“Thing is, I’m a situational smoker. I only have a cigarette when I’m facing a critical situation.”
I half listened to the guy’s voice over the shouted chatter, wondering where my friends had wandered to. The club was a happening place, but crowded and stuffy. And the loud guy kept bumping into me. Did I really need to endure this pandemonium in order to be socially desirable?
“Yesterday,” the loud guy vented, “it was my boss telling me to hype the revenue figure, which could get me indicted by the SEC, while my super boss in Chicago ordered me to report the earnings accurate to the penny.”
Bump bump, making me slop my drink on my dress. I turned on my too-tight heels that’d cost two hundred smackers, intending to say I’d give him a critical situation if he didn’t… Then my brain switched channels as I saw this Hollywood handsome fellow with hair tumbling into his left eye. His tan in the middle of Manhattan wintertime. The camel hair jacket I wanted to roll up in like a burrito.
“So I stepped out to Third Avenue and smoked a Gauloise for ten minutes until…”
“You smoke Gauloises?” I was in awe of this walking GQ ad.
He turned. He noticed me. “Only about three a day. Sometimes two.”
“What is it about those French cigarettes? Memories of moonlit midnights in Montmartre,” I gushed like some drama queen.
“The smell drives away irritable strangers,” he laughed. The people he’d been chatting with turned and drifted over to the bar for refills. “And it tests my theory.”
“People are attracted to others who respond to the same products. That is, no guy is ever going to have a satisfactory relationship with a woman who drinks brandy Alexanders or strawberry daiquiris. I once thought I’d found the perfect mate until she confessed she’d read Fifty Shades of Grey three times and cried over The Sound of Music. And believed Ayn Rand should’ve run for President.”
“What’s the connection? I mean, except for my agreeing everything you said is on target.” The club atmosphere sort of faded as I looked deeply at this thinking man in a crowd of clowns lobotomized by alcohol.
“Subliminally, we respond to marketing messages because they define our needs. Thus, we respond to people whose buttons are pushed by those messages. Some people really do believe they can have it their way at Burger King, that things go better with Coke.”
“Or, you believe the skies are still friendly to fly after 9/11.”
“Exactly. I was on an arranged date last week and my nice companion ordered a chardonnay from a mediocre California vineyard. Then she filled the rest of the glass with Sprite. I sipped my Bordeaux wondering if the beginning was the end.”
“Oh, my God,” I exhaled and actually touched the camel hair with my finger, “I tasted a Le Conseiller made from hundred percent Merlot that had hints of licorice, earth and red fruit, medium-bodied with light fresh cherries in the finish.” I closed my eyes in memory.
He leaned close, stared into my eyes and said softly, “I would love to take you to that place and sample the Bordeaux. My name is Raoul, but I’m only half French. The other half is Irish.”
“I’m LeBaron O’Hara. I’m Irish-American.” This was a now or never moment. My brain was like a car engine racing with the transmission in neutral. Raoul and I could be married before breakfast if this conversation continued. He was the perfect man in a colossal city full of zombies, cretins and mouth-breathing Muppets. The answer to my fairy tale quest for a good man, a true man, a man of understanding.
“My parents said it had something to do with where I was conceived.”
“In a Chrysler?”
“My older brother’s named Fairlane.” I shrugged. “Go figure.” The rest of the room disappeared in a fog as I leaned in to Raoul and we exchanged the brands that were compounded into creating our personalities. “I hope you don’t think I’m a snob, the French wine and cigarettes and all.” I waited for him to shake his head — about the snob part — and went on. “Having a demanding job in advertising and being on the road a lot, I usually settle in with a glass of Jameson’s Irish.”
“Oh. You’re Catholic?” He stepped back.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well,” he said, “it’s only that Protestants drink Bushmills. My father’s an Anglican bishop in Ulster and drummed that into me.” A cloud of concern creased his forehead. “Okay, listen, I have to toddle off. Early day tomorrow.”
Was it my religion? I’m apostate, a materialist and a dedicated drinker. Or my choice of brands taking this possible mate off on the tide? “Wait! Raoul, I haven’t told you of my passion for Italian artisan cheeses.”
“Yes, I’m sure some of us ignore the cholesterol issue.” He stifled a yawn.
“I lied,” I screamed at his retreating back, as though a product I loved had just been removed from the shelves. “I can’t stand your stinky Gauloises!”
I was suddenly enveloped in the existential despair of a Saturday night alone, knowing that tomorrow there’d be another club, and then another.
Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared at Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Northwoods Journal, Paradigm Journal, Short Fiction World, Southern Fried Weirdness, and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, have been published by Wild Child (www.wildchildpublishing.com).