I know Maria will be late because she’s always late for everything. She doesn’t have the most primitive sense of punctuality, something she didn’t mention on her Match.com profile. After our first couple of dates though I’ve begun to understand it and refrain from scolding here which does no good. She will not be scolded, especially by a person she still has so little emotional investment in.
Its a relief to leave the noise and smell of the city streets outside. Standing in the entrance lobby of Antonio’s, I glance across the road where my car is parked and it hits me - did I lock the door? I don’t remember. I’m forgetting everything. I’m not that old, but I’m not that young.
The hostess is approaching. She’ll be looking at me glancing over my shoulder wondering what kind of idiot is standing here is her trendy bistro.
I raise my finger imperiously - “Just a second. Be right back. One second.”
I can feel her eyes on my back as I step into the street and look around like a man maybe waiting for a hail of gunfire or something. The traffic is light, and one of my four insurance policies obly covers me if there’s a fatal accident, but still I wait and dodge the cars. I need to make out my will and power of attorney and I bought some computer software for it but can’t bring myself to do it. I just hate to think about dying. Wills are like seat belts. Nice ot have, but you don;t need them until you need them like being seat belted in that fiery plane plummeting to the ground and I almost never fly anyway. So.
I skip over yo the door and I can see from here the button is down. Good enough. I wait for the traffic to thin and cross the street halfway and - are the windows up? Christ.
Back across the street. Windows up. Back across the street the other way to the restaurant. Fuck, I look like an idiot. Or a man losing what’s left of his mind. Hopping up on the curb I can see through the glass the hostess gave up on me. Ye of little faith. Now she’ll be surprised to see me back like I said I would. Bet a lot of people do that. Turn around. Think, fuck, this place is expensive as shit, what am I doing here? Hard to do with a woman at your side, but Maria is the first woman I’ve even tried to take out in years.
Standing at the reception podium looking around. She’s gone. Is she mad at me? Maybe because I wasted her time. I’ll she’s thinking what a dork I am. Some broke down dork who can’t afford this place. Do I look like it? Aren’t I dressed well enough? I know I don’t look like anyone special, I hate when people judge me by my shoes. People can be so shallow. Whatever became of inner beauty? I should shout to the restaurant staff “I’m a nice person really.” That would make them think how they treat people. Not just tips.
I take my cell phone off my belt while I stand here like a fool. My face is reflected back to me in the blank black glass. I tap the screen get my password login in and check for messages from Maria. Nothing yet. She’ll be here.
Unless she’s fucking somebody.
I said something to her last time about being late. Did that get to her? She didn’t seem mad. She doesn’t always show her feelings the way women do. She’s different.
What if she’s a dude?
I haven’t actually seen her naked yet. Is this going to be like that movie “Crying Game”, where you get her alone and the dress comes off and there’s a dick hanging there?
No. No, no, no. Please God no.
The hostess is here. “How many, sir?”
“Two.” I hold up two fingers like a peace sign.
“Follow me.” She grabs a black leather bound (always a bad sign) menu and carries it like the Ten Commandments. I follow after like a little lamb. The waiters are looking at me. She’s been talking to them about me. I hate when people do that. If they can’t say something nice, why not just shut the fuck up and make the world a better place for the rest of us?
“May I offer you a booth or a table?”
I open my mouth to say table, but tables are so much in the open. They lack intimacy. I want intimacy tonight. I want to find out how Maria is feeling, if she’s okay, if we’re okay, if this relationship is going to work. Two dates is a relationship. I mean, okay I said something about being late once before, but if somebody loves you they can get past that. You have to give people space. If you can’t give them space for something like that, you’re just too damn sensitive for your own good. I like sensitive people, but people have to be reasonable too. I don’t want to be with an unreasonable woman.
They say when people marry, a woman worries her new husband is going to turn out to be a loser. A man worries his wife is going to turn out to be crazy.
“Sir? Booth or table, sir?”
I hate the way she says “sir”. That little flip at the end. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I could just smack her.
“Booth, maybe that one.” I point at one facing near the door. I’m always pointing at everything like I don’t have a voice or something. It’s like I treat people like idiots and don’t even know I’m doing it. Fuck, she’s going to be laughing at me again. And I deserve it. There, mommy, that one. The hell’s wrong with me.
This table here has a good view of the door. I’m glancing at the menu and the prices are telling me why I’ve never been here before. I want to impress Maria, I want her to be all right, but she’s going to think I’ve got way more money than I have. Loser.
She slaps down the menu. She goes away. I watch after her. She’s talking to the bar man. She smiles. Raises her index finger and makes little pointy jabs. The barman smiles.
Jesus. The fun never stops.
I hope maria doesn’t show up. I’m too nuts, too wound up. I don’t really want her to see me like this. I don’t even know if she’s going to show up but I have to drink something to justify my sitting at a table in case this place fills up with people who can actually afford it. If she sees my big face hanging out like this, like I can’t even talk to anybody now, she’s going to know. Loser. Out. She’ll be gone like that.
The place is filling up.
I take out my phone, my face in the black glass looking back and I punch in my password and check for messages from her. Nothing. Women can be so tough,
People are standing at the door waiting to get in. The girl with the leather menus herds the cattle past me and the tables are starting to fill. They glance at me as they go by. They want my table. This a good table. I know a good table, one that feels cozy, and everybody wants it.
“Are you ready to order, sir?”
The waiting standing behind me has approached silently more of a pressure wave than a presence. He’s looking down benevolently, waiting on me to disappoint him. I haven’t even looked at the menu. “I’m going to be waiting for somebody.” I point at the door.
“Would you like a drink while you’re waiting? We have wine, soft drinks and a full bar.”
You can see the light go out of his eyes. No big spender here. No big tip. “Coffee.” I have to drink something, its way too late for coffee and I’m already half jumping out of my skin but I have to justify - rent - my presence at this choice table until Maria shows up.
He snaps his little memo book closed, nods and leaves.
Where is she? Is she coming? Oh yeah, I’ll bet she is. With a lover, right now. I Bet your ass she’s coming, little buddy, somewhere with some guy. In a big bed somewhere, maybe right now? Everyday and twice on Sunday, and you thought you were going to get a little piece of that?
I’ve never fallen in love. Not in my life. I don’t even know what it feels like to be madly in love, to give someone that power to hurt you. I’ve never wanted to give anyone that power. But that’s the deal. That’s the price. I hate that. But I want to be in love so bad. What if its too late for me? What if, whatever that muscle is, those love neurons, maybe they’ve gone dead in me by now. Atrophied. Can emotions atrophy if you don’t use them enough? You don’t use them, you don’t take a chance and that part of your soul goes dead forever? Does the heart just forget how? This woman might have been my last chance at love.
The waiter comes back, without a friendly or even subservient word, sets the bright saucer and cup of black coffee down. He sets down three little white creamer tubs next to it and moves on to a table that’s just been seated in front of me, a man and a woman. Well dressed and happy.
I look at my face in the black pool of the coffee, looking back. My face. Does Maria like this face? Is this a face to grow old with? Who would want to? I look in the eyes and I see fear but I don’t see love. I should see hope, but I’m not seeing hope. But aren’t hope and fear two sides of the same thing?
I don’t like my face on nights like this. What if I can never love, maybe I’m just a nut bomb like the Joker waiting to go off. Maybe I’ll be one of those guys who shoots up a bunch of people for nothing and then kills himself. She could have saved me from being that guy.
The black leather menu continues to lurk.
“I got all the money I need,” says the guy at the table in front of me. “I got it and all I want to do is just live the life. Live the fucking life. Life is joy. Life is fun. I’m going to the World’s fair in Dubai in 2020, and I’m going first class.”
“How much does that cost?” says the woman he’s with.
“Who gives a fuck? Fifteen hundred last I looked. But you got to. Its thirty six hours, and first class you can lay down. All the way down.”
“And the mile high club?”
“Fucking A, straight up. How did you know? Damn right.” He laughs, haw haw haw. “You can fit two on those seats, honey, if they’re both laying down.” He takes a slug of whiskey in a short glass, pauses as though he can feel the focus of my ears like radar. “You got to live life. I mean I’m done worrying, I don’t get people who worry - live! You got to live! I don’t understand people who don’t live. What are they taking up my oxygen for? December I got my buddies coming down from Charlotte, gonna take them to Atlanta for the Falcons game. Fuck that shit! Straight up! We are gonna have a blast. Life is too short. I’m living it, I tell you I’m living it.”
“You’re living it.”
“I’m living it, goddamn right. Now you get it. You get it. I got this working. I got that working. I got the mojo working. I’m having fun. This is what life is all about. Can’t beat this shit with a stick. Get that! Just pay it. Just pay it, just go. Life is joy, why don’t people get that?”
People are standing up at the door, waiting for little old me to get my ass out. Okay. I give up. You guys win.
I stand, leave a five on the table to cover the coffee and whatever all and slink out.
Behind me the people have practically tackled the table I had. The loud guy is turned around and everybody’s laughing and grabbing his hand.
The sky is clear. Stars. You don’t always see stars in the city sky. That’s pretty good. That’s nice.
There in the moon in the black sky I see a face, which could maybe be smiling.
She didn’t show up. Okay. That’s okay. And what do you know. I’m still alive and I haven’t done anything evil to anyone.
A few steps, the city sounds of cars and the funky smell of steam. Walking. Moving down the sidewalk. Cheng’s Dumpling Town. I’ll check that out. I feel like some Chinese. Alone.
Meanwhile up above me, the stars are falling.