When it comes to women, give me nothing more than good posture and somewhere in the middle a crack. The basics. All this advice-column romance about compassion, soul mates, compatibility? There’s one person out there in the universe and all you have to do is find her while solar winds howl and rocks and ice fly by, in the dark and in the crowds at the beach on a Fourth of July, while the orchestra plays like time lapse photography? It’s a crock.
She doesn’t smoke after making love, she smokes during. We can’t find a single program we like in all TV land, so we take turns on the clicker, her one day me the next. On her nights I take a walk, or stay in the basement where I have a bench and repair lamps. We don’t share one opinion except maybe Brussels sprouts and about each other. It’s nice to have the company around, and as long as that’s the case, the household stays together.
Alice is a deputy sheriff, City and County of Denver. That’s as how she got out of community college with a degree in law enforcement, and she’s a crack shot and tough as a nut when she wants to be. There’s a tan uniform with brown epaulettes and a brown uniform with tan epaulettes and she presses both once a week. No-nonsense Alice, if she had a nickname, which she wouldn’t on a bet.
Which is why this story is so surprising.
Surprising to me, you understand, as how you don’t know her, but a lesson to all of us. And the lesson is this: when someone hands you a line and you know it, don’t believe them no matter how much you want to.
That’s the lesson, and I learned it the hard way. It started at the Thin Air Diner where we sometimes go together for breakfast, as how it’s close to the lock-up where Alice works three days a week and on the way for me if I got a job on the west side of town and cheap. We go on in one normal sunny day and take a booth and a new waitress comes over and puts two waters down, not slides them so they wash up on the damp shore, but positions them in front of us, above and to the right as if she’s setting a dinner table, and places the set-up down gently. I take notice, this is several steps up from the usual approach at the Thin Air, and she’s gorgeous. Drop dead gorgeous, the ladies say, and I never believed until this when I think I’d just as soon drop dead as miss out. She has curly hair the color of caramel, and eyes dark as a baked potato, and she’s wearing a white plastic badge that says in red Hi I’m MELISSA, which strikes me as a perfect name for a perfectly delicious female.
Alice can tell what I’m thinking, maybe it’s all that criminal justice stuff, as I am watching Melissa’s caboose recede towards the kitchen, which isn’t so much a kitchen as a space behind the counter. Alice has a sixth sense, though she rarely uses it for good. Usually it’s, don’t let your tongue hang out, they’re not real. Alice has never seen a stacked woman who she doesn’t pronounce the product of plastic or a hunk that she doesn’t say, forget it, she’s too young, and maybe she’s right but I’m never nearly so convinced. Anyway Melissa comes back to take our order, and she and I have an interesting conversation about fried eggs and when she says she likes it easy over, I’m not sure it’s about eggs and neither, because she is listening in like the French Resistance behind Nazi lines, is Alice.
When we’re through, Alice says to me, “She’s a real looker,” and I agree.
But casual, not too eager. At least so I think.
“Why don’t you ask her out?” This catches me unawares. Alice and I have lived together on and off for eleven years, the average life, Alice says when I mention it, of a painted turtle, and we don’t ask people out or pimp one for the other.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you’re slobbering to. Because she is one hell of a looker.”
“I don’t want to ask her out. I have you.”
She shrugs. Takes out a Virginia Slim and lays it on the table though you can’t smoke in the Thin Air, so it’s for later.
“You’ll still have me, but take her out if you want.”
“You wouldn’t mind?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” and she looks me dead on in the eye. Now here’s that warning. I know she doesn’t mean this, and she knows I know, but I want her to mean it so bad I overlook this little glitch.
So after the eggs and the potatoes side of ham and a second cup of coffee, Alice gets up and walks ahead and I go to pay. Melissa is standing there at the register, and I can tell Alice means to give me just enough rope to tie it around that certain sensitive part of my body and leap off the fiftieth floor ledge. I say something off-handed about not working seven days a week and pretty soon she is writing down her phone number and I seem to have made a date for that Sunday lunch. I have done this, you understand, with great indirection and it would be hard to prove in the criminal investigation that I have what those in the business call the requisite intent, but I have done this nevertheless.
Well, the Sunday rolls around and in our little house the word Melissa has not appeared in a speech balloon, either from Alice’s mouth or mine, but I am not saying the word would not have cropped up in one of those balloons that connect with the circles for thoughts. It is on my mind, and on Sunday I am thinking it’ll be worse if I say nothing, so as I’m going out the door, I shout to the back of the house that I’m having lunch with Melissa, see you later, and the silence that follows is the ribeye of the hurricane. Thick as a slab of meat. So I walk to the bedroom where Alice is wrestling with a curtain rod. In our house the jazz station plays all day, and now Erroll Garner’s piano is playing on the radio, fine and tasty. I say it again, I’m meeting Melissa for lunch, and Alice says, I heard you the first time.
So I decide, what the hell, and I slip out. I’m glad it’s Chili’s and not some fancy place, for one thing Alice doesn’t like Chili’s. Melissa’s right on time and we go in and get a booth by a window that looks at the parking lot and we both order the special, a breakfast burrito and a draft. She looks terrific, and I tell her that. Fact is, you can’t help notice. I’m thinking all the time how Alice would explain it, a face job, a boobs job, a bright-eyes and skin-like-the-seats-of-a-Lexus job. I compliment her blouse-it’s one of these bogus Western things with pearl snaps, corny as can be, but it shows her figure.
“I dress for the men in my life,” she says. “I mean, they’re the ones who look at it, I don’t.” I like this approach, although it’s a new one.
“A lot of girls don’t agree, but I get pleasure out of pleasing a man. A lot of girls go, I won’t do that in bed, but I go, my pleasure comes from his pleasure. And it’s true.” This is all before the plates come, and I’m relieved to find my meal sitting in front of me. I’m not sure how it got there, but the smell of all that melted cheese and hot grease gets my attention.
We clink beer glasses, and just as I’m thinking it’s time to cool down the conversation at least until I’ve paid the tip, she reaches into her purse and takes out a cell. It must have a vibrating mode, because I sure haven’t heard a thing.
“Look at that,” she says. “Can you believe it?” She shows me the screen, which lights up and says,
“What is that?” I ask her. I don’t text.
“`Hey baby. How’s it going.’ That’s Martin.”
“Martin?” I ask.
“He’s this guy I know.” She bends over, types something with her thumb, and sends.
“Your burrito is getting cold.”
“Look at that. What a joker,” and she flashes the screen back at me.
I look blankly at her. She translates.
“`What are you up to?’ Let’s have some fun.’”
“Can you tell him you’re having fun? But not with him?”
Again she types something out and sends it. The response comes back in a flash, she’s only had time to shovel a forkful of homefries into her mouth, and she holds the phone up for me to see.
I look dumbly into those pooling eyes. I can’t tell whether the sparkle in them is sympathy or lenses. She explains.
“`Ha ha only kidding. Catch you later.’”
“`Gotta go pee.’”
“Give him my best,” I say. Sardonically, I intend, but I’m not sure I do it right.
“No need. He’s gone.”
We plow through the burritos. I’ve lost my appetite but it gives me something to do. On the cover of the menus, which we’ve neglected to re-rack in the aluminum holder by where the ketchup and mustard is corralled, there’s a picture of a trumpet player. Just a trumpet player, no band. It doesn’t make any sense, seeing as how Chili’s doesn’t have music and there’s not even the canned stuff that comes through the ceiling.
I point to it. “Do you like jazz?”
“Oh,” she says, by now her mouth full of tortilla and refritos and sour cream. From the Oh, I think she’s really excited, that I’ve hit on the magic question, but then as soon as the food clears up she says, “Not really. I’m not very musical.”
“That’s OK,” I say. “Still, it’s a funny thing. Why would they have a trumpet player on their menu?”
“Puts you in the mood,” she says.
“For what,” and she gives me a look that says Martin is only a phone call away.
By now I am making conversation and counting the inches of beer left in the glasses. “Have you ever noticed that paintings of musicians don’t really make it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, people like to paint pictures about music. But most of it seems phony. Look at this painting. I don’t get the feeling the painter knows squat about playing the trumpet.”
“You can’t you tell from that menu.”
I am not persuaded. “Nothing’s worse. Or someone writing to tell you what a piece of music sounds like. Have you ever seen them try? They can’t do it.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
I tug at my beer. I’m an inch from the end, but she’s lagging so I nudge her glass towards her.
“It’s like that game. Rock, scissors, paper. Sometimes writing wins over painting, or painting wins over music. Like that. But when they try to write about music or paint about it, they fall on their ass. It’s like music is the A-bomb. Rock, scissors, paper, A-bomb.”
“I don’t get it.”
I didn’t even ask if she wanted dessert. The burrito was OK but the beer tasted like someone dissolved a penny in it. If you’re Chili’s and you’re reading this, nothing personal. I’m sure it was me. We left together. I followed her down the restaurant aisle by a few steps and just watched. Every male head in the place turned to look. And every one of their ladies was leaning over and saying, She must have had an ass job.
So that was it. When I got home, Alice was still wrestling curtain rods, seems as how she wanted to take them all down and run them to the dry cleaners, they were in need. I helped her finish up, thinking she would come out of the funk. She never asked me about the lunch and after that I had two weeks that must have come out of the playbook on solitary confinement in San Quentin. Two weeks and she came around.
And I learned my lesson. Don’t believe it when it’s too good to be true. She came around, actually, when I told her about the A-bomb. How music always wins.
“Especially jazz,” Alice said. “Not just music. Jazz.”
And I think she’s right.