“There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.”
— F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby
As a child I never needed a girlfriend. In kindergarten, my best friend’s dad teased me about possibly liking a girl and from that moment until the great hormone movement of 1994, I wanted nothing to do with them. Despite what my entire 3rd grade class sang in unison one day while the teacher was out of the room, “Rob-bie has a giiirlfriend!” I never had one, the class just wanted to make me cry in embarrassment until she returned and made them stop. I was the first 4th grader to get acne (the rest of puberty waited until I was 16) and was low on the list of guys girls found cute. By the age of 12 they assumed that I was just the smart kid who was good at sports but with no interest in their dramatic world of companionship. I teased and joked with them, but would never circle “Yes” on any of their notes. Candy did not (I’ll call her Candy in this story because that actually was her real name).
Candy lived a few blocks away in her mother‘s trailer. She often rode her bike up and down our street with her dirty, bare feet dressed in dirty t-shirts with dirty Band-Aids on her skinned up legs, while screaming dirty words just in case local property value could diminish any further. My older sister assured me that Candy would definitely be the first classmate to get pregnant. I explained that no one would touch her, let alone get her pregnant.
One day while walking to lunch Candy ran up and put her arm around me and yelled, “Oh Robbie, I love you, go with me!” She laughed as I swung my Snoopy lunch box around to free myself. I had been violated. Her coat reeked of cigarette smoke and dog hair. I imagined how bad her trailer must have smelled. My friends and I wouldn’t even use a ruler after this girl, but I had been exposed to direct contact. I worried about the class seeing it and breaking into another chant. Luckily, only my friend Steve witnessed her passionate gesture so I suggested she go try that on him, but she didn’t. Apparently I was the lucky one.
I was unaware of the seriousness of her action until that weekend when she sang, “I love Robbie Durhaaaam!” while biking past our house. Mom explained to me that she had a similar problem when she was my age and that I should just ignore her. By Jr. High Candy eventually gave up on her crush and moved away. I didn’t see her again until a couple of years after high school. She introduced me to her 7-year-old child.
Midway through college I wasn’t quite as afraid of girls. High school provided some dating experience but not much confidence but now I was in the 19th month of a 21- month stretch without even kissing a girl. My friends were busy losing their virginity and breaking hearts, but I just wanted to get to first base. My sister replied back to one of my self-pity letters and made the point that the reason that I was single was because I “HAD NOT ASKED ANYONE OUT!!!” She wrote using giant, wiggly letters, also circling and underling them to stress as much tough love as possible. Realizing she was right, I made a point in trying to talk to more girls. Earlier in the year I asked a girl in my theater class to go see one of the assigned plays we had to watch. It was the first time I had been stood up. Things had to get better.
So I decided that yes, I would ask someone out. Liz, the cute girl in my Shakespeare class, was petite with a simple blonde bob. Our desks were arranged in a U around the room’s perimeter so I always sat almost straight across from her. She seemed quiet which made her even less intimidating. She was not out of my league but pretty close. I ignored an entire 90 minute lecture on King Richard III that I didn’t read anyway and focused on building up my nerve. There was a 4 minute break in the middle of our class but a crowded hallway next to a drinking fountain wasn’t the place to make my move. I would hold out until after class.
Typically I looked forward to the moment when we all got up with dozens of backpacks zipping, cigarette cases being pounded, desks screeching on the floor but today it meant I finally had to ASK SOMEONE OUT!
I reminded myself that Liz didn’t know I was going to talk to her. I thought that I had to catch her before she got away. I followed her outside and walked down the concrete stairs behind her. Perfect, she paused to unlock her bike.
“Hi, you’re Liz, right?”
“Yeah,” she said, “Hi.”
“I’m Rob, would you like to go out sometime?” I said consciously trying to sound confident.
“I’m flattered,” she raised her head, “but I’ve been with a guy for three and a half years,” I looked down in shame.
“Oh,” I walked away knowing that all 52,000 students heard her. Liz rode away in the same direction that I would normally take so I adjusted 90 degrees east and took the long way home. I was afraid to look right or left or even move my head to see more than the next few steps. Three and a half years? Did she need to throw in that half? Was their relationship that happy that she had it measured out that well? Had I waited 3 months would it have been three and three quarters’ years? Would just saying three years not have driven the point home? Maybe she said it because she actually did feel flattered and wanted to show that she would have said yes if she was single. No. Maybe that’s a line she always gives guys like me. Maybe she added the extra half year to make her lie more believable. I could see her and her friends sitting around, “Always make it more specific. That way it sounds like you’re really in love.” I continued to emotionally beat myself up the entire extended route home. Great, I can’t make eye contact with her for the last 3 weeks of class. I can’t even go out and get a drink during break if she goes. I hope she doesn’t have any friends in there. I hope my sister is happy, I ASKED SOMEONE OUT! (And look where it got me)
At almost six feet tall with shampoo model brown hair Melanie was the best looking girl I had ever taken on a date. I met her shortly after my college graduation at a trashy dance club in the suburbs of Columbus. When I asked for her number at the club she wrote it down completely backward on a cocktail napkin. Weird, but intriguing I thought. A few nights later I set up the perfect night.
It started with dinner at an Italian restaurant where I took all my first dates. I watched as everyone stared at her and wondered how I got to be the lucky one. After we sat down she went to the restroom and the young waiter came back over to me, “Wow man! She’s the hottest girl I’ve ever seen in here. How’d you hook things up with her?”
“I don’t know, it’s only our first date though so could you do me a favor and not card her?” I said.
“No problem, dude,” he agreed. I ordered an $18 bottle of white zinfandel, because it was the only wine I could pronounce. After dinner Melanie and I headed to a concert near campus. The name of the band was O.A.R. and they were becoming nationally famous. I had poetry class with the lead singer my junior year so I would get him into the comedy club I worked at for free and he would put me on “The List” for his sold out shows.
Out front we skipped the long line and I asked her if she had ever been to any of their shows. “Sorry, I’ve never heard of them,” she said. My heart sank, Rob Durham +1 meant nothing to her. How did I end up with the only girl in a 30 mile radius that didn’t love this band? The List would have impressed anyone–these were $20 tickets and they sold out!
Instead of standing near the front like I usually did, Melanie wanted to sit in the top row of the balcony. I let myself believe that that might lead to something better. Maybe we could hold hands and the white zinfandel would kick in. It didn’t. Two songs into the show Melanie got a phone call. She started crying and said, “We have to go.”
Once we got outside she told me that her grandma had died. How awful I thought. Well there’s certainly nothing I could have done different. Even I knew a dead grandma takes precedence over the concert of a band she had never heard of, so I walked her back to her car which was parked at my apartment. I waited four days to call and see how she was doing and asked if she’d like to go out again.
“I’m busy this week,” she said. I only tried one or two more times and eventually accepted the fact that she was not interested. It wasn’t until a few months later that it hit me. He grandma didn’t really die. That was a complete bailout setup while she was in the restroom during dinner. How could someone be so ungrateful? Dinner was over $40 and we were on The List! How could someone who still lived at home be so busy?
It was six days before my 30th birthday. I had broken up with my previous girlfriend four months ago and moved out from her apartment three months ago. Disastrous math. I had spent the previous three Saturdays alone in my studio apartment by myself. Each Saturday night, I showered, put on a nice outfit and even a spray of cologne but then never left home. By the third Saturday it didn’t bother me. I was so emotionally drained earlier in the summer that I needed to catch up on healing. My shrink said it wouldn’t take long and she was right. So on this particular Saturday I had two comedy shows just outside of town.
Stand-up comedy sounds like a profession a person could never get tired of, but after so many years the shows aren’t always a very big deal. I wasn’t performing on the country’s greatest stages so most shows were in small towns. The second show started at 10:15 and as usual a drunk crowd piled into a smoky room to hear some funny.
My set was going pretty well as most of the crowd was indeed building their intoxication. Two couples at a table stage right were especially enthusiastic. They stayed that way the entire show for the other acts who came on after me. Afterward they invited us to a bar called The Whistlestop just a few minutes away. I consulted my comic friends and we decided to check it out.
“Awesome!” the drunkest guy said. “This place is a complete hole in the wall but it’ll be packed and I’ll buy you a beer.” I told him I’d follow their car. As we waited at a stoplight I got the sudden urge to turn onto the interstate and drive home. It was after midnight, I was exhausted and nothing good ever happens this late. I didn’t want to abandon my comic friends though so I stayed behind the “drunk, party of 4” all the way there.
The bar was so crowded that I parked across the street. A scary looking woman used a flashlight to direct traffic. Where in the hell was I? Culture shock hit as I entered. Most bars dim their lights late at night, not The Whistlestop. They made sure every bit of humanity was seen. Men with sweaty t-shirts, fake jewelry and stained hats along with women with overdone mascara, ridiculous boots and bulges hanging over their waistlines like blueberry muffin tops surrounded me. Usually at bars like this fights break out and someone always wants to challenge me. I told the headliner comic, Vince, that I was going to leave after a beer. He told me to relax but I stayed close to the bouncer by the door.
I was down to the last swig of my brown bottle which I had nervously peeled most of the label off when the drunk guy who invited me brought me another. He felt that this warranted a cheer so I played along and acted like it was the time of my life. My feet hurt from standing in my dress shoes. It was close to 1:00 and I still had a 30 minute drive home. I should leave. I should leave. I should leave. I didn’t.
Across the bar I saw a very attractive face looking at me. Her smile was one of those rare occasions where something wonderful comes from a place it didn‘t belong.
“I’m not trying to hit on you or anything, but do I know you?” she walked up and asked. I assured her that it was perfectly okay to hit on me and extended my stay at the bar long enough to get her name, Beth, and her number. The next day I called to invite her to my show that night.
“Oh, I would, but I have to get up early to work the next morning,” she said. I was disappointed and the conversation ended shortly after her excuse. A half hour later Beth called back, “Can you meet up for a drink before you head in for your show?” We did.
After a few drinks with her I headed over to the club and told the manager, “I found my future wife.” I was right.