THE SERIAL DUMPER
By Matt Burns
He stood in front of his dresser mirror and rubbed some cologne into the collar area with the inner part of his wrists. He had found the fragrance in a dusty, glass display case nestled in a deserted aisle of Walgreens pharmacy. The brand was Old English Leather something-or-other and the price was reasonable but still not really in his budget. He had to splurge, though. It was his last-minute attempt to create the illusion that he did, indeed, have his “shit together”. Of course, the reality of the matter was that he didn’t have a penny to his name and didn’t know what the hell he was doing going out on another date. Then again, she didn’t have to know about his reality. As far as she would be concerned, he was exactly what the smell of the cologne was going to insinuate: that he was some rugged, independent man who had the confidence of a cowboy. Ronald Reagan meets John Wayne. No, Roy Rodgers. Will Rogers. George Bush and Sarah Palin’s son...if they ever had a son. A maverick. Going rogue. Whatever.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall...who’s the most money of us all?”
Reality was all perceptual, anyway. If he portrayed himself as a cowboy, he WAS a cowboy.
“Not you,” said his reflection in response to his query.
“I know,” he said with a sigh. “This is the truth.”
He grabbed a black comb from off the dresser and ran it through his thick, dark hair, slicking it back in attempt to cover the bald spots.
"What's your game plan for tonight?" asked the mirror.
"Just pretend I'm better than I actually am and I think she'll believe me."
"What about the car situation?"
Ah yes, the car situation. There was always the car situation.
"Well, I'm on the fence about that. I guess I could go with, ‘Oh, Hi, Cheryl, nice to meet you! Thanks for coming out with me tonight. What, this old thing? Oh, no, it's not really mine. Mine's in the shop with tire rod problems and I had to borrow this from my folks. Just for tonight, of course.’"
"But what if there's a second date?"
"Well, if I actually like her and want more than just sex for the night - hahaha ya know? - then I’m gonna say it’s my car, plain and simple, and we’ll just see how long she can believe it. ‘Hi, Cheryl, this is my car right here! Yep, my car!’ Then again, if I don’t like her, I guess I can just say it’s my car, anyway. Yeah, it’s my car either way. Yeah, that’s how it’s gonna be. Ask me who’s car I’m driving these days.”
"Who's car you driving these days, Steve?"
“MY CAR. Yes, I drive my own car, so why don’t you take your clothes off, baby?”
"Pardon me, Steve, but I think you're full of shit. That's your mom's car. Isn’t it?”
"Ha! Wanna bet?! What, you wanna see my registration? Are you ridiculous, you wanna see my registration? Are you serious?! I have to take my registration out right now for you?! We’re on a date! I’m really turned off right now and gees, is it the lighting makin’ you look fat?!"
"I was only kidding."
"Why am I listening to you, anyway?! ‘Oh, my name’s Cheryl, I need a man who can provide for me! I need a man who can make me feel secure and put food on the table!' Well, why don't YOU provide? Why don't YOU make yourself secure? Whatever happened to the feminist movement, Cheryl? What about all that mumbo-jumbo about women being more powerful than men and stuff like that? Where's all that rhetoric now? Pleeeeze, all you girls have to do is find a man and look pretty for him and you're set for life. How easy is that? This date is over."
Steve put on his Polo Ralph Lauren shirt, buttoned all the buttons except the top three and then rolled up his sleeves a quarter of the way up his arms. The shirt, combined with the dark-blue denims and black Doc Martens, actually made him look pretty damn good. The key element was the easily-identifiable Polo logo on the chest pocket of his shirt. This meant Steve had good taste. Of course, for Steve, “good taste” meant picking the shirt off an “irregular” rack at the local TJ-Max. The truth was that one sleeve was longer than the other, hence why he had to roll them up three-quarters of the way. But the logo was there and that’s all that mattered. Yes, everything looked good to go and Steve was ready for the night to commence.
Wait...there was one more thing he needed to do. He squirted a glob of moisturizer into his hands and rubbed it into his cheeks so as to ward off his dry skin problems. Then, he gave his face a slap - Home Alone style - and stared at his reflection in the mirror.
"You're money. For tonight, you're money. ‘Hey, Cheryl, what's up? I'm money, how are you?’ ‘Oh, I’m good, Steve, but I’m not quite sure I’m money like you are.’ ‘Yes, you’re probably right.’ Cheryl I'm money, how are you? I'm money, how are you?? I’m money...how are you???”
The front door to his raised ranch creaked open...slowly, but surely. Steve’s foot took a cautious step onto the flag-stoned landing of the front stairway. ‘So far, so good,’ he thought. So he snuck the rest of his body out of the house and he began to close the door behind him. But, damn, the thing was squeaking so bad. He should have anticipated the noise and doused the hinges with WD-40 earlier in the day. He knew it was only a matter of time before his mother heard...
“Steven?!” shouted a voice from inside the house.
“Yeah?!” he shouted through the screen of the door.
“Where you going?”
“I...um...got that date. Remember?”
“You taking the car?”
“Oh, um...yeah, if that’s OK. You need it?”
“Shouldn’t you at least say goodbye if you’re going off with MY car?”
The emphasis was on ‘MY’.
Steve loaded an imaginary bullet into an imaginary gun and pretended to blow his imaginary brains out. Of course, his mother was right. He shouldn’t have just taken off with the car. Maybe he was just trying to fool himself into thinking he had his own car, didn’t live with and didn’t have to answer to his own mother. Yes, it was true; in addition to fooling others, he was now actually trying to fool himself. What an incredible phenomenon.
“Don’t be too late!”
“Jeez, I’m 33-years-old, mom!”
“Yeah, but you still live in MY house and you still drive MY car.”
Again, the emphasis was on the ‘MY’S’. The word was like a punch to his stomach every time he heard it.
“OK, not too late,” said Steve, figuring it was in his best interest to appease her. Keep the woman happy for now. Things would get better, he thought. He was going to get his big break soon, and get his own place, own car, own life. This was going to happen.
He descended the brick steps and took a moment to admire how nice the yard looked - the colorful Impatiens flowers, the green grass, the groomed hedges, the lack of Dandelions. He reminded himself that this was all his doing. Mother needed his help, not that she was elderly, but she was still a little old to be taking care of a house all by herself. Yes, their relationship wasn’t all one-sided. It was inter-dependant. He wasn’t leeching off her. She scratched his back by letting him stay in her house and use her car, while he helped keep the house running. In other words, his existence as a human being was at least somewhat justified.
But, of course, society didn’t see Steve this way...and, more importantly, women didn’t see Steve this way. Reduced to its externals, Steve’s life was that of a bum, plain and simple. If only people looked beyond the externals, they would see that there was more to Steve. He helped keep the house afloat, for cry eye! There was a symbiotic relationship between he and his mother! Why couldn’t people just open their eyes?! They were so stupid! Stupid!! Stupid!!!
Steve drove his mother’s tan, grandpa-sized Toyota Avalon knowing full-well that the automobile was incredibly square (by society’s standards). He also knew the sticker of the Virgin Mary plastered onto the door of the glove compartment was no less square. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly something that screamed, “Hey, this guy’s cool right here!” But what was he supposed to do? It’s not like he could take it off or anything. That would have been the worst of the worst in his mother’s eyes, tantamount to a deadly sin. He’d surely be denied any future car privileges, not to mention the fact that he’d probably be kicked out of the house.
The Virgin Mary did, however, make Steve realize that maybe he should go with story number-one: “Oh, hi, yes, Cheryl, my car’s in the shop with tire rod problems so I borrowed this one from my folks, hence the Virgin Mary sticker on the glove compartment.” Yes, this was perhaps the best scenario to go with...well, maybe it was...he could play it by ear, maybe. Christ, he would definitely have to be on his toes for this one. Really on top of his A-game. One slip-up could ruin everything.
As he drove closer and closer to his destination, the stress of the date continued to grow on him, now even manifesting itself in physical ways. His intestines, for example, were twisting themselves into knots and he was starting to feel the butterflies fluttering in his stomach. But these symptoms didn’t really arise because he was nervous about the date; they mainly arose because he was nervous about the illusions, lies, exaggerations and half-truths revealing themselves to be the baloney that they were.
He flapped the collar of his shirt to move some dry air to the lower part of his back where he often got nervous sweats. He also tried not to sit with his back flush against the driver’s seat, so as to allow his skin to breath a little more. The last thing he wanted was a sweat stain to seep through his nice Polo shirt, especially if Cheryl decided to greet him with a hug. It would certainly be a turn-off if she put her hand on his back and felt something damp right there, immediately from the outset of the date. Gross. No good.
Steve figured that one thing he could do to alleviate some of the nerves was to pretend Cheryl was already in the car with him. Yes, give the conversation a good old-fashioned dry-run.
“Yeah, hi, Cheryl, I’m self-employed. I do videography and some photography. Like weddings and stuff...yeah. Yep, mainly weddings. I know, it can be stressful at times. I’m so busy. No, last I checked self-employed did NOT mean unemployed, Cheryl. Oh, so, what, I’m not good enough for you, then? That’s it: I’m turning around and dropping you off.”
Steve checked his breath to see if everything smelled as it should. Unfortunately, things seemed a little gamey, though he wasn’t sure because bad breath is usually only detected by a second party and he didn’t have a second party to give it a whiff. Perhaps it would have been good for him to purchase a pack of gum, but packs of gum cost more than a dollar and Steve absolutely refused to pay that kind of price. Whatever happened to the twenty-five cent packs of Wrigley’s Doublemint? Perhaps they existed somewhere out there in the world, but every convenient store in Steve’s general area only sold the “Valu” packs with twenty or thirty sticks or whatever it was. Nobody needed that much gum. Well, maybe they did.
“Yeah, but I’m looking for something more stable,” he said to the imaginary Cheryl sitting in the passenger seat. “There’s this big international wedding company that loves my work. Yeah, they’ve kinda been all over me. But – I dunno – I think I can make more money on my own.”
He gave his eyebrows a quick check in the rearview mirror, hoping that his uni-brow issue was under control. Thankfully, there was no stubble or any other indication that he had to shave between his brows on a daily basis. Hair in all the wrong places: yes, that was a good way to sum up good old Stevo. If only he could take a little of the eyebrow hair and fill in the bald spots atop his head. Jeez, he’d give up some of his pubic hair, too, which he would have to describe as generally swarthy and out of control. He’d rather have a bald scrotum than a head, but - then again - who wouldn’t? It was all a part of God’s twisted plan, to take hair away from the head and give it to the balls.
“Oh, me? Yeah, didn’t I mention on the phone that my last name was Spielberg? I’m Steven Spielberg, the director. You’ve heard of me? Great. Take off your clothes.”
He gave himself another once-over in the mirror and all appeared to look good, even though he was just getting glances of himself here and there. He absolutely refused to take his eyes off the road for more than a split-second at a time. If (God forbid) he ever got in an accident and wrecked the car, his mother would kick him out of the house for sure. Yes, keep her appeased for now, at least until the big break came.
One thing he did notice during one glance, however, was that his sideburns appeared to be uneven. Would Cheryl notice? Well, no, probably not, but uneven sideburns was supposedly a pet-peeve for a lot of the women in the world. Steve made a note to self: ‘always have head turned a bit to the side. Only have one sideburn visible at a time.’
“I’m Steven Spielberg. Yeah, surprise! You’re on a date with Steven Spielberg. I make millions on each movie I make. Oh, really? Yeah? That right? Take off your clothes.”
Steve pulled the Avalon up to the cream-colored (raised) ranch that appeared to have Vinyl siding and shudders. He also couldn’t help but notice that the yard had some dandelions and there were high tension wires about a hundred yards down the street. In other words, it wasn’t the nicest-looking neighborhood, but Cheryl had a house and that looked good on paper, no matter how anybody looked at it. Yes, she had a house...and he didn’t. Therefore she was doing better than him. Of course, she didn’t really know this right now. For all she knew, he was way above her on the social ladder. Tonight, he could be anybody and she would more or less believe it.
He shifted the car in park, cut the engine and then took a deep breath. ‘Well, this is it,’ he thought. This was war now. Cheryl was going to pull out every stop in attempt better know ‘the real Steve’ and it was up to Steve to prevent her from doing that, at all costs. There would be several battles tonight. Some would be easily won, but others would be unavoidably tough. First, she would send in the air raids, then the tanks and ground forces. She would likely send in some special forces as well, for more sneaky, covert operations. But Steve would be onto her. No matter how smart this Cheryl was, she would need to be a genius General if she thought she was going to defeat Steven tonight. When it came to these kinds of wars, he was a well-seasoned Veteran. He knew exactly how the mind of the enemy worked. There would be no defeating him.
He got out of the car and began walking up the driveway, which he noticed could have used a fresh coat of tar. There were also some puddle indents and a few places where the asphalt was cracking. He would have done better than this if it were his house. No excuses, Cheryl.
He didn’t quite make it to the front steps before his date appeared in the doorway.
“Steven?” she yelled through the screen door.
“Be right with ya,” she said with her phone in one hand.
“Oh, OK...no problem. Take your time!”
Brilliant move, Steve thought. The phone to the ear and the stressed-out look in her face made it look like the date wasn’t the only thing on her mind; it was just one out of several. Yes, the implication was that she was a busy woman with many important things going on in her life and she wasn’t putting much thought or energy into this date, which would, in theory, make Steven feel more insignificant and below her. ‘A date? Ah, whatever, yeah I guess I’ll go on this date with this guy named Steve but I still got a lot going on for me if it doesn’t work out.’ Clearly she was already trying to get the upper hand.
Steve heard some shuffling going around in the house and then Cheryl appeared back in the door again, stepped outside and locked up behind her.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “When it rains, it pours.”
“Oh, I know.”
Cheryl was in her late thirties, had some tease to her dirty-blonde hair and had a buttocks that reminded Steve of the 1980s. This isn’t to say that she was unattractive. She was actually really good-looking, but a little past her prime. A divorce and maybe a couple of kids had weathered her a bit. Steve thought it would be safe to consider her a “cougar”, but then he realized that he wasn’t too much younger than her and there wasn’t a big enough age-gap to label her with such a title.
“So nice to meet you,” she said as she came down her steps and held her arms out for a quick hug. It was at this point that Steve was glad he had kept his shirt well-ventilated on his way to the date. No sweat on his lower back...not even any dampness.
The hug was brief and free of any rubs of the back. There was also a conscious effort to keep the buttocks’ extended outward so as to increase the space between genitalia. Casual and friendly. That’s all it was about.
“Yeah, same here,” said Steve, trying to sound as cool as possible, without being over-the-top. His inspiration for the attitude was the actor Mark Wahlberg but without the Boston accent and perhaps with the cool turned down a few notches.
“So where we goin’?” ashed Cheryl.
“I don’t know, thought I’d leave it up to you.”
“How about the Chicken Bone?”
“OK, yeah, the Chicken Bone sounds great.”
They started making their way down the driveway.
“Like your car,” said Cheryl, spotting the vehicle parked parallel with her lawn. “Avalon, those are real nice cars.”
Steve was now aware that the war had officially begun. Was she already onto him? Did she already smell something fishy about a man of his type driving a Grandpa-like Avalon? No question of hers could be trusted from here on in. As far as Steve was concerned, every query could have had an ulterior motive attached to it.
Now, as far as the car went, Steve still hadn’t decided whether to go with story A or story B. Did he borrow this car or did he own it? He ultimately decided that the whole borrowing story sounded too fishy. So he went with story B.
“Oh, this thing? Yeah, I dunno, I’m kinda tired of it now. I’m thinkin’ about trading it in for a new one.”
“Oh ya? Watcha gonna get???”
“Um. Hmmmm. Probably a Lexus, I don’t know...I would get a Mercedes but I don’t wanna be too flashy, ya know? Hey. Look at me, I’m drivin’ a Mercedes. I don’t wanna be THAT guy.”
“Oh, I don’t think it would be that bad. Sometimes you just gotta treat yourself.”
Her response could have had ‘goldigger’ written all over it, but Steve couldn’t be certain. It was too early in the game to draw any definite conclusions about the extent of her materialism and overall shallowness. It’s possible she was just being encouraging and positive-thinking. The jury was still out.
“I always wanted to have a Mercedes," she added. "Wow, that would be great...”
Steve opened the passenger door for her.
“Oh, thank you. What a gentleman,” said Cheryl as she hopped into the car.
Steve made sure Cheryl was all the way in and then he shut the door. He subsequently made a point to walk behind his car in order to get to the driver’s side, mainly so he could take a moment to break out of his cool, Mark Wahlberg-esque persona. Take a deep breath. Regroup his attitude a bit.
So far, things were going OK...well, except for the whole Mercedes part (which he regretted saying), but he wasn’t obligated to follow through with all that. The overall intention was to keep things in the future and distract Cheryl from focusing on the present.
Steve eventually got over to the driver’s side door and fished the keys out of his pocket. The upper half of his body was still out of Cheryl’s line of vision, so he relaxed for another moment or two before having to get back into character.
He opened the driver door, took a seat and Mark Wahlberg was back in action.
“All right, here we go.”
Steve was driving the car with one arm on the wheel and the other on his lap. Normally, he would have a hand at the ten and two position (to better maintain control of his mom’s car), but he knew that he’d look like a wuss if he did that. He kept his free hand close to the wheel, though, in case he needed it for an emergency.
A cloud of awkward silence was hovering in the car, which Steve really had no problem with because it meant no questions from Cheryl and no consequent lies from himself. But an awkward silence could only hang around for so long before things got much too uncomfortable for both parties.
Steve figured - since he was “the man” - he should take it upon himself to try and jump-start the conversation. Yep, he was the “man”, even in the alleged post-feminist society that they were living in. The question was how to steer the conversation in a safe direction, safe (of course) meaning a direction that wouldn’t lead Cheryl to discovering the real Steve.
“So...we finally meet,” Steve finally said with a little chuckle.
“Indeed hee hee. I was looking forward to it.”
“Yeah, me too haha. Me too.”
“I dunno...you sounded so kind on the phone. I don’t usually have much luck with Plenty of Fish.”
“Yeah, me neither. I mean, I kind of just made a profile for the heck of it.”
Of course, this was a complete lie. Steve had been on Plenty of Fish - the free online dating service - for six months now, and he’d probably met a dozen of women on there.
“Yeah...me too. I mean, there’s a lotta creeps on there, but I figured there’d be one or two nice guys. Like yourself. Hee hee.”
“Oh, well, glad you think I’m nice. Clearly you haven’t known me long enough. Haha.”
Cheryl giggled at the joke, but Steve also thought it may have been borderline nervous laughter. Maybe what he said was kind of creepy. He thought he oughta throw in a quick ‘just kidding’, just to let her know that it was clearly a joke.
“Just kidding haha.”
“I hope so hee hee.”
And with that, there was some more silence and Steve was worried that he had already killed the date by creating an awkward vibe. His blood pressure started to increase a bit and he felt his forehead get clammy - it was all a prelude to breaking out in a horrible, all-out sweat. This sweat and the consequent stench had the potential to ruin everything.
“At least you have a sense of humor. Gawd, I can’t even tell you how many guys I’ve gone out with who’ve just been so...so dull.”
It was at this point that Steve knew he was probably in the clear. She appreciated the joke and the appreciation seemed genuine.
“Yeah, yeah, me too. There’s been a lot on this end. I could tell ya some stories.”
“Oh yeah? Do tell...”
“Oh, well, I don’t have any, um, specific ones.”
“So...” Cheryl said, trying to steer the conversation in a less awkward direction. “What’s been goin’ on with you?”
“Me? Oh, um, well...nuthin’, ya know...”
“Nuthin’? Just nuthin’?”
“Well, not nuthin’...you know...I’ve...”
How the hell was he supposed to answer this one? Cheryl was smarter than he thought. She set him up for the perfect trap.
“You know...um...workin’ and stuff,” said Steve out of sheer panic, instantly regretting it.
“Oh, where do you work?”
Boom! There it was. What a brilliant set-up! Steve knew the question would come sooner or later, but to have orchestrated its arrival so early in the night?! This woman was all-business. It was like getting a checkmate within three moves. Unbelievable.
“I...uh....” He took a half-of-second to think of how he should put it, or whether he should just lie altogether, like say he was an architect or doctor or something.
“I have my own business.”
“Oh, really? That sounds great.”
“Yeah, it’s doin’ pretty well.”
“Wow, how brave of you. It’s not easy having your own business.”
‘Yes!’ thought Steve. ‘It WAS brave of him!’ For once in his life, he was actually experiencing a taste of self-confidence. After all, the whole ‘having my own business’ thing wasn’t a lie. Perhaps it was a little misleading, but it was no lie.
“What’s the business?”
“It’s a videography business. I do, like, weddings...and, um, you know, other events. Bar mitzvahs and...uh...uh...yeah, stuff like that.”
“Oh, great. There’s a lucrative market for that out there.”
Ha! Clearly this woman didn’t know what she was talking about. With the economy the way it was these days, people weren’t opening their purses wide enough to splurge on a videographer for their wedding, or any other event for that matter. It was everybody on Wall Street’s fault, with their credit default swaps and derivatives and bogus loans and what-have-you. They made the economy a horrible place for a freelance videographer to thrive in.
“Yes, I mean...yeah, things are going real well right now.”
“Well, I imagine they must be if you’re lookin’ to buy a Mercedes.”
“Oh, hahaha...yeah, well, hahahaha. Things aren’t THAT well. I’d probably lease it or something. I’m not sure yet. That’s all still up in the air. Maybe I’ll go with the Lexus.”
“I wish I was bold enough to start my own business. I’m just doing secretarial work right now.”
“Yeah, business is really good,” he reiterated. “I’m very blessed.”
There was a moment or two of silence and Steve couldn’t help but voice a mental “phew”, knowing that this particular segment of their conversation was likely over, or at least under control. The first battle had been won, he thought. Cheryl struck first and struck hard - practically blitzkrieged the frontline - but her forces were no match for Steve. He was successful at fighting her off.
Cheryl tapped both knees with her hands to fill in the car’s silence, and then her eyes started roaming around the car. Steve glanced her way and he could have sworn she was staring at the damned Virgin Mary Sticker, but he wasn’t sure because she never said anything about it. However, she DID definitely notice something else. It was something in a small compartment between the passenger/driver seats. There was a white cassette tape. She picked up this tape. She read the tape’s label aloud.
“ ‘Songs of Worship: Shout to the Lord’. Huh....”
Fuck! Steve had completely forgot to check the car for any of his mother’s paraphernalia. He knew he had forgotten to do something before he left the house. Oh, it was all over, he thought! He might as well just turn around, drive Cheryl home and forget the date ever happened.
“Oh, that...that...I’m not really super-religious or anything. That’s just something to help the stress. I’ve been pretty buried in work these days.”
“Oh that’s right...it’s wedding season.”
“Right...wedding season. Having your own business is good, but there’s so much work. So much.”
“I can only imagine.”
“Yeah, those tapes just kinda relax me. I don’t really use them to pray or anything like that. It’s just a soothing sound.”
Steve was fortunately able to find a parking space without driving around the city streets like a monkey for too long. The only problem was that he had to parallel park, which is one of the worst things to do on a first date. The space was very tight and Steve had to pull back and go forward two more times than he should have had to. This was mainly due to the fact that he was terrible at parallel parking, but he was also playing it safer than usual because he didn’t want to risk getting his mother’s car into a scrape.
Another issue was that Steve wasn’t completely sure he was parking in a legal spot. The street had one communal parking meter on it and not one for each spot. So it was hard to tell what was a space and what was too close to the fire hydrant or was reserved for the bus stop or was a tow zone after such and such time for street cleaning.
“Here we are,” he said as he shifted the car into park and cut the engine.
Steve hopped out of the car and immediately scrolled his surroundings for any signs that would make him think twice about parking where he did. If Cheryl wasn’t present, he would have spent a good minute or two studying each and every sign along the street with careful scrutiny. The worst was to be on a date and not stop worrying about whether your car was going to be towed away.
“Just wanna be sure I’m in a legal space,” he said with a chuckle as he eyeballed a few of the signs, trying not to make a big deal of the situation.
The signs said a lot of things about parking between 8am and 6pm and he couldn’t really process all the information quickly enough. But he ultimately determined he was safe and that any further worry would be unwarranted.
“I think we’re good.”
“Great...oh, you mind popping the trunk for me?”
Huh? Wha? Back up the truck. Beep. Beep. Beep. Needless to say, the question caught Steve off guard and he immediately started smelling something rotten in the state of Denmark. Why did she want him to pop the trunk? Was this another offensive on his frontline?
“I just wanna put my purse in,” she added. “So I don’t have to carry it around with me in the bar.”
“Oh. Oh, ok. Yeah, sure.”
They made their way to the back of the car and all Steve could do was pray to the Almighty that there wasn’t anything incriminating in that trunk, ‘incriminating’ of course meaning any item that may give question to Steve being the rightful owner of the vehicle. He stormed his brain for possible alternatives to using the trunk. Maybe she could hide the purse in the backseat or maybe he could just carry it for her the whole night. But, no, it would look too weird and suspicious if he tried to wriggle his way out of this one. He had to open the damn trunk. There was no other way.
So he reluctantly shoved the key into the trunk’s keyhole, gave it a twist, shut his eyes, mumbled a brief prayer to the Almighty, and opened that damn trunk for Cheryl.
“Nice heels,” said Cheryl.
‘Oh, God,’ thought Steve before he even opened his eyes to see what Cheryl was referring to. He knew he was screwed.
Sure enough, he opened his eyes and there was a pair of his mom’s square-toed high heels looking right up at him. He was pinned, goddammit. God, what a warrior this Cheryl woman was. She knew how to sniff out his vulnerable spots. Now he was cornered on all sides.
“There something you wanna tell me?” Cheryl asked kiddingly, but Steve knew she wasn’t completely joking.
Steve had to think quick.
“How did those get in there?” asked Steve jokingly, with the intention of buying him more time to think up an explanation. And, then, something came to him: “Those are just left over from my ex-girlfriend. Such a stalker. She was obsessed.”
Good move, Steve thought. Not only did he provide an explanation for the heels, but he also potentially raised himself up a level or two from Cheryl. The whole stalker story was Steve’s wild card for dates. The implication was that he was so darn irresistible and made girls crazy for him. This, in turn, would make Cheryl think that Steve had something huge to offer, something so huge that girls couldn’t deal with letting him go.
“How old was your ex-girlfriend hee hee? Those things look like they could be my grandmother’s.”
“Yeah, hahaha. You know how...um...know how girls sometimes wear old-people stuff, like, you know, as a fashion statement? She was one of those types of girls, had to be different to get attention. You know, old lady stuff is cool. That kind of thing.”
“I’m just kiddin’ with ya, Stevy,” she said with a giggle and then gave him a friendly punch to the ribs. “Mind if I call ya Stevy?”
‘Stevy’ was much too nervous to say anything witty in response.
“No, Stevy is fine. Stevy would be great.”
“Haha. OK. Haha.”
And with that, the battle was over, and Steve considered himself the victor.
“God, I can’t wait for a drink,” said Cheryl.
“Yeah haha, me too. C’mon, let’s go."
The Chickenbone was a popular place for young professionals to bring girls to for their first dates. It was a big, wide-open bar with black metal rafters in the ceiling, huge widescreen televisions and a massive rectangular bar in the center. The place smelled like Vodka mixed with perfumes and there was usually a cover band after 10pm playing the usual drunk-bar fare: songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. All the bartenders were female and they usually revealed copious amounts of cleavage but not enough to deem them ‘slutty’ and ruin the air of classiness that the place was supposed to exude.
Steve and Cheryl walked into the Chickenbone and Steve instantly felt self-conscious, like everybody in the place knew he and Cheryl were on a first date. They moved through a series of high, round tables with high chairs that prevented you from touching the ground with your feet. The night was still pretty young, so most of the clientele were people on dates like himself and other gentlemen wearing ties and sport coats, looking like they had just gotten off work in the financial district. The college kids and twenty-or-something drunks wouldn’t start rolling in until well after ten o’clock.
Moving past the tables, Steve saw how nicely-dressed the men were and immediately felt his self-esteem drop down a few notches. These guys looked 'together', but, then again, so didn’t he at this particular moment in time. For all he knew, the men could have been just as poor as he was, and living with their mothers, driving their mother’s cars etc. But this wasn’t likely the case. These guys looked together-together, not even a hint of insecurity in their mannerisms. And although it was difficult to catch the subject of their conversations, he could imagine it all in his head:
“So...what do you do?” one of the dates asked.
“I’m a lawyer.”
And at another table.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a doctor.”
“Oh. Wanna get out of here?”
“Your place or mine?”
And another table.
“What do you do?”
“I work in the Financial District and I think that’s all you need to know, so take off your clothes immediately.”
“Consider my clothes off.”
Man, those guys had it so easy!
Steve turned to Cheryl and asked...
“So, should we just sit at a table or???”
“Sure, that’s probably the best.”
He and Cheryl eventually managed to find an empty table in the far corner of the bar. There were a couple of crumbs and drops of water on the table, but Steve managed to wipe them away with a napkin.
“What do you want to drink?” he asked her.
“Oh...I’ll take a Raspberry Stoli with Sprite. Please.”
Steve didn’t know what the hell a Stoli was, but it sure as hell sounded expensive to him.
“Raspberry Stoli with Sprite. OK, I’ll be right back.”
Steve headed up to the bar and tried to flag down one of the attractive female bartenders. He was never really good at doing the flagging thing, though, and this particular instance was no exception. When it came to ordering drinks, Steve apparently turned invisible. Or maybe he just wasn’t assertive enough. He would usually just stand in place and hope that he'd eventually be seen. Usually after a while he would raise his hand and try to make some eye contact, but he always thought this was kind of rude and he didn’t like to make a habit of it.
Eventually, after maybe three or four minutes, one of the bartender’s noticed him.
“You all set?”
Boy, her cleavage looked scrumptious. Steve couldn’t help but wonder about this woman’s boyfriend and what kind of a man was having relations with a woman like that. It was probably mostly about whoever had the most money. That’s basically how it was these days. Unconditional love was an endangered species or maybe even dead, especially in the current economy where women wanted to be sure they were going to be financially secure throughout whatever lay ahead. From a certain perspective, they were all prostitutes – selling themselves to the highest bidder – too scared to spend their life with the poorer guy, even if that’s what their heart was telling them to do.
But, alas, all was not grim for Steve. He was convinced that he’d be able to get a girl like this someday...once he got his big break, of course.
“Yeah, how much are your Raspberry Stoli’s?” he asked the bartender, trying to keep his eyes from straying down to the cleavage.
Steve took his wallet out of his back pocket and saw that he had nothing left except for a ten. Damn, he should have planned better, but - then again - it would have been impossible for him to do so, seeing that he didn’t really possess more than ten dollars, anyway. And, hell, the ten dollars in his wallet wasn’t even his. A couple days earlier, his mom had given him some money to go buy some food at the grocery store and he lied and said there was no change left after the purchases.
“You guys take credit cards, right?”
“All right, I’ll take a Stoli and what’s the cheapest beer you got on Tap?”
“We have two-dollar draughts of PBR.”
“Ok, and a PBR.”
He slipped his Mastercard out of his wallet and handed it to the bartender.
“Keep it open?”
“Um...no, close it, please...”
The bartender went over to the cash register and Steve was left alone to wonder what the hell he was doing there in the bar. He was clearly in no financial position to be dating a girl! Why did he keep on doing this to himself? ‘Get a grip on reality, man.’
The bartender returned, flapping the credit card between her two fingers.
“They’re not accepting this.”
Shit! He thought he had at least twenty dollars or so left on that one. But now that he mulled it over some more, the monthly interest was probably added to the balance and, well, he must have been way beyond having available credit now.
“Oh, that’s weird. Maybe the strip is de-magnetized.”
“No, it slid through fine. It just wasn’t accepted.”
“Hmmmm...I’ll have to look into that.”
He opened his wallet and saw his American Express card peeking its head out from one of the card slots. Though unlikely, he thought this card could have had twenty or so dollars of available credit on it.
“We don’t accept American Express,” said the bartender as Steve started pulling the card out of his wallet.
Christ, this wasn’t good. He only had one other option, a last resort. ‘Plan C’ was to use the Bank of America Visa that had an interest rate of something ridiculous. He knew he had enough credit on there, but he also knew the interest was going to absolutely ruin him. It figured that Cheryl had to order the most expensive drink ever invented. It was probably all part of her plan, though...to see how he would react, and whether he would be able to afford it.
“Here, then,” he said, reluctantly handing the bartender the Visa.
She went back to her register, slid the card and came right back.
“Ok, this one slides through all right. Close this one, too?”
You bet your ass close it.
“Oh yah. Close it, please.”
After what may have been ten minutes, Steve finally returned to Cheryl at the table, carrying the Stoli and a 24oz pint-glass of PBR.
“Sorry it took so long,” he said to Cheryl as he sat down. “The service here is really slow tonight.”
“Oh, that’s OK. No rush.”
“Here ya go,” he said, sliding the Stoli over to her on a napkin.
Steve took a sip of his beer and tried not to wince as he swallowed. The PBR tasted like sawdust with a hint of old man. Hopefully it would get better as his taste buds adjusted to the flavors. The first sip was always the toughest.
“Watcha drinkin’?” asked Cheryl.
If Steve were Pinocchio, his nose would have just poked Cheryl in the eye.
“Stella? That’s kind of a classy beer, right?”
“It’s a taster’s beer, really. I guess I’m kind of a Beer Connoisseur.”
Steve couldn’t help but glance over to the table next to him and see some guy rubbing the thy of his incredibly attractive date. Steve convinced himself that once he got his big break he would be able to do something very similar, if not the exact same thing.
“So...how was your day today?” asked Cheryl, winning back Steve’s attention.
The question made Steve uneasy and he thought he smelt another offensive coming his way. What was she getting at here?
“Good,” he said without elaborating, and quickly bounced the interrogatives back in her direction. “How was yours?”
“Ah, not too bad...just having some problems with one of my tenants.”
“Yeah, I rent a couple of my rooms out to people...you know, to help pay the bills. This guy’s been short on his rent for a cupla months now.”
“Oh, jeez. That’s not good.”
“He doesn’t work. He says it’s the economy, but I think all he wants to do is sit in front of the TV all day.”
“Oh, really? That’s not good. Maybe you should just kick him out.”
“It’s tough because he does nice things for me. Just the other day he bought me some gardening gloves from off the Home Shopper’s network. He has this problem where he buys everything he sees advertised on TV.”
Steve wasn’t incredibly interested in the conversation and knew it was just banal humdrum born from the fear of awkward silence. But, still, he wanted to make it last for as long as he possibly could. The longer she chatted about nothing, the longer he could prevent her from doing her prodding and prying.
“So he buys stuff off the TV but doesn’t pay the rent?”
“Yeah, but he can’t really help it. He’s a sweet guy, kind of disabled because he’s overweight. I just don’t have the heart to kick him out. Plus, he’s really good company. You know...”
Good, she wasn’t going to stop talking anytime soon, which was good news for Steve.
“Ever since the divorce...well, it’s been good having people in the house with me, so I don’t feel as alone.”
“Oh, you’re divorced? I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I’m not hee hee. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. The guy was a bum. Didn’t work. I can do better than that.”
Jeez, if this woman only knew who she was talking to right now.
“But, anyway...enough about me...”
No! Not enough about you! Keep talking!!!
“Where do you live?”
To be completely honest, Steve was actually surprised this question didn’t come up sooner. Aside from the “what do you do?” question, he knew that “where do you live?” was one of the first inquiries to be thrown at a guy during a first date. The general idea was for the woman to indirectly assess how much the guy was worth based on whether he lived in an apartment, condo or house. Yes, he knew the procedure all too well.
Fortunately, he had the answer to this question memorized and he would be able to deliver it, without stuttering, pausing or displaying nervous fidgeting.
“Oh, I got a house.”
“All to yourself?”
“Just a small Colonial. Not too much bigger than yours.”
“Wow, that’s great.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty nice. I love it, actually. Yeah.”
BAM! That was a simple battle to win. Superb delivery, he thought. He didn’t even bat an eye or show a fidget. Not even a Guantanamo Bay interrogator trained to study body language could have detected that lie. He was getting really good at all this. Bring it on, he thought. ‘Give me your best shot, Cheryl.’
But the questions were over. Steve and Cheryl’s conversation was suddenly interrupted by the band who was about to take stage.
“Hey everyone, thanks for coming out tonight! We are MEAN MACHINE and we’re gonna rock this house tonight!!!”
And with that announcement, the drummer started banging away the initial beats of - what do you know? - Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”.
“Oh, I love this song!” shouted Cheryl over the loud music. “Do you dance?!”
“Um, well...I can pretend to!”
“Good enough! Come on!”
She took Steve’s hand and led him to a small dance area in the front of the stage. With the exception of a small bachelorette party of prematurely-wasted girls, they were the only ones on the dance floor, although it was getting closer to eleven o’clock and some of the twenty-something drunkards were starting to roll in.
“Shake it up! Yeah! Pour Some Sugar On Me!”
Initially, dancing with Cheryl was awkward and everything seemed out of sync. They would both bob their heads to the left, for example, instead of one left and one right. And then he would grab her hand and try to twirl her around, but she didn't really understand what he was trying to do, so he kind of just dropped her hand and pretended like the past few seconds never happened. But over time, Steve and Cheryl’s buzz from the alcohol started to kick in and they became more harmonious with each other. Yes, Steve was actually shocked to find that he was having some fun! But this was a problem. He didn’t want to be having any fun. Fun meant wanting a second date, and Cheryl getting to know him more and then the fort (his true identity) would get more and more difficult to protect from the enemy.
“Shake it up! Yeah! Pour Some Sugar On Me!”
Fortunately, Steve’s car was NOT towed.
“Here we are,” he said as he pulled the Avalon into Cheryl’s driveway and cut the engine.
Cheryl didn’t move. She just sat in the passenger seat, as though waiting for something. And, of course, Steve knew full-well what she was more than likely waiting for. The date had gone surprisingly well and at some point during the night she more than likely decided she would want a kiss from him. Steve wasn’t sure, exactly, when this “point” occurred, but he figured it was around the time when they started dancing in sync with each other to the Def Leppard song. Steve would have liked to be in her head for that one and hear the thoughts going through her mind. Was it something simple, like, “Hmmm...I think I would like to kiss this man”? Or was it something more complex, like, “What stud! I want this dude, and I want him bad!!!” ?
Most guys in Steve’s position would have been thrilled to discover Cheryl staying in the car like she was at the given moment. Clearly this woman wanted - at the very least - a make-out session. Heck, it was an easy score! But Steve was different from other men right now. Normally, he would be onboard and consider a kiss getting his money’s-worth for the date, but the situation with Cheryl threw a bit of a curveball at him. Based on how the night had unraveled, Steve knew that he had the capacity to really start liking this woman, and if he kissed her, there was the definite possibility that it would go too well and he would start feeling a strong sensation inside his chest area, near or around his heart. He had thought that love was dead, or maybe he had just forgotten what the feeling felt like, but he was starting to feel it right now, and it was going to be a major problem if the feelings became any more intense. So he had to nip them in the bud, kill them off while they were still weak enough to be killed.
He opened the driver’s door...
“Here, I’ll walk you to the door...”
And he hopped out of the car.
“Oh...OK,” said Cheryl, clearly a little disappointed with what was happening.
She got out of the car and Steve met up with her on the passenger side. Then he shut the car door for her, very gentleman-like.
“Thank you,” said Cheryl. “Oh, my purse…”
Right, the purse! This time around, Steve opted not to pop the trunk from inside the car but to just open it with his key so he could quickly snatch the purse before Cheryl could peek in and get another look at his mother’s shoes inside. BOOM! Success.
He handed Cheryl the bag and then they strolled up the driveway.“Well, thanks for taking me out,” she said. “I really had a good time. Hopefully we can do this again.”
“Oh, definitely. Absolutely.” But Steve knew that this was more than likely a lie. He knew deep inside him that he wasn’t going to see this woman again.
They arrived at the house’s front cement steps and there was, again, more hesitation on Cheryl’s end. Steve glanced into her eyes and could almost read the questions racing through her head. Kiss? No kiss! Hug? Ask him to come in? What if he doesn’t accept? Just a hug! No, not a hug!!
He stood there for a moment and took a moment to enjoy the position of power he seemed to have over her. He clearly had the upper hand right now. He had successfully created the illusion that he was better than this woman. Yes, the question was no longer ‘Is he good enough for me?’, it was, ‘Am I good enough for him?’ He had definitely won the war tonight.
Of course, there was a part of Steve that felt bad for Cheryl, because he could see all her self-doubts and insecurities eating away at her like parasitic worms. But he also couldn’t deny the fact that he got some sadistic pleasure out of seeing her in this state and feeling so above her. Of course, this power over her was established through illusions, lies, exaggerations and half-truths about his identity, but that didn’t really matter. Although he arrived at this moment in time via the help of illusions, the moment itself was very real. And Steve couldn’t help but love every second of it. He knew that when - in just a few seconds - he would deny Cheryl the kiss and just give her a chilly hug, it would be the equivalent of forcing Cheryl to raise the white flag and surrender herself to him. It was complete and utter domination over her. ‘You wanted a kiss? Well you’re not gonna get it! Here’s a hug!’
“Well, bye,” said Cheryl looking like a basket case of awkwardness.
He hugged her and said a half-assed...
“Talk to you soon.”
His living room – well, that is, his mother’s – living room smelled of must and old lady. The 1950s-era wallpaper, the dust and all the various antiques always made Steve feel like he was sitting in The Bates house from that movie Psycho, but then that made him feel like Norman Bates and, well, feeling like Norman never did good things to Steve’s self-esteem.
Steve sat in an old, Victorian-styled sofa, itching his nose from room's dust and staring at a (modern) phone sitting atop a pinewood lamp-stand.
His hand seemed to have a mind of its own, like it was being manipulated by his heart, which still had residual feelings of warm and fuzziness from the date with Cheryl. The hand wanted to reach out, grab the phone and dial Cheryl’s number. But Steve’s brain was telling the hand to cut that crap out! It was a very bad idea. Then again, maybe he’d catch his break by the time they went out on a second date and he would be able to make the illusion he created of himself a reality. Yes, maybe he could get the house and the car and all that other nonsense.
He reached out for the phone, and even started to dial the initial three digits of Cheryl’s number, but he eventually realized the reality of the situation was that he was far, far away from purchasing a house and a Mercedes Benz automobile. Bail, he thought. Definitely bail.
The phone was in the same place it was before.
And so wasn’t Steve.
The phone rang.
Steve didn’t even have to look at the caller ID window because he already knew who it was that was calling. She had called four or five times over the course of the past few days, and this was bound to be her again.
Finally, the answering machine picked up and Steve was eager to hear what she was going to say this time around. Part of him, of course, felt bad that he was leaving her hanging like this; but, again, there was always that sadistic pleasure he got out of having control and domination over her.
“Hi, this is the Anderson residence. Please leave a message after the beep and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Thank you.”
“Hi...uh...this message is for Steve. Again, I hope this is the right number. But, um, yeah, it’s Friday night and I was just seeing what you were up to. Let me know what’s going on. OK, Thanks. Bye.”
Click! She hung up and Steve started to reach for the phone, almost out of an involuntary impulse. But, no, he still couldn’t go through with it. Aside from everything else, how was he ever going to explain his mother’s message greeting on the answering machine? There was no way. Bail.
RIIIIIIIING! RIIIIIIIING! RIIIIIIIING!
“Hi, this is the Anderson residence. Please leave a message after the beep and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Thank you.”
It was now a few days later and Steve took up his position on the sofa as soon as he heard the phone ringing. The pleasure of hearing Cheryl calling and calling all over again had begun to dissipate and now he was feeling all-out crappy about himself and the situation in general.
“Hi Steve,” said Cheryl over the answering machine. “This is Cheryl. I...uh, just want to know why you’re not calling me. I thought things went really great the other night. I’m, well...I’m confused. Um....”
Shit, Steve couldn’t take this anymore. He had a soul, for crying out loud, and this poor woman had enough of his torture. He knew what he had to do...
He snatched the phone from off the hook.
“Hey, hello...Cheryl. Hi. Yes, um...”
“Steve?” said Cheryl’s voice over the phone. “Oh, hi...how are you?”
“Oh, I’m good I...uh...look, Cheryl...I wasn’t completely honest with you the other night and I feel I have to come clean.”
Yes, enough shenanigans. Steve knew he had to end this and end this now.
“Yeah,” he continued, “I...uh...I just don’t find myself attracted to you.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“I had a great time with you, though.”
“Well, I appreciate your honesty. Thank you.”
“Ok, well, take care of yourself, Steve.”
“OK, I will. You too. Thanks.”
And with that, he hung up the phone, settled back into the couch cushions and let out a long, deep exhale. That was that; another date down the tubes. Of course, this one was a little different than the others. He had actually liked this woman, but he still had no choice but to flush her down the toilet like the rest.
Part of him mourned the loss of a potentially awesome woman who he may have had the ability to fall in love with. But another part of him still got that high he always got after dumping a girl. Yes, he got some very sick jollies out of being the one who did the dumping and not the other way around. HE was in control. HE had the power. HE dumped HER. HE dumped HER. He dumped HER. Boom! In your face!
Yes, he couldn’t help but admit that the high felt delicious. It was like being any other kind of addict: in theory, he knew that what he was doing was bad, but - in practice - the act of dumping one girl after another made him feel really, really good. And it was this feeling that inspired him to get off the couch, hop on the computer and log onto Plenty of Fish to find himself another date, which would be the third one this month, and maybe the twelfth or so in the past three/four months.
Perhaps it was all like a Jekyll-and-Hyde phenomenon; one side of him hated to torture and hurt another girl or pull at her heart strings or whatever. But there was that other side of him that got intense pleasure out of establishing his upper hand, power and domination over a member of the female race. And it was this part of him that scored himself a date for that following Saturday.