I was no longer wasted.. And I wasted no time moving on. Dwelling on a failed relationship would only lead to drinking over it so I quickly started laying the groundwork for a successful one: I made plans with Marty.
He suggested we meet at Club Foot, the same bar where I went with Niall.
I mentioned it to Lena.
“You’re going out with Marty?” she asked excitedly.
“Ohh!! That’s fantastic. Bryan likes Marty, and you know how Bryan is, he doesn’t like anyone!”
It was true, her husband kind of hated everyone; that Bryan liked Marty was saying a lot.
“REALLY?” I said. “Then we could play cards!!!!”
Lena was always looking for other couples to have game night with. Brett was so socially awkward that I tended to shield my friends from his insufferable monologues about cats and vegetarian food by not inviting him anywhere. Also, I hated playing games, but I liked cards.
“But I told him that I was seeing someone so that’s off the table.”
“So if it comes up, tell him it ended,” she suggested. “At some point he’ll kind of need to know who, right?”
“Nah,” I said. “What for?”
“I’ll jump off that bridge when I get there.”
“Where are you guys going?”
“You can’t get coffee at Club foot, only drinks.”
“Then why are you going there?”
“I guess he must be used to getting club soda at bars. He suggested it.”
“Huh,” she said.
“What do you think that means?” I asked.
“I have no idea.”
“Maybe he wants to get me drunk and take advantage of me,” I joked.
“You should ask him,” she said sarcastically.
“Maybe I will.”
“Oh to be a fly on the wall…” she ruminated.
I told Marty that Club Foot opened at eight o’clock but that he didn’t have to tell me a time right away. And he didn’t. Because he was a recovering addict, the delay in response made me a little anxious. I had very little experience with addicts — active or recovering — but one thing that stuck in my mind is that no matter where they are in their sobriety, they’re unreliable. I was hoping that was just an assumption.
Anxiety lifted: at seven o’clock Marty texted to see if nine o’clock worked.
I arrived first and ordered a vodka soda. I was planning on not drinking anymore, but I didn’t want to tell him this. He appealed to me because of the sobriety and I wasn’t sure if, because of his substance abuse history, it was something I could even bring up to him, so I had the most innocuous cocktail I could think of.
When he arrived, he sat to my left and ordered a club soda.
There was an awkward pause. It was weird to be out with someone that I had little contact with up to this point, aside from the various barbecues and parties over the years. He always seemed older to me even though he only had a year on me. It was like hanging out with an uncle or an older brother.
We made small talk which was dull but necessary. Trudging through the awkwardness of a first date was always so unpleasant, I was glad I hadn’t yet given up booze to soften the exchange. I wasn’t quite sure how he was enduring it. Maybe he just didn’t let it bother him and just talked about whatever was on his mind at any given moment. That must have been it: he gave me an unfiltered description of his new apartment in the West Loop, which he chose site unseen. I encouraged him to elaborate because I didn’t know how to kindly signal that the topic was achingly dull. He diagrammed it for me on a napkin.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s very long.”
I steered the conversation to something more familiar to both of us, even if it wasn’t more interesting: Margaret. She and I had been very close at the time he was friends with her, but she moved to Seattle just after he got out of rehab — I was pretty sure he didn’t know I knew he’d been in treatment for addiction and I didn’t mention it.
“Do you talk to Margaret anymore?” I asked.
“Hmm. I think I thought about emailing her a few months ago, but I never did,” he said. “Do you?”
“No,” I said emphatically. “We had a toxic relationship.”
“How so?” he asked.
“I dunno. She was very demanding and needy,” I said. “She treated me like a boyfriend.”
“We were also both very depressed at the time. I don’t think we were much good for each other.”
“But that’s not a reason to not be friends anymore, is it?”
I explained to him that when people are sick, they tend to surround themselves with sick people and that doesn’t help with the healing.
“That doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “Having a human connection with someone who can relate to your problem can be helpful.”
Though Marty couldn’t understand my choice to end that friendship, the topic opened up conversation beyond the small talk. We stayed for two more drinks.
He told me that he loved Michael Jackson.
I told him about my decade’s-long obsession with the Shins.
He made me laugh.
I made him hungry.
We decided to leave and get tacos. On my way out of the bar, I tripped. I wasn’t a graceful person to begin with, but I’m sure the booze didn’t help my condition. I didn’t know if Marty noticed.
We went to Veloz, a late-night Mexican place that hosted karaoke on the weekends.
We sat down. I ordered two tacos al pastor with a side of beans and he ordered the carne asada.
We talked about food. I didn’t know if this was how normal first dates went — not that this was a first date since I hadn’t told him things with Burton had ended — but it was how this first date was going. I could talk endlessly about food I loved. He could talk endlessly about food he hated:
- Lima beans made him gag
- He didn’t try lasagna until he was 36
- Potatoes in any form gave him the shivers
- He couldn’t stand chunky people butter or cottage cheese because of the texture.. Even though he’d never tried either one
On the upside: he liked green chili.
“When?” he asked.
“I think it was in November,” I said.
“There have to be more chili contests,” he said and pulled out his phone to look for one. “You think you could win it with green chili?”
“I don’t know if I could win it, but it’d be fun,” I said.
“Why would you enter if you didn’t think you could win it?” he asked.
“Contests are fun,” I said. “I entered the last two Bucktown Apple Pie Contests and didn’t win, but I enjoyed it from start to finish.”
“Well, you should try to win something,” he said. He was clearly competitive.
“So you’re confident in your apple pie?” he asked.
“Yes, I have a solid apple pie.”
“I used to ask for apple pie for my birthday every year.”
“I didn’t like cake. I loved apple pie.”
We returned to familiar connections. He asked how I broke through our social circle.
I gave him the lowdown on Lucy and knitting and how my friendship with Lucy ended.
He told me that he used to live with Lucy when she was dating Werner. There were lots of parties and lots of messes, but he loved Werner and encouraged me to mend my friendship with Lucy.
We enjoyed the food and the karaoke until we exhausted both. But we weren’t done with each other yet so we went to the California Clipper.
I wished I didn’t know this place so well. We found seats at the bar and the bartender — whose name I didn’t even know — asked me if I wanted a sidecar, which was my usual drink with Lucy. I did. Marty got a club soda. I was having a good time, but I was annoyed with myself for being incapable of turning down my key elixir.
We enjoyed each others’ company enough to move to a booth. Twice. The first booth was the closest to the door. Being January, there was a very good reason that booth remained empty: it was cold. We found another one. The farthest from the door. We stayed way past my bedtime and when it was clear that I’d had enough to drink, he drove me home.
As we turned the corner from Leavitt to Hoyne I blurted out, “I stopped paying my mortgage. I know that’s a lot of information, but that’s what keeps me up at night.”
“Isn’t that going to fuck your credit?” he asked.
“Probably,” I said. “But I’ve had perfect credit up until now and it hasn’t gotten me anything but my apartment.”
“Well that’s quite a bold move,” he said.
“OK,” he said.
“I’m just being honest.”
With that, he pulled up to my apartment and let me out.
I slept OK. I woke up at 7:30 and sent Marty an email.
“Thanks, Marty. You made me laugh.”
At 8:30, Marty texted me, “Last night was fun. Interested in hanging out later?”
I was. We went to see Django Unchained at 3:00pm. He picked me up and we took the longest, most painful route possible to the theater. On the radio Simon and Garfunkle’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” was playing. I loved that song. It was followed by Iron and Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights.” Marty was winning me over with his taste in music. When Frou Frou’s “Let go” came on, the sequence started to sound familiar to me.
“What are we listening to?” I asked.
“It’s the Garden State soundtrack,” he answered.
Ah. I knew what he was doing. He paid attention to my mention of the Shins. The Shins were shamelessly showcased on this soundtrack. He was trying to impress me.
When we got to the theater, Marty got Milk Duds and a Mountain Dew which he said was toxic green just like my relationship with Margaret.
The movie itself was horrible. It was long and boring and nothing I wanted from a movie. Around two hours in Marty and I started going back and forth with whispers about how long the movie was. Every five minutes after that, we would sigh to each other to express how annoyed we were with the film.
When the movie was over, he drove me straight home. I was disappointed. It was six o’clock which, by some standards, was dinner time. There was no dinner invitation.
I walked into my apartment, took off my coat and scarf, threw them on the couch.
I texted Marty a thank you.
“Thanks, Marty. I’m going to fall asleep immediately.”
He wrote back, “When you wake up, let me know if you want to lounge.”
I was confused by this. “Why didn’t you ask me to lounge when I was still in the car?”
“I don’t know. I think the movie put me in a bad mood.”
“I’m watching the Blackhawks game. Have you ever been to a game?”
“To a Blackhawks game? No. But lots of college games and it was important at my high school. My BFF was the star hockey player. His name is Marty.”
When the hockey game was over, Marty invited himself over to my house. We watched Girls and he fell asleep on the couch while we watched Saturday Night Live. I let him sleep while I mis en placed my chili verde for the next day. I woke him up before he could start snoring. He went home.
I texted a thank you and I got nothing in return. I let it go.
In a large pot, heat lard — enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Brown the meat. Remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze pot with a splash of broth. Add enough lard to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onions. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Let cook for another minute or so. Add chilis and let cook for about 5 minutes before adding the remaining broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add cooked pork. Cover and let simmer. It was really good after 45 minutes, but I’ll bet it would have been better after 90 minutes.
In a large pot, heat lard — enough to coat the bottom of the pot. Brown the meat. Remove from pan and set aside. Deglaze pot with a splash of broth. Add enough lard to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onions. Cook until soft. Add garlic. Let cook for another minute or so. Add chilis and let cook for about 5 minutes before adding the remaining broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add cooked pork. Cover and let simmer.
It was really good after 45 minutes, but I’ll bet it would have been better after 90 minutes.