I have a lot of irons hovering above the fire. There’s the novel I want to write and the screenplay I’ve been thinking about. There’s a recipe for saag paneer on my chalk board and, as summer dips into fall, and I’m hit with a burning desire to cook up a wheel of hard cheese. There’s the stop-motion film I’m just about to begin and another I’m trying to finish. I want to paint my kitchen lime green before it gets too cold to leave the windows open.
And I must remember not to forget to treat myself at least once to a pumpkin ice cream.
Sitting on a bench at the small park by my house, I’m trying to catch my breath, arrange my thoughts, consider what on my list will bring me joy and why. I’m hopeful and cynical. Alert and weary. Some days it feels like I’m walking around with my skull pried open and my heart blasting a beam of light. No one seems to notice. Maybe it’s the time of day, the time of year, the dreams I dream almost every night. Rolling out of bed, stumbling down the street, waking up next to a trees and soft wind. My dog chews a stick by my feet. The sky is a non-committal shade of blue.
The Handsome Man is stretching. He does so every morning on the overlook as his dogs watch. I don’t know his name. I don’t anything about him. I see him once a week, when Sadie and I visit the small park and climb the rocks. He and his dogs stroll around the perimeter of the lawns twice before he leads them up the stairs. Sometimes I think our eyes meet, but I’m too shy to confirm. I wonder who he is. And I wonder if he wonders about me.
He reaches towards the slate by his feet, his hamstrings taught. I keep a subtle smile in place and feign interest in the squirrels and pigeons that my dog intends to chase. I like watching him. I don’t know why.
As fall closes in at a rapid rate, the autumnal energy blows dust and cobwebs from the far corners of a lazy summer. Time on the east coast is quartered by nature’s own design. And Starbucks special edition coffee drinks.
I must remember not to forget to order at least one Pumpkin Spice latte before Christmas.
First and foremost, it’s time for me to apply myself, once more, to my socio-anthropological mission of dating across the U.S. Much needs to be accomplished before I set off on another journey. I will be embarking on my eighteenth state. Hopefully, nineteen and twenty will follow close behind.
I need to take a weekend off from work. I need to decide where to go next. I’ll need to firm up travel plans, dog care. plant care. I need to sharpen my conversation skills, moisturize my face, find a recent photo, rewrite my online profile.
The Handsome Man stretches towards the sky. And then, to the bridge on his left, to the clouds on his right. His dogs, big dogs, black dogs, handsome dogs, lay on the cool slate stone of the overlook as Sadie’s lips twitch around her bared teeth.
His Himalayan bag swings from a rung on the wrought iron railing. His wool camping socks puddle thoughtfully at his ankles. His well-worn hiking shoes speak of miles and miles of road, hill, mountain, desert, wood, and lake.
I need to plan my strategy. I need to choose a zip code. Find a neighborhood. I must refocus, review, and reapply my dating knowledge and know-how. In these days of gender equality, I need to reread my copy of Gabe Fischbarg’s altruistic book, “The Guide to Picking up Girls,” reverse his good advice and apply it to my sun-drunk dating life.
The Handsome Man stretches his calves. The muscles on his legs are clenched, full of blood and tension. And now he’s working his neck. His elegant neck. His salt and pepper hair, artfully tussled, never moves. He has a five o’clock shadow at 8 a.m. His heart is solid, still, and strong. It’s not that he’s proud. It’s that he’s got nothing left to prove.
My copy of The Guide is at work, where we’ve been reading and discussing its informative chapters. I won’t be able to study it for a few hours. I’m left, on this cool morning, to review the bits I remember. I need to develop my rap. I need to find a wingman. I need to drill it into my consciousness that if a girl, I mean guy, doesn’t like me, it’s nothing personal. His switch might not be on.
He waved at me once, the Handsome Man, from across the park. I wasn’t sure why. We’ve never spoken. But I was on the hill, playing a game of throw-the-ball with my dog and he raised his arm straight and strong into the air. I looked around to see if anyone was behind me. There was no one. So, I waved and smiled back. I think he thought I was someone else.
Then again, at eight a.m., I am someone else.
My friends ask what happens if I fall in love on my quest to understand and study the dating habits of us. I tell them: I fall in love every day. Sometimes twice.
I need to remember not to forget to go leaf catching in Central Park. Catching a yellow leaf is very, very lucky.
The Handsome Man is finished with his morning routine. He takes the leashes and the dogs lumber up to stand. He very nearly always wears an enigmatic grin and I think he might be near-sighted, or far-sighted, or maybe both because he looks my way, but I can’t tell if he sees me. I turn from the squirrel screaming at my dog and offer my brightest 8 a.m. I’m-not-sure-if-you’re-smiling-at-me smile. Maybe we catch eyes, maybe not. I can’t tell. And then he moves on.
The Guide’s strategy is based on chatter, laying rap, talking to people before 10:30 p.m. and at jury duty. It’s about using alcohol as a social lubricant and going from person to person to person until you find someone who wants to talk to you. It’s assessing a potential hook-up quickly and moving on. It’s about pick-up lines and timing. And luck.
I wonder if a relationship based in silence could ever find a voice.