Saturday, February 27, 2010

Mating Rituals: Two

And now we bring you another installment of the Mating Rituals of the Desperate.

This couple is older than the last that we followed. Mid-40's and recently divorced if the not-yet faded ring tans are any indication. Pretension oozes into the air around them like a fog, washing over the unfortunates sitting near them.

They make an intriguing pair. She's pretty in her three shades of purple and just-over-the-top jewelry. Every hair is in place and her makeup application could rival people who've spent twenty years in the business. She has set her bags on the table rather than the floor, arranged so labels flash at the casual passerby; Banana Republic, White House | Black Market, Dillards. Symbols of the very large settlement she's currently discussing with her potential mate.

He's middle-aged, overweight and over the top. Everything about him shrieks of High Middle Class and status symbol. In an attempt to seem hip, though it comes across as sloppy, he has removed his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. His floppy hair is full of copper highlights and he is playing with his key chain, clearly flashing the BMW key as he complains about how much he lost to his wife.

The conversation continues on this vein for some time, before moving on to kids. She has three, he has one. She smiles as he talks about his son, the basketball star. He interrupts to ask if she wants anything to drink.

“No,” She says, glancing at the beverage menu on the wall. “I'm watching my weight.”

“I like a woman who takes care of herself,” He responds, visibly annoyed as he slips his wallet back into his pocket. “What about your kids?”

Three daughters, all beautiful and accomplished. His eyes have wandered away from her face and settled on her ample cleavage. She notices and shifts just a little. Conversation again shifts. She does charity work in her free time, he has a high-level position at a local corporation. This doesn't last long, as neither of them are particularly interested in what the other does.

She glances at her watch and manages an almost-convincing show of being surprised. “I have to go, the girls will be home. It was really great meeting you. We'll have to do this again sometime.”

“Sounds great,” he says, his keys still in his hand. “I'd better get going, too. Hey, do you have Facebook?"

Girl In Blue

Two days ago, I was forcibly reminded that first impressions are not always right. For several years now, I've visited the same bookstore and watched a young girl of apparent middle eastern descent. Sometimes, she's there with a small group of other girls also wearing the hijab, but usually she's alone. Sometimes, she has coffee, sometimes she doesn't, but she always wears that powder blue headscarf and keeps to herself. Sometimes, I wondered what she was like, but I could never understand what she was saying because she spoke to her friends in Arabic. Mostly, I assumed that she wished to be left alone.

The other day, she came in about twenty minute after I had arrived. This was normal, expected even, and I just glanced up and smiled a bit before going back to my work. She wandered around for a minute, looking for a table, then looked down at her laptop. The only outlet in the cafe was being occupied by a woman who was just writing into little notebook and after a moment, the girl approached her and asked if she could share her table.

I'm not sure why, but this blew my mind. I felt like one of the fundamental things in my life had just been upended. I overheard some of their conversation. The woman was half Palestinian, the girl was also from Palestine. I stopped listening after a moment, waiting for my world view to readjust itself, and went back to my work. After a little while, the girl left and soon after, so did the woman.

I asked if I could have her table, my battery was beginning to run low, and took up residence. I was halfway through my second reading of Wordsworth's We Are Seven when someone touched my shoulder. I pulled out my headphones and looked up, only to be confronted by the Girl in Blue. I smiled as she asked if she could share my table and she took a seat.

Over the next hour or so, we talked about anything and everything. While I would never have been brave enough to approach her, I feel richer for the experience. So, if you're reading this, Girl in Blue, thank you for giving me something to remember and reminding me that things are not always what they seem.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In celebration of Valentine's Day, though a day late, I bring you a love story that stood the test of time, at least in this observers imagination.

And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave
thee, or to return from following after thee:
for wither though goest, I will go; and where
thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be
my people, and they God my God:

Where thou diest, will I die, and there
will I be buried: The LORD do so to me, and
more also, if ought but death part thee and

Ruth 1:16-18

Her voice was soft, just barely carrying across the little green table they were sharing. Two tiny paper cups of espresso growing cold between them as they stared into one another's eyes. His, wrinkled and clouded with age, softened as she finished the poem. He reached one hand across the table and stroked her hand lightly. She smiled in response and sipped her coffee. He murmured something to her, voice quavering, and she replied somewhat louder than was necessary.

They were old. He was in his mid-to-late seventies, a leather beret giving the impression of worldliness despite his obvious age. She was in desperate need of a touch up, the deep brown hair that had initially led the observer to believe she was in her mid-thirties grown out nearly half an inch. A vivid flash of a possible past in a café in Paris flashed through the observers mind, complete with cigarettes and lively conversation.

He lifted a book, a slim volume of love verse and began to read. His voice, no longer weak, but strong and beautiful. Her cheeks flushed as the words flowed like music from his lips; they clasped hands before the end.

Let my voice ring out and over the earth,
Through all the grief and strife,
With a golden joy in silver mirth:
Thank God for life!

Let my voice swell out through the great abyss
To the azure dome above,
With a chord of faith in the harp of bliss:
Thank God for Love!

Let my voice ring out beneath and above,
The whole world through,
O my Love and Life, O my Life and Love,
Thank God for you!

James Thomson

Friday, February 5, 2010

Jazz Lady

She moves like jazz; smooth and intense, passion bubbling just below the surface, confidence oozing from the hidden parts of her. It was love at first glance, through the milling bodies of a thousand Etta fans. She mingles here and there, lingering for a song or two before moving on, plastic glass in hand and wine painting her smile bright. The powerful thread of Ms. James' voice weaves a world where I am neither too young, nor she too old and I feel nothing but regret when it is over.

I don't even know her name.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mating Rituals: One

Ah, the mating ritual of the religious and desperate. Observe, a young BYU couple at the bookstore. He stands as she approaches the table, smiling as she maneuvers her way through the crowded cafe floor. She returns his smile and nods vigorously as he asks if she would like anything to drink. He moves off to the counter to order their mostly caffeine-free hot chocolates while she arranges herself to the best advantage at their table.

Her appearance is deceptively casual; jeans, tee-shirt, and a puffy vest. At first glance her hair is just as casual, a messy ponytail high on her head, but closer inspection reveals the jeweled bobby pins holding the whole thing together and the subtle sheen of pricey hairspray. Her skin is nearly flawless and covered by a perceptible circle of deeper tan than her natural skin. The heavy eyeliner and three coats of mascara are designed to draw her potential mate's eyes to hers. She has left her lips daringly nude aside from the near constant application of fruit-flavored lip balm which encourages her tongue to slip between them and lap at its sweet waxiness.

The male also seems quite casual, though it is obvious that he has taken care with his appearance. His jeans are conspicuously stain and wrinkle free, as is his button up shirt beneath a carefully subtle sweater vest. His hair bears evidence of styling product, probably applied by the capable hands of his “just friends” female entourage. His glasses are faddish, though they miss the mark of true pretension, though he hits the perfect note with the small man-purse at his side. The entire effect is somewhat offset, however, by his obvious African descent. He must appear twice as proper as any of his Caucasian counterparts.

He returns to the table with two Talls. A first date, then. The female accepts her cup with a grimace, though the untrained eye may mistake it for a smile and takes a small sip. Though she murmurs appreciatively, the cup is relegated to the table, where it sits for the remainder of their meeting. A moment of awkward silence, and then the verbal dance begins.

“How are your classes going?” The male asks, leaning forward to show that he is interested in what she has to say.

This begins the standard litany of professors and classes. The obligatory comparison and sharing of anecdotes and sycophantic laughter follows for several minutes. He reveals that he is a Returned Missionary and the female's waning interest is once again captured. She lifts her cup, hesitates, then sets it back down untasted. Instead, she applies another layer of artificial fruit flavor and rests her chin on her hand. Conversation immediately turns to religion.

Though she does not begin with “I'd like to bear my testimony,” the female does essentially that, explaining first how her parents met and eventually converted. This is a lead in to her own crisis of faith, beginning before she was shipped off to BYU and ending with her subsequent return to an even stronger belief through the efforts of her enterprising roommates.

Meanwhile, the male's eyes have begun to glaze over, and for the last three minutes he has not even bothered to grunt a response. Realizing that her prey, er, date has begun to withdraw, the female suddenly switches tact. Without pause, she asks. “What about you?”

The male explains, briefly, that his parents converted when The Church revoked a previous policy that forbade African American's from holding the priesthood. The conversation that follows is too absurd to transcribe, though for the sake of science I will share the salient points.

“I think that what the church did was right,” the female states, twirling a piece of hair that has escaped from her messy bun around one finger. “I mean, if they had allowed black people into the church before then, it would have been an incredibly negative experience for everybody. There was so much prejudice and hatred before then and for their own good they needed to kept out. I mean, you. You know what I mean. Otherwise you guys would've been completely destroyed by it, you know? It was the righteous thing.”

The conversation circles around this point. The male offers no opinions, instead he allows her to continue talking. Those observing resist the urge to warn her of the danger and watch as the female continues her self destructive spiral.

“I'm just happy that the church is so much more tolerant now. I mean, that way if I have interracial children,” Here the female pauses and looks at him, allowing the significance of this statement to sink in, “I could raise them in the church and feel alright about it.”

The male smiles, though his eyes have gone fixed and wide. The conversation continues for just a few more minutes, in which he leans further and further back in his chair while the female leans forward, pressing what she believes to be her advantage. Finally she begins to run out of steam, and he asks politely if she's finished with her hot chocolate while rising to his feet.

The female blinks, confused, and responds that she is. He waits patiently for her to get to her feet, and shakes her hand. Her face falls as she realizes that there will be no second date, but manages to paste a smile before he notices. She asks if she can hug him and after the tiniest of pauses he agrees, offering her a one-armed-back-pat.

“See you in class,” the male calls over his shoulder as he strides out of the cafe.

The female stands alone for a moment, going over the date in her mind and wondering what she did wrong. Then, before she can draw any more attention to herself, her cellphone is out and pressed to her ear.

“Hey,” she says into the mouthpiece, her voice cracking. “I'm on my way home. Yeah, ice cream sounds good.”