1) I wish I had Sex and the City DVDs to watch at a time like this.
2) I wish I was on What Not To Wear, instead of this vegan-dreadlocked-"I'm too down to earth for clothes"-under-appreciative chick.
Like the Rolling Stones song goes, you can't always get what you want.
With that being said, I decided to plunge myself into a walk down memory lane and attempt to dazzle you with some of my famous creative works prior to my arrival on the blogosphere. Put yer reading glasses on.
July 26, 2004
There’s one that didn’t make it,” he says with a sort of contemplative tone. I look to my right and see what Brian is referring to—a small abandoned building with sparkling windows and brand new brick and mortar. The exterior is neatly landscaped, pink geraniums thick inside whiskey barrels. It is a harmless looking building—its newness makes it all the more inviting. However, the sign outside the building is blank, a fresh coat of brown paint looking rather bare. There is no sign on the front of the building, although there is a drywall arc painted gold that crowns the entrance. At one time—probably not even a month ago—there had been a name; there had been a sign.
We slide into a long row of cars waiting at the stoplight that was on the corner next to the empty parking lot. I look at my surroundings with much more interest than I probably need to project. Since I am from out of town, I feel like I can get away with being totally engaged in staring at the empty building, as if admiring the Coliseum in Rome was equally comparable.
The truth of the matter is that I am visiting a town a mere two hundred and twenty four miles away from where I live. The truth is we are sitting on the access road of the interstate highway, waiting to enter the onramp. I see hundreds of these frontage road landscapes every day—and they all look the same. Orange reflective construction barrels, casual dining restaurants, and the occasional sporting goods store or home improvement warehouse is nothing new to my seasoned traveler’s eyes.
I glance over at Chris. He’s studying the pewter Mustang GT in front of us, eyeing the tailpipes and the size of the tires. I follow his gaze and see the car. That’s it. Just a car. Maybe this is the problem, I think. We don’t really have a common hobby. He is crazy about speed—race cars, his heavy-duty truck, motorcycles. He has a silver Camero that he races for fun—it has purple flames that fade into orange on the sides. I can appreciate a nice vehicle, but when it comes to anything more descriptive, I am at a loss.
Brian and Lisa, Chris’s friends, are cuddling in the back seat of his truck. Lisa is sitting in the middle seat, so she can be closer to Brian. Her hand is curled around his forearm, which is draped across her thigh. His fingertips rest on her right knee. My eyes look at the light. Still red. I can tell Chris is in a hurry. He wants the color to change.
“Dude, that place wasn’t even that bad, either,” Brian says. He’s staring out the window: it’s an abandoned restaurant. If I wasn’t so paralyzed with anxiety, I think, I could ask him what kind of restaurant it used to be.
“Yeah…wasn’t that a, like, Big Bowls?” Lisa asks. She sounds as young as she is. I cannot believe she’s engaged and only twenty. Then again, if I found a guy I loved, I’d probably be engaged too.
“Oh, Big Bowls?” Suddenly Chris is interested. “That was one of Wheeler’s restaurants.”
“Wheeler?” Lisa sounds confused. Wheeler, I think. I could ask who that is. Why can’t I speak?
“Yeah, you know, the guy that owns all of the Frenchie’s Fries and Boxtops. That was his attempt at a Chinese place.” Leave it to Chris. I think that’s actually one thing I like about him. He knows a lot about running a business—entrepreneurial trivia included.
“You know what I think someone needs to make?” Brian interjects. “A place called ‘I Don’t Care.’” Brian laughs. I laugh too. I get it.
“What?” Chris says, glancing in the rear view mirror. He doesn’t get it…I can’t stand dense people. He takes his life way to seriously, I think. The day before, we were driving towards Dallas in silence. I had said “Tell me a story.”
“Tell you a story?”
“Well, once there was this girl and she was out with this guy and she asked him to tell her a story, so he did.”
Dense. No creativity.
“I Don’t Care. So when you ask a girl where she wants to go eat and she says ‘I don’t care,’ you can say ‘Okay. We can do that.’” Brian chuckles, and Lisa bats her eyes at him. I’m about to turn around and bat my eyes at him. She’s lucky. “You could have all sorts of food—Mexican, Chinese, Italian…it could have just everything.” Brian’s postulations are starting to sound really good to me. I wish I could say, That’s a really good idea. But my mouth stays shut.
Chris smiles, and laughs a little bit. “That’s not a bad idea. The problem you run into with a place like that is your overhead. You can’t serve that much food or else you’ll run out of money. That’s why places with really small menus do well, and the places with big menus are usually well-established chains.”
“Oh,” Brian says. “That makes sense.”
Did I say I liked that quality in Chris? His business prowess? Suddenly, I’m backtracking. I take it back. I glance over at the abandoned restaurant.
The line of cars is moving slowly. I feel bad that we are stuck in such horrible traffic, and wonder why I feel bad about it. Chris was the one who invited me up here. Considering this was only our third date, and he invited me to go out to a fancy restaurant and then spend the night at his house, I thought we were going to have more fun.
I can’t figure out where, between Thursday night, when we had been talking on the phone, and Sunday morning, after I had slept chastely on his couch, we had gone wrong. I guess I knew in the back of my mind that there would be no love or marriage or baby carriage between Chris and myself. I am from the school of thought that you know when you know. I also am aware that my short attention span in my relationships has kept me from dating a guy for more than a month.
We are coming over the hill up towards the traffic light. There are still at least fifteen cars ahead of us in line. The restaurant is still in the corner of my eye, and now a giant incomplete freeway looms above. I want to ask what they are building there. When will it be done? I can’t. I realize how tense my whole body is, my left leg twisted into a knot, my toes digging into my black slides.
“God, it will be great when all this construction is done,” Brian mutters.
“No kidding,” is all Chris says in response.
The overpass that is being built over head, I realize, will eliminate this long traffic light in the future. They definitely have a while to go. There are concrete beams running up toward the unusually cloudy summer skies. The beams aren’t even completed—there are gaps and open spots where I can tell the crews have been working. The road that will one day lead across these pillars hasn’t even begun.
We are almost to the light, crawling forward and uphill behind the steely gray Mustang that is shaking with desire to resume its comfortable speed. I am suddenly overcome with grief, and can hardly keep my focused stare on the construction zone above me. The brown and gold restaurant is still in my peripheral view, abandoned and bare. I realize my relationship with Chris is closing its doors like this restaurant. My hopeful heart feels as empty as the rooms inside.
The light turns green, and the Mustang jumps forward. Chris’s black truck follows in suit, and I am relieved to be moving forward and away. We cross under the overpass and start a quick, fast glide down toward the highway. I relax a little, glad to be able to look at something other than the concrete canvas of parking lots and instead turn my focus to the cars we were passing.
“I wonder when they’re going to finish that overpass,” Brian asks, breaking the silence. “That light just plain sucks.”
“I have no idea. From the way it looks, it’s going to be a while,” Chris says, pulling up alongside the Mustang.
“Yeah…” Brian is quiet for a moment. “It’s sure going to be nice, though. When they’re done, it’s sure going to be nice.”
My anxiety is slipping, and I think that maybe it’s okay. Maybe it’s okay to be single, failing at relationships one after another. We pass by a row of restaurants, all with full parking lots harboring the dinner crowd. Some I’ve heard of, others look new. Who knows which will last and which will fail. Maybe Chris knows; maybe he knows about the overhead and the budget.
What Chris doesn’t know is my destination. He doesn’t know how long it is going to take me to be complete. I am working, forging ahead at a steady speed. I am anxious and flawed, sometimes quiet but stubborn. Yet I know that my heart is still under construction. When it’s done, it’s sure going to be nice.
We were lounging around in the pool, just Megan, Marc and I, when, laughing gaily, Margie and Cecilia (Marc’s mother) came teetering out on their summer slides across the limestone patio. Cecilia was Margie’s friend from Washington, D.C. and she and her 8 year old son were vacationing at the B's for a week. Cecilia had already pissed me off for the day, ordering me around as if I was working for her, while I knew I wouldn’t be paid extra for the extra child. I had thought she was French—I guess that goes to show you what an idiot I am, seeing as I apparently cannot tell a French accent from a Spanish one.
“Rachel,” Cecilia stumbled over my name with her thick foreign accent (whatever nationality it was) “we’re going to watch a movie in the media room…can you have them showered and ready by 6:45?” I paddled around in the shallow end with Megan holding onto my shoulders in a vise-like grip, trying to keep from drowning us both. We probably would both have been better off.
“Sure,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Rachel’s getting married in three years, Mom!” Megan shouted, as I cringed and continued paddling.
“Down we go,” I said, ducking under water, my last glimpse being of Margie sitting on the teak bench beside the pool with a curious look across her face. Damn this child…here we had been, just fantasizing about my aforementioned wedding to be held at the B's residence, and she was already sending out wedding announcements. I was completely happy to continue contemplating my guest list -- whom out of my circle of enemies was worthy of an invitation, that sort of thing. We had decided that Megan would be the head flower girl (I had to compromise) and would ride her spotted pony Patches down the aisle. She was nice enough to lend me their bay mare Audrey for me to ride down the aisle. The flower girls and bridesmaids were given pale blue dresses, and we had decided that Lou, so that his feelings weren’t hurt, would be allowed to be a bridesman, outfitted in a baby blue tux. The thought had made both of us laugh devilishly.
When we resurfaced, sputtering like a bubbling bowl of Ramen noodles, Margie said “Twenty one is too young to get married, Megan,” more to me than to her daughter. Megan slid off of my shoulders and before she could get another word in, I interrupted.
“We were simply discussing marriage and Megan decided that in order to be a flower girl she would have to be under the age of 11, and since that’s in three years, that’s when I am getting married.” It was true—we had both agreed after 11 she would certainly be too old to be a flower girl.
“I see…” Margie hadn’t quite bought it, surely still worried that I was seriously considering getting married at the age of twenty one. Evidently one does not actually need a suitor these days to be considering marriage.
“Okay, well, we will be watching the movie! Do not forget, ready by 6:45…that is an hour from now…” Cecilia ushered Margie off, and I groaned inwardly, not sure that I could take another hour of human submarine.
I managed to convince Megan and Marc that we should play a new game and within minutes had them playing as dolphins with me as the flamboyant dolphin trainer. For my own enjoyment, I took on a foreign accent similar to Cecilia’s and began teaching them tricks. I taught them yes, no, and the colors of the rainbow in Dolphinglish, the language of the bottle-nosed dolphins.
“ARE WE READY?” I’d shout, getting them to jump up and down as if we were a football team about to take on our hometown rivals.
“Eek-eek!” They’d shout simultaneously, the Dolphinglish word for “yes.”
“Are we cows?” Hey, it was the first word that had come into my mind when teaching them the word ‘no.’
“And….what color is the ocean?”
“And the dirt?”
“And the grass?”
I don't know much about dolphins but...human children are easier to train than dolphins will ever be.
I am proud to say that both children were dressed in clean clothes with combed hair by exactly 6:42 that evening. I was hoping to make a quick exit, excited that it wouldn’t be a late night. For some reason, every job I had in my short time in the working world had somehow ended up having me work 12 hour days, repeatedly, until I no longer had the will to live. The only reason this one was lasting any longer than the rest was because I was earning more than a high school teacher. I'd go fishing, swim, watch movies, and occasionally want to kill a kid each day and go home with $150 dollars. Teachers read books, teach, watch movies and usually want to kill 150 kids and go home with less than that.
“Rachel…” Megan began slowly, in the sort of voice that I knew was leading up to something I probably didn’t want to hear.
“Yes…” I whined back, trying to brush my hair into a manageable mass that could resemble a pony tail with her child-sized Winnie-the-Pooh brush.
“Are you coming to dinner with us…?”
“I don’t think so.” I had to smile, imagining myself in my Austin City Limits t-shirt and Birkenstocks in the posh Shoreline Grill, the sister restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin.
“But why not…?”
“I don’t think your parents want me to go.”
Within seconds, Megan had cantered out of her bedroom and galloped into the kitchen to ask her parents if I could come.
I didn’t know how it happened, but the next thing I knew, I was standing with Megan and Margie in the master bedroom’s closet the size of my house. “How about capris?” Margie selected an outfit for me to wear, considering my babysitting/fishing attire was not exactly fresh and clean.
I ended up wearing a pair of size 8, black stretch capris from Talbots Petites that, to my utter horror, were tight around the waist on me, paired with what I would assume was a tennis tank top, with a little zipper up the chest and the bottom hem that came to a V at my waist. If you just looked at me from my neck down, I could have been Margie.
A pair of black slides later, and I was following their round bubble of a Lexus down the freeway, with Megan and Marc chattering in the back. Since introducing Megan to Latin pop in the form of Enrique Iglesias, the only music she wanted to listen to was “that Hero guy.” I was probably the first person to pull into the Four Seasons of Austin with Enrique crooning in Spanish on their portable car-ready CD player plugged into a 1991 Bronco.
Lou, of course, in an almost nauseating show of chivalry, pulled into the valet drive, and I had no choice but to follow him because hell if I knew where to park. I have flashbacks of my wreck with the three Mexicans and pulling into this parking lot, but now is no time to think negatively. The valet is approaching my car as I giggle hysterically.
“He has taken your ticket, ma’m…” The valet motions towards Lou, so we all unload from the car. I see Lou helping Margie out of the car and swallow hard. Is it possible to like people so much that you also simultaneously cannot stand them?
“Thought I’d take you to dinner and make you pay to park, huh, Rachel?” Lou chides in his elfish voice.
“Thank you…” I mutter, while flashing a toothy smile. I have begun to believe that when in doubt, smiling from ear to ear will win over any situation, which all things considered probably isn’t the worst habit to pick up. One time in San Diego, my friend and I had had been laughing at a joke when we passed a black gardener tending to a lawn in front of an apartment complex. When I had caught his eye with the leftover smile on my face from the joke, he had shouted “Girl, you got a Colgate smile!” The man had validated what I had always held true—people react to whatever is on your face. I could be saying to Lou “You know, after careful consideration, you have won the contest out of whom in your family I dislike the least,” but as long as I was smiling, he would simply nod back at me and say something like “Nice night for bat watching, huh?”
The entire way to the restaurant, Marc had repeatedly asked “Are we at the bat place yet?” Shoreline Grill is located on the river that winds through Austin, and during the summer, you can watch from the windows and see a mass of bats swarm out of the nearby bridge for their evening meals. I don’t know what Marc had in mind, but apparently the world-class chef and fine wines were not what he was excited about—the exclusivity of watching the bats had to be why they had the valet guys out front.
I was still trying not to laugh as we walked through the restaurant towards the best seat in the house, but it was hard not to. Megan had changed into an outfit exactly like the one I was wearing in her usual fashion—she always would strive to wear the same clothes as me, but she never wanted to admit to it. “My mom made me wear these capris,” she’d say. While I suppose I should have been flattered, it always irritated me simply because she had a closet-full of extremely hip children’s outfits that I would have loved to have in my size.
We all sat down and then the actual nails-on-a-chalkboard-meal begins. For starters, I was stuck next to Lou, my least favorite of the family (I really only like Margie), but am staring straight at Cecilia, who I would rather avoid any kind of eye contact with due to the fact that I feel as though “the help” shouldn’t be dining in her company.
Within seconds, she manages to launch into a totally un-P.C. diatribe about how people in Mexico, whether rich or poor, have housekeepers and maids. She somehow manages to tie all of this into Lou’s mention of a children’s menu. I never did quite understand the connection, but apparently she had a point and managed to talk about maid’s quarters, salaries, and how the children don’t come to dinner and stay home with maids, all before the waiter came to take our drink orders.
Obviously, maids and the like are not what you want to discuss when you have the Indentured Servant sipping a Dr. Pepper at the table with you. I eyed the polished knives I had at close range next to my right hand, but finally decided against any kind of homicide as I really wanted to house sit the next time they went out of town.
So I figure out she’s from Mexico, which makes me laugh because I really did think her accent was French. My sister had a rowing instructor from France once and these women could be one in the same except for the fact that the woman in front of me was a passive-aggressive, diamond-encrusted bitch. Other than that, though, one in the same.
I feel better knowing she’s from Mexico, as if I can simply chalk all of her insecurities up to the fact that she is a wannabe Celine Dion born in the wrong country. I am still trying to decide what to order. On Megan’s kid’s menu, there’s the $3.95 buttered noodles. Then there’s the angel hair pasta in a goat cheese crème sauce with lemon butter and asparagus for a mere $16.00. Or, if I’m really feeling bold, and I convince myself that Lou isn’t hurting from the recent stock market crash, there is the steak, in a chipotle and lemon sauce for $32.00.
I finally decide to go with the $16 plate, as I feel I probably would spend about an hour and forty five minutes here at this dinner and have to laugh at the fact that $16 is exactly what I would make. I like to think that they are paying me for my charming wit and my dazzling Colgate smile. Plus, I want to see if their asparagus is as good as how I make it.
A slight murmur ripples across the room as all of the waiters parade into the room. “Bat alert!” Our grim waiter informs us. This man makes my skin crawl because he looks way too much like the child-molester bus driver I had throughout middle school. Margie apparently had the same vibe, because I heard her whisper to Cecilia that “Our waiter looks like he should be holding a sign saying ‘Retired Vet’ on the side of the road…” after he poured their bottle of red wine.
Excitedly (way too excitedly) a few of the couples rush out the door onto the balcony, where Marc has already staked out his spot. I feel obligated to get up after Margie and Cecilia rise, even though I could care less about bats and actually would rather not think about bats unless it is Halloween.
I stand up and notice Lou is still sitting, and flash my "winning excuse for not having anything to say" smile. “I’ve seen enough bats fly…” He says, with such rehearsed calmness that I wonder if he sits out a lot of these father-daughter moments. Megan, naturally, does not seem too broken up about this.
We walk outside and sure enough, swarms of black dots are in the sky, as people watch them as if they’re fireworks. “Look!” Marc keeps shouting, jabbing his chubby finger at the sky, as if there were only one or two instead of one or two hundred thousand. His enthusiasim is, sadly, not contagious, but I pretend to be impressed.
“Wow…” They look like birds to me, I think. “Look at all of those mosquito catchers,” I say, in a statement that eerily sounds like something my dad would say.
Margie laughs, and I smile my grin at her. My biggest fan, I think. I half expect Cecilia to turn to me, and with a French accent say “Vut eez it zu say? Mozvito? Vat are dese? En Vrance, ve do not have dese.”
I try not to be biased, I really do. I am not sure if it is because I have grown up in Austin or what, but I find the entire bat spectacle entirely overrated. From where we stand, they could be just another flock of grackles. And so what if they are bats? They are creepy, infected mammals that I just do not get.
It must be the same thing as fancy restaurants. As I chomped into what I figured to be a $2.50 spear of asparagus, I immediately thought “Mine are better.” I was listening to Lou wax on about college, as he does whenever they take me to dinner. He has a crazy notion that by taking me to nice places he will see where you get with a college degree. Margie, my posse, says “Well, I’ve seen a lot of roofers with college degrees.” I am, by this time, too ticked off to even think straight and have checked out mentally, grinning wildly but not listening. You can put the valet out front, put some pasta in a bowl, call it angel hair, but at the end of the day, my mom makes a better pasta dish.
When the check comes, I of course offer to pay for my meal, with everyone knowing it is merely a formality and that I have no intention of paying and that Lou should have every intention of paying if he expects me to babysit tomorrow, a Sunday.
We all shuffle outside to where the valet has brought out our cars, and the offer is made.
“Do you think you can take the kids to dinner and a movie tomorrow?” Lou asks, handing me a dollar bill to tip the valet.
Somehow, it is much easier to sign up for a second day of children on a full stomach of carbohydrates. “Sure…what time?”
“Oh, I don’t know, late morning, early afternoon…”
“Well, she does have a riding lesson, doesn’t she?”
They both look at me, as if I am suddenly the most amazing person on earth, and Lou says “Why, yes…I totally forgot.”
Everyone giddy, whether it is from three glasses of wine or from seeing a flock of mosquito catchers, or simply knowing that dinner and a movie is the easiest babysitting there is to do, we pile into our separate cars.
The illuminated sign as we exit on the main drive says “Shoreline Grill” in a sprawling script. Personally, I think they’d get more business with a name like “Bat Place.”