Let’s say it’s been a while between dates. Let’s say seven months. Let’s admit that the produce aisle at Whole Foods isn’t the bastion of solvent men it’s cracked up to be. My kickball league was useless. And I had to drink so much while Speed Dating that every potential love of my life ended up looking like he had an identical twin coming out of his shoulder.
Not that today is a date — or at least not yet — but I am branching out. Sure, some might call it settling, but mostly they would be the assholes on my kickball team. This morning, three carpet layers and a plumber are coming to my house. I’m hoping just one of them won’t be a dolt. Does that sound condescending? I hope not because I’m already fast-forwarding to a party next year, where he and I can share our story with the seven people in the tri-state area who still haven’t heard it. “You won’t believe how we met,” I’ll say, gazing into his insanely chiseled face, “Honey, you tell them. You tell it so well!”
Okay, suddenly I’m having a lucid moment. Odds are good that the carpet guys haven’t changed much since their high school days of getting buzzed under the bleachers while cutting second period Algebra. Good chance they’re birthers, and they say “dude” every fifth word. All right, the carpet guys are officially off the table. Maybe.
Which leaves (okay, judgy kickball people) my imaginary plumber. He’s all tall and rugged. White teeth and healthy gums. And his backstory! There’s a really good reason why he’s a plumber instead of a Stanford grad and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.
“Ma’am?” The carpet layers are the first to arrive, and one look confirms why I broke up with them. Right out of the gate, they have no control of their past participles and make absolutely no eye contact as they carry the big bolt past me. Perhaps their breakfast of barbecued potato chips and orange soda hasn’t given them the stamina they were hoping for. That’s just a guess though. Maybe I’m just not their type.
Two rooms away, I can hear their every word, courtesy of (just speculating here) too many AC/DC concerts. They speak with all the stealth of my 92-year-old Uncle Mike, who’s been known to give an entire room a rundown on his latest bowel movement when he thought he was whispering to Aunt Sarah.
Their conversation starts with a mystery: “I know my grandfather was in a war, but I’m not sure which one.”
“Well, we could figure it out by the year he was born,” says the mathematical carpet layer.
“That’s easy then,” says the historian carpet layer and Jeopardy contender. “Had to be World War Two.”
“Wherever it was, he told me it was cold as fuck. Where’d they fight World War Two anyway?”
I wonder if the plumber will be on time. I love him more now than I did an hour ago, and that was a lot.
Isn’t it cute that I know so much about him? He’ll carry a dog-eared little notebook everywhere he goes. He’ll stop intermittently to jot down his thoughts, and I won’t even care that I’m paying him $800 an hour. And once my disposal is running again, we’ll meander out to the patio. How does he manage to smell like a sprig of lavender after a day of unclogging people’s pipes?
“This?” I’ll say, “Oh it’s nothing!” Just the last Merlot from my 2006 Napa trip, breathing for 35 minutes, just as the sommelier recommended. And, surprise! Bruschetta I’ve made with basil harvested an hour ago from my herb garden, and olive oil directly from Umbria. Somehow I know it won’t attract flies on the back patio, which will leave us ample time to gaze into each other’s souls. Maybe you’ll read aloud your latest poetry that came to you as you were installing a showerhead across town.
Finally, a knock at the door! Am I reading too much into this, or was that knock the perfect balance between vulnerability and strength?
His brown uniform is emblazoned with an embroidered patch: CHUCK. That’s quite a mustache you’ve got going there, Chuck. Had a quick beer and a cigarette on your way over, did you? No need to smile. Really. Enough with the teeth.
“This way to the kitchen,” I say, remembering the perky steps I’d been practicing. Perky no more, I just point to the sink.
His first words as he climbs underneath are: “Jesus Christ!” This is not as alarming as it might sound. I hear this kind of comment often because I tend to let things go until a crisis may be looming. So I’m not worried. That, plus love is dead.
“See this?” he asks, pointing with his flashlight. “You’re lucky you didn’t get electrocuted. Who the hell put this in?”
Did Chuck just stick his head out from under the sink and look me up and down? Did a warm breeze just blow through my hair, and did my lips form a perfect sensuous rosebud? Chuck has just taken a deep breath.
“Can you fix it today?” I’m trying so hard to look serious that I may instead look like a woman who’s just finished a ventriloquism class.
He goes to his truck to get the part he needs. While he’s gone, the carpet guys have a spirited discussion about the California Gold Rush or the rule of the Habsburgs — it’s hard to tell.
Chuck is back, but uh oh, he has combed his hair. I want to blurt out, “CHUCK, it’s me, not you. The bruschetta isn’t happening, okay? I don’t even have an herb garden!”
I sit at the kitchen table to pay some bills. Chuck is under the sink, humming, his legs splayed out on my kitchen floor. I wonder what pathogens are living in those rubber soles of his.
“So how long were you married?” he asks.
“Fifteen years. A long time!” I give those last three words the punch of a lifetime, and might, at any second, add, “Darn tootin’!”
“My wife and I just had our tenth anniversary,” he says loudly, so I can hear him over the carpet layers, who have moved on to stories about hookers, though they may be talking about hookahs — not sure.
“That’s great!” I say.
Chuck pulls his upper body out from under the sink.
“Not so great,” he says.
“The disposal?” I ask, hoping to God we’re talking about the disposal.
“We live like brother and sister.” He pauses. Is that a meaningful look? Oh dear, it is.
I look down as if I didn’t hear him, or maybe that adding 9 + 7 needs my full attention. We go a few minutes in silence.
“It’s cold for June,” he says.
Tell me about it, Chuck.