March 28, 2010

Arrested Development

“Hello, David? This is Officer Menendez. We’re arresting your friend Paul.”

It was 8:30 in the morning and Paul had gone, supposedly to move the car. He had driven down from Maine the night before because his brother was in the hospital. When the phone rang I knew that trouble had found Paul, whose bad luck verges on the comical.

“You’re arresting Paul? Really?”

“He wasn’t wearing his seat belt.”

“He wasn’t wearing his seat belt?”

“You need to come over here and get his car or we’ll impound it.”

“Impound it? Hey, I can’t drive in the city.”

Then he put Paul on the phone.

“This is bullshit, David. I got a ticket ten years ago for not wearing my seat belt and now they want to take me to jail for it. You gotta drive my car to a garage so they don’t impound it.”

“I don’t believe it. Wait. You know I don’t really drive, right?”

As much as I worried about what the police were doing to my hapless friend, the looming fear of driving in New York City now stood as the greatest challenge in this unfolding débâcle. Yes, I have a driver’s license, but do I drive? No, I do not drive. In Vermont I drive a little on winding country roads, but that’s about it. I’m a New York City lad. I got my “license” at the age of 36 in a small Vermont town, where it’s impossible to fail the test unless you’re drunk or suicidal. I like the idea of driving, but only the idea of it.

“The car’s on Delancey Street. Come down here, David. Help me out!”

They were the worst kind of cops: fat, mean, and dumb cynics. They grunted when I tried my winning smile on them. They were a multiracial gang, a fact of no practical use, but in a sidebar train of thought made me feel positive about race relations in New York City. There were five of them surrounding my poor friend’s lame little car near the mouth of the Williamsburg Bridge. They had placed traffic cones around the offending vehicle. It was as though they had just nabbed the deadliest kind of fugitive.

“He’s visiting his brother in the hospital,” I implored. “Any way we can resolve this?”

“No, it’s in the computer. We can’t do a thing. We have to take him in.”

One of them was on the police radio and kept referring to Paul as the “prisoner.”

“Your friend needs to go in front of the judge. But he’ll be out by 4:30.”

“Do you have a license?” barked another cop.

“Yes, well, sort of,” I said. “You see –”

“Show it to me.”

I tried pleas of incompetence.

Officer Cho said, “There’s a municipal garage just around the corner. It’s easy; you can do it.”

“I don’t think so. I’ve never driven in the city.”

Paul looked ready to throw up.

“David,” he said.

There was no way out of it. So I got into the car and strapped on the seat belt. I adjusted the rear view mirror. I remembered this from a class in high school. The cops watched, bored. Then I tried to shift into drive.

“Oh, officer? I can’t get the car into ‘drive’.”

Officer Cho looked down at me with a friendly kind of pity.

“You have to turn the car on first.”

Now these five police officers realized what they were dealing with. They fanned into the street, arms raised, and held up traffic coming off the bridge. Officers Cho and Menendez dragged the orange cones to create an unmistakable path for me.

I turned on Paul’s car. I shifted into drive and slowly pulled away from the curb.

“You can do it, David,” said Officer Cho. He looked worried.

Somehow, driving with the caution of an old lady, I snaked into New York City traffic. Impatient taxis honked. I carefully angled around corners and tried to avoid hitting suicidal pedestrians bent on throwing themselves in front of me. I finally found the entrance to the garage and wound my way up until I saw some empty spots. One of the garage workers happened to be around so I asked him if I could park anywhere. He looked at me as though I had said something incredibly stupid. I guess I had said something incredibly stupid. After a few tries I got the car into its slot, though not exactly evenly. The walk back home felt pretty damned fantastic. But there was still the matter of Paul.

Paul. He didn’t get out by 4:30. In fact, it was 4:30 when I finally got a call from him, from the holding cell in Central Booking where he stood with 180 criminals and two overflowing toilets. It wouldn’t be until the wee hours of the next morning that I would see him again.

“I’m in hell, David.”

“Paul!” I shouted. “I parked your car!”

March 8, 2010

“I Cook Chicken”

She had the kind of face that you thought was beautiful when you first met her. The big smile that showed some gum above the teeth; the flecked eyes that went deep; the pointy cheekbones; the radiant hair. She had lots of hair: a curly blond nimbus that she must have been proud of. But somehow, in the space of only five minutes, she had lost all the elegance I had thought I’d seen and instead she became something plain and ordinary. She had no poise, basically. I could tell that she didn’t think much of me either, so we were even. Our photos on the dating website had stumbled. With the threat of romance eliminated, we swapped tales instead.

“There was one guy. He seemed interesting and he was cute. We made some plans but I was going on a trip for work, so it would be a week before we got together. I guess he got paranoid, because he emailed me constantly, checking in, seeing if I was okay, constantly asking me if I was looking forward to our date.”

“He cracked under the pressure,” I said. “No self control. We get that way. If we worry you might change your minds about us we go nuts. Nuts,” I repeated, staring into her skeptical eyes.

“Well, I canceled on him, because it just got a bit weird. Then he sent me some nasty emails. Some really sick shit.”

“At the end of the day we don’t know how to talk to women. We’re clueless. I’m sorry.”

“I just started this online dating thing. I’m learning. I don’t know if I like it.” All this time she had been firmly gripping her purse, as though afraid I might snatch it from her.

Then she told me about another man she had found online who seemed like a good prospect. According to his profile, he was a chef. She liked cooking and he was attractive, so they started writing each other. It went pretty well until he tried to test her.

“Do you know what Yellow Bermudas are?” he wrote.

This struck her as odd. Of course she knew what a Yellow Bermuda was. Why not ask her about something more exotic, or about a more exotic onion, or about something that she might have never heard of, something that only chefs knew about?

“Sure, I do,” she wrote back. “Bermudas are an onion. Good for stir-fries. Oh, by the way, do you know what ramps are?”

The emails had been going back and forth pretty frequently. But this time it took him three days to reply.

“No, I don’t know what ramps are. Are you trying to make me feel stupid?”

The scornful sanctimony of women is surpassed only by men, who are pompous nitwits. A man with half a brain would have at least Googled ramps and pretended to know what they were. That’s what I would have done. Courtship is about managing falsehoods. We are all — usually — on our best behavior in the beginning. The woman I had recently loved and lost was on her best behavior for at least six months before she let loose the truer side. I don’t last more than a month before my ugly, neurotic, insulting, and hypochondriacal side comes out. Maybe less than a month. Maybe a week.

“All cooks are insecure,” I said. “They’re like children.”

She shot me a look of cold skepticism. Men, her face said, I have no patience for you.

She tried patching things up with the sensitive chef. But she was also beginning to grow suspicious of him. He hadn’t gone into much detail about cooking. He didn’t say where he cooked. He didn’t mention any cooking schools. He didn’t know about ramps.

Finally, she asked him, “What do you like to cook?”

And he replied, “I cook chicken.”

I cook chicken.

She frowned. But I thought it was funny. I laughed. I could see myself retelling this story. Then she tried to laugh also, but her expression said that she was annoyed with me. With me, with the “chef,” with men. She fatally did not understand that the entire enterprise of online dating is, on good days, absurdest entertainment for those of us who are chronically single because of some personality defect. She had really thought she was going to meet someone normal.

She sighed. She stood. She excused herself for the ladies room. “I cook chicken,” she said again, defeated. Then she walked away.