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Fly Me to the Moon: Part One
by C.J. Michaels
2006-12-07 09:45:34
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She comes in when I’m at the jukebox. Must’ve been only moments behind and glided in without touching the floor, because I didn’t hear a thing. Not the tap of a stiletto, the patter of a road shoe or the rubbery squeak of a sneaker and it is only Yan’s warning cough from behind the bar that turns me around.

Fabian’s isn’t the kind of place to impress a blind date. The brass and chrome bar-restaurants across the water in New York are more suited to that, but I like it. These dusty old wood furnishings are more comfortable than over there, surrounded by the kind of people who don’t take their ties off after work.

Just as well it doesn’t smell the way it looks. If it did, old Fabian would’ve had a confrontation with the hygiene people long ago. Everything from the tat on the shelves to the leftover Halloween skeleton hanging from the ceiling shares multiple layers of cigarette tar, grime and dust. Character, is what the locals say about this pub and that’s why I like it. More importantly, I like people who like it.

She’s sitting at the bar with her back to me. I watch for a while, taking in everything as she pushes the ice around a cocktail with a red plastic stirrer. I like the way she’s dressed. The black leather pants are sexy and the cropped hair makes her look like a soldier. The shoulder tattoo could be a banana, which is curious, so that’ll be my opener.

Why didn’t she come over to say hello? The timing’s perfect, I’m dressed just the way I promised and I left a Hoboken Reporter on the bar, so she must know who I am. Besides, I’m the only one here.

The jukebox finally takes my dollar, but I do nothing. The odds are high that she’ll turn around when the music starts, but I want to stare longer and try to dredge up some memory of what she said on the phone. Anything at all. Memory’s worth nothing when you do this so much. All I can remember from the phone call is the short hair and the tattoo. Not even a name.

All the other details get recorded in an overstuffed three-ring binder: name, hairstyle, height, weight – most important – what she does, where she goes, whether she drinks, eats meat, musical tastes and more. Everything gets scrawled in semi-legible shorthand and anything missed when the phone goes down dissipates within minutes, like a dream.

In a perfect world, of course, I’d read the file before a date. Only an idiot would come out unprepared. But that’s in a perfect world and tonight wasn’t one. Far from it.

I’m struggling with the basics and not getting anywhere, but then Yan calls over and it seems I can worry less.

“Charly. Come over and talk to Deirdra.”
A name. Perfect.

She half turns and smiles and I give a meaningless wave like the Queen does to the commoners in England, then quickly push buttons on the jukebox and walk over. Working with any wingman is good, but having the barman on your side is magic.

Frank Sinatra starts singing a scratchy, “Fly Me to the Moon,” as I reach the bar. Other pubs are installing CD jukeboxes, but Fabian’s clings to this relic on the wall that plays a record for a dime or twelve for a dollar, if you can get the dollar in the slot. It’s part of that character thing.

Shaking hands seems daft and a kiss of any kind feels inappropriate for a first meeting, so I stand and sip my drink and say a hello that tries not to give away the fact that I’m weighing the chances of getting her into my bed. It’s part of the ritual, but when I do this with Deirdra, it’s her eyes, not mine, that do the up and down flip.

“Good song,” she says. “Frank fits my mood.”

We’re off – and I didn’t even mention the banana.

Conversation flows like a stream, darting from one subject to another, starting with Sinatra, touching on the Rat Pack and veering to other music. She likes blues and rock ‘n’ roll, loves records and collects cassettes. She’s never used a CD player, doesn’t want to and hasn’t the slightest idea of how. “If it’s not round and black with a hole in the middle,” she says, “I don’t want to know,” and I find this strangely erotic.

Yan feeds us more drinks without being asked and she tells me how much she likes Fabian’s. She’s been here before and uses the word ‘character’ a lot. We talk about other Hoboken bars and then English pubs and that leads to where I come from, so I find myself talking about England as if I actually like it. After that, it’s work and hobbies and I learn that she loves to dance. But that’s a woman thing and I’m not terribly surprised. It’s like shoes.

I’m vaguely concerned that none of this is familiar, not even her name, and I wonder what I wrote down on Thursday. It doesn’t matter, I suppose. Besides, I’m never going to find out now.

Eventually the subject turns to tattoos and she says hers is a dolphin. It still looks like a banana to me, but I have enough sense to keep quiet. The personal ads are never mentioned and it’s pleasant not to have to repeat the usual half-truths like, “Yes I’ve done this before but not much and no I haven’t met anyone interesting - until tonight.” The line is practiced and smooth, but not exactly true and this date’s going so well I don’t want Deirdra suspecting she’s number fifty-three.

Frank sings several songs in a row and then there’s an interlude for Chris Isaak. Deirdra likes them all. A huge Sinatra fan, she says, which is fitting as he comes from Hoboken.
The music stops and, for a while, there’s silence but then she slips from her stool, extracting a bill from the change on the bar. It’s obvious where she’s going so I start to follow, but she stops me with a hand on my arm.

“Let me surprise you,” she says then, to Yan, “Another round and don’t let this man get away.”

This is unexpected and wholly delightful. Even through denim, that hand felt good and find myself staring at the banana-dolphin, wondering what it tastes like.

Yan brings more beer and another clear cocktail with ice piled high. “Quick work,” he whispers, and I shrug, as if it’s of no consequence, which isn’t quite true.

Neil Young starts to sing about a girl with long blond hair and a motorcycle and we both look over at Deirdra, flipping the Rock-O-La panels in her own little world of one. She’s going about it so slowly that I think there’s time to tell Yan the circumstances of tonight, but it has to be quick. There’s no way I want Deirdra to hear that I live in a totally empty basement with nothing but empty cardboard boxes and a mattress on the floor. Truth like that is rarely helpful.

I remind Yan that I was broke when I moved in but never bothered with furniture when I had money because I’m either out, preparing to go out, or asleep. The occasional nocturnal visitor thinks of it as Bohemian. With nothing to stand on, I can’t replace light bulbs when they die, so the basement is now as dark as the far side of the moon. It adds to the Bohemian sense. I have a bedside lamp, of course – I’m not a total waster - but, as of earlier, it’s temporarily useless.

“The circuit breakers tripped,” I tell him. “Not all, because the fridge still works, but none of the sockets do, nor does the bathroom vanity light.”

“You can’t flip ‘em back on?” His eyebrows rise, as if it’s the most sensible question in the world.

“How would I find the breaker box in the dark?”

“You have no flashlight?”

I shrug. There’s really no need to answer that.

“The fridge light and the cooker light worked, so I took the file over to the stove. Good, but too dim, so I went to find my glasses. Saw it was getting late, so I decided to shower first. You know, give time for the blood to dry if I cut myself shaving. Not like last time.”

He nods sagely, no doubt remembering the scabby face and red spattered white shirt from two weeks earlier.

“If I hadn’t been rushed, then the file wouldn’t have been left on the stove top.”

I pause for dramatic effect, but he says nothing, so I continue.

“Over the gas pilot lights.”


“Then it wouldn’t have caught fire.”

Yan’s face begins to crease. I have to explain the rest before he starts to laugh and draws Deirdra back.

“So, I’m in the shower, trying to shave in the dark – well, by the light of one candle because that’s all I’ve got left. That’s when the fire alarm smoke detector thing on the kitchen ceiling goes into a shrieking fit, so there’s nothing for it but to charge out there, holding the candle, but I can’t run because the damned thing would go out. When I get to the kitchen, it’s full of smoke and the file’s in full inferno mode. I turn on the extractor fan but I can’t do anything else until I’ve put down the candle but it falls over and goes out, but I manage to scoop the file up and chuck it all in the sink and spray it down with water. The damned smoke detector won’t shut up and I can’t reach it, so I bashed it down with the broom handle, which I think killed it.”

I suppose the whole thing sounds amusing. Maybe it was the vision of me, naked and wet, holding a candle and trying to fight a fire. I’ll find it funny too, when I tell Doug and Sylvester tomorrow, but not now. Yan’s imagination gets the better of him and he falls into helpless fits, bordering on hysteria. He’s still laughing when Deirdra comes back from the jukebox.

“What’s so funny?”

Yan calms down and lies that he’s just told his new joke so of course she wants to hear it too. He’s not a bad joke teller and does the one about the blind mother mixing up the black and white babies in the maternity ward and, even though I’ve heard it six times before, I lean back on the bar and laugh like a drain.

He leaves us after that, to serve Henderson the puppeteer, who came in during the joke and is sitting by himself at the other end of the bar. No doubt they’ll talk about us. If I hear laughter, I’ll know Yan’s told him about the stovetop conflagration. I can’t believe I’m the only one to have suffered such an event, but I do accept that the effect of this particular disaster is unique. There’s nothing much left of the file except the covers and a goo made of water and ash and I have two weeks’ worth of dates about which I now know absolutely nothing.


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