The date



March 27, 1987

            Did she not call or did she try to call at some odd hour I wasn’t available to get it, that is the question. Maybe she gave up trying to reach me in disgust.

            Or perhaps she decided not to call after our last cool encounter, and has given up on me?

            Pauly pestered me to pick up some pot for him from his more than a little paranoid dealer in Paterson and bring it up to the lake to him, but I put him off until Thursday waiting to see if Patty would call about our date.

            Convinced she wasn’t going to call, I made up my mind to call the whole date off because she had waited so long to reach out to me. Although I had set aside a hundred bucks for the date, I never took it out of the bank, and I had only twenty-two dollars one me when she finally called, my prepared speech lost the moment I heard her voice on the other end of the line.

            “Then it is still on?” I asked.

            “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?”

            A good question. I suppose my mind was working too hard over details, wondering too much about her, and that I did not trust anything about anything in this budding relationship, lease of all my own feelings – this willingness to sell myself into slavery to get her affection. Fantasies of every sort leaped into my head, and this from a man who went to go-go bars to find peace and safety in numbers, not to find a relationship.

            I had come so close to talking myself out of this date, which I had only reluctantly made in the first place, only to go ape shit at the idea of seeing her again alone.

            But she scares the hell out of me, and I still can’t make up my mind if she is using me somehow. Her scenes at the bar seem surreal at best, and I can’t quite believe that she would even want to date someone like me.

            But apparently she was serious. She dictated directors to her house, which I immediately lost. Then in a panic, I rushed up to the bank as I suspected was already closed, then I gathered together what money I could, showered, searched for clothing I thought might make me presentable then dressed. I tried calling Paul to let him know I couldn’t run his errand after all, but he did not answer his phone.

            While I still had my doubts, I was bound and determined to find out more about this strange woman and about me, and how far this attraction would take me.

            After a mad dash to the other end of Passaic, I accepted the inevitable that all the banks were closed. So I called up work and arranged to borrow some money against my next pay check, then drove to Peggy’s apartment on Harrison Avenue in Lodi.

            My mother’s family grew up in Lodi, so in some ways, driving through it was a trip through my own past.

            Peggy’s car was parked in the lot on the corner next to the building, where she had directed me to park. When I got out, I noticed that there was a very large American flag spread on along the rail of the third floor fire escape.

Peggy lived three floors above a shoe store in an old building that desperately needed repainting, but was new enough to still have a buzzer for the front door. I didn’t need to push it. The front door was open when I got there.

Music roared in the dark hall so that even the dangling lamps that illuminated each landing danced from the vibration like an erratic spider at the end of a long web.

            I climbed until I got to the third floor and found the music came from the apartment Peggy had directed to me, although the door here like all the others below had no number on it.

            Someone had hung a sign on it saying “Home sweet Home.”

            I rapped sharply on the door, but I didn’t really expect Peggy to hear me. When she did not respond, I pounded on the door with heal of my hand at which the volume inside died, and Peggy’s startled voice asked “Who is it?”

            “It’s me,” I said.

            “Me, who?”

            “Al Sullivan.”

            “I don’t know any Al Sullivan”

            “But you asked me to come”

            “I did?”

            “You told me to meet you here.”

            “Alfred? Is that you?”

            I let out a long sigh. “Yes, that’s who I am.”

             “Well, why didn’t you say that’s who you were in the first place?”

            Peggy threw open the door. But it was a different Peggy that confront me, one wearing a loose sweat shirt that came down to her boney knees, giving her a Tom Boy look I immediately liked. Her face alone kept the same artifical look from the bar, painting black turned town eyebrows, thick red paint for lips. What had seemed natural in the dim lights of the bar looked very calculated here – as he she had spent hours measuring each like to get them exact.

            “You’re early,” she said as I stepped over the threshold passed her. She remained a moment, glance out into the dark hall as if she expected someone else, then carefully locking the door behind me. “I said you should come at 7:30.”

            “You said 6:30,” I told her, holding up the piece of paper on which I had written the time and address.

            “Okay, so I said 6:30. You’re still going to have to wait while I get ready. But I won’t be long. I’m famished.”

            Peggy slipped off through another door to the right of where I had come in, telling me to make myself comfortable in the living room.

            It was obvious that she lived alone. These three rooms made up her world and hers alone. The small kitchen to which the door opened had a round black wooden table in to which a heart had been carved to match the two antique chairs with hearts carved in their backs. Since the one chair she was not sitting in was damage, she directed me into her living room to sit on the couch, which had a phone book under one leg.

            I didn’t get to sit long or to observe much until later after we returned from dinner at which times I took better note of the details. She had a small collection of books in the corner, mostly best settles and enough used text books to tell me she had indeed attended college.

            Her calendar testified to her busy schedule, showing the dates she danced, when she tutored students in language, when she volunteered for the United Way, even political projects.

            Patty dressed quickly, dried her hair and then followed me to my car, with me apologizing the whole time for the condition of my car, a needless gestures since she took had a similar habit of filling the passenger side will empty cups and fast food packaging.

            A common denominator.

            We stopped for gas before plunging west to Willowbrook where I got money from by boss. She talked, complaining about my lack of music. I asked her about the inspection sticker on her car and why she hadn’t bothered getting it inspected.

            Because, she said, the car wasn’t registered. It didn’t have insurance. In fact, she didn’t even have a license any more, and still somehow she had managed to get by without doing any of the legally required things. God help her, I thought, if she ever got caught or got into a serious accident. She did, however, have a number of bench warrants outstanding for the tickets she’d gotten over the last few years, leading to yet another great mystery as to why the police never hauled her off to jail each time they issued a new violation. This might have something to do with the fact that the computer age hadn’t yet caught up with a number of police departments, who could not immediately check on her record. Since most of her legal paper work used her father’s address, she often simply died being Peggy when the police questioned her.  She said, however, she dared not enter a courtroom from which she would most certainly emerge wearing handcuffs.

            Her matter-of-factness in all this startled me. How could she be so Republican and be so any authority.

            Once I had the cash from work in my pocket, we drove to the restaurant on the highway in Fairfield, a startling revelation for the wealth of cars that filled the parking lot, and the wary eye we got from the men parking the cars when we pulled in. This was a mobster establishment, one of those wise guy handouts where everybody wore black ties on top of black shirts, gold glittering from every finger.

            “This is it?” I asked.

            “You don’t like it?”

            “It’s not a matter of liking or disliking it,” I said, likling at the building, its arches and stucco.

            “Then what’s the matter?”

            “I don’t  have enough money to afford it.”

            “If that’s all you’re worried about, I’ll order something cheap,” she said. “I’m used to ordering the best, but I’m sure they’ll have something even you can afford.”

            “You can order what you like They won’t let someone like me in.”

            “They’ll let me in,” she said. “I always used to come here.”

            “Not with anybody like me,” I said.

            “That’s true,” she admitted sadly. “Let’s find some place else.”

            I pulled the car out of the parking lot

            I kept looking back in the rear view mirror, stunned by what had just happened, at the glimpse into Peggy’s past this moment had provide. I could only imagine her walking into this place, eye candy for some mobster or sport star when she was younger. Now she was stuck with me.

            On the ride back, I told her what a trusting person she was.

            “How is that?” she asked.

            “You’re out on a date with a man you met in a strip club.”

            “So? You don’t think I can take care of myself?”

            “We’re miles from where you live. What if I got fresh or even left you out here?”

            “I would find my way home, Alfred.  Someone would always give me a ride. They always do.”

            Eventually, we wound up back in Clifton at another place Peggy knew, where we sat down, talked and ate, and eventually made our way back to her place. During these hours, we both talked a lot about our lives, me saying a little more than I should have, she saying as little as possible except to give me curt answers to direct questions or just the amount of information she thought I needed to know.

            I took better notice of the surroundings when we got back to her apartment, in particular some of the more romantic elements she had around her, such as the dozen red roses sitting on her table from what she called “a secret admirer,” someone apparently who regularly gave her gifts.

            “You like my flowers?” Peggy asked.

            “Sure, but you didn’t open the card. So you don’t know who they’re from.”

            “They always come from the same person.”

            “He must like you a lot.”

            “He loves me.”

            “And you don’t love him?”

            “What makes you say that?”

            “Just an impression I get from your tone of voice.”

            “Men are a dime a dozen;  you don’t get roses for a dime.”

            She handed me a bottle of beer she got out of a small refrigerator and then pulled out a bottle of vodka, a container of orange juice and a rack of ice, and mixed herself a drink that would have been four drinks at the bar.

            The layout of the apartment was simple. The door from the hallway opened into the kitchen from the west side. To the immediate north was a kitchenette with sink, stove and cabinets. The table sat more or less in the middle of the room. Two windows opening onto a fire escape were directly across from the front door. Peggy had spread a large, American flag out on the fire escape, fastened at the top so that the bottom flapped in the wind. You could see the New York City sky line above it. Perpendicular to these windows was the door to a small bathroom, which had enough room for a toilet, sink and shower.

The bedroom had a wider double door off the south wall of the kitchen. It was the softest room of the three, thick with rugs and stuffed animals, and every kind of unicorn image I could imagine, from figurine to poster.

            To the immediate right of the front door also in the west wall was the door to the living room where she had a couch, an arm chair, several end tables, a TV and a stereo. One wall across from the couch was covered with pictures of John Wayne.

            “I love him,” she explained. “I would do him any time if only he was still alive.”

            She apparently saw my shocked expression.

            “Don’t worry, Alfred, he’s dead. So you don’t have to be jealous.”

            “I’m not jealous, I’m shocked.”

            “You shouldn’t be. John Wayne is my kind of man. He’s the only man I know I could trust. He’s the real love of my life. I cried like a baby the day he died.”

            She sat me down on the couch and told me to wait.

            “I’m going to get undressed,” she said, then laughed. “There’s that shocked look again. Do you do anything but blush?”

            She vanished and reappeared a moment later wearing a very short maroon smock, her pale legs stick out the bottom of it. She was not wearing panties or a bra. She put on some records, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and other soft music, then sat down beside me on the couch to sip on her drink.

            “I suppose you’ve looked over my small abode,” she said.

            “You can tell a lot about a person from the way they live.”

            “And what have you found out about me, Alfred?” Peggy asked. “Did you look our the rugs or in the closets to make sure you sniffed out everything?”

            “Not yet. You didn’t give me enough time.”

            “You sniff around too much and I’ll throw you out. I like my privacy.”

            “I was kidding.”

            “I’m not. I let you snoop around too much, the next thing you’ll do is move in.”

            “The place is too small for two people.”

            Which is why I hate it. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in a cage here.”

            “But it seems perfect for one person.”

            “Who says I want to be all by myself? And How do you know there isn’t somebody else already?”

            I shrugged.

            “I notice you don’t use the kitchen much,” I said.

            “What makes you say that?”

            “No dirty dishes except for empty glasses from drinks. Don’t you ever cook?”

            “Boy, you are nosey, Alfred.,” she said exasperated. “No, I don’t cook. I don’t have to.”

            “Don’t you eat?”

            “I eat. But I let men feed me. There’s always a man like you who will.”

            She talked about how she had once given her heart away to a man who didn’t serve it, a man that had come into her life and hurt her deeply, destroying things that were precious to her, intending on hurting her as deeply as possible – all in the name of love.

            As usual, she left out time sequences, refusing to divulge more than the barest of details.

            It took me a while to approach her. I asked if she would mind if I kissed her.

            “If you have to ask,” she said, “forget it.”

            I tried to kiss her anyway, and she pecked my lips.

            Perhaps my breath was bad, I thought, and later tried to neck with her.
            “Behave,” she said, then rose to put on another record and started to sing, just the way she always did on stage. But here, she looked so very innocent like a little girl.

            Yet with all of the photographs of John Wayne behind her, and other patriotic items stuck into the corners of the room, she was a little girl who still maintained a deep father in America, while on the other hand defied authority, a little girl who might someday go to jail for her constant insistence on breaking the law, a little girl who drives home drunk from every dancing job, a little girl who want to see me (God know why) at the same time she claims Tauruses are boring.

            When I went to leave, I got another kiss, slightly better than the peck she gave me the first time.

            “I have to go to work,” I said, stumbling out, my head filled with images of unicorns and John Wayne.



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