His hair was gelled back into a slick brown helmet. Greta tried to maintain eye contact, but her gaze repeatedly shifted back to his hair.
Thoughts of Michael Douglas in “Wall Street.”
Her date was talking – something about “lobster rolls.”
She had found that these dates had steadily been reduced to simple ratios. If the sum of her date’s positive traits and attributes outweighed those she could absolutely not tolerate, then there was potential. She held no unrealistic expectations for emotional pyrotechnics. Quite the opposite. She had realized months ago that she was setting the bar pretty low, but her expectations had plummeted in an effort to contend with two years of loneliness.
Greta was sad to realize that she was on the fence about his hair.
They were at The Oar House, a little bistro along the row of shops that made up Tugboat Alley by the docks in Portsmouth. Only 18 miles from Walker Mills but a world away. Her date – his name had already slipped her mind – had mentioned that he collected first-edition science fiction novels. This opened a door in their conversation, or so she thought. Emboldened, she revealed her interest in vintage French pornography.
“French what?” he stammered.
“Nothing too hardcore, though,” she said. “A little BDSM, but mostly harmless stuff. No poop, no pee, no animals. Mostly just couples and threesomes getting it on.”
“Threesomes?” His face wrinkled up.
She raised a finger, hoping to backtrack. He ran his hand through his hair and cleared his throat. He wiped his gel-covered hand on the tablecloth.
“Wow, that’s, ah… that’s pretty interesting. I don’t know too much about that kind of thing.”
Greta opened her mouth to explain, but wasn’t sure if she had the will. There was something about the way he said “thing,” as though she had just confessed to running a dogfighting ring.
“I mean, I don’t want to sound like a… but why would you collect… that stuff?”
The scale was tipping, the ratio changing.
“What was it the website promised?” he said. “‘Thirteen dimensions of compatibility?’”
Greta smiled to lighten the mood. “You think they would’ve rounded that up to fourteen or even down to twelve. Something luckier. What difference would one less ‘dimension’ make eh?”
He chewed on his bottom lip. She could see a crease form between his eyes.
“Values are the third dimension of compatibility,” he said. “No offense, but I’m not quite sure how we got past the third dimension.”
The third dimension is depth, she wanted to say. Mathematically speaking.
“Values,” she said, “are subject to interpretation.”
He removed his napkin from his lap, placed it on his plate and moved his chair back. “Not where I come from.”
She had seen that he was a “Christian” on his online profile, but she did not know how Christian, which degree of Christian. A lot of people said they were Christians. Hell, her profile even said “Christian,” but that was more to distinguish from any of the other great monotheistic religions. She could have left it blank but she was afraid that visitors to her profile would think she was a godless heathen.
Greta suddenly realized that she wouldn’t be able to get past his hair after all. Too slick. Too restrained. Too judgmental.
“I’ll pay the bill on the way out,” he said, and rose to leave. Greta seized his hand and thrust a twenty in it. Maybe a bit more roughly than she had intended. He stared down at his hand as if a snake had bitten it. Before he could say anything more, Greta was up and out, moving in the opposite direction.
Dismal, she thought. A train wreck. Worse, she was twenty bucks lighter, but there was no way she was going to allow him the magnanimity of paying for her. Men used money as a tool, and picking up the tab was his way of taking control, negating her, eclipsing her.
Greta tried to laugh, but it stuck in her throat for a moment and emerged as something different. She felt tears well in her eyes and became angry with herself.
It was funny – the date, his hair, the awkwardness, his not-so-latent condescension. Or it should have been, though she felt it a bit tragic as well. Perhaps he, too, ran equations in his head, figured the ratio of tolerable to bizarre, and Greta’s predilections did little to help her cause. She wasn’t exactly making herself more desirable to her mainstream suitors.
It wasn’t just French porn. It was David Hasselhoff memorabilia; it was Klezmer music; it was 1950s cigarette ads; windup tin robots; Ed Wood movies; Burger King glassware; vacuum cleaner hovercraft schematics.
She was a niche player. Overspecialized. Difficult to find parts for.
These things were getting in the way. She had created piles of clutter that were building up between her and a normal life.
Greta found her Datsun in the parking garage and headed out of town. She turned into the Portsmouth traffic circle, and then launched on to the Spaulding Turnpike for the journey back to Walker Mills.