Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Somebody help this man

I was on my second date with Kai, an extremely handsome architect and ski patroller who lived on a boat.
On paper, as you can see, he was, and how do I put this without scaring you off- marriage material.

Off paper, I wasn't ready to make that leap. Our conversation during date number one was a little bit stilted, he wasn't the champion of asking follow up questions, and there were a few pockets of silence when we both studied our coffee cups as we returned them to their saucers, as if it were some sort of brain teaser that required our full attention. However, it went well enough, and his cheekbones were so pronounced, that a second date was still worthy of straightening my hair. Which, let the record show, takes four god damned hours.

We were having drinks at a really nice joint in Ballard, right on the water, a place that affords the most stunning views of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountain range. I'd ordered a gin and tonic. I dislike the taste of tonic (bitter? sour? sweet? umami? what the hell?) but I love the little slice of lime that accompanies it, and it sounds so much classier to order a gin and tonic than, say, the neon green Midori Sour that I want one hundred percent of the time.

After the slow to get going what-did-you-do-today banter (he went to work, I straightened my hair, which I wasn't going to admit, so I lied and said I went for a long run) it was clear that somebody was going to have to jump behind the wheel of the conversation and be the clearly defined trip leader of the evening.  And that obviously was going to be me.

I tried to steer us towards his parents and his East-coast up bringing, but I had to pull a U-turn when he announced that his father was dead and he didn't talk to his mom at all. "Well, " I said, "In that case, what did you do for Christmas?" (Which is such a softball: I saw my brother and his family. I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm Jewish. I went skiing. I baked a cake. Any one of those would do, and so many more.)

So why we had to jump directly to his rash, I'll never understand.

"For Christmas? I came down with shingles."

It was too late to hit the brakes. We were going down this road.

I said, "I see."

I say "I see" whenever I'm at a total loss. A few weeks ago I was on first date with some other guy, and when I asked what he did for a living he said "Math" and offered no follow up. So I said, "I see." Which was better than "Jesus Christ, I hate math. I literally chose my college major because it was the only one which allowed me to get away with no math." Instead I just said "I see" and let it hang.

Just yesterday at improv, I was doing a scene with a guy named Joe. Joe handed me an imaginary Glock and told me he needed to buy it because in this post-apocalyptic world, it was the only thing that could save his family from the werewolves. Then he waited, poised for me to accept his offer and add to it, but my brain was not computing fast enough. I held out my arms, took the imaginary gun and said, "I see." There was a long long pause, and then the teacher had to stop the scene and we all learned a lesson about choking.

Only in real life, there is no teacher to stop the scene when the players are choking. And so, the date marched on.

"Shingles," I said, finally. "I know all about those. My ex-boyfriend once got that. They're stress induced."

"I thought shingles only showed up in older people."

I took a sip of my drink, contemplated my next move, and decided to just plow forward with the truth. "He was old. He was 15 years older than me."

"Oh." Pause. Pause. Kai takes his time setting his drink down and arranging the coaster so its angles lined up squarely with the table. "So, anyway, I was supposed to spend my Christmas break at a cabin in the Cascades with my friend and his family. But a few days before the trip, I start to feel something weird. It started in my right nipple. It was really itchy. And my nipple hasn't felt like that since puberty, you know?"

And here he actually stopped and waited for a response, maybe on the off chance that I had experienced male puberty. I didn't, but this is why we have imaginations. I nodded seriously and made a face that said, 'Totally. Absolutely. I'm with you one hundred percent.'
Not this face but I needed to add a photo.
"....Anyway....I did some Internet research and it turns out that you can't actually spread shingles but you can spread chicken pox. And here I am- I'm supposed to spend Christmas at a cabin with these friends who have a baby, they have a one year old, and the grandmother who is going through Chemo. Obviously I can't go.

"Then I found out that you're only contagious if your rash is, if it's pussing? And mine wasn't pussing. And it wasn't like I was going to take my shirt off and then take a cheese grater to my chest and then give out hugs."

I was still nodding along, as if I was thinking of course, of course, that all makes total sense. You're not going to rub a cheese grater against your rash and then hug a baby. Who would? But inside, my maternal instincts were screaming Help this man! Help this man! This man is drowning! And the rational part of me was going How?!

Shift the subject. Just gently slide it away from the rash.

"Shingles are caused by stress....were you going through some severe stress?"

Kai paused for a moment. I saw his eyes roll up and to the right, which meant he really was thinking. "No, I don't think so. I mean, I just broke up with my girlfriend of four years but...that wasn't all that stressful."

And now we have landed at the heart of the issue.

You just ended a four year relationship and you see no causality between that and this painful case of shingles that nearly ruined your Christmas? This is what I was thinking but you know, this was a second date. It was not my place to try and explain that stress can often be internalized. And I'd rather discuss all of the kitchen gadgets in the world that one could use to aggravate a rash than discuss this former girlfriend. So I just said, "I see."

And after that, the conversation had a hard time really going anywhere. Unfortunately, I've never had a rash, so it was difficult to relate. Well, once, when I got poison ivy, and I toyed with the idea of sharing that but the conversation would have gone something like this: 'I had poison ivy once. I got it from the poison ivy plant. But I put some cream on it and it went away.' I kept it to myself because as a rule, I don't like to discuss creams, ointments or any sort of topical medication until after date seven.

If only there had been vomiting in his story! I can kill with vomit stories.

Alas, all there was to do was look down at my watch, feign surprise and suggest we get the check.  

That evening, I did not get to kiss that rugged man on his strongly jawed face, and it was clear I never would. Nor would I ever get an invite to his boat where maybe we'd play a board game and share a nightcap of whiskey before retiring into the berth to watch a few YouTube videos.  

No. What I got was far better-  the illustrious, wonderful, powerful story of a date thrown delightfully off of the tracks. The story of the man who said nipple, rash, and pus, the man who said cheese grater and pantomimed cheese grating his chest! He did! I saw him do it! 

Even better, it's the kind of date story where nobody actually got their feelings hurt, or their heart broken, or actually became infected with a rash instead of just talking about one. Those stories are fun, but they come at a price.

It's too bad that we'll never share a ski adventure, that I'll never upload a whole adventurous album of the two of us onto Facebook, with the sole intent of having the men in my life scroll through it and weep with jealousy. But I did get this story, this gorgeous little punch of a story. And for that, I will always be grateful. Because I love- and maybe this is why things go so poorly so often- I really love to tell stories. 


Megan O'Brien said...

a worse conversationalist than myself. there is hope!

(and Ernie) said...

You'll always be... grateful?

Kerry said...

one of my favorites to date...sam made me read it...we are laughing and missing you. xo

Jeneen said...

This reminds me of my snowboard date the other day where chodes, Hal & Oates, and UTIs were all discussed at length...It was wonderful. Go figure. Anyway, love you Melina, keep 'em coming!

Kim said...

Hey Melina, if you want to meet single ski patrol guys, just give me the nod. I'm sure the ones I know, which is about 125, would be great fodder for further stories, if not the Facebook photo uploads of ski adventures. Seriously. Just show up at the ski area on payday Friday and chances are pretty good.

matt said...

I'm really glad you picked up on the coaster adjusting compulsion. All architects share this trait, and everyone else finds it baffling and amusing.
Note: the coaster can be rotated at an angle if it is done deliberately to precisely match another angle in the setting, such as the edge of a triangular plate. That said, it is usually best to reenforce the orientation of the table and allow the angle introduced by the triangular plate (or the like) to be unique.

Cassandra said...

WOW that guy sounds completely dull... And that picture of you is wicked cute.

Kelle said...

catching the most recent post which referred to this one and, of course, I had to read. Fabulous. I'm married, haven't dated in a trillion years, I've never had a conversation this long on shingles and yet still I'm smiling thinking "yes, yes, I can relate"--a true sign of good writing, Sister.

dig this chick said...

cheese grater to chest has me laughing into my hand because my kids are asleep about 4 inches from me. fun to catch up here. x

Anonymous said...

In college, I broke up with a guy I'd been dating casually for a few weeks, and during the break-up conversation he began telling me a story about how his grandfather's prostate cancer was leading his grandfather to grow boobs. This story somehow segued into a separate story about giving a dog an enema. And the whole time I was thinking, "you are proving my point more times over than I could have possibly asked for, and also I will tell this story for the rest of my natural life."

Hilarious, fabulous post. You've summed up why I hate dating!!

John said...

Way late to the party, but instead of getting a rash from a poison ivy plant, you should try getting a rash from poison ivy smoke. That'll make your rash story a killer.