Monday, January 28, 2008

Mice and manimals

To provide a little context, my suitor bears the name of a medium-sized carnivore, and while he blames his draft-dodging, naturalist parents for this, I couldn't help but notice some physical resemblance to his namesake. Thankfully, his looks are more intriguing than freakish, and I appreciate a little chest hair and a healthy bite.

This manimal is a musician, another one. As usual, I assumed I wouldn't adore the sound his band produces, but they’re doing fine without me. Plus, I seem doomed to date short, touring musicians, so, that up to that point, everything seemed normal.

He called the day after we’d first met, twice. First to argue about who picked up whom, and then to arrange to meet. Not knowing much about him (nothing at all, actually), other than his ability to make me laugh, I thought it best to begin with an easily escapable afternoon encounter. Thinking that if we met for a casual beer, we could opt to continue into the evening or simply escape with a politely believable excuse and without awkwardness. It's a technique I learned from a master, another short musician I dated and occasionally re-encounter.

When the time came, however, he was tied up and asked if we could meet later in the evening, negotiating a "nine-thirty neighbourhood bar date." He said the “d” word, and he said it with confidence. I panicked. I'd been in pleasant denial thinking that at worst I might make a new friend, and at best we might identify some common ground and arrange a real date, sometime later, more than five days after breaking it off with the previous candidate. This guy, I realized, plays hardball. We'd be stuck together, consciously and uncomfortably assessing our compatibility. If it didn't go well, someone was going to feel like a wanker.

When I hung up with him, there was a sweet voicemail invitation waiting from a film-maker I'd met months earlier. Coincidentally, he happens to be named after a common plant. I called my mom and told her I was officially, though perhaps not happily, through with the Moroccan Jew and have inadvertently found myself mingling with flora and fauna in his wake. One at a time, I reminded myself, and began carefully selecting the kind of outfit that says: If I look this good in these crappy clothes, imagine how hot I'll be when I try.

On my mother's advice, I checked to make sure I had enough cash in my purse to cover an escape taxi, and some consolation drinks should I meet with my girlfriends later to commiserate. Save for some coins, my wallet was empty, so I ran to a bank machine just before heading out to meet him.

Anxiety was building because not only did I have to admit I was on a real date, but I'd agreed to meet at a place with some foul shui. I've endured more than a few awkward moments at the resto-bar, and I prefer to blame the venue rather than my own inability to learn from experience. Still, I was willing to give it another chance.

With fifteen minutes to spare, the ATM ate my bank card. I prayed as I ran to a friend's house to beg for sympathy and some cash and continued on my way. I was feeling off my game, sideswiped by fate and $20 in her debt. It was all she had on her. I could only hope that chivalry would pay for what friendship could not cover.

I was torn between wanting to arrive a few minutes early to physically recover from the sub-zero temperatures before he walked in, and not wanting to seem too eager. Deciding that Canadians consider red cheeks and the sniffles inevitable rites of winter passage, I got over it as best I could, and went straight away. We arrived at exactly the same time. I kiss-kissed him, as is customary in Quebec, and began peeling and unravelling woollen layers from my head, neck and body, to reveal my carefully planned attire.

The manimal was very sweet and did and said everything he could to make me comfortable. Still, I was a little anxious, and both talked and drank too much and too fast. I saw him notice my depleting pint, and only then did I realize I was way ahead of him. Way ahead. Resorting to deep breaths rather than gulps, I recovered. Conversation soon flowed faster than ale. We laughed for nearly an hour’s time before I saw my recent ex’s friends settle into seats not especially far from ours. A second, lesser bout of panic set in. I rationalized. I’d never been to this bar with him, so there was no need to worry he might show up. Right?

Losing myself in conversation, I enjoyed the fun-loving doofus' company (and I say that in the kindest way). We shared more drinks, decadent snacks and I laughed like a fool, a drunk one. He laughed until he snorted, and then he laughed some more. I appreciated his humility, his exquisite humanness, and the ease of the encounter. Then, I noticed at the table to my left, a familiar perfectly shaped head with soft, thinning hair, crowning an ever-tasteful collared shirt and his favourite wool sweater.

I had no idea how long he'd been there, his back to me, barely out of earshot. This is the kind of fun I never had with you, I thought. The shortcomings of the new candidate before me were tannic, as were the few but sublime merits of the other, and I felt a little corner of my heart chip off and lodge itself in my throat. I cursed feng shui once again.

I stumbled back into the conversation and struggled to maintain focus. Think of the awkwardness in terms of minutes rather than severity, I coaxed myself. This is no big deal, I told myself. I am here with a sweet guy who is trying really hard to be great, and I should enjoy that for what it is. It was a pep talk.

At that moment, he leaned in, his eyes wide, and blurted, "What the hell is that?" He was looking right at me when he said it, and I felt a wave of insecurity rush through me. I was terrified of the possible answers. "Oh my god, is that supposed to be there?" I turned my head to my right shoulder, the one that seemed to have captured his attention, and there it sat. A little grey mouse was clinging to my sweater, also wide-eyed, and looking back at me. Seconds later, as I registered what was happening, it ran back down my body and slipped through a crack between the floor and the wall. My date and I stared at each other, mouths agape.

He later confessed that it had been sitting there for a while. Having briefly dated a girl with a pet rat and another with a snake, he'd assumed the mouse was mine. Why else would it be there on my shoulder looking at him, while I remained unaffected? For minutes he'd silently debated whether he could be into a girl who would take a pet mouse to a bar for a date and fail to address it. Although I was probably flaky and weird, he thought, I was cute enough and he'd give me a try regardless.

The now manic waitress, who witnessed the mouse's escape down my back, apologized profusely, cancelled our bill and offered us anything more we could possibly want, so long as we kept the incident private vs. public. Oops.

Ultimately, my date determined that the mouse was a good omen, and a sign to leave the bad feng shui and ex to contend with each other. We donned our many layers of warmth and wandered off into the chilly Canadian winter's eve, returning to our natural state of red cheeks, runny noses and not a significant worry in the world.