This one’s kind of long, and I’m sure there are those in my little constituency who might be put off by what appears to be a catalogue of pathetic shallow/callow skirt-chasing episodes. Please stick with it, though. It does come to a point eventually.
In the uncertain interval between the several ends of my crappy first marriage and the beginning of the promised land that is my last marriage, I wandered the earth like Caine in Kung Fu, only spending more time looking for what the world had to offer me than for what I could offer it. One of the things I did in that time was to collect memorable stories of how I met women. I was hopeful that these would be the amusing and saucy tales we could tell our grandchildren, or, failing that, the crucial “meet cute” moment when I later adapted my misadventures as a romantic comedy. Instead, ten years later, all they are is blog fodder. So here are a few, in what turns out to be not only chronological order but also roughly increasing level of cuteness and decreasing level of sexual and/or romantic payoff. All of them took place in New Orleans between 1993 and 1996.
I met L___ shooting pool at Checkpoint Charlie’s. I liked Checkpoint Charlie’s – people called it Checkpoint’s for short, but I still can’t bring myself to muddle the possessive that way. The pool tables were far enough away from the stage that you could still have a somewhat intelligible conversation while some lousy band was playing. Also, you could shoot pool while doing your laundry. I never did that at Checkpoint Charlie’s, though I did it quite frequently at Igor’s, its sister bar, when I lived in that neighbourhood. Put clothes on to dry. Get drink. Shoot pool. Forget clothes. Find them all wrinkly a couple hours later. Put in another quarter to tumble out the wrinkliness. Get another drink. Repeat as necessary. Anyway, L___ was shooting pool with V_______, V_______ lost, and I was up next to play the winner. I’d been mesmerized watching them because they were hot young things and I was drunk, unhappy, and nearing thirty alone. I was impressed with L___’s play. She could really shoot, unlike V_______, who mostly posed. The liquor had loosened my truss of self-consciousness to the point where I could actually speak to a strange woman, and we carried on a harmlessly flirty conversation while we played. Then she made a flawlessly executed reverse bank, and it just sort of jumped out like a sneeze: “Marry me,” I said. She laughed. “Why?” “Because,” I said, groping for the “because,” “it’s always been an ambition of mine to marry a woman who looks like you and shoots pool like you.” Awful stuff, yes, and utterly transparent, but L___ was 19 – more sexually experienced than me at 29 with a marriage behind me, but still only 19. Where a 19-year-old girl is concerned, you can never go wrong with hyperbolic flattery. Nothing came of it, of course. That night is notable today mostly because I also met Avenuu, who became and remains one of my nearest and dearest friends, though we hardly ever talk now, and I hope she reads this faversham and knows I still think of her. But L___ and I became drinking buddies, and eventually I was the handy crying shoulder, and then one night we had sex, and whodathunkit, it really did ruin everything. Guess there’s something in that old trope after all.
I met J___ while I was doing a break-and-enter with the intent to leave some money behind.
Pretty catchy, huh?
I owed a recent ex-roommate ten dollars. It was Friday night, I’d just been paid, and I had the usual night of serious drinking in the Quarter, but I very carefully set aside the ten dollars for the ex-roommate and enough for a cab ride back uptown. The ex-roommate worked the graveyard shift at Marquette House, the youth hostel which had been my first Orleanian home, and the best way to catch him was generally at work. Unfortunately, when I showed up at the hostel at three in the morning, the front door was locked and he was nowhere to be found. I rang several times and got no answer. I knew that if I left with the ten dollars in my pocket, I’d surely spend it before I saw my friend again, and I was determined not to let that happen. I was familiar enough with the hostel to know it wasn’t exactly Fort Knox. There was a gate round the corner that let onto the rear courtyard, and from there I could get into any part of the building. All I had to do was get past the gate. I tottered around the corner and looked. It was padlocked, and tall. I wasn’t very confident about being able to hop it in the condition I was in. Then I spotted a ladder up against the wall of the main building. What could be easier? I dragged the ladder over to the fence, propped it up, and climbed to the top. From there, it was just a matter of launching myself over the fence and dropping to the courtyard below. I did; I was wearing a long coat which billowed behind me as I leapt (but did not, thank god, snag on the top of the fence). I made an improbably perfect three-point landing, feeling like Spider-Man. Then I stood up and saw J___ on the balcony above me, smoking, and coolly watching the bizarre show I had been putting on. “Would you like a cigarette?” she asked. I didn’t smoke, so I said, “Yes!” and hurried up the stairs to join her. I babbled at her not to worry, that I was breaking into the place only for the cause of good, not evil. She listened, amused, and gave me the cigarette, which I then felt obliged to smoke. She was English, a little older than me, pretty and sophisticated. She worked for the BBC and was on leave, traveling the world. I told her the reason for my break-in, and enlisted her aid. I left the money at the desk with a note, then J___ helped me move the ladder back where I found it. She had just come in too from a night on the town, and somehow I persuaded her that the best way for us both to cap off the evening was to go over to Igor’s for another one. Either she was adventurous or I was clearly harmless or both (probably both), because we ended up back at my dank little cave, where she let me get just a tad past second base but very sternly no farther. We saw each other a few more times through the duration of her stay, but I was clearly too desperate a puppydog, and she undertook to ditch me. She later sent some letters as she went around the world and a particularly nice postcard from Bora Bora. I called her once in England when I was drunk and lonely. Then she ditched me for good, which is understandable but kind of a shame. She was a really interesting person and if I hadn’t been so focused on macking on her, I might have made a long-term friend. I wonder what she’s up to now.
I had my eye on M_____ for weeks before I finally met her. I’d see her on the Magazine Street bus on my way to work, tall and posed, serious-looking but with tellingly kooky accessories. I was pretty sure she worked at the hospital too. Then I started spotting her in the Quarter and became all the more intrigued. Most everybody else at the hospital dwelt in the ‘burbs and viewed me indulgently as the office freak (except C_______, of course, but that’s a different topic). It would be quite something to have an ally of sorts, a kindred spirit moving in the same bipolar circles. The problem was I was rarely drunk on my way to work and so could conceive of no way to speak to her in that setting. Then one day I got caught in the rain. There had been rain in the forecast, but for some reason I’d gone to work without my umbrella. Does that sound familiar? I guess I have kind of a history with this. Anyway, I was squatting against a wall at Magazine and Henry Clay, hunched in on myself and trying to will the downpour to stop, looking like the cat at the end of a Pepe le Pew cartoon, when M_____ walked over and said, “Do you want to share my umbrella?” I looked up with pathetic gratitude and, seeing who it was, eagerly exclaimed “Yes.” Had she offered me a cigarette I would have smoked that too. We huddled together under her brolly waiting for the bus and I tried in my limited way to carpe the diem. We learned each other’s names – she’d noticed me, too, how splendid! – and where we worked and what we did. It turned out her desk was roughly fifty paces from my own. Who knew? We also learned we had common acquaintances in the Quarter and so on and so forth. We sat together on the bus and talked all the way to her stop. I couldn’t figure out a way to invite myself home with her, so I went to my dank little cave alone.
Over the weeks that followed, we got to know each other better, having lunch together at work, running into each other in the Quarter now and then, having the odd drink or coffee. I was soon panicked to realise that I was stuck in a mode of studied formality and couldn’t see any way out of it. M_____ was surely waiting for me to make some sort of move – she kept coming back for more – but I somehow couldn’t see what was so plainly expected of me. I kept behaving as though eye contact might frighten her off. Finally one day she said to me, with a note of finality, “I had a boyfriend like you. You’re the kind of guy who makes things too complicated.” I was baffled by that at the time, though her meaning is obvious in retrospect. I was making too big a deal out of the simplest transaction. I could have just kissed her on a dozen occasions, but always had to second-guess the moment. I still think she was only half right, though. I build the thing up beforehand, but if I can get just a little nudge to start me, all is splendid simplicity thereafter.
I don’t even remember this girl’s name, but we had what would have been a perfect “how we met” story if there’d been anything to it other than the meeting. On Hallowe’en of 1994, I had just quit my job at the fuck motel (I really have to post about that place one day) and celebrated my freedom from being professionally obligated to speak with morons (i.e., the paying public) by taking a 24-hour vow of silence. I was tired of the consequences of things I’d said, and thought it would be at the very least interesting to see if I could go a day without saying a word. What better day than Hallowe’en? It struck me that I could even use this as an excuse not to wear a costume to any of the revels. I would go as a mute.
I decided I should get out of the house as early as possible so as not to freak out little trick-or-treaters by opening the door and staring at them without talking. I called a cab and when it arrived, I said what I planned to be my last words of the night: “Canal and Carondelet.” There was a party at David J’s place. I arrived with a steno pad on which I had written several phrases I thought might be handy throughout the night. One was “Excuse me for not talking to you. I am a mute for Hallowe’en.” The next page said, “Hello (your name here), you’re looking lovely as usual tonight.”
One of the people I ran into that night was Ken F, who was visiting from New York. He had left New Orleans for graduate studies at Columbia some months before, and I hadn’t seen him in yonks. It perversely amused me to greet a long-unseen friend with complete silence. As it turned out, we talked though I didn’t speak. We had a long conversation, started off at David’s and continued through several bars – I distinctly remember spending part of the time at the R Bar, and naturally enough ended up at Molly’s. Through the entire crawl, we had a long conversation – we later agreed it was the best we’d ever had with one another – through the medium of my steno pad. Ken would say something, then wait patiently while I wrote my reply down on the pad. I have no idea what we talked about, but I still have that steno pad somewhere in my crap in the basement, so at least my half of the conversation survives. I’ll have to dig it up someday (at the risk of crushing disappointment).
When I had finally hit the beverage wall I wrote Ken goodbye and stumbled out front to catch a cab. It was only a moment before one pulled up, and as I started forward, a woman I hadn’t notice stepped forward too. There was that awkward pause – who was there first? Neither of us knew. She had a beehive. She was the Bride of Frankenstein. I thought she looked smashing. She said, “Are you headed uptown?” Oh, here now. I was stuck. A vow is a vow is a vow. I could not speak. I nodded. She said, “Do you want to split the cab?” I nodded again. We got in. Okay, practical logistics. I had had some notion of passing the cabbie a page from the steno pad with my address on it, but that seemed too freaky with a witness. Stymied, I gave myself special dispensation to say my intersection and no more. “Freret and Joseph,” I said. Beehive girl gave an address further uptown. She looked at me. “What did you do tonight?” she asked. “Shit,” thought I, “I’m done for now.” I really didn’t see any alternative. I said, “I took a vow of silence and these are the first words I’ve spoken all night.” Here’s how simple I am; it didn’t even occur to me what a great line that was. “You’re so hot I’m already breaking vows for you,” is what she heard. It worked like those gangbusters you’re always hearing about. She was purring at me all the way to my place. I don’t remember the specifics of that conversation very well, either. I know we talked about movies. When the cab got to my destination, we had another one of those awkward pauses; we both had twenties and weren’t sure how to split the fare. “Forget about it,” she said, “I’ll pay.” “Okay,” I said, “but you have to let me take you to the movies to pay you back.” Look at me, Smoove B. I got her number and went back to my house wondering what in the hell I’d do about it once I sobered up.
Ambrose would say I should have just taken her back to my place or gone on with her to hers. Ambrose would be correct.
When I called her in the cold light of day, it was clear that sparks weren’t flying sober over the telephone the way they were drunk in the back of a cab, but we soldiered on and made the date anyway. I got the impression she was doing it just to keep her word. Well, I’ll settle for that. We met at Candace on Conti (which doesn’t exist anymore), and had banal conversation for a while. She still looked smashing. I looked like a guy who hadn’t been taught how to dress. Worse, I looked like a guy who was better off sticking with the vow of silence. I’d been Joe Blarney throughout that cab ride. Now I couldn’t think of a thing to say to her. Mercifully, it was a movie date, so not much talking was required.
Could it get worse? It got worse. The movie was Francis Ford Coppola’s Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.* I’d thought it would be appropriate, what with her beehive of the other night. Unfortunately, it was also an overlong tedious slog of self-important puffery. I don’t even remember how we said goodbye, but I never saw her again. It did not in fact become a tale to tell the grandkids.
A few years later I was in Oakland, and completely out of steam. I had had enough of trying to overcome my dating handicaps, and decided that I was just going to abstain from the human race for a while. I was at a barbecue one day and got talking with someone about my dismal life and how I was pretty sure things were all over for me. I had been married, yeah, but I figured it was a fluke. I figured it was pretty much impossible for me to ever have another relationship with a woman. I had nothing like the social life I had in New Orleans. I rarely left the house, and if I did leave the house, my inability to overcome self-consciousness while sober prevented me from ever even presenting myself for consideration. It would take a very forward and very interested woman to get past my natural roadblocks, and it didn't seem likely to me that that would happen twice in my life. You probably see the punchline coming; the someone I was talking with was Mama Dog, and that was really kind of the beginning of everything. “It’s all over for you, huh?” she thought. “I find that strangely intriguing.” And there you have the story we can tell our grandkids.
*Not to be confused with Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though I don’t really know why not.