Mixed signals

"If you lay a hand on me," she said,"I'll break every bone in it." Then she told me to lick the tuna fish off her finger.

By Salon Staff

Published September 10, 2003 8:35PM (EDT)

Debacle on 41st Street

In 1989 I worked as a programmer at a large insurance firm in Manhattan with Christina, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Thinking back on it now, 14 years later, she looked remarkably like Halle Berry, back before any of us knew who Halle Berry was. There was definitely some kind of spark between us, but she was adamant about not dating anyone at work, so nothing ever happened. She enjoyed hanging out with the programmers, and we could never figure out why. We dutifully smothered her with gratitude and attention whenever she joined us at lunch. Which, I see in retrospect, is why she joined us.

On the day she announced her resignation, I congratulated her, and said I would be sad to see her go. She said I should be happy -- since we weren't working together anymore, that meant I could take her out.

Oh boy! A date with Christina! We made plans to see a movie after work on Friday, Dec. 2. That was my sister's 18th birthday, and my family had a big party planned, but a date with a Halle Berry look-alike comes along only once in a lifetime. Once in MY lifetime, at least.

At the movie theater, I got our tickets and popcorn and we found our seats. The movie was "Back to the Future II." The trailers began and we did a tiny amount of playful elbow bumping on the armrest -- or at least, I thought it was playful.

But Christina poked my arm with her index finger and said, "Listen: If you try to lay a hand on me I'll break every bone in it."

I let her have the armrest.

The movie was sufficiently funny for her to occasionally poke me on the forearm and say, "Oh, that's funny!" whenever anything funny happened on-screen. And she found nearly everything Michael J. Fox did funny. Poke. "That's funny!" Poke. I sat there mentally calculating how long until the end of the movie, how long dinner should take, how long to take Christina home, how long to race back to Westchester to try to catch the tail end of my sister's birthday party, and wishing she would stop poking me.

After the movie, I asked her if she had a favorite restaurant, and she said, "Wow! I didn't know we were going to dinner, too!" She pointed down 41st Street to a yellow awning. "Let's eat there!" she said.

Blimpies, a fast-food sandwich shop. 1989 was the height of my yuppie years, and my tastes generally ran to the trendy and expensive, but I wasn't going to pass up something this easy and quick. This particular Blimpies had the ambience of a prison cafeteria. She walked up to the counter and said, "I'd like a tuna sandwich with -- are you ready -- onions, relish, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and ketchup. I want lots of ketchup." She turned to me. "Is that all right?"

I gave the barest perceptible nod so as not to slosh my inner ear fluids. The sandwich man made a face and asked her if she really wanted all that on one sandwich. I got a roast beef. When our sandwiches were wrapped and paid for, Christina put her hand in my overcoat pocket, pressed her body against mine and said, "You said you car was nearby." I nodded. She put her mouth close to my ear. "Let's go eat these in your car," she whispered.

Oh boy!

The car was parked on the bottom level of an underground garage on 41st. We took the elevator down, eventually found my car, and I opened the front passenger door for her. She reached behind her and opened the rear door. She put her lips to my ear again and whispered, "Let's sit in the back seat." Oh boy oh boy!

Amazing how a date with such a rotten beginning could suddenly get so promising.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide, having a heavier molecular weight than oxygen, generally tends to seep to the bottom of any available space. Since we were on the lowest level of the parking garage, we were breathing in a higher concentration of CO gas than usual, and it was making me sick to my stomach. Either that or it was that fucking sandwich of hers. At any rate, I was unwell. Christina apparently could metabolize carbon monoxide just fine, because she was chattering away about how she really, really wanted to know what it felt like to be pregnant.

Suddenly she sat back and stared at me. "Do you like me?" she asked. I said of course I did. "Do you really like me?" I said that total strangers could tell how much I liked her, it was so obvious. That seemed to satisfy her, and she asked for a bite of my sandwich. She then asked me if I wanted some of her sandwich, and I politely declined. She scooped a dollop of tuna-plus onto her finger and held it up to my lips. "Oh, have some, it's really good."

I was about to throw up, but like a gentleman I opened my mouth. She put her finger between my teeth and held it there. I closed my lips around her finger. She looked into my eyes and left her finger in my mouth.

Now, as an incredibly dorky, geeky, spastic, immature 25-year old, I knew this could mean only one thing, but I wasn't sure what that was exactly. She slowly pulled her finger out of my mouth as I sucked it clean. She sat back in the seat, put her arms at her sides, and closed her eyes, a half-smile on her face. I couldn't have asked for a clearer sign. I adjusted my sandwich, leaned over, and kissed her...

Phosphenesis: n., sensation of bright light produced by outside pressure on the eyeball, as from a blow. Also known as "seeing stars."

"What the FUCK did I tell you about laying a hand on me!"

"Yeah, but--"

"But nothing! Get back on your side of the car."

"Hey, wait a minute--"

"Wait nothing! What kind of girl do you think I am?"

Uh, how about "psychotic"?

I offered to take her home, which was another mistake because she wasn't expecting me to, and once I made the offer she accepted gladly. I asked where she lived and she said she didn't know. She had just moved there and she wasn't too sure of the address. All she knew was that it was somewhere in Brooklyn, near a subway stop. Brooklyn, in 1989, had a reputation something like that of Kabul nowadays.

She was all friendly once again as we drove to Brooklyn, chattering about her life. She emphasized that she was just like her mother. Exactly like her mother. Personality, behavior, looks; everything just like her mother. She told me that her father left the family in 1969 and volunteered for Vietnam just to get away from her mother. This cheered me up immensely. She also said that she believed aliens walked among us but they looked exactly like humans so you couldn't tell, and it was entirely possible that you could be sitting next to an extraterrestrial and not even know it.

Compress a 45-minute ride through the crack neighborhoods of late 1980s Brooklyn into the sentence "Eventually, we found her apartment building." She leaned against the car door and said that she had a pretty good time, especially during those moments when I wasn't after only one thing. She asked if we could go out again. I said of course, which was the first and only lie I ever told her. I waited until she made it into the building, then got the hell out of there.

-- Patrick Di Justo

Buzz Kill in the French Quarter

I grew up in Northern California and had been living in San Francisco for a few years when one too many readings of Vampire Lestat prompted me to move to New Orleans.

New Orleans was marvelous, but it was not the liberal, open-minded Bay Area I was used to. Strolling through the French Market one morning, I glanced up from a table covered with silver jewelry to see "Michael" smiling at me. He had long dark-brown hair drawn back in a ponytail, beautiful brown eyes, a tattoo on his bare, tanned, muscular arm. Tall: check. Dark: check. Handsome: BIG check. Sexy: oh my, yes. He had a miniature cat-o'-nine-tails key chain dangling from his belt, which I found quite intriguing.

I complimented him on his tattoo and showed him mine. This involved my unbuttoning my shirt slightly and pulling it down off one shoulder. "That was very sultry of you," he said. After a conversation during which it became clear there was a great deal of chemistry between us, we arranged a date for a few nights later in the week.

I picked the spot where we'd meet, since I wasn't a local and only knew a few areas in the French Quarter well. I picked what was my favorite spot -- a bar on Bourbon Street where an Irish band played for the tourists. This was not Mike's style, and after a few songs he took my arm and said he wanted to take me to a local bar around the corner.

I was so smitten with his good looks and charming manner that I would have accompanied him to the dump without complaint, so we walked a few blocks to his regular haunt.

Upon arriving, he nodded to the bartender, who clearly knew him. Mike put a quarter in the jukebox and selected "Unchained Melody" -- cheesy, but effective. We slow-danced, and by the end of the song, I'd made up my mind that if ever there was a time to sleep with someone on the first date, this was it. He was just the sexiest thing I'd ever seen or touched.

He took me up to the bar, and called the bartender over. "Hey, Joe, could you make us two Dead N****ers?" I froze. Surely I didn't hear that correctly? He couldn't have just said... what I thought he said.

The bartender, without so much as batting an eye, began pouring various alcohols into two highball glasses. This was evidently not the first time he'd been asked for this concoction. He set the drinks before us, as I stood there, blinking in shock and disbelief.

Mike turned to me and raised his glass in a toast. "To the South -- may it rise again!"

Needless to say, I never saw Mike again.

-- Janna D.

Salon Staff

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