Deal Breaker

May 1, 2010

One of these days, I’ll go on a date.  (It could happen!)  But hopefully it doesn’t turn out the way I imagine one might …

I actually met Eric through work.  I thought he was hot when I first shook his hand in a construction trailer—a blue bandana on his head and a dirty flannel shirt draped over his black T-shirt.  He asked intelligent questions about our project.  Competence is such a turn-on for me.  Eric didn’t have a ring on his finger, but I just assumed he was already divorced.  Construction trailers in Indiana are not safe places to try to pick up guys.

A few months later, I was out with friends.  We decided to try a new-to-us bar.  When we reached the door, I spotted Eric stepping out of it.  I stopped walking.  I half-laughed in shock.

“Hey Craig,” he said, taking the odd coincidence in stride, “didn’t expect to bump into you here.”

My friends went inside.  Eric and I talked for a while out on the street.  I felt comfortable with him.  He made me feel like one of the guys; like I was having a locker-room-male-bonding conversation that I was never part of in twelve years at school.  His five-o’clock shadow belied his clean hands and gentle manner.

We exchanged phone numbers.  He told me to give him a call.

I called him on Wednesday.  Nuvo said an interesting play was on at a small local theatre.  Eric was free that Friday.

Friday’s setting sun shone in my eyes as we drove downtown on I-70 West.  Eric and I were headed to Mass Ave.  I couldn’t believe he was in my car.

Eric wasn’t a complete Adonis—I could have nitpicked pudginess around his middle or wrinkles on his neckline.  But the way his thick legs and wide shoulders seemed compressed in my mid-size car made me forget much of anything else.

“Want some gum?”

I hate gum.  But Eric could have asked if I wanted some cyanide—I still would have answered, “Sure.”  I tossed it into my mouth and fidgeted with the wrapper.

I concentrated on the road as he chewed-in the long piece of gum.  It took conscious effort not to turn and stare at his jaw muscles swaggering like John Wayne.

“Here,” he said, holding his hand out for my gum wrapper.  I gave it to him and reveled in the touch.

What a gentleman, I thought.

He rolled the window open a crack.   Wind wushed in my ears.  I was about to ask if he was too hot.  His hand reached up to the window crack.  I saw it in slow motion, as if a garbage truck was about to smash the passenger side.  He dropped the wadded gum wrappers into the wind; they sailed mischievously away.

I panicked like I had a flat tire.  I checked my mirrors immediately, slammed across two lanes, and stopped on the shoulder.

“What’s wrong?” Eric asked.

“You jus … you jus …”

“Are you all right?”

“You threw those out the window!”

His face screwed up in condescending irony.  “Yeah.”

“Go get them.”


His gentleness was dissolving.  I was becoming livid as all the litter I had ever seen was heaped on him in my mind.  “I said go get them.”

“Dude, they’re on the damn road.  You go get ‘em.”

“Fine.”  I took the keys out of the ignition, checked my mirror and opened the door.

“What are you doing, ya dumbass?”

It had been decades since I stood so close to cars on the interstate.  They raced by in a torrent.  I felt the sound of the traffic with my whole body.  Gravel rocks under my shoes unbalanced my footing as a semi plunged past me, trying to suck me into its path.

I heard the door slam and Eric’s footsteps behind me.  Is he going to beat me up on the side of the interstate?

“Are you kiddin’ me?”

“Look, clearly we aren’t on the same wavelength here—”

“We aren’t on the same shit-ass planet.”

I wanted to say:

“No, that’s the whole problem, we are on the same planet.  Of all the irresponsible, disgusting things you could have done, that had to be the worst.  You littered!  I can’t believe I even know someone who litters!  What kind of child expects the rest of the world to clean up after him?”

But all I could squeeze out in my Admiral Stockdale rage was, “No.  We are … that’s … unbelievable.  LIttering!  You expect me—people to clean up after you?”

“See ya ’round, freak,” he said, brushing past.

“Where are you going?”

“I’ll find my own way home.”

I took a deep breath.  Rubbed the bridge of my nose.  Watched him sulk away.  The sunset cast his sharp, dark shadow on the barrier wall.

He kicked a styrofoam cup.  I listened to the traffic.

Not quite the evening you had in mind, huh?

I looked down at straws, bags and plastic bottles.  It was a sea of litter along the interstate.

Are gum wrappers that big a deal?  Look at all this crap.


Well, I guess I don’t have anything better to do tonight. I popped open the trunk.  I stooped down and picked up a wad of newspaper.

(Please keep Indianapolis beautiful.)


One comment

  1. That is AWESOME! and tragic.

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