Tuesday, May 22, 2012
The Date (Blogophilia 13.5)
So, here she was at Manuel’s, her usual fifteen minutes early. A quick glance to make sure the lipstick line was still straight. Satisfied, the compact disappeared into the leather purse. Kari hadn’t been this nervous meeting anyone in quite a long time. But then, it had been at least 20 years since she had been on a blind date. What will he look like? All Mary told her was he was a bachelor with a paying job and no kids. Nothing about how old, or whether he was a slob or a crackhead. Not even the guy’s name. Only that she thought Kari would enjoy his company. Just be at there at 5:30.
Sipping on her gimlet, it seemed like she had never left. The Musak was mostly Sinatra and the political types still hung to their tables like they were still in high school. Tony, the manager, gave her a peck when he saw her and said she could come back to work any time. No. She’d had enough of slinging swill and dealing with the obnoxious, of stepping over the hookers servicing clients on the sidewalk. She was happy for the quiet of her house and workshop. Even if it did mean going out craft fairs and dealing with the obnoxious out there. At least they were sober for the most part and didn’t try to make you their next conquest. But there were so many memories here, both as a patron and an employee. A tear peaked at the corner of her eye and darted back. No need to be that emotional.
Five minutes past the agreed upon time, a short man resembling a refugee from a Jimmy Buffett concert came through the door. His shirt glowed with lemon blossoms and morning glories. Was the on/off switch under the collar or along the back tail? The twill cargo shorts were olive and the ensemble was completed with knock off Topsiders. Only thing missing was the straw boater, which would have hidden the obvious comb over. And a dirt road was prettier than the face. Truly, this was a man in a mid life crisis. The only type she attracted these days.
Then it dawned on her. This was her date. With a slight wave and a cloud of cologne, he came right to the table. The voice was a small and squeaky as the owner.
“Are you Kari? My name’s Steve. Mary Hamilton, I think, is a mutual acquaintance.”
“Yes, I am." She shook the outstretched hand lightly. "I guess she described me well enough.”
“Yeah, she said to look for the river of gray over a field of flowers. She didn’t mention the lovely sun of a face. Oh, Miss! I’ll have a highball and bring the lady another of what she is having”
Sitting down, Kari blushed. That was one of the better lines she had heard. Her hair as a river? That fit. She had always worn it long and she wasn’t vain enough to cover the grey. In fact, she thought it made her stand out a bit more. And her penchant for flowered dresses to match the season was well known. Even the couple of pairs of pants she owned were flower patterned. And when she wasn’t working, she was in her flower beds. Flowers were better than people, except for roses. They were just like them.
But, still she really didn’t want to be here. The drinks appeared in front of them and the waitress disappeared. The silence hung as Steve absentmindedly stirred his drink. Kari stared a picture of Jimmy Carter behind the bar just over Steve’s right shoulder. Would he have any advice on how to get out of this? After 30 seconds, Steve spoke up.
“So, you don’t do blind dates?”
“Absolutely never.” Kari took a sip of her drink. “Well, maybe a few years ago. Really, I don’t go out much. It just is too much trouble.”
“Yeah. I’m kind of the same way. I never liked going into bars and not knowing what or who I was talking to. I really am not the adventurous type. What do you do for a living?”
Twirling her silver mane, she hesitated, and then spoke up. “I buy, sell and make jewelry. Silver, mostly. I’m not what you would call talented, but I have a few designs that seem to sell. And what I can’t make, I usually can find wholesale. I sell mostly at craft fairs and local festivals. Atlanta has enough of a market where I don’t have to travel. And you?’
He stared at the top cube in the glass. “I’m between jobs right now. I am an actuary and the insurance company I worked for got bought out. No great loss. The management sucked. Frankly, I’m happy for the break. I can relax and not worry about some underwriter chewing me out for shorting a minor factor, as if missing it would be the end of the world. There were times the numbers would haunt my dreams. I had to let go of that and remember most of the suits were empty heads and assholes. I guess they needed to be in order to win the rat race.“
Steve took another sip and continued. “People are assholes, no matter what line of work you are in. When I was in college, I worked here at Manuel’s. I’ve known Tony over there since he was about six. Mr. Maloof, Tony’s dad, HE could be an asshole. But, I didn’t mind getting chewed out by him. It was his place and he’d built it with late nights and sweat.” His voice rose a bit. “ But when the nimrod doing the chewing is some apple polishing pissant, it gets old. But you can’t say anything, because you’ll still get fired.
Kari’s eyes widened. “You worked here? I’ve done three different turns here. Steve? Let me think. Weren’t you the skinny guy with the camp stove? The one we used when we couldn’t get out of the bar when we got the bad snow?”
A big smile came across his face. “That was me. It sure came in handy making the macaroni and cheese. I thought you looked familiar. You usually tended bar with the “Easy Eight” dice top showing 2 and 6. You never took crap off nobody. I came in one night and you were gone. What happened?”
“The old man got drunk and tried to roll my dice after work.” Her eyes crinkling at the memory. “Tony said it took three days for the red to leave his face. Needless to say, I was banned for few weeks. I would sneak in here and there, but I pretty much stayed away until he died. Tony then asked me back and I worked steady here and a couple of other places for several years. One of my customers, a lady, introduced me to jewelry and I gave up the bar life. I would only fill in once in a while when I need mortgage money. I assumed you made it back to school? “
Bitterness crept into the mouse’s squeak. “Sort of. I never really finished. I completed all my course work, but the school came up with some excuse not to let me graduate.” The round face began to flush “I mean, I wasn’t a good student to begin with and I really didn’t like anyone telling me what to do. So I left, claiming the degree and no one asked questions. I found my niche where I could work without being bothered and I didn’t have to play corporate kiss ass games.”
Changing the subject, she asked.
“Want something to eat?”
”Sure.” He waived at the waitress. “I’ll take a cheeseburger plate with fries and another highball.” He glanced at Kari.
“A Reuben plate. And bring a couple of waters.”
Nodding, the Waitress slipped off. Steve and Kari eyes met and held for a moment. The tremor in his face began almost without anyone noticing. The smile melted into a one sided frown as he began to go limp. He tried to speak, but only the most guttural sounds came out. Kari quickly stood up and grabbed Steve’s shoulders and gently eased him to the floor. She put her fingers in her mouth and gave Tony her emergency whistle. Soon every eye turned towards their table.
Steve was coughing and trying to say something, but she put her finger to his lips and said: “Hush, Love. This may be your time. I am glad we were able to reconnect before the bridge. But, relax. If it is your time to cross, it really won’t be painful. And if not, I’ll be here when you awake.”
He relaxed. Kari ran her fingers over his brow and the lids fell like curtains. The sirens from the engines began to filter into her conscience and she stood up to let the EMT’s begin their work. The bright shirt was cut away in just seconds. Then just a few seconds more before all that was left was an empty space between the tables.
Kari bowed her head for a moment and shed a tear. He seemed like a good man. She guessed that was why they met.
Then she turned and left the bar.