Dissection of a first date.

Saturday, January 5, 2002

Driving down Riverside Drive to Wickersham, it occurred to me that I was traversing the same streets to pick up Charity for our first date that I’d driven to pick up and drop off Stephanie so many times before.

I’d left Ruta Maya half an hour before eight o’clock to give me time to find Charity’s apartment. She’d spoken as if it were a difficult and complex route, but it was actually surprisingly easy. I ended up sitting in my car in front of her apartment for nearly twenty minutes finishing off a pack of cigarettes, listening to Death Cab for Cutie, and reading Lester Bangs’ recounting of past New Year’s Eves. At 7:54 PM, I stepped from my car, pulled on my longcoat, put on my hat (which looks sort of like a fedora), and walked to her door. There, I checked my watch to find that it was only 7:58. Dammit, I should have walked more slowly, I thought. I knocked.

Charity opened the door. “Hi! I’ve got a phone ringing, too.” She headed off toward the other side of the apartment as I stood in the foyer. I saw her mom and another guy sitting in front of the television eating pizza on TV trays. Charity came back from the other side of the house and grabbed my hand, pulling me through the livingroom where I greeted and shook hands with her mom and the guy whom Charity called by his first name, and into her bedroom.

The bedroom was decorated with Ani DiFranco posters, a David Garza poster, polaroids she’d taken, an Austin March Against Racism protest sign (stake still attached), white Christmas lights, a low bed with a trunk at the foot, and other assorted hippie-ish things. In keeping with that spirit, it smelled of Nag Champa. She picked up the ringing phone and said, “Hello?” about twenty times before hanging up. “They just kept saying ‘hello’,” she said, “I hate when people do that. Hello? Hello? Hello? So frustrating.” The phone rang again and she ran over and turned the ringer off.

“This is my room,” she said, doing a quick spin with her arms and hands outstretched. “It’s in the process of a redecoration so there’s not as much as usual on the walls.”

“I like it,” I said. It was nice. It’s a bedroom. I’ve never been much of one for bedrooms. They’re a place for sleep and sex, if you ask me. My parents were never the type to force us to stay in our rooms all the time. Living is done in the rest of the house.

The answering machine picked up and it was a boy. She ran over to the phone, saying, “Ryan!? Hi! You’re still in North Carolina?” Here she paused while the boy apparently filled her in. She walked back over to me and put her hand on my arm just below the shoulder. Then she’d removed it and put it on my ribcage. I squeezed the side of her stomach, trying, but not really, to make her laugh.

“Well, look, I’m about to go out. Don’t let those military people mess with you. Okay? Bye.” She ended the conversation and hung up.

“He’s stationed in North Carolina?” I asked.
“Yeah… he was one of those people…”
“Do you know where?”
“Do you know what branch he went into?”
“No. That’s pretty lame, isn’t it?”

I said, “Nah,” but I was thinking, Yeah, fairly. I mean, here’s a friend of yours that went into the military and calls you from North Carolina and you don’t even know whether he’s in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. Hell, you don’t even know where in North Carolina he’s living. Not that it mattered much. We’re from different circles.

“Well, are we ready to go?” I asked, “I’m really hungry.”
“Yeah. Where were you thinking?”
“That all depends on what you eat. I was thinking Rosie’s Tamale House.”
“Where’s that?”
“Oltorf and Congress, just down the street, really.”
“Oh! Do they have tamales with no meat?”
“I don’t know. I would assume they have some sort of vegetarian fare.”
“Mmm. Probably. We can check it out at least.”
“Yeah. If not, we’ll find somewhere else.”

“Did you have any trouble finding it?” she asked as we walked out to my car from her apartment.

“No. It was surprisingly easy. I even left Ruta Maya early to give myself more time, but I didn’t need it at all. You made it sound like it was almost impossible to find. I came right to it.”
“You must just be brighter than most of my friends,” she said.
“Or not stoned all the time,” I replied, laughing.
She laughed. “You don’t know how right you are.”

I walked her to the passenger-side, unlocked the door and opened it for her. When she sat down, I reached in and hit the unlock button for the rest of the car and closed the door. When I sat down in the driver’s seat the dome light slowly faded to black and she made a comment about its fading.

“Yeah. A few weeks ago my friend, John, and I were out eating at Wan Fu when he noticed the light dim. He said, ‘Yo’ light dims! You a providah!'” I said to her laughter.

I found my way to East Oltorf and started back west on it. We smalltalked and went over each of our day together. The drive to Rosie’s is a short one, but it forces one to pass only two streets from Stephanie’s current house. I ignored it and, of course, didn’t say anything as I drove past.

As we pulled into the parking lot, she said, “This is where Pancho’s used to be.”

I made a sorry joke about it being Pancho Villa’s home and we parked.

Inside, we seated ourselves and ordered drinks. I told her how when I worked at a law firm downtown, a friend and I would often come down to Rosie’s for lunch. Every time I ordered a Coke on those lunch dates, they’d say they only had Pepsi and whenever I thought I’d learned my lesson and ordered a Pepsi they’d say they only had Coke.

I told her that I had mostly wasted the day sleeping late, doing a list of three things and watching America’s Sweethearts (which, of course, led to the obligatory discussion of John Cusack films).

After this detour in the conversation, she asked, “Well, what would you have preferred to do with the day?”

I paused.

How does one answer this? Is she being a girl? Does she want me to say I’d have liked to spend it with her? But I don’t really know her. What else would I have liked to do with the day? I have no idea. I did exactly as I wanted. I prepared for a date. Hm. Can’t say that. Can’t make it sound as if I spent the whole day waiting for this date to come along (as true as that may be), especially not when she went out to a movie with a friend and only returned an hour prior to the date time. [She’d called earlier in the afternoon. “Hey, William, this is Charity.”
“Are you cancelling?”
“No! Hahaha. Am I cancelling? Of course not, but Annie and I are going to see Amelie and it doesn’t get out until about seven so can we set the date back?”
“Yeah. Sure. I hear Amelie’s really good.”
“Yeah, we’ve seen it once before. How about eight?”
“That’s fine. As much time as you need.”]

“I don’t like to think about what I would’ve liked to do in the past. It’s gone now,” I finally answered after about a second of thinking.

“Well, you can do it next weekend.”

Fuck. Now does she want me to say I want to spend more time with her? Is she fishing? Jesus H. Christ. Defuse, defuse!

“I suppose so.” Great catch, Wonder Boy. Could you be any more of a klutz? You knew she was a Pisces and into all this “what if?” stuff. You should’ve been prepared.

“Oh! We got pictures back today!” she said.

“The ones from last night?” We’d all taken pictures with Annie’s camera of the four (Annie, Charity, Jorge (a photographer friend of mine), and me — and Annie’s sock puppets). of us at our table at Ruta Maya the night before.

She handed them across the table. “Yeah, last night. Then she came around and pushed me in toward the wall and sat against me looking at the photos. Her two favorite were both of me playing with the sock puppets. “So cute,” she’d say.

Dinner was served and I grew more comfortable with her being away from Ruta Maya and her close friend, Annie. Whenever they’re together they form a unit that can’t be broken apart. I’d even tried introducing some of my own friends to them to run interference while I tried to get to know Charity. (They call it William’s Show. All the people I know at Ruta Maya who walk up and greet us and I introduce to Annie and Charity are guest stars putting in cameo appearances on William’s Show.) It never worked. But now, here we were alone in a different venue.

Somehow, I’m sure I led us there, conversation landed back on the topic of Karl’s rules.

“What are these rules?” she asked.

“Well, they’re a lot like the book The Rules that was written for women. You know, how to meet and marry Mr. Right. Except that this takes into account the repeated observation all nice guys have made that assholes are the only ones who really get the women.”

“So the goal is to get laid?”

“Well, yes and no. Assholes are the guys who are only going after that, but they’re also the ones that are accepted by women into a long-term relationship and allowed to continue to receive it. While nice guys like me get absolutely nothing. The last girl I dated dumped me for being ‘too understanding.’ The same night I met you, New Year’s Eve, a friend told me, ‘I’d never date you, Will, because you’re the sweetest guy I’ve ever met.’ What kind of fucked-up logic is that?”

Charity laughed. “You’ve actually had girls say that to you?” “Hell yes. And recently.” “I’ve always dated nice guys.” “Where are they now?” I asked. She made a face.

“I’m kidding. That’s the way most of these things work out, I know.” I apologized. “Anyway, Karl has just set out a list of rules on how to be an asshole. I, honestly, have a hard time being an asshole. Were I to want to give it a shot, I’d follow this list of rules. But it seems to me to be a lot of work just to show your disinterest in a girl. Why alienate everyone around you just to get laid by some girl with low self-esteem?”

“Right on,” she agreed.

“That’s the thrust behind his theory, you see. If you find girls with low self-esteem then you’re in. They’re willing to take the beating and still come back. And since probably at least half of the female population of this country has been beat over their heads by Cosmo — and men — he has a fairly large pool to draw from,” I finished up.

“Right on,” she agreed.

“So are you ever going to send me the rules?” she asked.
“Maybe in a few weeks,” I replied.
“Why a few weeks?”
“So you’ll forget about them.”
We finished up dinner and she ate sopapilla for dessert.
I paid at the register planning to put a tip on my debit card, but she went back and put a tip on the table.
Outside, I mentioned that it was only nine o’clock and that we couldn’t get into the Doyle Bramhall II show at Antone’s where Craig, a friend of mine who works there, had put us on the guestlist until 10:00. “We could go back to Ruta Maya,” I said, “or, I was thinking, BookPeople.”
“We could do that,” she said, as she put her arms around me.

Driving to BookPeople, we fell silent and I turned up Death Cab for Cutie on the stereo. I’d quoted (whoda thunk it?) them in an e-mail to her earlier in the week and pointed out some of the lyrics for her. She touched my arm, resting her hand there at times.

At the intersection of Congress and Riverside, we pulled up next to a truck with another guy and girl behind the wheel. They were rocking out, singing along and kept trading glances with us. The second time, I gave the guy a thumbs-up and he returned it. Charity and the girl in the truck both started laughing. The light changed and we drove on.

“So, what’s your favorite section?” she asked as we walked into BookPeople.
“Back here,” I replied.
“Oh, you’re a downstairs kind of guy.”
“That I am,” I said as I led her back to the Liberal Politics section. We browsed through it for a while and then I took her to the Erotica section to show her AquaErotica, a book Deb had told me about that is made of waterproof paper. I show it to everyone I take to BookPeople.

I then turned to the wall opposite Erotica and looked at the Fiction/Literature stacked there. She grabbed a book from the Erotica shelf and leaned against the bookcase reading. I wondered if she wanted me to read over her shoulder or something. Instead, I glanced down at the page she was reading and went back to looking at other books. She put the book back down in its place with a sigh.

“Where’s your favorite section?” I asked.
“You won’t like it.”
“Who knows?”
She led us upstairs to the Women’s Studies section.
“Oh, this is great,” I joked. “See, I’m interested in making the world equal and fair for all people while you’re up here reading books that tell you how to keep it unequal. I just really don’t see the need for an entire section devoted to telling women how to wield their power over men. Women already have all the power.” She pushed me away and walked on.

I followed a bit behind her, not wanting her to think I was too worried about whether or not I hurt her. She knew I was only joking. She started looking at books in the Photography section. I saw Frank Capa: The Definitive Collection and picked it up. I’d heard of him in a photography class in high school. He did war photography. Earlier, downstairs, I had told her that one of my favorite genres is war reporting because it focused so much more on the human aspect of war — the soldiers fighting it — than on the, when it comes right down to the actual act, bullshit philosophical/moral/political issues involved. I didn’t think she really understood and that it maybe even offended her hippie tastes a bit, but that’s me.

She saw me with the book and push me back to sit on a low table. She scooted up right against me and put the book in her lap where I could see it, too. As we looked at pictures Capa took in Spain during wartime earlier in the last century, her gasps and sighs were audible. One could tell that she really did empathize with these people so far removed from her own world — by experience, time, and distance — and that these photographs, this art, really did reach down inside of her and grasp something. The ability of human beings to be absolutely atrocious to one another was in her lap, before her eyes, staring into her soul. If you look into the abyss long enough, it will finally begin looking back.

After flipping through a few hundred pages and only going ten years from where we started, she finally lugged the thick book back to the shelf and put it away.

We spent a while longer at BookPeople. She ogled a book full of Lenny Kravitz pictures, to which I said, “Girly man. ‘Good thing I look good, my music sucks.'” She agreed. Then I read Dr. Seuss’ Cold War book, The Butter Battle Book, to her in the Children’s section. Ultimately, we did find a copy of The Rules. I don’t remember if she agreed with any of them. Very few, if any. We finally left and it was 10:30.

We pulled out of BookPeople and onto Lamar Blvd. heading north. I took a right on Ninth Street and another right when I hit Guadalupe. A few blocks down, I could see that the street was closed off for construction of a new million-dollar lofts complex that no one will be able to afford in the faltering economy. I pulled off on Eighth and headed back toward Lamar and grabbed a quick left on San Antonio to see if I could travel around the shutdown Guadalupe by following parallel streets only to get dumped back onto Guadalupe by San Antonio when it curved into a dead-end Seventh with no available right turn.

“Austin is a planning mess,” I bitched. “Even in New Orleans, a city I had no prior knowledge of the streets in, I could pretty readily depend on the fact that if I missed a turn or needed to bypass somewhere I could take the next turn or use a parallel street and make it to where I needed to be. Here you just can’t depend on that. New Orleans may have a really weird layout — like the spokes of a wheel almost — but it at least had some sort of traffic logic to it in the end. This place is just insane. Maybe it’s just the Southern simplicity of cities like New Orleans. I don’t know.”

She laughed.

We finally made it down to the State parking garage at Fourth and San Antonio. It was full, as per usual on a Saturday night, being one of the only free parking lots downtown within short walking distance to both the Warehouse District (where Ruta Maya is located) and Sixth Street, the main party area of the city. “We’re going to get to park at the very top,” I said, as if it were a privilege bestowed upon us from on high. Finally, the ceiling of the parking garage opened up to the cool starry night and a plethora of parking spots were before us where below there had been none. I parked two spots from the stairs for easy access.

We stopped by Ruta Maya so I could pick up some money from the ATM for drinks at Antone’s and then headed to the show. On the way, we passed Carl, the guy selling hotdogs in the alley who pushed me to go talk to Annie and Charity on New Year’s Eve, said hi, and walked up to the door of Antone’s. There was no line and the bluesy rock music came spilling out onto the street. We glanced in and she grabbed my arm, saying, “Lets go for a walk.” So we did.

The First Street Bridge connects Austin over the Colorado River, locally known as Town Lake. Next to the car-travelled portion of the bridge is a footpath spanning the length of the bridge that’s lowered so you can’t even see the cars and insulated so you can barely hear them passing overhead.

“This is where Annie and I practice our graffiti art,” she said, and started looking for some of their drawings and poetry. Most of them had been erased.

At the southern end of the bridge, I noticed one person standing and another sitting or crouching. I figured as long as they stayed there and we stayed here there would be no problems.

We walked about a quarter of the way onto the bridge and she leaned against the wall separating the footpath from the carpath above. There was a lip to it that required me to lower my head to stand or lean there, so instead I stood in front of her.

She touched my beard and face, my jacketed arms, my chest. I leaned in closely and looked her in the eyes through her glasses. I put our foreheads together and continued watching her eyes for any sign of discontent with my actions. I rubbed my nose against hers in an Eskimo kiss. I stopped. Keeping our foreheads together, I kept her eye. Her lips came up to meet mine.

We stood kissing on the First Street Bridge for a while. Periodically, she would pull away to remove her glasses and let the fog lift from them. “Foggin’ up my glasses, boy,” she’d say.

She likes slow, soft kisses. Almost as if she enjoys the romance of a kiss more than the kiss itself. The more involved and excited I get the more often my fast, deep kisses force themselves out. She told me once to take it more slowly. I did. She seemed to like that.

It’s interesting learning what each particular girl likes. There are guys who say that there are enough similarities between girls’ likes and dislikes that it’s easy to know what to do to turn them on. I disagree. Every girl I’ve dated has had small differences with large impacts. There’s a steep learning curve involved in beginning any sort of sexual relationship with a new girl. Rather daunting if taken the wrong way. I enjoy it.

It’s interesting learning what each particular girl likes. There are guys who say that there are enough similarities between girls’ likes and dislikes that it’s easy to know what to do to turn them on. I disagree. Every girl I’ve dated has had small differences with large impacts. There’s a steep learning curve involved in beginning any sort of sexual relationship with a new girl. Rather daunting if taken the wrong way. I enjoy it.

We sat down Indian-style and knee-to-knee in the middle of the footpath. She took my hands in hers and rested them in the small space between our shins.
“I want to tell you right now,” she started, “that I’m deathly afraid of relationships. What about you?”
“I’m don’t fear relationships,” I replied, earnestly. “Why do you?”
“I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve really worked out. It’s just… it seems like that’s the thing to do. Grow up, go to college, get married, die. I know everything at this age is going to end anyway. So why get all worked up about someone just to have the inevitable end come along. I’m rebelling against that whole sort of thing.”
“That’s funny,” I said, “I’m rebelling against people like you.” What are they really rebelling against, I thought, aside from consistency, equal responsibility to another person, and fidelity? I didn’t mention the fact that there is no set expiration date for anyone. “This time in our lives” might be the only time we ever have.
She laughed. “You’re not afraid of relationships?” she asked.
“No. Why should I fear having another stable person in my life?”
“What if that person isn’t stable?”
“I don’t mean stable as in ‘I know what I’m going to do with my life, I’m financially-stable,’ and all that. I mean someone stable within the relationship. Someone who isn’t jumping in and out all the time.”
“Right on.”

Walking back to my car, she turned to me and said, “I haven’t really sorted out this whole relationship thi. I’m still afraid of them. Can we just be two people having fun?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“I get the feeling you’re just waiting for me to screw you over.”
“Well, I am. I figure you’ll bail any time now.”
“I’m not going to leave you tomorrow…”
“No, maybe not tomorrow. I give you a week at least. I figure you’ll bail on the whole relationship some time next week. That’s the normal course of events. The first week is always good.”
“No! I want you to trust me.”

We walked back through the Classified Parking Lot separating the garage I’d parked in from the Hobby State Office Building trying to warm ourselves up with talk of Cozumel.
“Out there is the ocean,” she said.
“Yes, and here are the chickens running around with little kids chasing them,” I’d respond.

Back in my car, we turned on the heater and kissed some more. People walked around outside checking their engines and such, trying to steal a view when she lifted her bra and slipped my hand underneath. It was very high school.
Finally, I pulled back.
“I’m not going to do this. I graduated too long ago. We need to either get a room or… Well, either way, I’m going to drive us around a bit.”
So we drove.

We drove down across the First Street Bridge to Congress. We took Congress a ways before I said, “Did you want to home? I’m not going to force you to go home, but if that’s what you’d like to do…”
“Sure. We can go back to my house,” she said.
I put in Rilo Kiley and we listened to songs about planes sometimes smashing up in the air and lonely people getting more lonely and how I’ve had it with you and Mexico can fucking wait.

Back at her place, we tiptoed into her bedroom and she backed me up until I tripped over her bed landing on my back. She crawled in and things happened.
She was ovulating and I don’t take condoms on first dates so the total act couldn’t be completed. Could you just see me pulling one out a condom the end of a first date like this? As welcome as it might be, it would most certainly make the girl think I’d been planning for this all along.

I finally fully realized how useless my position was in the face of nature and pulled my pants on. She started kissing me and we were back full-length on the bed. She groped for my zipper and then I heard a deep sigh. The realization had hit her, too. No more little Williams are needed in this world right now, if ever.

I blue-balled it forty minutes home.

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