Early retirement didn’t happen every day. In my defense, I was truly excited for my mother. I suppose in hindsight, perhaps I had slapped an umbrella garnished drink in her hand and unceremoniously pushed her out the front door of her own home—that’s the way she said I made her feel. Real or imagined, once mom got her feelings bent, apologizing was about as useless as dabbing at a severed femoral artery with a Q-tip—messy and ineffective.
Midway through an icy stare, Mom made a point of reminding me that I had always been the most troublesome of her three boys. A rather belabored point, in my opinion, but mom specialized in the beating of all things dead. In the blink of an eye, she’d troll back through the years, retrieving and regurgitating examples of my past failures so that we might dissect them anew. There was the lost retainer when I was nine—swallowed it whole in Jimmy Dill’s backyard during a reenactment of Evil Knievel’s Snake River Canyon jump. As busted and mangled as I was, Mom made me poop into a tea strainer for the better part of two weeks—nothing but mud. Although she denies it, I remember her mumbling that I deserved crooked teeth, and that she hoped the retainer lodged in such a way that it prevented me from reproducing another like me. Mom’s viperous tone associated with the lost retainer was nothing compared to the fury she unleashed when she discovered the broken strap on her favorite bra. It was a Sunday morning and I found it particularly ironic that she beat me about the head and shoulder with a miniature crucifix from her nightstand—extracting justice one thump at a time until I confessed that my distorted version of charity consisted of slingshotting cans of soup at those standing in line at the shelter. The retainer and bra incidents were solid and tangible predictors of future missteps and failures, she said.
Mom had the opportunity to visit my older brothers and their wives—shuttling off to Omaha or Poughkeepsie and making over her grandchildren a week at a time. She could finally travel on a whim—a rustic cabin in the far reaches of Minnesota in the summer time, and spend the winters hanging out at a tiki bar on a sunbaked beach in the Bahamas. The possibilities were endless.
Mom never gave an official reason for holing up in the farmhouse, or becoming significantly more involved in my life. When questioned directly about the entanglement, she claimed it was well within her ‘motherly right’ to invest inordinate amounts of time dabbling in my personal affairs.
Just last Tuesday she became obsessed with the idea that speed dating was a fabulous new vehicle for me to meet the woman of my dreams. To which I promptly referred her to Consumer Reports as supporting evidence that new vehicles are often dangerous and subject to recall. I also stated I didn’t believe a head-on collision broken into five-minute intervals was necessarily less painful or debilitating. Throughout my teens and early twenties, I’d been involved in a few relational train wrecks, and made it quite clear that I wanted no part of another catastrophe even if it fell under the seemingly benign heading of speed dating.
Mom had a way of calling me out. At some point in the fray, she would label me a drama queen and then offer some subtle means of proving otherwise. I especially liked it when redemption came in the form of a bet. Mom was the gullible type who believed anything she read or heard—gossip at the hairdresser, social media rants, conspiracy theories floating about the internet—every delicious morsel as reliable and steadfast as the red lettering in the Holy Bible. I jumped on the opportunity like a fat man on a chilidog during ‘Two-for-one Tuesday’. You can only imagine how flabbergasted I was to discover that Rabbi Yaacov Deyo had first introduced the original concept of speed dating in the late 1990’s, just as she insisted. I did lose the bet, but claimed a minor victory when I eventually convinced her that even though a rabbi was involved, her assertion of divine powers at work was not necessarily mutually exclusive.
I suppose every downward spiral begins when you brush against an invisible portal called destiny, and a mysterious black and swirling force sinks its teeth into your ankle. Like fresh meat dragged into a grinder, round and round it thrashes you—your think-box pounded against the pavement until all your dreams and fears come spilling out your ears in liquid form. Maybe mom had a point about the drama queen thing, but it didn’t change the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I heard the words speed dating.
I arrived in the parking lot a few minutes early and observed the first ominous sign—a line of angry and agitated blue-hairs, locked arm-in-arm, protesting the decision to allow the bingo hall’s temporary use. It unfolded like a deleted scene from a geriatric zombie movie. Operating under a higher power of confusion, they shuffled their walkers into the form of a circle and closed in on a distraught young woman. They pawed in her general direction and mumbled “B-ware, I-4 an eye, and O-hell no”. I probably could have tossed a couple of 10% off coupon onto the ground and rescued the woman, but I wasn’t feeling particularly heroic. Instead, I used the diversion to slip around the slow-motion melee and enter the building with only a trace scent of icy-hot on my back-trail.
A lame but recognizable knockoff of June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver welcomed me. In an effort to promote their overtly chivalrous ploy, the organizers had stationed one woman at each table. The men would be required to do the moving around—a primordial reference to hunting and gathering I supposed. She explained that each man could choose his first date from the available seats. While perusing the possibilities, a brilliant and devious idea flashed through. My mother was crafty enough to suspect sabotage, but proving such dating debauchery would be difficult.
After accepting the chilly offerings of a folding a chair I wasted no time making direct eye contact with the unlikely choice. During this pivotal moment I’m certain her eyebrows would have arched noticeably, had they existed. It was unclear whether she was the victim of a lawn manicuring accident involving a renegade weed-whacker, or she simply shaved them off into trashcan for maximum shock value—I supposed the latter. Heavy black lipstick against a pasty white backdrop was only a brief pit stop on the way to the glistening hardware in her right nostril, but the main attraction consisted of an epic battle of wills playing out atop her head. The sides were shaved down to stubble making for an elevated platform, where two equally proportioned swathes of tangled hair, one of them magenta and the other hot pink, were battling for a position of dominance. Magenta was the clear winner, as the hot pink definitely overpowered the bleached platinum base. Before I could cast my vote, the bell rang and she lobbed the first question.
“Where would you say that you are in life?”
I reasoned ‘the middle’ would be too sophomoric.
“Where am I at in life? I suppose if you consider the jet-set in L.A. the ultimate destination, and judging from your appearance I’m certain that you do. I’m probably stuck knee-deep in a brownish-green lake of manure in the middle of Iowa—too busy slopping pigs and making bacon to care about the next stupid thing that comes out of Kayne West’s mouth. Not that Kanye is inherently stupid, but given a half hour I could produce half a dozen yard gnomes that communicate more effectively.”
“So you’re into pigs?” She inquired suggestively.
“It’s what I do. I’m not suggesting you’re a pig or anything, but your eyes are set very close together and your nose does turn up at the end. Did you know they put rings in a pig’s snouts so they don’t root the ground?”
“Like the one in mine?” She asked, touching her nostril.
“Well, minus the gaudy fake diamonds of course, because for the most part pigs aren’t into cliques and class warfare. The rings are simply a deterrent—make it a painful experience not worth repeating. Very much like this speed-dating thing is working out for me. Sorry for wasting your time, Penicillin.”
“It’s Pricilla, more like Presley, less like the overprescribed antibiotic. No need to apologize for being an ass—genetic defect I’m sure. And as far as wrinkly, sphincter-type creatures go, I’ve met worse. Actually, that’s a complete lie designed to preserve and protect your fragile ego. I’m working on old-fashioned, but unfortunately you caught me during a techno-glitch—VCR slipped a belt midway through a Little House on the Prairie marathon. Anyhow, hope you and your piglet friends have a
stellar life, Mr. Pristine Pooper.”
“That’s Cooper, Eugene Cooper.”
The bell rang and all I could manage was an inappropriate wink, like the crusty guy hanging out the window of an unmarked van parked at the edge of a playground. “Can I circle-back with you later?”
“Suit yourself, but don’t take it personally if I slit my wrists when I see you coming.”
Based on sheer sex appeal, I supposed the fit, blonde aerobics instructor from Ames was the clear cleavage winner—a stand out in the most literal and artificial sense of the word. Mrs. Cleaver developed an understandable animosity toward the busty young candidate, as the hostess felt obligated to wipe down her table with disinfectant between rounds and mop the floor to prevent any saliva related slips or cross contamination lawsuits.
Concerning the competition I faced, I could only eliminate one of them with any certainty. I had nothing against Juan, his alligator pointy shoes, or the way he wiggled his hips like he was working a glass runway in Milan. I’m almost certain he misunderstood the hetero format, and am equally positive that in his own element he would have wowed the boys and set their naughty parts tingling.
In all, I engaged with eleven other women. Under normal circumstances, at least ten of which would have appeared more attractive and physically compatible than Pricilla, but tonight they were merely ill-prepared understudies, definitely and permanently forgettable. There was something forbidden, yet mysteriously alluring about a freakish train wreck of an exterior disguising a feisty soul who could deliver biting sarcasm in a tone reserved for prepositions. Under the daunting circumstances where I had attacked her character so completely, she shrugged me off, and mounted a laudable defense. It was more than laudable; the name-play alone, Pristine Pooper for Eugene Cooper, bordered on genius.
I fussed with the buttons on my coat long enough that she and I were the final candidates remaining in the hall. Reaching into the pockets to retrieve my gloves provided the opportunity to steal a quick glance. Pricilla caught me looking and issued a broad and knowing smile. Had the queen of rebellion not been wearing it, I would have considered it rather delicious and suggestive in nature. In the breadth of a sideways moment, I decided she was trying to lure me close enough to drive a final dagger in my kidney. I probably owed her that. As we ambled together toward the exit, I felt obligated to speak.
“Any reasonable prospects?” I offered the inquiry without looking.
“Not really—nothing I couldn’t have scraped from the floor of a subway train during my drunken ride back to my cardboard box excuse for a home—certainly none that insulted me as thoroughly as yourself. You set the bar pretty high, Eugene—the pig machine.”
We paused a few feet from the exit. I looked at her this time. “About that—the way I treated you earlier. It really wasn’t about you personally, more abou….”
“About your general opposition to the idea of speed dating—you were flexing your anti-establishment muscle—completely understandable for a renegade soul that pig-farms in the middle of Iowa. You’re probably here because you lost a bet. It’s O.K., really. I’m used to it.”
We reached for the door at the same time and while I’m not exactly sure of the logistics, our arms became tangled. We were close enough I could smell the subtle essence of perfume. Suddenly I was afraid she could feel the trembling of my hand through the shared door handle. “How about a cup of coffee somewhere, and I promise before the night is over I’ll slip you a subway token so you don’t have to hop the turnstile again.”