Two cheeseburgers to go

“I don’t care if you’re taken or not, because you probably are, but I’m going to ask you a question anyway.”

She said it without punctuation, and it came at me by surprise, the sort of introduction that makes you assume you’re not going to want to answer the question.

I was sipping a beer, waiting for a couple of cheeseburgers to bring home for me and my husband. She was the person nearest to me at the bar, two stools away, and was also waiting for her brunch. My order was to go. She had silverware.

She looked about 50 — maybe late 40s. It was hard to tell. She had brown hair that looked natural enough to me. The skin around her eyes was mostly unwrinkled. She was small, not unattractive, but not fit. She wore glasses and had a little nose that turned up at the end. Mousy, I would call her. Librarian-esque. IT, maybe. She wore minimal make-up; just some eyeliner, some powder. Just a neighborhood gal out for brunch on a Sunday by herself.

I didn’t want to talk to her, but my need to not be rude trumped my need to be left alone. “Uh, sure …” I said.

I looked up at the bartender. Sometimes a bartender will give you a clue if the stranger talking to you is crazy or all right, a little nod of solidarity and good luck. He just retreated to another customer. I imagined he was just happy that she was paying attention to someone else.

“I’m trying to figure out how to use this thing,” she said, cradling her cell phone in both hands, thumbs poised for typing.

Relief! The answer was a simple no. No, I have an iPhone. I don’t know how to use your model. Sorry. Can’t help you.

But she went on: “So, look. OK. I joined Match.com. Chemistry.com cost too much — can you believe how much? I tried that one already, and I just couldn’t believe it.” She went into some forgettable, unremarkable detail about cost. “Anyway, I got a few responses, but I declined ’em. They’re all too far away. I’m not going to drive an hour for a first date just so I’ll never see him again. And now I have all these messages. I don’t know where they’re coming from. Do I keep ’em? Do I delete ’em? How do I stop this? It’s just too much. I don’t want ’em! What the hell did I do wrong? Heh!”

She followed that last bit, “what the hell did I do wrong?” with a little snort of a laugh, the overemphasis betraying her social awkwardness. She was powering through this.

I don’t know anything about dating sites, but I tried to give her a thoughtful answer. “Don’t you want responses? Isn’t that the point?” I offered. “Maybe it’s a good thing.”

“Ah. They’re probably creeps” she said. “These are guys who just go after everyone.”

I reached for a platitude, but she cut me off with a gasp.

“Oh! It’s my age! They’re only after me because they think I’m not picky. They think I’m desperate.”

She told me her age. I don’t remember it. 49? She told me her name, too, eventually, but I don’t remember that either.

I didn’t know what she wanted from me. We went on for a little bit, her complaining about some aspect of the process, me trying to respond thoughtfully. Everything she was saying suggested she just wasn’t into the dating thing: The questionnaire was too long. I’m getting too many messages. The guys are all too far away.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking you all this,” she said. “You’re certainly easy on the eyes. And you’re a good listener. I’m probably over-sharing. I’m over-sharing, aren’t I? I over-share a lot. It’s something I need to work on. But thank you for listening. You must be a lady’s confidante.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. “Lady’s confidante”?

“Oh,” she continued. “I didn’t see your ring until just now. Your lady. Your wife?,” she ventured. “How long you been together.”

At first I had no compulsion to correct her assumption that I was straight. It didn’t matter to me whether she knew or not. But we spoke long enough that, were I not to correct her, it would amount to an active lie.

“It’s husband, actually. Not wife,” I said.

Her face exploded into a smile. “Oh! That’s great. That’s really great,” she said, nodding. “Yeah, my dad, you know, he had C———. They’re both dead now.” She was still smiling and nodding.

“Oh, I’m … sorry,” I said.

“Oh, it’s ok,” she said. “Just don’t ever go to Methodist hospital. Don’t ask me why.”

So her dad is — was gay. Does she want me to ask about him? But she had moved on to his death and some cryptic advice about a hospital. Ugh, what’s the response here? I was falling behind.

“And then there’s B——— and M———. And K——— and L——— are still together.”

She descended into listing off her catalog of gay friends, trying to establish her cred. Why do people do this?

And then suddenly we were talking about my husband, my relationship. How long have we been together? How’d we meet?

“Oh, I can see you’re still in love,” she said. “I can see it in your eyes. You’re still in love with him.”

I blushed.

“I can see it!” she said. “You still love him. Oh, that’s great. That’s just great!”

It was a little annoying that she presumed to know so much about me. I hate it when complete strangers draw conclusions from superficial cues. I just don’t like people prodding at me. I once wrote a letter to my high school psych teacher that I would not participate in any activity that made me feel like I was being analyzed, and he hardly said a word to me all semester.

But she was right. I do love my husband. I love him madly sometimes. And I kind of liked that it was so obvious. She was beginning to charm me. She was beginning to make me feel lucky. Maybe she wasn’t so crazy. Maybe she was just a little lonely, and the best way she knew to talk to a strange man was to seem vulnerable and irrefutably single.

Maybe the Belgian white I was drinking was beginning to soften me a little.

I wasn’t going to invite her over for a barbecue or anything, though!

Mainly I was glad she was no longer kvetching about Match.com.

But … what happened at Methodist Hospital?


4 Responses to “Two cheeseburgers to go”

  1. June 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    You’re a great writer! Love reading your posts.

  2. July 1, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Well, she’s certainly right about two things: 1) You are easy on the eyes, and 2) your love is great! Those of us who found our special someone in this world are very lucky indeed!

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the untallied hours

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