Monday, October 17, 2005

 

In Which I Am Every Woman's Second Choice...


"...so that was my day. I swear, I hate Fax Friday," said Her Lovely Self. We were commiserating about work at the Abbey, an Irish pub near my house. I had ordered a stout (the drink that eats like a meal), figuring I would need it soon. HLS was drinking sweet cider and complaining bitterly about her day as a staff editor at the trade publishing company where we both worked. One of her jobs was to wade through the pile of faxes that always seemed to jam up the machine on Fridays: countless curled membranes of heat-rolled paper extolling the virtue of this environmental legislation or that air-quality control device.

I had a similar job, only instead of working for a magazine devoted to environmental controls, I worked for a magazine devoted to law enforcement officers and the devices they so often used injudiciously on the people they met in their line of work. Whereas HLS sorted faxes about clean-air concerns, I sorted faxes about pepper spray and handheld metal detectors.

But the job had one virtue: it occasionally put me ahead of the curve on some interesting technology. Such as global positioning systems, which were being touted for security purposes in the industry, but which I thought would make a good story for Outside magazine, then located in Chicago (later they would move to the much more appropriate environs of Santa Fe). They agreed and in short order I had become a field tester for them. Around the same time, I had bumped into an acquaintance who was now working for a local business weekly. She was desperate for freelancers. I hated writing business stories, but had agreed to do a profile for her--of the guy who founded Crate & Barrel, based in Chicago--and ever since she was after me to write for her, calling me her "fun" business writer, whatever that meant. I was also doing short pieces--reviews and what-not--for the city magazine, all of which saved me from total skull-caving boredom at work, and also seemed to impress Her Lovely Self. She did not consider herself a very good magazine journalist and so was always complimentary of my ambition and efforts which, it seemed, were finally paying off.

"So, your turn," she said, taking a sip of her cider. "What did you do today?"

I knew she wanted to hear about the latest gadgets I was testing for Outside, or the big business feature I had just written, or the latest craziness that my functionally insane boss was foisting upon me. We did this every Thursday or Friday, right after work: grabbed a beer and hung out. In fact, Her Lovely Self and I had been spending a lot of time together, ever since my near-death experience just a couple of weeks earlier. I welcomed the attention, even though it was often short-lived, even though I was often shoehorned into Her Lovely Self's busy social calendar. HLS was 22--soon to be 23--and definitely in the sowing-her-wild-oats phase of life. And why not? She had spent most of college in two back-to-back long-term relationships. Now here she was, a gorgeous young woman at liberty in Chicago. Guys flocked to her and with good reason. She was pert little blonde thing with the kind of figure you could spend hours massaging your eyeballs on (and here would be the point that I would usually refer you to the infamous bikini picture, but you've probably seen that enough).

Although I have to say, when it came to all those flocking guys, her decisions about whose attention to return were not always the best. For example, she had spent several months crushing on Joe, the athletic hunk who specialized in getting inebriated and then using that as an excuse to feel her up (and long-time readers may recall how yours truly dealt with that situation). Her latest obsession was with a fellow we will call SJ, since those were his initials (privately, I liked to think they stood for "some jerk."). Her Lovely Self had met SJ on a bus to a baseball game. He pretty much hit on her the whole way and she welcomed the attention. Now they were fairly hot and heavy. Or rather, she was fairly hot for him. He, on the other hand, had what I felt to be a rather manipulative streak. Knowing that she was just falling all over herself for him, SJ had a talent for being unavailable at various times. Sometimes he'd even make dates with HLS and then simply not show up, or call at the last minute and blow her off. You guys out there reading this right now, my blogging brothers, you know you and I would NEVER get away with that kind of behavior in a million years (assuming we ever would have been churlish enough to try it), but it just made HLS pine all the more for him.

I knew this because every time he'd blow her off, she'd call me and complain about his behavior and off we'd go to a movie or bar (leading at least one of my friends to dub me Every Woman's Second Choice on a Friday Night). And then a few days later he'd call her or just show up at her office, and the whole thing started all over again. Her Lovely Self knew she shouldn't let him treat her like this. We had talked many times about the ideal man for her, and naturally, it wasn't someone who treated her like dirt. "I'd like someone who could surprise me," she'd say. "When I was in junior high, I had a crush on this boy who could come up with the most amazing games. He'd just make them up. He was really good at treasure hunts. You know, he'd hide clues around the neighborhood and each clue you got would lead you to another clue you had to figure out, until you got to the treasure. He was so funny and creative and I've always thought someone like that would be perfect for me," she'd say. We both agreed that being nice and respectful to her would also be a key component to the mix. Having a nice ass wouldn't hurt either.

As near as I can tell without personally verifying it, SJ at least met the last criterion, and apparently when you're a woman in your early 20s, sometimes that's enough. SJ was not, by all accounts, a terribly creative fellow. He was a salesman who spent a lot of time wining and dining clients and taking them to various football, basketball and baseball games. He was a classic jock/sports nut. In his free time, he liked to go to sports bars and watch whatever game was on, or stay in his apartment and watch whatever game was on. When he wanted companionship, he called up any number of girls he knew--including Her Lovely Self--and get them to go to a game or a sports bar with him. They all were only too willing to drop what they were doing to be with this guy, who evidently got a long way on looks alone.

Lately, according to Her Lovely Self, things had changed. In fact, as far as I was concerned, they'd taken a serious turn for the worse. SJ had moved into the city, fairly close to HLS' neighborhood and wanted to see her. A lot. He was calling her all the time, or at least every time it seemed I was doing something with her. Only a few weeks before, I was with HLS at her grandmother's house on the north side of the city. Her grandmother thought I was the cat's pajamas, by the way, and invited me over to dinner. In the middle of the meal, while we were talking about HLS' new apartment in the city and her new cat, who was now living in said apartment, the phone rang. It was SJ. He had called her apartment and got the number from her roommate. He had two tickets to a White Sox game that night and wanted her to come along. She never wondered for a moment why he waited til the last minute to ask her (his original date, a 19-year-old college cheerleader, had blown him off, I found out later. HLS didn't seem to be near as miffed about that as she should have been). And so, apparently thinking nothing of me or her grandmother, Her Lovely Self hustled through dinner and left us. I laughed it off, telling Grandma I was delighted to have her all to myself now, and we had an enjoyable evening playing Scrabble and watching Golden Girls, but of course I was stung.

Then again, I had no one to blame but myself. Despite having gone through a life-changing event in the form of a near-death experience, I hadn't exactly declared my feelings for Her Lovely Self. Sure, right after the accident I told her she had been the last person I thought of, but I hadn't come right out and said that she was also the first person I thought of, in general. That she was the loveliest woman on the planet. That I would consider it the luckiest day of my life to be stuck in an elevator with her. That I had, in short. fallen in love with her.

It was time to change that, I decided.

And so there we were, sitting in the pub, bitching about our day.

"What did you do today?" Her Lovely Self had asked.

I took a swallow of my stout, feeling suddenly foolish--and not because of the great foaming mustache I'd just grown. "Well," I said, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. "I've spent the whole day psyching myself up to do something."

"Oh?" she asked. "What's that?"

It was now or never. "Well, here's the thing," I said. "I have this stupendous crush on somebody at work. Legendary crush. Think about her all the time. I think she's amazing. Smart, funny, so pretty it makes my teeth ache. Just being around her makes me happy. I always love seeing her, and I always hate when she goes. She is the high point of my day. Just thinking about her makes lights spark up like they do when you rub your eyes too hard." Oh yeah, I was babbling.

Her Lovely Self had a funny look on her face. "Wow," she said. "I had no idea. You never said anything before now." She paused. "Is it that new girl Lisa up on your floor?" Lisa was a fairly new editor at the company and was sort of infamous because word had got round that she supplemented her income as a nude model for an art school in the city. All the men lusted after her (and consulted the continuing education schedules for the art school to see where they could sign up for her class). All the women hated her, apparently on principle.

I just stared at Her Lovely Self for a moment. Was she toying with me? Or could it be she had no idea?

"No," I said, laughing. "It's not Lisa."

"Oh," she said. "Is it that assistant--?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake, it's you!" I blurted. "Don't tell me I've hidden it that well."

HLS set down her cider, then quickly picked it back up and took a swig. Then put it back down. Her cheeks were blotchy. "Oh. Oh. Wow. Really? Me?"

I smiled what felt like a lame smile. "You must have known," I said. "I follow you around like a puppy dog. I--" I took a deep breath. This wasn't quite how I had envisioned it. I still hadn't said it. "I'm absolutely crazy about you. You have no idea. Truly." There. It was out now.

Then she put her hand on mine and smiled in a way that made me feel she'd just put a down payment on my heart. "You're so sweet. And I did have some idea. I guess I just didn't believe it." Then her smile changed to something a little bit sadder and I fell my heart crash through the floor of the pub. I knew there was a "but" coming.

"But--" she said.

Well, you don't need me to tell you what came after that. She liked me. She more than liked me. But now she was becoming more involved with this SJ guy and she wanted to see where that was going.

"In fact," she said, awkwardly, looking at her watch. "I, um--"

I slumped at the bar. "You're meeting him tonight?!?" I asked in disbelief.

She gave me a sheepish look. "Actually, he's meeting me here. We're going to a show at this club in the loop. It's an early birthday present," she added, which reminded me that her birthday was in a little more than a week. Then she frowned. "But I want to talk about this. You know how I feel about getting into a committed relationship right now. I was in one for a long time. I just want to see different people now. I know that sounds slutty, but--"

"No," I said glumly. "I get it. And my God, this is the time, isn't it? I just--"

"And you know, we can go out too. It's just that..." she paused.

"What?" I asked.

"Well, we're such good friends. I've had a lot of guys I started out as friends with that I ended up dating. And it's always gone badly. And now I'm not friends with them anymore. I just--well, you're really special to me. You're my best friend. I wouldn't want anything to mess that up," she said.

"Ah," I said, trying to salvage the moment with some levity. "You can't judge me by other guys, though. I'm not like them, you know. In fact, I'm not like anyone you've ever met," I concluded in a bluff voice. I wished I had truly meant it, though.

Still, she had given me an opening, so I took it. "Well, if we can go out, then let's. Let me take you out for your birthday. What do you say?"

She opened her mouth to answer, but someone beat her to it.

"We're already going out on her birthday. And I've been telling her for weeks I've got a special surprise planned."

I looked up at the man standing next to us at the bar. SJ was a little stocky, with a soft, slightly round face, no doubt from a few too many beers at the ball park. But he had a perfect coif of dark hair and piercing blue eyes and a very cool leather jacket which he wore with attitude. HLS introduced us, and we shook hands. Unlike other guys I've met in these circumstances, SJ didn’t feel compelled to get into that silent let-me-try-to-crush-your-hand battle that so many guys engage in. But he didn't have to. He stood there, the very picture of cock-sure arrogance. I'd love to be able to tell you the guy had all the sex appeal of roadkill in the middle of July, but I'd be lying. He was a good-looking, charismatic guy, and he knew it. He also knew Her Lovely Self was totally enamored of him. She was already out of her chair, arms wrapped around his waist, gazing at him like a little girl staring at a puppy in a pet shop window. I, on the other hand, was feeling like some whipped, mud-spattered mongrel, cowering in the gutter, ignored and unloved.

SJ said they were running late and HLS reached for her purse, but I said I'd take care of the drinks (I was planning to stay there and have a few more anyway, since I now had nothing else to do that night). She came to herself then, and touched my arm. "We'll talk more about...you know...this weekend," she said, turning for the door. SJ started to follow, his hand around her waist, then he stopped, turned back, and was by my side in two steps.

"Sorry chief," he said in a voice that only I could hear. "I win." Then, with the slightest hint of a chuckle, he disappeared into the crowd.

Every Woman's Second Choice on a Friday Night, I thought bitterly. Now alone, I finished my stout in one gulp and gestured for another. That chuckle echoed in my mind. As did his last words.

I win.

As my second drink arrived, I reached into my wallet for cash. Folded up next to the bills was a stiff piece of paper. I unfolded it and stared at it. It was a freelance check I had received for the big business story I had just written. I hated writing business stories, but damn, the money was good. The check was for $750, my biggest freelance payday so far. I had a lot of plans for that money. I needed some repairs on the used car I had just bought to replace the one I'd wrecked. I had student loans that were overdue. I had a Visa bill that was choking me, since I had had to take a cash advance on the card to pay the security deposit on my apartment. This money was earmarked for a lot of essentials.

But Her Lovely Self's birthday was next week, and all of a sudden nothing seemed more essential to me than that. There at the bar, a scheme began to fit itself together, jigsaw-like, in my mind.

SJ said he had something special planned for her. He was so sure of himself.

I win, he had said.

But he had underestimated me. And what he didn't know was that underestimating me was the worst mistake he could ever have made...


Comments:
Oh my god, write it NOW, post it NOW, we have to read part two immediately, it cannot wait!
 
What. A. Fucking. BASTARD.

I seriously wanted to punch that asshole SJ in the windpipe immediately after reading that.

I can't wait to see how you put that ass in his place...
 
You should have paid the Visa bill

;)

Just kidding!!!
 
OMG...you get to test the products in the Outside Gear Guide??!!??!!

That is so hella-cool. I have hiked every trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area here in Snoqulamie pass area, and I have so many issues of Backpacker and Outside....and the gear issues are my favorite.

You are one of the luckiest people in the whole wide world.

*jealous as heck*
 
Oh my god, is your life for real??? Your stories about your wife are like some wonderfully cheesy romance novel and your stories about your children and your past jobs read like a (hilarious) sitcom situation. I'm not complaining, I love your stories, though I hate the suspense you continually leave us hanging in! I just can't figure out how all this stuff can happen to one person. Damn, my (mis)adventures pale in comparison.
 
wow, that was brave and fabulous and WHAT A PRICK!!
 
I guess sometimes nice guys do finish first. Can't wait to read the next installment. I'm with everyone else, that f'in jerk needs knocked down about 10 pegs. I had deja vu at the part when you put your feelings on the table. I did the same thing to a guy I was crushing on in high school. We ended up dating for 3 years. That was probably one of the scariest and bravest things I've ever done. Kudos
 
Oh, MM, this is sooo romantic. I'm swooning already, and I haven't heard the end. Don't keep us waiting. Oh, and have you noticed, it's been women commenting?
 
Great story, MM! The locked in a trunk story is one of my faves but it looks like this one might even have a better ending. Looking forward to the next episode.
 
From all of us former underdogs, thanks for sharing!
 
You know what I love best about your blogs. It's that you put it all out there. You're documenting the memories and emotions of your life, almost as if this blog is your sleeve. What a gift for Artlad and Brownie that they can forever look back at these entries and know their parents were so completely in love.
 
I am so totally with Tina it's not even funny.

I need the next installment!!!!
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
Ok, I've recently discovered your blog (like, 3 days ago and have been reading your archives furiously and with a great amount of fervor and devotion) and I know that you will probably never read this stupid little comment of mine but I must say that you dear MM are wrong. Completely and totally, utterly and hopelessly WRONG.

You are every sane woman's FIRST choice.

I am very, very jealous of HLS.

*long and overly dramatic sigh*
 
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