Monday, February 1, 2010

Being a bartender tends to sort out your suitors. You serve all kinds of people, of course, but only two try to engage you in conversation: the really attractive, and the really aggressive.

Pressing fifty and looking like a sausage in an Armani suit, George was obviously in the latter camp. He refused to be intimidated by the 6'6" dude who was running the show. He leaned against the bar and beckoned me over with a bent finger. "Congratulate me," he said. "I just quit my job. I was Vice President in charge of marketing at Ericsson, Walters, and Roy."

"Congratulations," I said. I'd never heard of the firm, but I guessed it meant he was important. You don't form a company using last names if you're selling hot dogs on a stick. "So, what are you going to do now?"

"I'm Greek," he said, "and I love Greek food. I'm thinking about opening a restaurant."

"That'd be fun," I said. "What a great idea," I said. But somehow I knew ten years from now he'd be saying, "Hey, I thought of a couple dishes I could serve."

When George came in two weeks later, though, he'd already opened it.

Needless to say, I was startled. I was impressed. Most of my friends couldn't make restaurant reservations that fast. George was quick with an explanation. "Mindspring," he said, referring to the cult-like program that tranformed regular people into superpowers by trapping them in a room for some mysterious twelve-hour confrontation. "It's amazing. Totally transforms your life. Gives you the confidence to do anything."

Unfortunately, I was already suspicious about Mindspring. It seemed like every time I met a real asshole, they had Mindspring in their past. See, Mindspring gave you confidence. Put you in charge of your life, taught you life wasn't a dress rehearsal, made you go out and grab the bull by the horns.

If you were nice but shy, they'd make you nice. But if you were a quiet jerk, they'd turn you into a really loud one.

Naturally George asked me out, and naturally I agreed. On our first date he drove us up the coast in his Ferrari with the top down. Being Greek, he was a sunworshipper. Being a Mindspring graduate, he had the confidence to drive wearing nothing but speedos. And having the body of Ernest Borgnine, he had the power to draw the stares of everyone within eighty miles.

I didn't say a word. I was mesmerized. Hell, there's no way I'd have stopped in a self-service gas station wearing what was essentially a purple rubber band, and I was thirty years younger and in shape.

He filled a couple hours with talk about himself before the topic swerved over to me. "So what do you like to do?" he asked at a red light just outside Carlsbad.

A million possibilities leapt to mind. "Everything!" I replied excitedly. "Woodworking, camping, going to thrift stores. Or just staying at home and watching TV."

His craggy features converged into a frown. "I meant in bed," he clarified.

The question irritated me. Could regular people answer it? I mean, if you asked your mom or dad, what would they say? "I like to start off with a little French passive, followed by some light spanking, with reciprocal Greek as the main attraction and water sports as the cool-down"?

Or did he just assume that I was a slut?

I was twenty, and frankly I didn't have enough experience to judge. I'd only tried a couple of the major acts. In fact, I felt about sex like I felt about art: I couldn't say what I liked, exactly, but I recognized it when I ran into it. I wasn't set. I wasn't fixed. I didn't head to art galleries saying, "Hey, show me something blue!"

So I said, "Oh, the usual," hoping that wouldn't leave me tied to a mule and flogged in his mind.

"Oh," he said. "A man of mystery."

We meandered through Lompoc, where seed companies grow acres of colorful flowers. The wind whipped my hair, and the growling, superpowered engine shook me from the waist down. Adorable little cities passed by in anonymous blurs before we hit Solvang, a touristy Danish town. He parked the car in front of a bakery and threw on a shirt and a pair of shorts to go inside. He got us a dozen donuts called aebleskiver and we walked the main drag. "So, are you versatile?" he asked.

I thought for a minute. "Well, I own a cordless drill, but I like to watch the Food Network."

George frowned. "I meant, do you like to fuck as well as get fucked?"

I just snorted at his outrageousness and checked for powdered sugar on my chin. I definitely felt conflicted. They say power is sexy, and I was feeling it. I mean, Kissinger dated some of the hottest women in Hollywood, and that was with a string of war crimes under his belt and a German lisp. Clearly George's overconfidence was useful, or he wouldn't be a rich restauranteur with four sports cars. And wouldn't Mindspring -- or hell, even Dr. Phil -- tell me that the smart person latches onto somebody who's going far in life?

Still, in the back of my mind I knew there was a problem. Like, did he have any idea who I was? Was it really me -- woodworking, camping, thrift-shopping me -- that he wanted in this relationship, or was he just looking for the first dude who could fill a void?

The sun was setting when we hit Ventura, and George pulled into the parking lot of a romantic seafood restaurant overlooking the beach. I scanned the menu, wondering if butter-fried clams and butter-fried oysters and butter-fried lobster would turn my face into a butter-slick. "I am absolutely starving," I said.

George winked at me. "I could eat you under the table," he replied.

He smiled. I smiled. I froze.

I said, "George, I'm thinking this isn't such a perfect match," right before he got my pants unzipped.

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