This Was a Bad Time to Laugh–If I laughed now, I could ruin it, and I really liked this girl, but she just couldn’t see what was going on behind her. We’d been talking religion (usually a bad idea for a first date, but I tend to get away with it–usually) and she was on a tangent about being on a religious retreat and seeing God in the shape of the curtains on the window.
You laugh, or roll your eyes, thinking it cheesy, but I actually like sentiment, thank you very much, and she had plenty. My problem wasn’t that she was being diabetically precious right now, it was the fact that there was a hotdog vendor out the window behind her, having an argument with a particularly precocious squirrel. This would have been entertaining enough in and of itself, but to make matters funnier, the squirrel had somehow managed to smear mustard in a streak across its furry scalp, so it now appeared to be wearing a bright yellow Mohawk, and it reminded me of the time I’d watched that punk pilfer the billfold off some suit bragging on the phone about his charitable businesses after conspicuously passing by a hooded homeless woman and her child without even a second glance, and how the punk had then given the cash to the needful and left the empty wallet under a tree.
The hotdog vendor was a jerk–I knew him–and deserved anything this squirrel would give him. But I couldn’t enjoy the Schadenfreude of seeing the hotdog vendor get his recompense while my utterly lovely date was seeing God in her memory of a blowing curtain. I knew the image she was talking about. I’d once seen Santa Claus through my open window as a child, and I remembered the Christmas morning anticipation, which must have something in common with the love of God, right? The promise of renewal, the rewards of virtue? I’m no great believer myself, but I appreciate the ability to snatch meaning from the jaws of apathy and spy the motives of the unseen.
So you see I couldn’t laugh, caught here quite thorougly between the sublime and the ridiculous, the unbearably romantic and the callous, uncaringly ironic.
“You’re smiling,” though, she finally noticed.
“Well… yeah. Why shouldn’t I be? I think it’s very sweet.”
“Sweet?” She seemed offended, but was still smiling.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” I said. “You just have a very out-there way of looking at the world.” Still not good. “I like it?”
“I don’t know,” she concluded. “It’s just how I think, I guess.”
And there’s nothing wrong with that! I wanted to scream at her. Well, not scream, maybe. I just wanted to shake her and throw my arms around her to reassure her, you’re not losing points! Be yourself! I love you!
Well, OK, that last part was a bit far, I suppose, for a first date, but really, it’s short-hand, at least, for “I love the way you find meaning in insignificant details”–dammit, that still sounds all snarky and cynical…
Just then, the squirrel appeared at the window, upside-down, looking right at me, head cocked to the side, and it was the cutest, most manically delightful thing I had ever seen, at least in contrast to the bliss of speaking to Her Hotness here with me. And it was so sudden and so striking, I just broke, I just couldn’t hold it anymore.
She frowned and finally looked behind her, but not in time. “What?” turning back.
I was forced to explain and apparently, it wasn’t as funny as I’d thought it was.
“It’s a squirrel? You’ve been watching the squirrel the whole time?”
I floundered. “Well, I mean… it’s the same thing, though, right? Seeing God in the movement of the curtain? Seeing God in a squirrel with a mohawk messing with a shifty hotdog vendor?”
She didn’t think they were the same.
This was a bad time to laugh.
“That’s not God,” she told me. “That’s something else. I thought you were different. I thought you understood. But you’re just like all the others, aren’t you? It’s all just a game to you…”
And she ditched me, walked out, left me behind. Left me feeling like a shallow jerk. Or no… Maybe I wasn’t the one who was shallow. Maybe she just couldn’t take the joke.
That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway…