The problem: general malaise coupled with an overwhelming sense of restlessness.
The solution: a kettle one martini up. Dirty. Olives.
The problem: the bars in the neighborhood don’t open until five.
The solution: go to that non-descript Mexican restaurant on the corner instead.
It’s light out. Pre-happy hour. I’m here to convince my friend that we are movers and shakers, pursuing happiness on our own terms, namely, before five. Sadly, neither one of us is particularly joyful when we sit down at the bar. But, we’re here, taking matters into our own hands. In a few moments we might be… we will be… we could be… happy.
The problem: the olives are small.
The solution: compliment the bartender on his smile and request extra olives.
We’re at an unimaginative, empty, Mexican-ish restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve convinced myself that I’ve had a bad day, which is nearly impossible since, prior to walking to the subway, I haven’t left my house. Nor have I spoken to anyone besides my dog.
I’m fishing for olives, he’s drinking a beer. We’re talking about love.
Neither one of us is looking for it, chasing it, expecting it, or running from it. We’ve both had it, in the form of marriage, and found it left an uneasy aftertaste in our mouths. But, still, we date. I’m telling him about San Francisco, Denver, and Des Moines, how I have a finger in Connecticut and feelers out with the vegans of Rhode Island.
“You realize, Amy,” he says as he pushes his empty pint glass to the side, “it might be easier to date in New York.”
I shake my head. “I’m an explorer.”
At which point, he switches to martinis.
The problem: I don’t want to talk about love.
The solution: change the subject.
“Did I tell you about the Smoky-Eyed Israeli? And the swing dance teacher? And the Buddhist guy with the beads? I ran into him on the subway stairs. I don’t think he recognized me.”
He’s well into his olives. Subject change: successful.
“I’m in the midst of it,” I whisper. “The parade of exes.”
The parade begins with a phone call, a text message, an email from that person you dated who broke your heart. Or maybe you broke his. And then they come marching by, one by one, a retrospective of your love life. Sometimes it lasts a day, sometimes a week or a month. The universe chuckles at its earnest joke. And you see that the past has legs and will wave at you as it jogs by. Hopefully, you’re laughing and waving, too. Trying to remember names, grasp the ghosts of memories… his bed, her dog, didn’t he have a funny sneeze? Isn’t she the one who forget to tell you that she changed her phone number?
It started with the Buddhist guy. I met him before I left and never called him again. We didn’t have much in common. And then there was the strange coincidence of my co-worker’s girlfriend being a client of the Smoky-Eyed Israeli I slept with when I first left my husband. Our passionate affair was consummated in the dorms of the McBurney YMCA, the only place we could find a room, and ended that same night, when I returned from the bathroom down the hall and he told me he was trying to get back together with his ex-girlfriend.
Later in the week, the swing dance teacher called my name in the middle of Times Square. There were nights I would sit outside on the stoop before class, crying. I had filed for a separation and was sleeping on couches, trying to remember who I was. He knew how to lead and I was happy to follow. “You don’t remember my name,” he said. “Of course, I do! You look great. Are you still… teaching? You had a dog -” “Two dogs.” “Right.”
I think I know the theme of this parade: “before and after.” I’m walking my neighbor’s dog in the pouring rain. I’m soaked, watching the rain wash down the sidewalk, thinking about it.
I look up.
Dark hair, accent.
“Do you remember me?”
“Of course I do.”
He’s holding his broken umbrella, a single flap suffering under the deluge of drops. Water drips into my eyes, but I can see. It’s the Smoky-Eyed Israeli, ten years later. What a way to end a parade.
“How are you?
“Do you – want to – grab coffee?”
And so, in the warmth of the cafe, cupping the warmth of a mid-afternoon cup of coffee, having change into a dry, warm sweater, my past and present collide. He’s still kind. And he’s still smart. And smoky-eyed and sexy. He reads books and thinks his own thoughts. He has a sadness about him that might be new. He’s a loner and a misanthrope, though he’s considering becoming a serious man. He just broke up with a girlfriend. A different girlfriend. I like him. He’s interesting. He tells a good story.
There’s not an ounce of me that wishes I was still the person who wanted to be with him.
It’s time to leave, but neither of us is sure how to say goodbye. He invites me out for a beer sometime.
“Are you going to call him,” my friend asks.
I shake my head. “I don’t need to.”
The problem: it’s starting to rain in Brooklyn.
The solution: drink another martini.
There are no problems. Only solutions.