October 1, 2005
I can beat the shit out of him
by Keren Douek
er lips were orange. Not the kind of gentle pastel shade women wear to make their lips look like some sort of puckered, exotic fruit. It was the tacky orange Crayola every white kid picks out of the box as his standard skin-color crayon. I wore slacks and a black Kenneth Cole shirt and she wore jeans barely long enough to meet high boots and a black tank top to show off biceps which could beat the shit out of me.
Those were her words.
"He won't try anything 'cause I can beat the shit out of him."
That's what she was telling our neighboring loungers when I came back from the bathroom, where I'd nearly drowned myself in the stall.
"He knows I took three years of boxing."
But a gentleman doesn't drown himself in the bathroom stall and leave a lady with the check. So I met our neighbors’ smirks with the humored smile that said, "That girl! Always good for a laugh!" I even shook my head from side to side and looked adoringly at my date, Trish, as if she’d made some sweet crack at me, and sat real close to her on the couch. For all they knew we’d been dating a year and were just one of those funny couples who tease each other for kicks or foreplay or something.
"We met last night on Match.com," Trish smirked, grabbing a handful of fancy fries.
Our lounge neighbors looked like a Banana Republic ad. The girl even had the cardigan wrapped over her shoulders and tied in front of her coordinating tank. He had pinstriped socks that peaked out from the bottom of his cuffed pants. They were looking at Trish and wondering why she was imposing on their glossy-magazine world. Trish smiled.
I looked around for another spot in the maze of couches filling the L-shaped lounge, face-to-face and then back-to-back, like little individual islands cradled in their own candlelight.
"He told me he looked like a soap star." She laughed like a hyena, spewing french-fry bits.
Every seat in the dark room was taken, save for a stool or two in the back beside the bar where the lonely singles mingled and the blind dates waited for their better halves.
Trish offered me a fry from the pile. I declined.
I once almost choked to death on french-fries. I was on a double date with my friend Jake and these two girls we didn't even know. I definitely got the prettier girl, Allison. She had sweet blond curls and wore a cute little schoolgirl kind of plaid skirt, hitched up. She squeezed my leg while I was chewing french-fries and nearly killed me.
"Reeeally??" Our Banana Republic neighbors looked at Trish, genuinely surprised.
"Yeah," Trish continued, "We 'talked'"she made quotation marks with her fingers in the air to illustrate"for hours… on IM."
Were they surprised that anyone would meet on Match.com?
"We never even talked on the phone...." Trish blabbed on.
Were they surprised that anyone would admit to meeting on Match.com?
"...or swapped pictures."
Maybe they were surprised I’d said I look like a soap opera star.
”Would you believe it?”
I’d said I’ve been told I look like a soap star. Not that I thought I do.
My date wiped the fry grease on her jeans.
Maybe they were just surprised that such a seemingly perfect and absolutely lovely match as us could have really been arranged by the blind and arbitrary hands of technological pairing.
I didn’t get to ask because they became distracted feeling each others' faces and I thought I might interrupt something.
So I turned back to my date. The fries she’d engulfed had left small green specs of pepper scattered across yellow teeth. Charming.
She began to speak in a raucous voice and sent crumbs flying. I think she was talking about the cab ride over. I can’t be sure.
Why had I agreed to meet up with TrishD1 of Match.com? Why would I agree to meet a woman under these circumstances? Especially one who could beat the shit out of me? She had told me that online, you know? I’d had fair warning. But it’s funny how when you are reading something out of an Instant Message box you give it the voice and meaning you’d like it to have. It had sounded cute when I’d imagined it spoken by a "petite 32F with blond hair and a girlish figure" who’d teasingly raise an eyebrow and lean towards me and whisper, "Better not try anything...I can beat the shit out of you." It was cute. Maybe even a little kinky.
Less cute when it was spoken by a thirty-two-year-old with fading streaks and a stomach that spilled over both sides of a rhinestone-studded belt as she leaned forward, cracked her knuckles and rasped her warning.
Still. It didn’t matter. I had asked her out and I would treat her like a lady. I ordered the finest to fill our small glass-covered tables and had a bottle of wine chilled in a bucket of ice beside our couch. I put a hand on her back and gently massaged her neck as I gave her my best soap opera star smile.
I removed my hand and soap opera smile when she leaned her head back and belched what could only have been the garlic knots.
She whispered, "Excuse me."
Jake’s dad kind of looked like a soap star. He had the blond hair and blue eyes and all, and people used to joke that I looked more like his son than Jake did. I always used to hang around Jake's house, and his dad would tell us these crazy stories and then laugh and we’d laugh, not sure what we were laughing at exactly. I planned on being just like Jake’s dad when I grew up. He was a good-looking guy with a great car and a nice house. And of course the most beautiful wife. But it wasn’t just that she was beautiful, and the nicest mom who always made us hot cookies with runny chocolate chips. When Jake’s dad would crack a joke, even if it was a little stupid, his mom would laugh. She would put her head back a little and close her eyes, and she’d put one hand on her chest like maybe the joke was so funny that she really couldn’t breathe. And she’d put her other hand on Jake’s father’s lap. And when she was finally done laughing she’d smile at Jake’s dad and I sometimes thought maybe I wasn’t even supposed to get the joke and it was only for her to understand.
Trish told meas she chewed on a chunk of chicken wingabout how her last boyfriend had stolen from her. I was distracted by our neighbors, who had taken off their shoes and were sitting cross-legged on the couch. The woman was feeling the man’s bald spot and whenever she reached up to do this her cardigan slipped and little armpit strips peaked through.
On the couch behind ours, a girl was telling her friend about her idea to industrialize snack time. Mothers would come to her home in the mornings and pick up snacks for their children. Of course she would have special snacks for kids on special diets, kosher kids, kids allergic to peanut butter.
I must have missed my cue at sympathy because when I looked back my date was waiting. I quickly tsked and put my hand on her own and squinched up my eyes into the standard “that’s terrible” face to show that I understood what an ordeal she must have endured. She hardly looked satisfied, but resumed talking.
Allisonthe one who made me choke on my french-frieswas allergic to peanut butter. She told me when I was walking her home the two blocks from the local burger place where we took our first "dates" because we were too young to drive. She told me everything when I was walking her home. I guess she was nervous. I wasn’t, because I wasn’t really into her, even though she was really cute and had her skirt hitched up like that. I didn’t kiss her. But I knew she wanted me to. Her friendthe one Jake had taken outshe asked me in school the next day why I hadn’t kissed Allison.
Trish caught sight of the couple in the corner kissing and hooted in their direction, Arsenio style.
I told Allison’s friend that I hadn’t kissed Allison because I wasn’t in love with her.
When our neighbors got ready to leave he held her coat as she struggled into it, revealing one last peak of her bare armpit while she twisted, and then it was gone. They kissed for a moment, maybe for our benefit, and then walked away. Hand in hand.
I wondered how long they’d known each other for. I doubted they’d met the night before on Match.com.
But then again, you never know.
Everyone made fun of me. Even Jake. He said if I wasn’t going to do anything with her anyway I should have given him the pretty one.
Allison’s friend must have told her what I said because she didn’t speak to me anymore.
When you’re that young you might lie about the stupid stuff, but you’re too stupid to know to lie about the important stuff.
I should have said I didn’t kiss her because I was feeling sick. Or because I was afraid I had bad breath or something.
Better yet, I should have just kissed her.
A few minutes later, the waitressa slimmish girl with a messy bun and too-long face, but a sweet figure tied into a black apronasked if we wanted another round. I shook my head no, but my date’s "Hells yeah!" took precedence.
The waitress returned a minute later and filled the glass marked by Trish’s orange mouth.
Jake sometimes had pale orange lips on his cheek from his mom’s kisses.
He had them there the day he came over and broke my window. That was the day his mom left.
Jake said he didn’t care because she was a slut who had cheated on his dad and he was glad she left and hoped he’d never see her again. I didn’t believe him.
His mom wouldn’t do that.
My date must have caught the look that inadvertently slipped onto my face when she chugged her wine because she spat defensively, "Don’t worry about me, I can hold my alcohol." She then proceeded to miss her mouth and leave a stream on her tank top, which she thought was hilarious. She threw her head back and laughed in small, hiccup-like bursts.
I couldn’t tell if she was drunk or not.
I motioned to the waitress for the check.
I only once saw Jake’s mom after she left. I almost went to say hi to her, but she was with another guy and I felt strange, so I just watched them. She laughed while the guy spoke to her, and hung on him, and for some reason it angered me that her smile was still beautiful. And for some reason it angered me that I had been dumb enough to think that it wouldn’t be.
I held the cab door open and Trish crawled across the seat to the other side and reapplied her lipstick so that the orange blazed fresh.
Standing there, I tilted my head back to greet the freezing night with my numb face and closed my eyes so I couldn't see the stars.
Maybe there’s just a moment when you realize that you’re the only one still holding on. And maybe there are only so many times you can be smacked with the truth before you finally just let it go.
Most people regret that they don’t learn from experience.
Sometimes I regret that I do.
"It’s zero fucking degrees! Come on!"
I climbed into the cab and shut the door on a night’s last chance.
"My place?" I asked.
"Sure, what the hell?"
I gave the cabdriver my East Side address and leaned across the seat to kiss my date.
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