My friends and I walk through the streets of Staunton in Patagonia vests, knitted scarves, gloves and headbands, fighting the bitter cold and complaining about how windy it is, reapplying Burt’s Bees or Vaseline or those weird egg-chapsticks every five minutes.
We drop into a vintage store where I make jokes about My Boyfriend James Dean until my friends tell me I’m being loud and that they don’t know who that is. I find the entire Goosebumps series and a little piano.
Our fingerless gloves and winter vests, we realize, are not keeping us warm enough and we decide we’ll get a cup of coffee. We find the By & By, a little coffee shop on the corner of these historical streets! Perhaps General Robert E. Lee once found himself ordering black coffee and hardtack at this very same spot!
I set Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop in front of me and hand my friend her knitting supplies that I’ve been carrying around in my “tote” as it’s called and I don’t like to call it. I open my book but am suddenly distracted,
“I’m actually religious about my hot sauces.”
There is a man sitting two tables away from me waving his hands in the air talking a mile a minute about Tabasco and Tapatio and the difference between the two and how absolutely dreadful Texas Pete is. I wonder to myself,
“What is this man doing” and “I hope he is not on a date right now.”
This man, I find after some more intensive eavesdropping, is, in fact, on a date. It is going poorly, I think. He’s dressed in boots and skinny jeans and a flannel. He has brown hair that’s gelled back like Ross’s in the first season of Friends. I can’t see his face and I am too afraid to look at hers for fear that she will become aware that I am listening and not, as it appears, reading this book that I don’t understand. It’s minute four of his hot sauce rant and I am starting to feel truly uncomfortable, even in my chair, 8 feet away from this strange little man.
I shift uncomfortably in my seat and start to lean into the table so that maybe I can hear a little better. This is a poor choice, I find, because I only grow more uncomfortable when I hear him start to talk about “The Perks of Using Yahoo.”
Her phone rings just as he is beginning to talk about Bing. I look closely at her: I notice she looks bored. Black eyeliner encircles both eyes underneath her glasses. She has short hair that she parts in the middle and has dyed three different shades of brown in three distinct sections. She looks about 30. I imagine that she is regretting her late divorce and consequently has been guilted into this date by her Co-worker That She Only Pretends To Be Friends With.
Looking for a way out of a conversation about Bing, she picks up the phone. It’s her “Meemaw.”
They begin to talk about something I am too bored to really listen to, something about visiting soon. Then the woman says,
“I’m at lunch with a Friend, Meemaw, I’ll call you later” and I think I see a little saliva fly from her lips as she spits the word Friend, the F a dagger to the ears and the self-esteem of the man sitting across from her.
Friendzoned in front of Meemaw is an absolutely acceptable punishment for a man that uses Bing.
In response to this bleeding, gaping hole that this woman has left in his heart and in whatever dignity he has, this man tells her his best friend is “the love of [his] life.” The woman takes the rejection well. Maybe with a sigh of relief.
I see myself taking the woman’s side. This, to me, has become an issue of social injustice. She is sitting so close to the door. She could reach the handle from here.
But she doesn’t. Instead, this 30 year old woman, starts to rave about The Fault in Our Stars. Through her sort-of horn-rimmed glasses, I look for a trace of irony in her eyes without staring too noticeably. There is none. They are the blank eyes, an indication of the empty brain, of the sort of person who thoroughly enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars. I’m thrown into a horrible confusion–I am now disturbed by them both equally. Maybe these people are good for each other.
I lose pieces of their conversation while I wonder about this but am fortunately able to tune back in just as this man confesses he “cried during Cars.”
I wonder what I could have possibly missed that allowed for this man to feel like this was appropriate information to share on a first date.
I am silenced by his next words, “Unfortunately, I’m a silent cryer. I open my mouth and just sort of shake.”
I’m not sure if he understands, but because of this Truly Horrifying Sentence, this woman must now find this man wholly repulsive. He could have said “I like mayonnaise,” said he played handbells professionally, said that he “loved himself most when he was Irish dancing,” revealed that he was wearing women’s underwear because he “likes the security,” and those things would have been more attractive.
I let out an actual snort. Both the man and the woman, as well as four others, turn around to look at me and so I feel pressured to pretend to sneeze three times before I bury my head back into page 41.
Closely following my faux-sneezes, this woman admits that she is, in fact, pregnant. I choke on my coffee and a little comes out my nose. My friends put down their knitting needles and winter-colored yarns to ask me if I am alright.
I tell them in whispering hisses that this woman is pregnant and we start to wonder if this man knew before the date that he’s just sat down with a woman who may very well be looking for a kind of commitment he is not quite prepared for.
My friends start to talk about the pros and cons of sororities and I shush them and kick them under the table so that I’m able to hear this woman explain to her date What The Hell Is Going On.
She’s just got out of a long-term relationship in July, she says. She’s divorced. (I knew it.) She’s pregnant.
“Have you stayed friends?” he asks.
“Oh, yeah. We’re good friends still.”
The man leans back in his chair, dejected.
These people are so bad at dating.
I breathe a sigh of relief as I hear them starting to talk about normal things. Their childhood, where they grew up, who they grew up with. She was born somewhere in California that I wasn’t quite able to catch because my friends are talking about what their freshman years of college will be like. But between their musings about “how much they will drink” and how they “don’t want to be sluts” I hear her say,
“Yeah, women are so weird. I grew up with seven brothers, so…”
“So what?” I think, “So you don’t menstruate?”
This man responds to her normal first-date kind of information, and shares his normal first-date kind of information in an extremely irregular way, by saying he was “conceived on Southern soil” and then born 10:21 a.m. in Waynesboro. He says with a gross amount of pride the same things that everyone from Appalachia says, “I have the option of being proud I’m from the South, but you know Virginia is really both, so I can be from the North, too.”
The woman sneezes into her hands.
He’s never broken a bone. He calls his high school girlfriend “untouchable ground,” that he only was able to touch because her father was his dentist and he somehow feels that this is a sufficient explanation. This woman does not ask further questions probably because she doesn’t want to hear her date talk about his ex-girlfriend(s). His mother works at the Holiday Inn Express. He has only traveled to the Deep South and Upstate New York.
He has a cousin named Tubby.
He starts to tell a story about how he almost had a brain tumor. The story ends with him not having a brain tumor.
Their body language has relaxed. The woman is leaned forward on the table. It seems to me that she wants to hear him talk about his almost brain tumor.
There is someone for everyone.
I realize now that her hair reminds me of Neapolitan ice cream.
Her laugh sounds like the horn my dad put on my first bicycle after we took off the training wheels. The man doesn’t laugh at all. He just slaps the table three times. Every time, it’s three times and a half-snort.
The woman is trying to remember a story and saying “oh, what was it? what was it? what was it that he said?” The man half-snorts and then calls her a “wet brain.” This catches her off guard, and makes me feel like he’s into weird things sexually.
The pause in the conversation after he says this is uncomfortable. He gets up and says he’s going to get a refill on his cappuccino. His boots clack loudly on the hardwood. He’s wearing a flannel. He looks like Ethan Hawke. He has a mustache like George McClellan’s. I think about how it is weird that I know what kind of facial hair George McClellan had. He sits down with his refill and the woman says she has to go.
I think it is weird that she would wait for him to get a refill to tell him she has to go. But he jumps up and puts on his leather jacket. She stands up and puts on an electric blue hoodie and opens the door for herself. And as I watch them walk away, I see him pop the collar of his leather jacket, and I watched her flip up her hood. I wonder if there will be a second date, or a third, and if she is afraid to have her baby, and if he is afraid that she is having a baby, and if he wants to have kids and if he will ever get rid of that terrible mustache and if she will ever stop shopping at Plato’s Closet.