Monday, December 20, 2010

Rockstar Moment

I stood outside my apartment building in the Februaried air.  It was a Sunday night, and my sight was a bit blurry from reading 200 pages of How To Win in Washington. I fidgeted with my pashmina, a gift from my Kasmiri ex-roomate, that I was never seen without during these wintry days.  There was fresh mulch at the base of the large oak trees that stood guard in front of my apartment complex.  It looked strange there, superimposed on the tundra that wouldn’t become grass again until April.
I pulled out a blue, cardboard box of Nat Sherman’s, and removed the one remaining cigarette.  I could feel a subdued adrenaline rush in anticipation of a hit of nicotine.  I lit up and took a long drag as the wind threatened to put out the just-lit smoke.  I thought about how I could market myself differently to the countless think tanks in Washington, of which, owing to the financial crisis, none were hiring.
A well-dressed girl turned the corner from N St. onto New Hampshire.  As she neared, I saw that she was both tall and beautiful.  Being weary of staring, I turned so that my back was toward her.  Her heels made a clip-clop noise that steadily grew louder.  Then the noise suddenly stopped and I felt a tap on my shoulder.  I spun around with a surprised smile. 
“Hey, sorry to bug you, but do you have another one of those?”
“Oh, um, I’m really sorry, this is my last one.”
“Oh, that’s ok.  I was just out with some friends for drinks and I’m totally craving a smoke.”
While maintaining my smile, I said apologetically, “Yeah, I know how that can be.”
She started to continue on her way when my partially paralyzed mind instructed my mouth to say, “Hey, do you wanna share this one with me?” 
She turned around with remarkable grace, given that she was in heels.  She said with alacrity, “Sure! Why not?”
I walked toward her and handed her the cigarette.  She removed her trendy blue leather gloves and took a few puffs. 
“Oh wow, what are these?
“They’re Nat Shermans.”
“Oh, so you’re too good for Camel lights?”
“Exactly,” I replied cheekily.
“These are so much better than the shit everyone else smokes.”
“Hearing you say that is actually the main reason that I smoke them.”
“Ha! You’ve got quite a sense of humor.   There’s a lot left.  Wanna walk me home while we finish this off?”
“Sure.  Where do you live?”
“I’m like two blocks from here on 22nd.”

As we walked we exchanged names and, of course, work information and where we had received our graduate degrees.  She was impressed that I studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, though she had received a law degree from Duke and a master’s in international relations from Hopkins. Her name was Sonia and her parents had immigrated to the US from India when she was very young.   As we rounded the corner onto 22nd St., I noticed that she was wearing a white colored cashmere coat with a faux fur collar.  It wasn’t the type of coat one could wear every day and I knew she’d never wear it to work at the firm she practiced at.  I started to understand that this was a girl was part of DC’s “upper crust.” As the lights shined upon us from the Wyndham hotel, I caught a glimpse of her enormous pink diamond earrings. I was a bit disappointed because pink diamonds were almost always conflict diamonds.  I realized this was the type of girl my friends and I regularly chided when out at a bar or lounge.  It wasn’t that any of us couldn’t afford nice things; we just had our fair share of disasters with “princesses.”  Princesses cared more about money than substance, more about where you worked than what you did, more about which senators you knew rather than which ones you voted for.
To hell with it.  She’s super cute and seems like she’s into you.
Upon reaching her town house I was glad that DC was being hit hard by the financial crisis as it made me one of thousands of highly qualified people not presently working.  Sonia didn’t seem fazed by my circumstances despite being a lawyer at a high-powered law firm.  We stopped at her doorstep and she said, “Well, thanks for walking me home – oh, and for the cigarette,” as she smiled, showing her brilliant white teeth for the first time.
“No worries.  Next time you’re fiending for a smoke, just stop by,” I said.
“Ok. Cool.  See you around.” 
She stepped up to her door, and as she turned the key, I asked, “So, would you be up for dinner sometime?”
“Umm, sure,” she said pretending to not have expected my inevitable query.  “Here’s my card.  Just shoot me an email, O.K.?”
“I’ll do that.  Have a good night,” I said playfully.
I turned and walked back toward my apartment, feeling both excited and surprised.  I immediately called my friend Zaytun.
“Ettie,” he said, as he always did whenever I called.  That’s the thing I loved about Z.  He never answered with a “Hello?” Instead he always said your name, as if he had been looking forward to hearing from you.
“Z! Dude, you’re never going to believe what just happened.”
“What’s that?  Wait, hang on, let me turn this down.  He turned down the Portuguese ambient electronica he was presently obsessed with.  Ok.  What up?”
“Dude.  Check it.  I’m standing outside my building having a smoke.  This super cute chick rolls up, and asks for a smoke.  But I was on my last one.  So I ask her if she wants to share, and she’s like cool.  So we end up sharing the cigarette while I walk her home.”
“Nice, dude.  So did you get her number?”
“Well, when we got to her pad, I asked for it and she gave me her card.”
“That’s pretty money considering you knew her all of, what, ten minutes?”
“Yeah, something like that.  Only thing is that I think she might be a princess.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Dressed all in couture.  Pink diamond earrings bigger than T.O.’s”
“Hmm….Well at least go out with her and decide.  You got nothing to lose, right?”
“Yeah, definitely.  What do you think, the Peruvian joint in Adams Morgan?”
“It’s been nothing but good to you in the past, right?”
“Yeah, I’d say that’s about right. Just don’t want it to seem like I’m trying too hard to impress. Cool.  So, yeah, just called to tell you about this.  Nothing else has happened since I talked to you, like, 3 hours ago.”
“Alright, man.  Let’s talk about this more tomorrow and we can strategize on the email.  I’ve got a big donor meeting tomorrow so I gotta crash pretty soon.” 
“Ok, man.  Talk to you tomorrow.  Can I come to the donor meeting?”
“Uhh, no.”
“Come on, dude.  I’ll tell them how well you can withstand multiple alcoholic drinks.  And how you used to handle way more E than any other human weighing 130lbs.  I want to reassure them that you’ll be doing good things with their money.”
“Somehow I don’t think any of that would go over too well, Etienne.”
“OK, dude.  Let me know if you’re starting to get cold feet and you change your mind.”

I made plans with Sonia for later that same week.  Zaytun’s email edits were invaluable and helped me strike just the right balance between playful and confident.  We met at the Peruvian restaurant, which was known for excellent food in an intimate, though unpretentious setting.  It was a fairly small space, only about ten tables.  The walls were painted a pinkish-red and each table had a small, unassuming candle placed upon a bluish-grey tablecloth. 
We started with the ceviche, which was fantastic.  As the conversation began to move fluidly, I became less nervous.  A bottle of Chilean petit syrah arrived, and was poured into trendy, stemless wine glasses.  We sipped the wine, and Sonia complemented me on the selection.  As she was a progressive, we shared much in common.  We discussed our love for Amartya Sen, Raphael Nadal, and Bollywood films. 
“Actually, you’re never gonna believe this, but I started watching Indian movies because I was trying to improve my Hindi language skills when I was studying for the foreign service exam,” I confessed. 
“That is so funny!  Did it work?”  she asked playfully. 
“Yeah, I think after about three weeks I could understand when they read the title of the movie.”
Sonia was definitely digging my sense of humor and I started to feel at ease.   Our food arrived just as we began to share our favorite travel destinations.  
“So, where are some of your favorite places in Europe?” she inquired.
I sensed that she was after a little dirt, and I had no shortage of stories to satisfy.  “Actually, I went backpacking in Europe with six brown guys.”
“Oh my God! Are you serious? That’s so crazy”
“It was hilarious.  I mean, it just happened that way.  Most of my housemates senior year were Indian, so we all went together.  The token Whitie, Brad, wasn’t able to make it. Anyway, we’d walk through any city, and people would be like, ‘India! India!’  We didn’t mind, ‘cuz they treated us a lot better than they would have if they thought we were American.”
“So what’s your favorite memory?”
“Oh, that’s so tough.  Man, I guess I’d have to go with Marbella, you know, Spanish Riviera.  We had partied all night, and at like 2am, they started blinking the lights.  Of course, we thought it was last call and started pounding the rest of our drinks.  But it wasn’t.  Get this: it was a Michael Jackson contest.”
“Wait, what do you mean, Michael Jackson contest?  Like karyoke?”
“No, no.  This was the real deal.  They would play a Michael Jackson song, and you have to dance to it.”
“Oh my God!”
“So, all of us are trying to get my friend Rahil to do it ‘cuz he’s a kick-ass bhangra dancer.  But Niraj was like, ‘No way, no how, never.’” 
“So what happened?”
“O.K., so no one knew, but I was quasi-obsessed with Michael, and I used to practice his moves in my bedroom every morning while I got dressed.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sonia said as she nearly snarfed her wine. “That is so fucking funny.”
“Yeah.  I was drunk, and I was like, ‘Yo, I’m never going to see any of these people again.’  So I told the bartender I was in.”
Sonia was enjoying all this immensely.  She punched me in the arm playfully and insisted, “What happened then?”
“So then, like three guys and one girl were ahead of me.  The girl was money.  One of the dudes was a shit-faced Greek dude who almost did a face-plant.  So I roll up and, of course, they played Billie Jean.  Man, I knew the song and the moves so well that it just no contest.  The only thing I was worried about was the Moonwalk because the stage was kind of sticky.  So while I was dancing I kicked off my shoes and then I poured a drink all over my socks so they wouldn’t stick to the floor.”
“Oh my fucking God. So then what?” Sonia asked with wide eyes and an open mouth.
“I totally nailed the Moonwalk.  And everyone in the bar just went insane.  At the end of the song, this insanely hot Scandinavian DJ came over and kissed me on the lips.” 
“That is the fucking funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Yeah, it’s like…we get one of these moments in our entire lives.  You have no idea when it’s going to happen, but we all get this singular chance to be a total rock star.”
“So, wait.  What did all your friends say?”
“Ha! They were like where the fuck did that come from?  Who are you?”
“I was like, yo, I got skills.  I got skills that you don’t even know about.  Then all these people started crowding around me.  And they were like ‘how did you learn the Moonwalk?’  And I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.  Like ten different people bought me a drink.  Then people started chanting ‘Encore!  Encore!’ but I knew I had to quit while I was ahead, you know?
That is a great story.”
“So what’s your rock star moment?”
“Definitely when I was in college.  I was a theatre major.  So, there’s this big Shakespeare festival every year.  And it’s just kind of understood that no freshman, no matter how captivating they are, can take on anything except for bit parts.  So…I was like, ‘fuck that,’ I’m so much better than these upperclassmen chicks.  About two months before the festival, the drama faculty comes around and hands out the parts.  I had like two lines in The Tempest, which was totally beneath me because I was a total drama nerd in high school.  I actually went to Shakespeare camp every summer.”
“Wow, I bet you got yourself into loads of trouble there, huh?  What did you do, interrupt people studying with a soliloquy?”
“Shut up!  O.K., where was I?  Oh, yeah, so there’s this bitch who was a sophomore and they gave her Cleopatra because her Dad was like Ambassador to Brazil.  So, this chick was notorious for sucking dick right and left.  So guess what happens?  She ends up getting fucking mono and loses her voice two days before the production.”
“No, way!”
“Way.  Very way.  So, there’s this urgent email from the head of the drama department in search of anyone, female or male, who could do a cram session and perform as Cleopatra in front of the whole campus.” 
“So, I replied, and said I could do it.  Actually, the summer before I started at Yale, I had played Cleopatra - ”
“- At Shakespeare camp!”
“Yes!  So I emailed back and said I could do it and that two days was enough time for me to prepare.”
“So then what?”
“So then I crammed like crazy, ‘cuz you have to remember all the gestures and everything too.  Performance day came around and people were like, ‘Oh, Antony and Cleopatra is going to blow because Veronica’s not doing it.’  I was just like, whatever.  I went out there and I was just like in a zone the whole two hours.”
“Then what?”
“They did the curtain call and I got mad ovations.  I was like, ‘yeah, you know it!’”
“Nice, very nice.”
“But that’s not even the best part.  After the head of the drama department totally kissed my ass, I went back to the dressing area.  Everyone was giving me high fives and shit.  But then came the total rock star moment.  All of a sudden everyone started cheering.  None other than William Jefferson Clinton walks in.  He came right up to me and said, ‘That is the best performance of Antony and Cleopatra I’ve seen in my entire life.  And that includes the time when I saw it as president.’”
“Holy shit!  I get kissed by a hot DJ and you get props from Bill Clinton.  Un-be-liveable.” 
We had eaten our entrees without noticing.  And it had been at least ten minutes since the waiter placed the desert menus on the table. 
Sonia’s story was so amazing that all I could do was smile and shake my head.  She seemed like she’d need a moment to return from her surreal memory.  She was looking at the candle and smiling to herself.  I consumed the image of her full lips just barley parted.  She had a large dimple on her left cheek.  Her eyes were so large and dark that they made me want to beg them to take me wherever they were.
“Ready for dessert?” I asked. 
“Sure. Hmmm.  Everything looks good.  Oh, do you wanna share the leche asada?”
“Yeah, that’s cool.  I always end up getting flan.  I think it’s time to move on.”
“Excelente.  Hey, do you watch soccer?”
“Yeah.  I mean, I don’t have the soccer channel, but I def watch the good club games whenever I can.”
“What’s your team?”
“I dig Man U.”
“Oh, really?”
“Yeah, why?”
“Oh, my girlfriend is from the U.K. and she’s like an insane Arsenal fan.”
“Yeah, you match the passion of the Brits for football.  It’s part of their DNA.”
“Totally.  Did you used to play?”
“Yeah, man.  I played all through high school and then intramural in college.”
“Cool.  Were you good?”
“Ummm.  I was pretty average until senior year.  Then I put on a bit of weight on my super-skinny frame and that helped a lot.  You know, you can move a lot better when the wind isn’t knocking you over,” I shared with a smile.
Sonia laughed, showing her dimple again.  “You know your sense of humor is quite charming, don’t you?”
“I’ve been told this.”
“Yeah, by who?”
“The little butterfly that lives in my sock drawer.”
“Were you born this cute?”
“Yes,” I replied with a playful smile.
“Oh!” Sonia jumped in her seat.  “That’s my phone.  Hang on a sec,” she said as she pulled her phone from her Fendi handbag.  “Hi babe, what’s up?  No, no we’re just finishing.  Yeah, for sure.  O.K., sweets.”  She hung up her phone and placed it back in her handbag.
“Meeting up with some friends after this?”  I inquired as carefully as possible.
“Oh, no.  That’s just my boyfriend.”
“Cool,” I said, but I meant, “What the fuck was that all about?  You’re playing me?”  I could feel the leche asada climbing back up into my throat.  I was shocked, but I still maintained sufficient wits to be able to ask the painfully obvious, “Soooo…this is not a date.” It was a statement more than it was a question.
“Oh no, I’m so sorry, sweetie.  I thought I made it obvious.  Yeah, I mean, this is just hanging out.  Two friends enjoying good food and great conversation.  I mean, your Billie Jean story is fucking awesome.  Sheel is going to die when he hears it.”
“I hope he gets a kick out of it,” I said with my teeth clenched and my fingernails tearing into my palms. 
The check came back and I signed it furiously.  To make matters worse, in my disorientation, I gave the waiter a 40 percent tip. 
We stood up, and Sonia reached out her arms to hug me.  I wanted to drop-kick her in the face so hard that that damn dimple would fall right off.  Instead, I played it cool and attempted to save face.  This ended up being the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done. 
“Oh, thank you, sweetie!  We have to do this again sometime.  You have to tell me more of your crazy stories!”
“Definitely.  I’ll give you a ring next week.”
We walked out of the restaurant and Sonia reached out her arms for another hug goodbye.  I half-heartedly wrapped one arm around her.  She planted a warm kiss on each cheek, in the European fashion.
“Bye, sweetie!”
“O.K., you heartless bitch,” I said under my breath.  She started walking south toward Dupont Circle.  My apartment was in the same direction, but the last thing I wanted to do was be anywhere near that evil chick.  I walked uphill toward Kindred Spirits.  The irony was not lost upon me.  I slid my Blackberry out of my pocket.  I held down the side button, and said “Z” into the receiver. 

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