Lily and the Octopus(8)

Written By: Steven Rowley



I reach for the last piece of our jicama appetizer and shrug. Everything inside me told me I should have canceled this date, and now that I’m on it, I’m furious at myself for not listening. I should have held out for another date with the handsome hugger. But instead this is me living in the not knowing, and I hate it. This is a waste of our time. I know it. He knows it. He’s not saying it (or anything, really), so I’m babbling to fill the silence. But seriously, I’m coming off like an idiot. And a bit of a conspiracy theorist. Not even the fun kind who believes in little green men—the other kind, the kind who writes manifestos and Priority Mails them with explosive devices. I wouldn’t date me and neither should he.

We had decent email chemistry, this new guy and I. But that happens sometimes in online dating. A few zippy emails, some decent back-and-forth, and then in person? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. I should be better at detecting when that’s going to happen by now, but I’m not. It’s still a roll of the dice. That’s why I don’t get excited anymore by a few zippy emails and some decent back-and-forth. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have any real desire to see that person naked. Something like profuse sweating doesn’t usually show up in pictures—especially if the pictures are of them being active. You think, oh, he’s sweating because he’s hiking Runyon Canyon, or tossing a Frisbee at the beach. You don’t imagine them sweating like this sitting at a table reading a menu of salads.

“Are you addicted to anything?” I realize I’d better bring him into the conversation before I launch into my monologue about Robitussin.

“Sex.”

I have no idea if this is a joke or not. If it is, it’s kind of funny. If it’s not, I might get raped. I play it off like it’s a joke and move on.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a flight attendant, but I’m quitting that to become a professional dog walker.”

Fucking L.A. Professional dog walker. Is that a thing? Are most dog walkers maintaining their amateur status to compete in the Dog Walking Olympics? I guess that’s what I am. An amateur dog walker. It’s where I should be now. Enjoying a walk with Lily in the early evening. The gloom has parted just enough by five o’clock that there’s some soft light streaming through that would make a walk with her seem nice. It could be the only sunlight we see for days. Suddenly I want to be here even less.

“That sounds like a . . .”—how do I phrase this politely?—“lateral move.”

“It’s kind of a step up, actually.”

“That makes me feel bad for flight attendants.” I cringe, imagining him handing me a ginger ale with his sweaty mitts.

“Well, here it’s a step up. In L.A., people will pay anything for their dogs. Do you have any pets?”

“No.” I try to remember my dating profile (how much is on there about Lily?) and weigh the chances that he actually read my profile and would remember it well enough to know that I’m lying, or if he just flipped through my photos to find the one shirtless one. I shouldn’t have written that thing a bottle deep in one of New Zealand’s finer white wines and I certainly shouldn’t have posted a shirtless photo. That was the wine’s fault.

“Me, neither. I want to, though. Have a pet.”

This (aside from the maybe sex joke) is the most interesting thing about him. I don’t even know what he means by a pet—dog, cat, reptile, bird, one of those chirping key chains that Japanese children used to carry, hamster, fish, rock—but he wants one.

I try to think of how to tactfully cut this short. If it’s not going anywhere (there’s so little connection here there’s not even interest in sex), there should be a socially acceptable way to just get up and walk out. I mean, if there’s nothing obviously wrong with the other person—they are “as advertised,” but you’re just not, for whatever reason, feeling it—there should be a way to get up and leave. If there is something obviously wrong with them, you can say so right up front. Maybe not in those exact words, but you can say something like, “I’m sorry, I don’t think this is going to be a match.” Once I got a particularly creepy vibe from a guy just from his handshake, and we weren’t meeting in a sufficiently public place, so I said just that and left. Another time, I wish I had said that up front but instead suffered through dim sum while having to answer questions like, “Do you think you’re the kind of person who could perform an emergency tracheotomy?” (For the record, no, I do not.) But once you’re in the middle of a date, you’re kind of committed to seeing it through to its natural conclusion. My first date with Jeffrey lasted two days—there was just so much to say! I suppose that sets a very high bar.

Lily was asleep when I left, and I felt like one of those new parents who wanted to wake their sleeping baby to see if it was still alive. But while she normally sleeps on her left side, this afternoon she was on her right, octopus side down. Good. Maybe it will suffocate in her paw-print blanket. Otherwise she was curled up in her usual way, the way that made me call her Bean. I’m already looking forward to whatever movie she and I may watch together when this interminable date is over. On Saturday nights we watch movies. I hope she’s well rested. Maybe we’ll order Indian; the place up the street has these chickpeas in a tomato and ginger sauce that are really something. I think again about how to end this ordeal. Well, since you’re not really that interesting in person, I think I’ll head out. If only it were that easy. I should just go ahead and make a third date with the hugging guy. At least I was interested enough in him to want to know if he was interested in me. Why did I break the hug first?

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