Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prom revisited

Monte would trace the origin of their nascent business venture to a later conversation. Thus far, Calisto had managed to avoid telling him anything about her romantic history, in particular the fallout from James and how that put her in the uncertain living situation she was currently in and how that made her unable to hate Eric. If the topic ever threatened to come up, she could find ways to talk around it, leaving out key information or changing facts just enough to keep from going into an involved explanation, as if there could be any other kind in this case. Once when it seemed she was going to spill everything she had been keeping back, she said "Oh shit," and made some excuse about some fictional meeting she needed to go to, and abruptly left him to run back into her office. Alone in the elevator, she was breathing hard, felt that she had worked herself up for no reason, or for at the very least silly reasons, and told herself that she was not helping things any by keeping such a useless secret and that the next time it came up, she would volunteer the truth and not try so hard to keep her past under wraps. After all, what was there to be afraid of?
The thing was, she knew that coming forward with the truth would have explained a lot about her, and she preferred to leave a little mystery. At one low point following the breakup, she had told Naomi, "It's like there isn't anything else to me besides this, and I don't want to let it go, because once I do, myself, as I know it, will be gone and there's no way to tell what, if anything, will take its place." A common enough sentiment at the end of a messy breakup, one that she saw through as banal even at the time, but this realization did not override the fear that had caused it. It was similar in her dealings with Monte. But she truly didn't want to admit to herself was that he was as close as she'd let herself get to another man since James.
It was her own fault that she was curious about his divorce, and always had been interested in the topic in general. Her own parents had divorced when she was too little to understand it, and her father became a non-presence in her life after that, and her mother certainly never took the time out to give her the blow by blow. She wondered how it had affected the kids (since she had no real memory of her parents being together, there had been nothing to compare it to their being separated), and whether it was truly any more or less devastating than an unmarital breakup.
So she asked him one day, "Have you seen anybody since your divorce?" It seemed a casual enough way to broach the topic.
"Do you count?"
"What? No. Maybe. That's not what I meant."
"We went out once. I would almost count that."
"Whatever. Besides me, then."
"I've talked to some people online, but never got anywhere."
"Is it hard, to try to see someone else after all that?"
"That's not the reason why. It's hard to find someone worth knowing, that's all. Have you ever looked at a dating site before?"
"No," she lied.
"It isn't pretty. My problem is I assume nobody looks as good as their profile picture, so I keep wasting all this time trying to get to know them. That way, if they turn out to be uglier in person, I can at least try  to make a friend out of them instead."
"Preemptive friend-zoning. I like."
"I don't want a serious relationship anyway. What about you, you seeing anybody?"
"No. Don't want to either, I totally could if I wanted to."
"I believe you, you're way too pretty and interesting to stay single for very long."
"Oh, stop." This sudden forwardness made her regret pursuing this course of conversation, but it was too late to turn back now. "You said one time, people are alone by choice? At the time, I didn't agree, but now I think you were right."
"Oh. I meant to tell you, actually, I've been thinking about that too and I now I think you're right."
"Why, what did I say?"
"You said, 'Some people are just lonely.'"
"I guess that may be right, but that doesn't make what you said not right."
"Look, all I meant was, these days it takes some effort to be alone."
"You said being alone was in our nature, how could that be if it takes so much effort?"
"Just because something is in our nature doesn't mean it doesn't take effort. But why am I still defending this view when I don't even agree with it anymore?"
The issue passed. They both remained silent until Monte seemed to remember something and said, "With the dating thing, what's really going wrong is we can never agree on a place to eat. Once they find out about my dietary choices, they back out."
"What choices?"
"I'm a vegetarian."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
"For some reason, nobody really wants to meet for a date at Whole Foods."
"Hell, aren't there dating sites for vegetarian people?"
"If there is, I haven't found it. Turns out taste in food is a dealbreaker for a lot of people."
"I can see that."
"It's crazy, I actually found a dating site for people who want to meet up for gluten-free eating. But vegetarianism, that's too fringe."
"Why don't you start one?"
"I don't know, seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to get a date."
"This could be a good idea. Not for vegetarians strictly, but for anybody with any kind of taste. Meet up at your favorite place, even if it goes bad, you still got a meal you liked."
"I think you're putting undue importance on the eating aspect of dating."
"How is it unimportant? If you're dating someone, you're hoping for something long-term, right? And if you're with somebody long-term, what do you think you end up spending the majority of your time doing?"
"You know what Chris Rock says? In his stand-up special, he says 'You're gonna do a whole lot less fucking and a whole lot more eating.' Must be why most marriages go to shit."
"Monte, we have to do this. It's too good of an idea for someone else not to come up with it."
"I don't know, I agree with what you're saying, but there isn't much to it."
"What do you mean?"
"Like, the food thing. The problem with meeting people who like the same food is that, by and large, most people eat the same shit. Isn't that the whole idea behind fast food places?"
"Maybe, depends where you live. If you live in a town where there's only fast food and Zippy's then yeah, your choices are limited."
Calisto had a deeper motive to dreaming up ways to make more money. Ever since that night she had gotten stoned with Monte and hung out on the roof of her building, looking down on The Dream Crib, she had been plotting ways to earn enough to move out of Naomi's apartment (whereupon presumably, Eric would finally move in for good) without having to settle for the place in Kaimuki with the three girls, which had turned out to be too good to be true. Turned out one of the girls kept a gaggle of dogs -- big, mean old Dobermans who had the run of the place. The owner of the house was her uncle, so there was nothing could do. No wonder the rate had been so rock-bottom. Calisto didn't have anything in particular against dogs, but adding even more bitches to the mix had not been what she had in mind for the next place.
She tried to put what little knowledge she had of fashion and clothes to work, maybe look up some her mother's old business contacts to help her with odd assignments on the side. But her skills were rusty. Aside from the knitting, she couldn't really stitch anything together. Even that was going by the wayside, now that she didn't use it to exorcize the demons of her old relationship anymore. At one point she had been trying to knit a scarf, and gradually messed it up so badly it began to turn into a shawl. Instead of quitting, she just kept going, hoping against hope she could complete the shawl without making it look too obvious that it had started as something else.
"What are you working on?" Naomi asked one day.
She held up the woven yarn, turning it around to show both sides. "It's the hot accessory this season. Part shawl, part scarf. I call it a scawlf." Then she put it on to model it, a stringy orange wrap with a long tasseled end which she threw around the neck.
"Oh dear. I guess that's how fashion works. One brave person has to start the craze."
"It's not finished yet," she'd said, hurt. She removed the scawlf and resumed working on it. Of course she knew it was ugly, it was something she should've given up on long ago, but it was still hers. The fact that Naomi was no longer even bothering to humor her little project seemed to be a sign that she was growing more and more impatient for her roommate to find her own place so she and Eric could get married already. We get it, you're devastated. Build a bridge and get over it. In Calisto's mind, being the third wheel meant you were in the position for the couple to use you as their excuse for anything they had or hadn't done. Which made her feel like the child she had been, when her parents were doing the same thing.
The next idea she'd had was starting a social networking site. She was practically computer illiterate in spite of using devices and laptops and computers all the time, but she decided that the concept and idea behind a web site or application was more important than the nuts and bolts of programming language anyway. The initial idea she had was, create a way to meet other people with similar interests to you on the fly. People were always checking in at events and such, so why not take the next step and connect them to each other? If you were at a concert and you wanted to pull up all the information on the person sitting next to you, you'd just hit go.
That idea died on the vine. Why would anyone expose themselves to that? Some weirdo next to you turns and says "Hi, I see you're a Virgo." Privacy may have gone out the window of the average citizen's life long ago, but even post-Snowden people still retained an inborn hostility against anything that seemed to exploit their information.
Still, she couldn't let go of it entirely. She kept thinking about how she didn't have a date for prom night, and so she stayed home pretending to be above it, ambitious, adult, ahead of her years. The truth was, thinking about that night still made her want to cry. She'd had a brave face on at the time, but now she wished she had gone, date or no date. Who needed a date anyway? She could've just found a group of boys without dates and picked the cutest one and danced with him all night. Her mother had offered to make her a beautiful dress years before, and she should have given her the opportunity. And anyway, if her education was supposedly such a high priority, why had she flamed out in college so dramatically? It wasn't about that she could now admit. She had wanted to stick it to her mother, who had spoken of prom as if it was some sacred coming-of-age rite. I'm not like you, she'd wanted to impart.
But was there anything wrong with wanting to be like her mother? Those words of hers, the ones about not working for anyone but herself, made more and more sense to Calisto these days. It wasn't just her mother being smug about what she had accomplished. Calisto answered calls from disgruntled airline customers all day -- delayed flights, missed connections, grounded planes, ticket prices going up, even complaints about time spent taxiing -- and the only way she could get through it anymore was to pretend like she owned the company. Surely, this work was a pain in the ass, but if I was doing this work only for myself, maybe it'd be worth it. And then, if the work were her own, would she not take far more pride in it and put more effort into doing it the best way possible? So her mother's advice had been practical advice. Make your own work, make your own money and you will deliver your best product: yourself. It was all she could do not to tell her customers "This would not have happened if I were the one running things."
She admitted to herself that maybe she was pushing the idea of a dating site a little too hard on Monte. But lately she was coming to trust his advice more than anyone else's. They had no professional relationsh, so he had no need to mince words. While he was aware of her personal tragedies, he had no investment in her well-being, so he had no reason to tell her what she wanted to hear. And he just struck her as a blunt, straight-shooting person in general. So to hear him openly disparage her ideas was disheartening.
"Alright, maybe not restaurants," she said after some thought. "Maybe just public places, meetups. Even bars or coffee places, for Christ's sakes."
"No, the restaurant part is a good idea. That's not what's wrong with it. What's wrong with it is how is this drastically different from any other dating site? It's not."

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