My friend Mike Lewis recently left an amusing post on his blog about a date of his that didn't go so well. It’s a great story that’s worth reading, as is the rest of the blog since Mike is probably the funniest person I know. Anyway, his latest post reminded me of my single days, when every date seemed like some bastardized hybrid of Russian roulette and "Fear Factor."
His post refreshed my memory about the all-time worst date I ever had. I can't remember her name, which is probably for the best in case I'm ever subpoenaed. I met her at the land of love itself, the Emil Villa's Hick'ry Pit in my adopted hometown of Fremont. Either that particular establishment is now under new management or Emil Villa is a Chinese guy, because that restaurant is now an all-you-can-eat Mandarin buffet.
Anyway, I was enjoying a barbecue dinner with my old friend Jerry, and I couldn't help but notice that the cute waitress with the Southern accent kept flirting with me. Well, at first I really didn't notice it. I figured that maybe I'd spilled some sauce on my shirt. I've always had a way with the ladies.
As it would turn out, my shirt was sauce-free. She was indeed flirting with me, so I flirted back. In layman's terms, that means I adjusted my humor output meter from "be an asshole" to "be endearing." That seemed to work. We exchanged numbers, and we talked on the phone a handful of times over the next several days. If nothing else, she seemed normal. We made plans for our first date, which we would eventually agree upon as dinner at an undisclosed location that was not Emil Villa's Hick'ry Pit.
A few days later, I picked her up for our first date. I asked her where she'd like to have dinner. She said she wanted to go to the Pizza Hut. A gourmand, I thought to myself. Further, she commented that she didn't think we should go "someplace fancy," identifying Sizzler as such a place. As a wise man once wrote, nothing is fancier than all-you-can-eat fried shrimp served on a lettuce leaf.
I was not ignorant to the fact that different people can come from different economic classes, and this particular girl was from a very small and very poor part of Louisiana. This was before I'd spent a few months living in that sewage-scented humidifier, and I ignorantly opined to myself that it indeed was possible that places like Sizzler and Pizza Hut would be considered suitable quasi-romantic dining-out destinations in lesser-developed parts of the world like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Shreveport. Pizza Hut it was.
We pulled up at the Pizza Hut only to discover that this particular hut only delivered pizza. There would be no actual dining taking place in this hut. I suggested that we go to a hut with seats and tables, but she disagreed. "Nah," she said. "We can just take it back to my place."
As a guy in my early 20s, all I heard her say was "blah blah blah blah blah my place." I thought it was a wonderful idea.
I finished placing my takeout order with the hutmeister, and she looked me in the eyes and said those words that all men long to hear. "Goddamn," she said, "I gotta piss like a racehorse." She could set the mood like no other.
I looked at Hut Boy. "Excuse me," I said to him, "could she please use your restroom?" No dice, said he. Restrooms were for employees only. Asked if there was any way he could make an exception, he looked at me as if I were a Chinese-speaking Emil Villa. There would be no peeing -- at least no legal peeing -- at this Hut.
"Fine," she said. "We'll find somewhere else." What spunk she had. While I was busy trying to reason with this pizza-making human zit, she had accurately determined we should go elsewhere. She was a problem-solver, this one. Oh, what fun we could have together, solving the world's most pressing issues while sharing a stuffed-crust feast with each other.
Silently assessing the situation as she looked left and right, she honed in on the Safeway. "There," she said. "Let's go."
It never even occurred to me that a Safeway had restrooms. This girl had lived, man. "I'll be right back," she said as I lingered in the aisles. I stood there, killing time as I made a mental note of how many types of bad candy Brach's seemed to manufacture, when she approached. She grabbed me by the arm. "Let's go," she commanded. We left the Safeway and were on our way back to the Pizza Hut when she stopped me.
"Hey," she said, her face alive with zeal. "Check this out." She then opened up her jacket and pulled out an industrial-sized can of Glade air freshener.
Proving that I will never embark on a successful life of crime, I actually remember thinking to myself, "Gee, I don't remember seeing her buy that industrial-sized can of Glade air freshener." On the other hand, I knew it was unlikely she'd been walking around with it the whole time. Still, my brain simply couldn't register the idea that my date had actually stolen an industrial-sized can of Glade air freshener from the Safeway bathroom.
Fearing her response, I asked anyway. "Where'd you get that?" I asked.
She laughed. "From the bathroom, silly." Silly. She had stolen an industrial-sized can of Glade air freshener from a supermarket bathroom, yet I was somehow the silly one. Life had never seemed more fair.
It still wasn't adding up, so I simply had to ask. "Why did you do that?" I asked. It's been over 10 years since that night, and I can still hear her response as if it happened yesterday afternoon:
"I liked the smell."
It all made so much sense to her. I've often wondered if "I liked the smell" could be used as a criminal defense. "Your honor, my client isn't a bank robber. He simply couldn't control the fact that he liked the smell of money. Don't you get it, your honor? He liked the smell!" Case dismissed.
To my credit, I realized at that point that I did not like the smell of how that date was headed. We picked up the pizza and drove back to her apartment. We each quietly ate a slice. Her face was beaming. She was having fun. At no point did she ever mention -- or spray her apartment with -- the Glade. I told her I hated to cut things short but that I had to run. She seemed disappointed, but she couldn't have been too troubled by the whole ordeal. After all, she got a free pizza and a can of air freshener out of the evening.
I never called her again. About a month later, she called me at work. Fortunately, I was out to lunch at the time. When I returned to the office, I saw the little pink "phone message while you were out" slip on my desk. She wanted me to call her back, and the message was: "Being evicted. Need help moving." I chose not to return her call. I didn't want to get roped into helping her move what was probably several industrial-sized cans of Glade air freshener from one crappy apartment to another.