what i overheard

Starbucks, a weekend afternoon. A man in a suit is sitting at the table across from me, looking anxiously from his watch to the door and back again. A woman approximately his age, mid 60s I’d say, walks in, looking nicely put together, and begins to look around. They make eye contact, and the man stands and approaches her. They shake hands and speak as they walk to the counter to order. I continued working; reading or writing for one class or another. They return with their coffees and sit. Their conversation, which I cannot help overhearing, is about the day, the weather, other mundane topics, but with a tenseness not fitting with the casual conversation. I think maybe it’s a job interview. After a few more minutes of stiff banter it becomes clear that it is not a job interview, but a blind date. I am now much more interested in their conversation.
Taking a chance that weekend afternoon, after who knows how many weeks or years of being single, widowed, divorced, they sat at this neutral and public place, over coffee, not too much of a time commitment in case it really goes bust, and took a gamble that I imagine must be difficult.
Now they’re talking about his digestive system. Something going on with that, but it doesn’t sound too serious. I find myself wishing him off that topic. No, not on a first date! Don’t bring up your colon on a first date! I am his fan, I am rooting for him, hopeful for him, and I wish I could coach him from behind her back; gesture my finger across my neck to signal cut that topic short. He stops as though he hears me, and says in best barroom cliché fashion, “Enough about me, tell me about yourself.”
She tells him about where she works; management, or executive secretary, or some such. Not a job she wants to spend a lot of time talking about, and she doesn’t, moving on to another safe if unremarkable point. They chat back and forth this way, and I find myself attending to my work but pricking an ear up if the conversation sounds like it might go somewhere. It is mostly first date-ish, sheltered and shallow and nervous. The date itself is enough of a risk; no need to push things. Not at that age.
The date starts winding down. Maybe one of them had to be somewhere, or maybe one of them built in an escape mechanism as recommended on match.com. The woman excuses herself to the restroom and picks up her handbag. The man politely stands as she does, having grown up in an era when that was still routine, an era foreign to most of the people at Starbucks that day. A minute passes. The man takes a sip of his coffee and looks at his watch. Not impatiently, just habit. He says softly to no one, “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, we could do this again sometime.” He pauses and looks down at his now-empty cup. “I really enjoyed myself today, and I’d like to see you again.” He shakes his head slightly. I am looking at his reflection in the window, trying to seem uninterested or out of range of his earnest rehearsals. “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, maybe we could go to dinner.” Yes, that’s the one. That tells her not only would you like to see her again, but you’d like it to be a longer and more relaxed time, I coach.
The freshened woman approaches the table. He stands again, and they agree that it’s time to be leaving. “I really enjoyed myself today, and if you’d like, maybe we could go to dinner.” She agrees. He will call her. They leave, the three of us happy and hopeful.


two $100.00 parking stories

Spring, 2009

I’m taking a class at Lesley called “Fine Arts of Boston.” The class consists of going on field trips to artsy places and writing thoughts and reviews and making presentations and collages. It is not a big challenge but I will not be returning the three credits.
The first field trip was an architectural walk through Boston. Symphony Hall, Old South Church, Boston Public Library; check, check, check. Column, capital, entablature; check, check, check. Write a paper, collect an A, go to the Museum of Fine Arts. Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, still rivals after all these years. Photographic Figures in the new Herb Ritts Gallery (go!) Dürer, Rembrandt, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Renoir. Chuck Close, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter, Susan Rothenberg, Andy Warhol, and Takashi Murakami oh I could go on.
Part three of the class is to be a field trip to the theater. What will it be? Pinter? Moon for the Misbegotten? Shakespeare? The Cherry Orchard? Edward Albee? Death of a Salesman? Oh we are ripe with possibilities. The chosen play? Shear Madness. Self-proclaimed “America’s Favorite Comedy.” We will go cheek by jowl with the folks swarming from buses, still damp from their Duck Tour boat rides and thrilled at the shopping possibilities at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Tickets are $34.00. Meet out front at 7:15.
Fine Arts of Boston. This conjures images; grand images; images of a city that writer Oliver Wendell Holmes dubbed “Hub of the Universe.” Shouldn’t we be more careful about what we dump into this “Fine Arts” pile? Should Shear Madness ever rest against the breast of Matisse’s Carmelina? Join Degas in a pas de deux? Have tea with van Gogh at Houses in Auvers?
It is with this backdrop that I bring you Two $100.00 Parking Stories:
First $100.00:
Got lost in Boston. I am one of the few who can do this despite having a GPS. It's a talent. Too late to have the nice dinner I was going to have before the play, I parked, fed the meter through 6:00 p.m., and went into a food courtish place on Tremont Street. At the Chinese take-out counter it was between the Corn Syrup Orange Colored Sesame Chicken, or General Gao's Gelatinous Mystery Meat. Went with the chicken. Ate half of that, chucked the rest, and stopped at Starbucks. It was going to be a long night and I was already tired, so I had a big latte.
Sussed out the theater. Still half hour before it was time to meet the group. Walked around a bit and noticed I had a parking ticket on my windshield: $100.00 for parking in a bus stop. After 6:00 it becomes a bus stop, says the sign that I didn't see. Neither, apparently, did the seven other people with tickets on their cars. Last time I'll ever park on Cash Cow Boulevard.
Drove around looking for parking. Nothing on the street, naturally, and I wasn't about to pay $30.00 to leave my car for two hours. I couldn't afford it at this point what with that hundred-dollar ticket. Drove by the theater and watched from the car as the group gathered in the rain waiting for the professor who had the tickets. I pulled up to one of my classmates and gave him the envelope with my ticket money in it and asked him to give it to the professor with my apologies; I wasn't feeling well and had to go home, I said.
Ticket to play I didn't want to see: $34.00
Parking ticket: $100.00
Bailing out and going home to sit in front of the TV: Priceless

Second $100.00:

Had class in Cambridge today, at Lesley on Mass Ave. at Porter Square. After yesterday’s pricey parking episode I decided to play it safe and use the Lesley lot. More expensive, but at least I didn't have to run out and feed the ever-ravenous meter monster his bi-hourly meal.
After class I went to the desk with my ticket to pay for my car to simply exist for four hours. "$15.00" requested the attendant, stamping my ticket. I counted my bills: $9.00. But my friend Donovan told me to always carry a $100.00 bill wherever I go. I pulled this out and handed it to the attendant. "Oh," he says, shocked at my affluence and the sheer madness shown in handing it to him, "I can't take that."
"It's American money" I contended. "I can't take it,” countered he. Well, I said, one hand open with the $9.00 on it, the other with the $100.00 bill on it, "you can have this.... or this."
"Okay, $9.00."