“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The whole cabin of my Wrangler shakes in the howling wind that blusters up the towering grassy hill. The night is cool and pleasant – the breeze has only just picked up in the last quarter hour, prompting us to end our moonrise picnic to the Top of the World.
This hilltop lookout is easily the highest point as far as the eye can see, granting an unbroken panoramic view. Out here in the farmland, the lights of the city cannot obstruct our view of the stars; countless constellations and the cloudy arm of the milky way are all in view in the void above.
“I hate to leave,” She says, looking longingly at the sky. “It’s so beautiful out here.”
“It’s nice and quiet.”
“And romantic,” She smiles, and takes a step toward me, “This is literally the nicest date anyone has ever brought me on.”
I close the rest of the distance between us, and move in for the kiss.
We get in my car and take one last look up at the sky – I’ve taken off the roof for the occasion – before we drive back down the hill, across the fields, and though the woods to the road.
The wind screams over the top of the car, making the radio inaudible and conversation impossible. But I keep a smile on my face the entire way home.
As my thoughts on the evening consume me, something breaks through the bliss and itches at the back of my mind. Conversations I had heard overheard, and scraps of information She had mentioned in passing were eating at me.
We pull up in front of her apartment, and I stop her as she reaches for the door.
“I know that you said you’ve still been meeting up with your ex on the weekends to hook up,” I start off slowly, then pause for a breath. “If you want to keep seeing me, that needs to stop.”
She looks at me without a trace of emotion in her face. She opens her mouth to speak but hesitates a moment, stunned by my request.
Finally she replies, “I’m going to keep seeing him. But I love going out and spending time with you. Can’t you just deal with a few more weekends while I get this out of my system?”
Good Lord, she’s not even kidding. I can see it in her eyes: that childish pleading look.
“I’m sorry – I have standards,” I say, curtly. “Now get out of my car.”
She steps out onto the curb, and I reach across to close the door behind her. I speed off in low gear without a glance back. For some of life’s concerts you should never be content playing second fiddle. No one is worth the price of your self respect.
There were things living at the bottom of White Pines Harbor that one would not care to encounter even on the sunniest of days. When the clouds rolled in over the root beer-colored water, swimmers knew better than to enter. Even boaters were hard to come by. Most dreaded the thought of brushing against the wandering tentacle of a certain loathsome creature. . .
At least, that’s the story we fed the each year’s incoming class of gullible novice rowers. The story started after an odd bit of graffiti appeared on the side of our boathouse. The picture was of an evil looking octopus; bright yellow with purple speckles along its tentacles. It all began as an off-the-cuff joke, but when a superstitious teammate bought into it, the varsity team doubled down
“That’s why we really need to nail down the backstory. Create some lore we can draw on,” Tyler insists.
“Oh, shut up and pass me the seven-sixteenths wrench, will you?” I ask, rolling my eyes.
He leans across the crew shell to hand me the tool bag, so I can take what I need. We’re gathered around a Wintech quad, which is up on slings so we can de-rig and trailer it for our upcoming regatta.
“I dunno, Tyler might be right. Could be a lot of fun, especially if the story lasts after we graduate. It would be kind of like a legacy!” Alana chimes in. She stands on tip-toe – being our vertically challenged coxswain – and works on the slide tracks. She scrapes off crusted salt with a metal file, and greases the components to prevent rusting.
“Well we should keep it simple, right? Ampliatis was kind of an ass pull, but it was the only mysterious sounding thing I could think of at the time,” I admit. “Who does it hunt? How do you avoid it? That’d be the next question anyone stupid enough to buy into this will ask us.”
“Hmm,” Tyler scratches a patch of scruff on his face. He’s staring into space, clearly reaching for an idea. Then his eyes focus, and lock onto a yellow-painted single-seater racing shell. “What if this thing just likes the color yellow?”
“Why yellow?” Alana asks.
“Why not? The water is dark. Yellow stands out. Easy to see,” Tyler reasons.
“Okay, I’d buy it if I was fucking stupid,” I concur.
“You’d buy anything if you were up to your neck in that water and something brushed against you,” he counters. He’s not wrong. I’d fallen into the harbor more than once after an ejector crab – when the boat is moving quickly, your oar gets stuck in the water and keeps going, and the handle slams into your sternum and throws you out of the boat.
“Okay. And how do we stop him?”
“You can’t. You just want to stay the hell away from those yellow singles. It’s like painting a target on your back,” I jump in. “Or your ass,” I reconsider.
Alana nods in agreement. “It’ll make the newbies think twice about asking to take out the single. That boat flips more than any other anyway-”
“Except the pair,” Tyler corrects her. I nod in agreement.
We wound up being right about the legacy of our legend: The Cult of Ampliatas became a canonical part of our team’s habits and history. Within three seasons, enough people objected to rowing in the yellow shell for our coach to have it repainted. She tried to figure out where the rumors were coming from, but could not.
The more people who believed it, the more powerful the superstition became. And eventually, when the rowing club came into some money, the source material was painted over. But that seemed to only further cement our myth.
Sometimes, all it takes is a little mystery to create the most striking stories.
Some things are so unpleasant your brain tries to block out any memory of them, I decide – tightening my grip on the porcelain rim of the toilet bowl as I feel my stomach turning itself inside out – but once you’re exposed to them again, all those painful memories come flooding back.
My nose and mouth burn as I empty the contents of my stomach into the water. I cough, sputter, and spit several times, before I slump back against the wall next to the bathtub. My nausea temporarily subsiding, I reach out and press down the handle, flushing the toilet. What used to be more than a few rounds of champagne, Jameson, and Yuengling all recede down into the plumbing.
I look across at my roommate Matt. He’s slumped against the bathroom counter on the opposite side of the toilet. We’ve been here the last hour or so.
Matt groans, and closes his eyes. “I-I’m so sorry,” he stammers. “Last night just- it just- it got so out of hand,” he manages.
“Don’t be an idiot, that was a guh, (I fight back the urge to vomit again,) great fucking party. Glad we went,” I assure him. I’m not lying either: we spent the evening – leading into the early hours of the morning – at a 1920’s themed house party, with themed drinks and music to boot.
Upon getting home, I had enough time to take off my dress shirt before I started retching, but I’m still wearing the wool pin-striped pants I picked up at the thrift shop. My suspenders have slipped off my shoulders, and are partially tangled around my arms. Matt’s fedora is laying in the bathroom doorway.
“My head. Is kuh-ill-ing me. And my stomach isn’t doin’ great either,” Matt groans again.
“We’ll survive,” I assure him. Although I’m not so sure myself: I feel another wave of nausea swelling in my stomach. I reach around into the tub behind me and turn on the shower. Just the sound gives me something else to think about for a moment.
“It was kinda worth it, wasn’t it?” Matt mumbles. “I mean, things finally happened with Liz right? You walked her home, did you…” He trails off, as I shake my head.
“I didn’t want to try anything tonight. We made out a few times during the party, but I’m not that kind of guy. I told her I’d call tomorrow, and I will. If we ever get through this morning, that is,” I reply. I edge myself closer to the toilet again, just in case.
“Man, how did we get so trashed?” Matt massages his temples.
I knew exactly how: a complete game of Cheers, Governor, followed by a few rounds of Civil War and Keep Drinking and Everybody Explodes – a game of our own creation. Then we shook all that liquor up with an hour or two of dancing.
“I shouldn’t have had the jungle juice,” Matt doubles over. It looks like he’s about to start throwing up again, but he steadies himself.
“I think that’s pretty fucking sound advice for any situation,” I laugh. “You know Tommy makes it with like, half Everclear, right? You’re lucky you aren’t in the E.R. right now.” A smile flickers across Matt’s face. His eyes are still shut tightly.
“I think I, we sh- ” he trails off, his head lolling to the side. I’m briefly concerned, until I hear Matt start to snore. He’s out cold.
My arms slip to my sides, and my head rests against the plexiglass shower door. I shiver, but my head hurts and I worry if I stand up to get warmer clothes, I’ll start heaving again. I decide to rest for a while right here.
As my stomach finally starts to settle down, I start reliving the highlights of the party in my head; dressing up, dancing to old music, drinking games with my closest friends. And of course there was Liz in her blue dress. The way she kept leaning in during our conversations, her face getting dangerously close to mine.
These thoughts make the current misery seem trivial. More than that, they make it seem fair, or justifiable. If every night out could be this fun, I would take the accompanying hangover with no complaints. If that’s the price paid for living in the moment, so be it.
Theorem: The odds of you encountering any given person -most notably when walking around a corner, passing through a doorway, etc. – are in direct correlation with the amount of shit you are talking about them.
As you can see illustrated in Fig. 1, we can extrapolate that as the amount of shit-talking approaches its upper limit, the probability of encounter approaches one.
In my studies, I have found the Dawson postulate most often exemplified on cross-country track team work out runs.
The principle itself is named for Max Dawson – a snarky brown-noser who was often an object of ridicule for teammates. At 18, he was still a tattle-tail.
My teammates and I used to go on what we called, “Grievance Runs.” They’re about as cathartic as they sound. One person would simply state, “I have a grievance.” Once we were sure no one else was in ear-shot, someone else in the group would reply, “We are prepared to hear your grievance.”
Grievances could be something as vague as people who wear socks with sandals, or as oddly specific as people who wear long skirts but pull them up higher to make them more revealing. They can also be about a specific person. A large chunk of our grievances tended to center on the women’s track team. That was pretty much our only dating pool, since we spent most of our free time at practice.
The course we ran on involved many intersecting trails; we often turned a bend or crested a hill, only to find ourselves face-to-face with the subject of our grievance. And no matter who you were complaining about, rest assured if you ran into Max, he would run and tell. After more than a few laughably embarassing mishaps, we started to get careful.
As obnoxious as Max was, he taught an excellent lesson early on in my life, before it really mattered. When on the road, you never out-drive your headlights; when talking shit, never out-gossip your line of sight. Understanding that can be the key to saving friendships, marriages, and even careers.
I practically break down the sliding automatic doors with my shopping cart – they’re too slow, and I’m hungry. I fly past the display at the store entrance, and look at some of the items for sale. Cookies, cereal boxes, random crap – probably all marked up to shit. I glance over at a box of knock-off lucky charms on the edge of the shelf. $6.75? For that?
Pulling the cart hard to the right, I head over to the produce section. I grab two bags of buy-one-get-one-free spinach leaves, and head over to the fruit. I rifle through the boxes of neatly stacked strawberries.
What am I working with here? Squished, gross, crushed, moldy. The fuck are they playing at? Do they expect me to just blindly through all this in my basket like a fucking sheep? Fuck this, I’m getting clementines.
Next stop, meat section. Bacon? Boom. In the cart. Chicken? Done. Ground beef? Of course. I make three violent slash marks through the items on my list, almost breaking my pencil.
I drop a half gallon of milk and a bottle of orange juice in the cart too. I cut left into the coffee aisle and push a whole shit ton of k-cups into my basket. Just in case.
On my way back around to the front of the store I stop in the baked good section to test my willpower. I never buy any of the delicious cookies, donuts, or cakes they have on display, no matter how good they smell. I like to walk past all the temptation and prove to myself that I won’t cave.
You are strong, not some weak shopper who just shovels everything they see into their cart. You cannot tempt me, baked goods aisle. There isn’t – wait, French toast muffins? That can’t be a thing. Well, it’s a breakfast food, right? No harm in trying.
Before I have time to rethink, I begrudgingly put them on top of my cart.
Despite my transgression in the pastry aisle, I’m making excellent time. Five minutes to get home, ten to pre-heat the oven, I could have some delicious fucking chicken-bacon quesadillas in my stomach in like, half an hour tops. The only thing that could stop me now is – FUCK. A slow lady at the checkout line. And there’s only one lane open. Do they think only two people in the whole fucking city could ever possibly want to get groceries at the same time? IDIOTS.
“No,” The woman in front of me tells the cashier, “I need you to ring up these with my credit card. Then pay for the rest in like, a different order, with cash.” Defiantly, the customer snaps one of the conveyor-belt dividers right in the middle of her own assortment of food. She turns to me and glares, daring me to start taking any of my own items out of the cart.
I feel a burst of adrenaline, and wonder how hard I would have to push the cart to knock her out of the way. Realizing I’m still probably very amped up from my run, I think better of it. After what felt like an hour it was finally my turn.
“Here’s my rewards card, my credit card. Plastic bags are fine. Not debit, no I don’t need my receipt.” I power my way through the last human interaction between me, and dinner.
On my walk back to the parking lot, the endorphin rush starts to fade. When I look down into my car to load up the trunk, I notice I may have purchased a bit more than I intended.
I didn’t remember getting two extra packages of bacon, instant chicken tenders, a two pound bag of sour patch kids, a carton of yogurt covered raisins, brownie mix, and a few crunch bars for good measure. Huh. So much for impulse control.
Never shop hungry.
I’m shit at dating, but sometimes I can convince someone to get dinner with me. Then what? Let me set the scene for you:
INT. CENTRO BUS — EVENING
HER, an attractive twenty-something, who loves country music, rides the BUS beside CLUELESS IDIOT, nervous.
This is my stop. Thanks for taking me out tonight.
I can walk you back if you like.
Are you kidding? It’s all the way up all those stairs; it’d be silly to make you walk up and down like that.
All right, well I had a lot of fun. Want to do this again sometime?
Oh absolutely we will. I promise.
There is probably some obvious sign there, which I’m just too thick to see. Still hoping for a follow up date though, assuming it even was a date. As I write this I realize that it probably was one, but that the semantics shouldn’t matter. All the same, I get to thinking: are there any dead giveaways that you are on a date, not just out as friends?
I’m sure in some corner of the Internet, someone has the answer, and I’m determined to find it. Turns out there are plenty of people blogging about the subject – mostly women writing for other women, like the confusion is somehow my fault. The general consensus is if you offer to pay for dinner, and you smell nice, you’re on a date. It’s all very scientific.
I decide that this is important enough to bother my friends with. Their responses vary. Some say one-on-one time with Her is automatically a date. Others say it’s only a date if I kiss Her.
Instead of clearing things up, I find I may have committed a major breach of protocol by not going for the goodnight kiss. Never the less, one friend actually has detailed instructions for people like me:
I’m told the last step is the most important: you can’t have a good kiss without reciprocity.
“If you’re gonna make a move, you go 90% and make her go the other 10 if you’re gonna kiss her,” my helpful friend explains, “then you know she’s into you.” This is the best advice I’ve been given on the subject.
Another buddy tells me to track down the lobster from the little mermaid – the one that sings Lalalala, go on and kiss the girl – maybe it can give me the encouragement I needed. We’re in BJ’s when he tells me this, so naturally we stop by the live seafood tank to see if they sell crustaceans that could pose as my wingman. It seemed like a more plausible idea while I was drunk.
It isn’t until I remember that lobsters don’t really talk that it hits me: here I am, thinking about whether I should’ve kissed Her, while I’m not even entirely sure if it was a date. But instead of shrugging it off like a normal human being, I’m sobering up in a chain retailer trying to pick out an anthropomorphic sea creature who can do the legwork for me. Not only am I definitely overthinking it, but also I’m probably the reason that women write these, “Am I on a date?” articles. My God, I am the problem.