Awkward Things I Say To Girls


IT ALWAYS SEEMED LIKE THE RIGHT THING TO SAY AT THE TIME

Have you done anything this ridiculous to spend time with someone you weren’t dating?

Part 2: Michigan
Chapter 7

At about 7:30 on the morning of July 8, 2002, I leave my Cleveland apartment with a backpack and two duffel bags, and walk the 6 blocks to the nearest light rail station. I am headed to Michigan to see Hot Copy Editor.

“Are you serious? You’ll actually come to see me at the cabin in Michigan?”

I was chatting online with her in mid-June.

“Of course,” I typed back. You’ll notice that we are using proper punctuation and capitalization, despite the fact that the IM style guide was written by blind kindergartners, who also happen to be drunk. This is because we are both massive snobs when it comes to proper usage of the written English language. “I can’t pass up such a great opportunity.”

“Hooray! You can row me around on the lagoon!”

Trying hard to get the lagoon-kiss Little Mermaid image out of my mind, which, honestly, has to be one of the top make-out fantasies for anyone in my generation of either gender, except for the capsizing part, I took down the address. Onekama, Michigan is a tiny town on a lake slash lagoon that opens onto Lake Michigan, and it’s pronounced as though it were Japanese and you are American.

“Okay. I’ll be there on Monday, the 8th.”

“What time?”

Wait a second. Part 2 is going to get extremely sopping wet mushy for pretty much the duration, starting now. But then, what am I apologizing for? My best jokes are about Jane Austen novels. Whatever. Bring on the awkward mushiness, it’s what you’re here for.

To repeat: “What time?”

And, cue mushiness: “I’ll be there by teatime.”

I arrive at the airport at around 8:30 in the morning on the 8th. I take the shuttle to the rental car agency, my backpack on my lap and the duffel backs on the suitcase rack they have in rental car shuttles. When I arrive at the rental car hut, there appears to be some sort of problem. Computers are “down.” I’m getting nervous.

The customer service rep fishes a key out of a basket, examines it briefly, then turns to face me.

“Sir, instead of the Dodge Neon you booked, we can offer you a Chrysler Concorde for the same price. Is that satisfactory?”

Oh, hell yes. “Yes, I believe that’ll do.” This trip is getting off to a fantastic start.

“A very interesting selection, sir. May I ask why you chose that bottle of champagne?”

This was Saturday afternoon, July 6, 2002. I don’t know anything about champagne, and I definitely was scared to admit that to someone who, though he probably just wants to help, intimidated the crap out of me. He was, like, in his comfort zone, here. “I’ve had it before,” I lied. “I really liked it.”

“Fabulous. May I wrap it up for you?”

“Uh, no. I’m cool.”

I was already planning to rent the car using a credit card I can’t pay off. Why not buy some ridiculous champagne while I was at it? When I got back to my room I put the unrefrigerated champagne in a duffel bag with a bottle of red and a bottle of white wine (for, you know, any type of wino emergency) and some glasses that are appropriate probably only for the white. I wrapped them all in (freshly laundered, seriously, give me some credit) bath towels.

I figure, well, the highway has to be off to the west, so I’ll just go there and there will be an on-ramp. This is the kind of ridiculous logic that gets you lost.

After lunch in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which I personally felt that I could not pass up because, seriously, there is a huge stadium there, I am lost. Instead of seeing a stadium or at least the campus, I saw some kind of off-in-the-middle-of-nowhere “North Campus” that, seriously, isn’t the real thing at all.

Oh here we go. Here comes the highway. Wait, but there’s just a bridge. I’m going over the highway I want to get onto! With a sense of growing panic, I crane my neck to see if there is an on-ramp closer to the north or to the south. I can’t see one.

Well, I guess I’ll just turn north and follow parallel until I get the chance to turn east again.

This brutal zigzag continues for another 20 minutes. Finally, back on the highway, I keep heading north.

“What can I bring her?”

“I dunno, dude, your penis?” I was talking to a roommate. It was July 7.

“Shut up, ass. No seriously. I need, like, some kind of baked good. Plus, if I can hand her something when she lets me in, I won’t have to deal with the whole awkward handshake-hug decision.” This is true. I’m convinced this is half the reason people bring people gifts. The other half is because they want gifts back.

(Quick Note [I am not snobby enough for N.B., but it was close]: The champagne slash wine does not count. Those are just-in-case romantic insurance measures. Plus, roommates do not know about them.)

“I dunno, what about banana bread? I’ve got some old bananas we can use. That’ll make it really tasty. I think we have some brown sugar, too. You could add walnuts, even.”

“Oh my goodness, that’s the best idea ever.”

It is around 4:00 p.m. which, I admit, is slightly later than teatime. I think. Look, I’m not British, I just read about them in novels. The Dashboard Confessional ends, and I put in my New Amsterdams CD. I’m so nervous I drive past their little cabin at first, then turn around, steeling myself up to go park my car and walk in. My stomach feels weak and adrenaline is beginning to make up an alarming portion of my bloodstream. Before leaving, I had carefully organized my luggage into car things in a backpack which is open in the back seat, wine things, including a bottle opener, in one duffel, and clothes and a sleeping bag in another duffel.

Cabin doesn’t do it justice. It’s a cute little white summer house with blue trim perched just a few feet from the water, with a clothesline and a tool shed and a tiny chapel next door.

I park my rented Concorde on the side of the road, get the banana bread to give to her, walk up to the door, heart in my throat, and knock.

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