by: Dana Norris
Note: This is a new column by Dana Norris, who runs Story Club at Uncommon Ground, whose goal to mix the spontaneity of an open mic with the experience of live theater. Story Club creates a forum for writers/performers to display their storytelling prowess and you can visit them on the first Thursday of every month at 8:30 P.M. Check them out at storyclubchicago.com
Dana Norris went on 120 internet dates in the space of two years. This is the first one.
It’s 8 P.M. on a Friday evening and I’m sitting at a bar, alone. “Barracuda” is playing on the jukebox and an aggressively drunk gentleman to my right is screaming along to the lyrics. A woman named Linda is sitting to my left – she reads the paper while she informs me, casually, that the man sitting to my right is named Gary and that he’s drinking himself to death. “I tried to talk him out of it, but he won’t stop.” I order a scotch from the bartender and sip it with shaky hands. I’m waiting for my date.
It’s only been one month since I ended a six year relationship. Going on this date is likely a bad decision, but my ex-boyfriend told me that he’s been asked out twice since we broke up. My first reaction to this news was tears. My second reaction was to angrily create a Match.com profile.
Jack was the first online man to ask me out, but now he’s 35 minutes late. His texts promise that he’s “on [his] way!” so I wait.
I love the idea of having a date. All week long I was telling everyone I know, “I have a date!” The possibilities involved in that statement make me deliciously dizzy and for the past week I’ve been gorging on those possibilities, but now, in the present, waiting, alone, in a bar, I feel like throwing up.
Instead, I order a second scotch. “This is like an experiment,” I think. “Pretend that it’s not happening to you. Pretend that it’s science.” I take inventory: I think that I look as good as I can, considering the fact that I’m forcing myself to be here. I flat ironed my hair, wore my “special occasion” perfume and my heirloom dangly earrings. So: pretty? But every time the door to the bar opens my internal organs rearrange themselves. Oh, shit, what if that’s him? Please, don’t be him. Thank God, it’s not him. Oh, shit, what if that’s him?
What if he doesn’t like me? What if I don’t like him? What if he’s my husband? What if he’s my husband and he doesn’t like me? I chat with Linda in an attempt to distract me from my nerves. “I’m waiting for a first date and I’m really nervous.”
“Oh, honey, I got divorced years ago. Don’t even worry about it. Even if you do hit if off, you’ll just leave him eventually anyway.”
And the door opens and I recognize the man entering from his blurry internet photos: it’s Jack. He’s taller than I thought he would be. He’s also cuter and kind of wet. “I just took a shower,” he apologizes while water from his still-damp hair drips onto my sweater. He sits down on the bar stool next to me and my mind shuts off. I can’t think of a single thing to say. I stare deeply into my scotch, my mind refusing to give me a single word to speak. Jack helps me out: “How are you?” And instead of formulating an answer, my mind takes that moment to wonder, “What does that question even mean?” I force myself to respond, “I’m good.” Jack’s good, too. We agree that both of us being good is good.
Jack orders a scotch for himself and, mercifully, starts talking about his career. He’s a professional poker player, a fact which I had previously verified via Google. He’s just had a big win and as he tells me about it I deliberately widen my eyes so as to make myself look quite interested and not at all as though I just consumed two scotches on an empty stomach. In demonstrating a point, Jack puts his arm around me and keeps it there. This strikes me as nice – male contact! – but strange. Hasn’t it only been five minutes? I’m also facing the ever-more evident reality that Jack has quite a pronounced whistling lisp. His “s” sounds stretch on and on, ending in a high-pitched tone that perhaps dogs can hear.
Jack orders me a third scotch and starts telling me about a game that he and his friends play when they go out to dinner. They pick the best restaurants in the city, super expensive, and order whatever they want. But when the check comes, they shuffle all of their credit cards together and ask the waitress to pick one. That person has to pay for the entire dinner and the rest of them get a free meal. “It’s funny because usually the same guy ends up paying.” I agree, “That is strange, especially since each time you go out, it’s an independent variable.” And then he is kissing me, right there in the bar, pushing his tongue into my mouth.
And I had no idea it was this easy to be kissed. Just mention a math term?
But, we’re in public, Gary’s right next to us drunk and probably watching, and I think Jack’s going for my boob. It’s hard to tell because I wore my most padded bra, but yes. The slight change in pressure indicates that his hand is definitely on my breast. It’s all a bit too fast. I push Jack back a bit and he responds by shoving his face into my ear, coating my grandmother’s heirloom earring in his saliva. A stranger is licking me in a bar. Is this great?
When he comes up for air, Jack holds both of my hands and says, “I’ve always wanted to meet a woman and have us be all over each other from the very beginning and then stay that way the rest of our lives. Wouldn’t that be amazing?” I agree — because it absolutely would be. I also subtly move my arms so as to limit his access to my breasts.
Jack goes to the restroom. I sit by myself, swirl the ice in my scotch and think of my ex for a brief, crushing moment. Oh, God. But I refuse to be the girl who both makes out with a stranger and cries in a bar. Besides, this is much easier than I thought it would be. Maybe Jack’ll be my new boyfriend. Maybe I can stop noticing his terrible lisp. I can jump from one long-term relationship to the next without a blink.
I catch my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I stare at myself and think, “You are drunk.”
Jack comes back and reattaches himself to me. He strokes my hair and tries to order me another scotch before I stop him. I’m too drunk and need to go home. We leave and Jack climbs into the cab with me. “I want to see you again,” he says between long, tonguey kisses. I agree to go out with him again and, as cab pulls in front of my building, Jack gazes into my eyes intensely, like he’s trying to see into the back of my head. “If I come in with you, it would be like our second date is starting right now.” Wow, just wow. No, but wow. Besides, with three scotches in my empty stomach, there’s no way I’d be able to enjoy myself.
I let myself into my apartment, flop down on my bed, and lie in there the dark, heart racing, flushed from the attention.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories. She has served as the Nonfiction Editor and Managing Editor of TriQuarterly Online. She performs around Chicago with Mortified!, The Kates, Essay Fiesta, Stories at the Store, This Much is True, Beast Women, Waiting for the Bus and Cafe Cabaret. Her stories have been published in Tampa Review, Partner Dance Press, and been featured on Vocalo.org (89.5 FM). Dana received a Bachelors in Creative Writing and Religion and from Wittenberg University and a Masters in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago. She has a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University.