“How do you often embarrass yourself?” she asked him in the fourth quarter of the hard-fought defensive struggle of their first date.
They had been talking about airline food before that. She was a stewardess.
“But my boobs are real,” she had said, a non sequitur dropped into the mix as an attempt to draw him off sides, right before she had asked him about how he embarrassed himself.
“Huh?” He was confused. He was still thinking about the reality of her boobs.
“On your dating profile,” she said. “You say that you have a tendency to embarrass yourself in public. What do you mean by that?”
“Oh,” he said. “That.” But he wasn’t sure, suddenly, what to do. He called a timeout and went to the restroom to confer with his coach.
“If you want to get into that end zone,” Coach said, “you got to keep it together.” Coach had the voice of Mickey Goldmill, Sylvester Stalone’s fictional boxing trainer in the Rocky films. “No big mistakes. You hearing me?”
He nodded that he did.
“This is the red zone!” Coach said. “You got to go for the win and punch it in.”
He knew what Coach meant. He could not afford, after the tightly-executed running game tonight, and the smart play-calling, to end as he’d ended the previous four dates, four different women, all from the online dating site.
The first date, after a late and hopeful drive deep into her territory, had ended with him turning over the ball. The second and third stopped him at the goal line, making him settle for a field goal attempt in both cases (the first field goal had been blocked, and the second one he had shanked to the right). His fourth date, a defense attorney, had beat him up so badly over dinner that he limped back to the locker room in tears.
“Now go get ‘em,” Coach said, and patted the Author on the ass as he jogged out to the center of the dining room.
Uncharacteristically, for him, he did not get honest—in his experience, a deal-breaker. He did not tell her, for example, about the “incident” when in grad school. He had come unglued at a reading late spring of his last year, true, but nobody had ever cared to hear his side of the story. They ostracized him, basically, in the writing workshops afterwards, and his thesis advisor refused to return his calls.
This was after the publication and many accolades of his first book of poetry, shortlisted for various awards. But what they didn’t care to know, those that judged him then, was that though he seemed kind of crazy, to be sure, when he came out onto the stage for his reading with what appeared to be some seagull shit on the lapel of his wrinkled tweed jacket—either seagull shit or a little of that bleu cheese dipping sauce served with the buffalo wing appetizers not an hour (and three beers) earlier, the only thing he’d consumed all day beside the Bloody Mary for breakfast—was that his girlfriend had broken up with him not fifteen minutes prior to the reading.
Although it was no excuse, of course, he at least thought that it might help to shed light onto what happened partway through his first poem. A woman in the front row took a call on her cell phone, and though the Author tried to go on, he had been so distracted that he stopped right there and ripped the page out of his book. “What the fuck, what the fuck!” he yelled at the woman. “You’re taking a call right in the middle of my reading? How rude is that!”
He said some other generally awful and douchebaggery type things—really terrible terrible things, actually—until, with tears, the woman said, “My friend was just calling because she loves your work, but she couldn’t make it tonight. Her husband left her last year, and she’s working two jobs to support her family, and all she wanted was to spend her thirty minute lunch hour from her nighttime grocery job to hear you read. I was going to put her on speaker phone.”
But that was not the worst of it. As the Author was walking over to the side of the stage where he had thrown the book, the woman said, while gulping on her tears, “My friend’s youngest son has cancer, and this is all she had hoped for, to get thirty minutes of peace in the back room, sitting on the boxes of bananas or whatever, to hear you read.”
This was one small example of how the Author often embarrassed himself in public. But rather than go there, and because he realized that the scouting team had reported back on this tendency of his, he called an audible and said to the stewardess, “I sometimes hiccup in the elevator.”
“A simple hiccup, really?” she said, and reached across for his hand. “Is that all? We can work with a hiccup or two. In fact, a cute little hiccup out of that cute little mouth”—she reached across for his nose, but missed it slightly, touching him on the cheek, more drunk than he had realized—”and you just might score tonight.”