You’re sick of meeting men with substance abuse problems in bars. Plus, if you’re so determined to look past superficiality, then surely you can sacrifice a good story about how you met. You attempt to appear a progressive, fascinating person in your profile, listing four irreverent indie bands as your music preference to differentiate yourself from the other vapid whores (sure, you listen to other normal music, but isn’t that a given?). As your profession, you indicate: Member of the Intelligentsia, and under Pet Peeves put: moustaches, skinny jeans, clinginess, and anyone who listens to Top 40. For your profile picture you’ve blurred out your cousin, Rae, so that it’s just you in your favourite white blouse cheersing a glass of wine next to the Back-to-the-Future blur of Rae’s face, a conservative bookmark of cleavage the hint that you’re not all business.
You discard megabytes of easy-going, laid back guys who make no mention of the world’s self-hatred and/or their contribution towards repairing it, delete all headings with the words: “hi”, “hello”, or “hey there”, ignore user names in the family of IHateBoringGirls, ThreesCompany, JiuJitsuJigolo, or MorningPerson, and naturally shun any content along the lines of: “Who wants to write about themselves in a box?”, men with the vocabulary of primates guaranteed to have no good comebacks. Taking a brief mental vacation to scroll through some celebrity gossip, you stop to wonder if you’re not sifting through a picked-over box of Pot of Gold – a few lonely orange liqueurs with bite marks all that’s left for you.
On Monday morning, you make oatmeal with strawberry soy milk and organic almonds and open your inbox. You delete SuperCool69’s message before reading it, read JetScreamer’s message: “Just sittin eatin peanuts, what u up to?” and delete it as well, wishing there was an option that would delete it from your memory, and then you read TripFontaine’s message because the heading is “Recovering the Satellites” and you cried to that album for your entire 21st year.
I’ve read your profile a few times. You don’t fool me.
PS Quick question: What do you think of death? Do you think that’s the end and that’s it?
A little patronizing, but his pictures don’t offend you in any way that you can pinpoint – one shot of him standing precariously close to the edge of a cliff, the other a close-up, his head tipped slightly back but his nostrils quite symmetrical.
Dear TripFontaine, (you write, and feel like you’re writing a letter to Santa)
Normally I wouldn’t dignify the claims of a stranger purporting to “see through” me, but I am a fan of death and would be pleased to discuss it with you.
You leave it at this. You don’t flirt with strangers.
Several messages later, you agree to meet with TripFontaine for Bubble Tea in Gas Town. It’s not a date, you’re just meeting.
That night you lucid dream that you’re flying, (which in your dreams feels more like the swimming levels of Mario World), but you eventually lose your lucidity, trading in your power of flight for the mission of telling people about it – you are from the future, you explain to people. Some of them believe you.
The next morning, before the date, you meticulously apply mineral makeup to camouflage the red flush that has leaked across your face like a plume of blood underwater. You then remove the powder with a wet cotton pad when it begins to look too pasty, put moisturizer on, and begin to apply more. You try on a tight hounds-tooth dress that screams sexy Harvard grad, then choose instead a black turtleneck and a cobalt blue silk petal skirt (which you foolishly pair with a thong, failing to foresee that you’ll be Marilyning it all day due to the spring wind). You try to wear as much jewelery as possible to show mystery.
On your way to Oh Happy Day Bubble Tea, you stop at a newsstand and pretend to care about Kim Kardashian for fifteen minutes to make yourself late, (although he’s later than you when you arrive). At the corner of Burrard, you stop to move a dead squirrel off the street, awkwardly scooping it onto an old newspaper, then placing it beside a garbage can. You try not to look at it too closely but you do notice that its small black eyes have popped out of its head. You assure yourself that it’s at peace now. That its horrible death will surely guarantee it human status upon reincarnation. (Though you wonder if humanity is not a worse fate.)
Once at the cafe, you choose an outdoor table with attractive lighting, arranging your body language to read easy-going (despite the fact that it’s your red flag word online), and try to recall Tyra Banks’ advice on how to position your legs if you enjoy eating things like chocolate. You wonder what he looks like. Sure you’ve seen his face in pictures, but pictures are meant to deceive.
3D TripFontaine walks right past you before turning around. He’s about six feet tall with a slightly smaller build than you were hoping, and for some reason you’d envisioned him wearing a suit. But you do notice that his right eye is slightly larger than his left and you immediately like this trait – assuming it means that he’s left-brained and could compensate for your airhead tendencies. All his features are larger than you would have thought, but then, taking on two extra dimensions can do that to an object, er – man.
Louise? he asks.
Yes, you stand.
Herman, he introduces himself and awkwardly kisses you on the cheek.
Unstoppable flashes of PeeWee radiate behind your eyes. No wonder you’d envisioned him wearing a suit.
Moira, you admit, dismayed at having to shed your alter ego.
Your chamomile arrives now with a suspicious looking wedge of lemon. The waiter – a young man with boy band potential, leaves you a pile of napkins as though predicting a spill. The cafe is busy today, and leashed to a leg of an empty bistro table, a cocker spaniel yelps desperately for its owner inside, a look on its face of grave concern regarding whether it will be left there forever. Its shrieks tighten your stomach.
Herman is a parking lot cleaner. He likes amusement parks, veggie dogs, Stock Ticker, kayaking, squash, urban exploration, and…you don’t hear the rest, versions of: this isn’t a date accumulating between your ears. The light seems not so good all of a sudden and you want to crawl under the table, take off all your makeup, and reapply it in better light. Who doesn’t appreciate a clean parking lot? You reason. Who wants to step in trash when you get out of your car?
What about you Moira? Herman asks. What’s your life story?
You can’t smell him from here, but you imagine that if you could he wouldn’t smell that bad, or that good. Like fluoride, perhaps. The waiter delivers Herman’s latte now, into which Herman proceeds to pour too much sugar. And the flags are waving. A parade of baton-twirling, flag-baring tweens marching in synch and chanting about indulgence and effeminacy and weakness. The waiter’s tray transforms into a tambourine and soon he’s jumped the line into your cacophonic marching band of doom, leading the pack in a red felt coat.
Well…I just take life as it comes, you tell Herman. (You don’t. At all.)
Okay, Herman says. Well, what drives you? He takes a bite of his biscotti and some crumbs fall onto his lap. He lets them sit there.
You try to brainstorm a self to tell him about while you plot your escape.
I enjoy decoupage, you divulge, forking out chunks of your private life like flesh to a shark. And I teach French.
French – impressive! Herman replies with an eye bulge not unlike that of the dead squirrel.
Not really, you reply.
Your occasional serial-killer-incarnate worry begins to flare up (surely no worse punishment than getting your hopes up time and time again only to watch them decompose). But romantic love does exist, you reason. Each home you drive past the setting of some once-flourished partnership, however convoluted; each baby someone’s choice to physically combine themselves with another person. Other people make it work. The down and dirty people with clogged sinks, and cigarette smoke-infused couches, and McDonald’s wrappers in their cars. They make it work.
This is exactly why you can’t.
What’s decoupage? Herman asks, an empty Blind Date bubble oozing from his head. You wish someone were filming the scene to salvage some entertainment from the debris. Those other people, they might be trailer trash, but they’re living in the lap of luxury as you sit shivering in your Eyore lean-to.
It’s cutting stuff out, you tell Herman. And then gluing it together, in a different way.
You realize this sounds like a fifth grade activity. You wish you were back in the fifth grade when you cried at the thought of being paired with a boy for a project. When your heart didn’t make those who enchanted you the most disappear, and those who disenchanted you appear behind every door. The cocker spaniel has stopped barking now. It whimpers in heaving anxiety, its head resting impatiently on its bell-bottom paws.
So you slash through images to create new images? Herman asks.
Well, yes, you smile.
He smiles, too, his grin somewhat devilish – you wouldn’t have guessed. You note the biscotti crumbs still on his lap and kill the urge to reach over and brush them off with your napkin – OCD, or something more?
Isn’t it funny? Herman asks. How neither of us ordered bubble tea?
It reminds me of reverse puking, you admit.
It does, he contemplates. Hey, do you feel like getting up and walking around?
The April sun is generous today, the smell of leaf mulch in the gutter like old library books. Okay, you concur.
If age is nothing but a number, then a name is only letters, sounds.
Herman leaves cash on the table, for which you begrudgingly give him a green checkmark, and you walk together through the art deco building fronts, holding your hands deep inside your pockets to keep your skirt from blowing over your head. You attempt to collect the lost details of his profile. “Though I might seem serious, I can slide down the banister with the rest of them…” What does that mean?
So death… Herman breaches the topic.
Well, you say, I believe that if you can’t remember not being here, then who is to say you were ever not?
Don’t you like to wrap things up neatly, Herman laughs. You probably fold your socks.
Though you’re deep in observation of him observing you, you sense a cue to laugh and do, wondering if he’s getting your best angle.
Why fear death if you truly don’t know what it is to be absent from existence? Herman elaborates. Anything past speculation is assumption.
You absorb his words with the cynicism of a teacher who has graded too many parent-written essays. Is he placating you? Or has he actually taken the time to form these thoughts so similar to your own. If only you could fall behind a step to spy on him from a distance while you gather your thoughts.
Outside the mock Parisian cafes, Canadian cruise ship paraphernalia, and tiny fashion boutiques with big dreams, Gas Town has another life – tired, unbathed people sitting or standing against buildings or on the curb, some completely out of it, some astutely aware. As you pass the steam clock, an elderly homeless man comes whipping down the slight incline of the cobblestone on a shopping cart full of cans, literally riding his baggage like a skateboard. Herman gives the man a few encouraging claps. He has more confidence than you, you realize; he vibrates at a lower level. You remind yourself not to stare. It’s when you look at them too astutely – this is what terrifies them. When they begin to see themselves from your perspective. But it’s too late – cheesy nineties European techno already stirring the nostalgia of lost dreams deep within your lungs.
I like your pin, Herman notices your black oval cameo.
Thanks, you say. It’s my grandma.
It is? he asks.
No, you smile.
I don’t want to live to be too old, Herman says.
Neither do I, you agree.
And you nod at one another as though you’re engaging in some sort of silent suicide pact.
It starts to drizzle now. Here, the sky likes to hold it in and hold it in, then lets some go but never enough, repressing a full-on purge to keep itself in perpetual clouds. You tilt your head down so your mascara won’t run, but Herman lets the droplets fall onto his face, lets the beads of water sit on his skin. Heading back to the cafe, you consider what a second date might consist of. You could go for dinner; you could have drinks – real drinks this time. You could go for a longer walk. You could go anywhere. Easy now, you tell yourself. Passing a bakery with an outdoor table of baked goods, Herman stops to purchase a brownie. Would you like one, Moira? he says your name.
You could bake together. Go hiking together. Hike Cypress Mountain with a picnic of baked goods. Stop – your conscience tells you. But a certain g-spot has been triggered inside your mind, a pleasure release that you can access whenever you like from now on, and you can’t seem to leave it alone.
Since you refused the brownie, Herman breaks you off some of his, the cafe now in sight at the end of the block. In a doorway under construction on your right, a man sits under a scaffold, a few coins in a toque in front of him. He’s crying, you notice, and his leg has an open wound; it bleeds through some gauze. Normally you would stop to talk to him – wouldn’t you? You’re not the one today, you tell yourself.
At the cafe, you and Herman stand facing each other beside the same table you’d sat at, the barking dog gone now. Rescued.
Well, Moira, Herman says. It was really nice meeting with you.
Likewise, you say, perfectly capable of biting your tongue so as not to let slip any inappropriate projections about the future.
You seem like a very intelligent young woman, he goes on to say, hands in his pockets.
Don’t come down, don’t come down, you tell yourself, shaking the hand he’s put out, attempting to keep the situation in flight.
I hope you find what you’re looking for, he says.