those fancy suits of yours” The Pistol began before pausing briefly and concluding with “You really don’t wear them for how women respond to you in them?”

“Pistol, I have three kinds of suits in my closet: good suits, great suits, and meeting ex-girlfriends suits.  When I wear the latter, there is an extra spring in my step but that spring exists on my way to the Metro before I have seen another person.  I wear those suits for me first, and any extra attention I get from women is just the cherry atop the sartorial sundae.”

We argued for a few more minutes before I admitted the failure of my persuasion and changed the subject to that day’s edition of Meet the Press…. But, Gentle Readers, I pose these questions to you:

  • Does a woman wearing something revealing inherently want the eyes or attention of men, or women if she is so oriented?
  • Is it possible for women to wear something risqué just because of how it makes them feel and not as a cry for that attention?
  • Or does the answer exist in some other explanation?

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.


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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