In the flat fluorescent lighting of the VFW cafeteria, each blemish, zit, and freckle is amplified and appears to be pointing at you in accusation –– it’s like watching a really upsetting 3D movie. A dead, dim glow emanates from the skin of each lonely person, making their faces as hopeless as their intentions. It’s this common plaintiveness that serves me so well as a speed-dater. I approach the situation with the class and fervor of a used car salesman, wearing only the finest JC Penneys suit and always connected to my Bluetooth ear device. My glow is neither dim nor dead; rather, it’s impossible to resist like that of a bug zapper.
The set-up is pretty simple: twenty tables, three minutes per table, and endless possibilities to meet a suitable lady who is powerless to my musk.
“Hello! I’m [Woman X], it’s nice to meet you.”
“No names, please. Not yet.” I wink and the unnecessary secrecy serves me like a sex magnet.
“Uh…okay. Well, what do you do for a living?”
“This, as far as you’re concerned. Next question.” Aggressive. Succinct. Titillating.
“Well, I actually started work recently at a company that donates toothbrushes to the homeless. It’s part of a dental hygiene initiative for…”
This is when I pretend to receive a call on my Bluetooth earpiece device. “Oh can you excuse me for just one moment? Really though, that sounds great. I love initiatives.” I kill about a minute of the allotted three by saying arbitrary, but seemingly decisive things. “Of course, Stevens. Close the deal with the Cattersons and let me know when the three hundred mil is set to arrive at the post office. Of course, Stevens. Now, goddammit Stevens, I told ya’ once, I told ya’ a thousand times,” and I start making that gesture with my hand that implies this fella is a blabbermouth, “quit executing buy-ins without my executive hand in the matters at hand. You’re fired, and it’s for good this time!”
“Wow, that sounded…intense.”
I grab her hand and look her square in the eyes, “You don’t even know.”
“You’re right; I don’t.” She’s transfixed. Or indignant. Sometimes it’s hard to draw that line.
“What do you say we blow this poop stand?”
And next thing you know we’re knockin’ boots at the local SuperComfort Deluxe Suites, enjoying mints and washing each other’s hair with very small amounts of shampoo. “The Speed Steed strikes again,” I think to myself.
My first job title was “Sales Associate” at Haywood’s Ranch & Home, and I had this boss who would always say, “You really got to get out there and fuck this one in the ass.” As far as I could tell he never intended a sexual meaning. It was just one of those things, like “break a leg” or “job well done.”
“We showed that store up in Bixby who really knows how to fuck quarterly sales in the ass,” he’d say, and we’d all get somewhat giddy at the thought.
Anyway, it’s just one of those things that really stuck with me over the years. Maybe it’s because I was impressionable at 16, but that kind of encouragement meant a lot, despite its brash qualities.
Did I mention his name was Woody? That got a lot of laughs from friends, telling ‘em “Woody” was demanding I go out and fuck asses. They just didn’t understand, they weren’t go-getters; I was.
But twelve years later I find myself already heavily balding, married to a dental hygienist, and unemployed, more or less. My job, if you can call it that, is sort of a freelance deal where I go eat pasta at a restaurant or buy cufflinks from a boutique and then I get paid for my opinion of these businesses. Based on my opinion, people write articles for magazines that are passed out and immediately thrown into trash cans. It generally runs about $250 an opinion. My wife tells me selling my opinion for so much has given me a false sense of self-importance. I tell her she’s not a real doctor. We don’t have sex.
She proposed to me after high school, back when I was a go-getter (when I could take the world by the horns and fuck it in the ass). All my prayers seemed to be answered. I was never good at dating in high school, which is easily the best time to do it. Once you break out into college, you’ve gotta be cool to date. So when Agnes asked me to marry her, I broke down and cried. I mean, I cried a lot. So much that she tried to retract the offer, and I had to beg her to take me back before we were even married.
This is my reality.
On Wednesday nights, though, I abandon that reality and bring my dreams to life. Each Wednesday (and the occasional Saturday) the VFW hosts speed-dating, and for about thirteen months I’ve been a regular. Some people there call me “The Professional.” I prefer “The Speed Steed.” These monikers aren’t just given out willy-nilly, either; in about 56 weeks of speed-dating, I’ve gone home with 36 girls. Even Wilt Chamberlain would call that a good ratio.
When I say “gone home with,” I mean that I go to their homes, or we go to a hotel I’m reviewing for the magazines. So essentially I get paid about $250 to have illicit sex and enjoy complimentary mints and bath towels.
I think Woody would be proud.
At home I sit watching a football game. Agnes comes home from a long day of fluoride treatments, recommendations for braces, and telling people they have periodontal disease. She’s tired and looks like hell.
“You look like hell,” I say.
“You look bald,” she says.
It’s always the same with her. I try to commend her on having worked a hard day at the office and she really lays into me.
“What kind of crap did you sell your opinion on today?”
“For your information, I didn’t give an opinion of anything today, Agnes.”
“Ah, and the world is better for it. I wish you’d exercise that method at home more.”
I honestly don’t know what she means by it, but I can tell it was some sort of insult. I look at her face that’s grown more and more cherub-like as the pounds pile up, and I realize she’s clearly aged better than I; she’s got all of her hair and the free whitenings she gets from work look terrific.
Suddenly I catch a whiff of “Martina,” the woman from last night. She wore entirely too much perfume. There’s a threshold with perfume that you can cross, and once you’re passed it you start to smell worse than you would’ve without the stuff. The scent makes me nervous so I pour a bit of beer into my lap; alcohol is a great cover.
As I feel the beer soak through my slacks I look at Agnes in the kitchen and realize I don’t need to cover it up. She doesn’t care. I mean, she doesn’t know, but what would she really care? This feeling is unexpected, manifested in seconds by the feeling of soggy pants and the smell of excessive perfume. The aftertaste of beer mutates in my mouth and begins tasting like dry shame, like chalk. The scores of women I met at the VFW and truly met later at hotels all begin to flood my mind with a sense of banality. I can see the purposeless flapping of their jaws and their stupid intentions.
And then I see Agnes unpacking the groceries in the kitchen. She looks motherly even though she would never carry my seed. She couldn’t bear to raise a bald bastard.
“What’s for dinner, baby?” I ask from my seat.
She looks at me coldly at first, then a sardonic grin cracks her stare, “Whatever you’re making. Baby.” The grin disappears as quickly as it came and she turns to place the peanut butter in the cabinet. I always thought it would be cool to refrigerate it, just as a change of pace.
I suggest lightly, “Remember when we were in love?”
Her laugh is more like a cough –– a guffaw, if you will –– as she turns to walk down the hall, “Vaguely.”
I watch her walk away as if it’s for good this time, and part of me hopes it is because it’d make me feel better about all the illicit sex and mints.
I turn my attention to the end table with all the pictures on it. There’s one of Agnes as a child, which makes me feel weird because I’ve had sex with her. To my left our cat Richard lays cleaning his own asshole, and it makes me sort of uncomfortable even though he’s a cat.
I think of Woody and suppress a crying fit.