by Theresa Cartier
(This is an excerpt from the chapter, “Reduction in Force,” which describes my last days as a Marketing Assistant at a VERY conservative Fortune 500 bank. The year was 1991. I was 26 years old.)
When I get to the office on Monday, my boss, Keith, asks why I didn’t bring Jared to the company picnic. I say we broke up and he looks crushed, like I just told him Jared died or something. “That’s too bad,” he says.
“Not really,” I say. “It was a mutual decision.”
Keith puts a fatherly hand on my shoulder and says, “I know just the guy for you.”
Wait a minute. Is my boss trying to set me up on a blind date? I tell Keith thanks for the offer, but I really don’t mind being alone.
“But this is a good friend of mine,” he says. “We grew up together and he’s a writer. I really think you’d like him.”
I keep protesting, but Keith won’t hear of it. He gets on the phone, calls another buddy of his who owns a local restaurant, and sets up a date for the six of us—Keith and his wife, the restaurant guy and his wife, my blind date and me—to go to the racetrack on the weekend.
Everyone is waiting for me in the clubhouse on Saturday. For reasons I cannot fathom, Keith has arranged the seating so that my blind date and I are at opposite ends of a long table. Between the announcer over the speakers and the people around us, the place is so loud, the only way I’m going to be able to communicate with my date is by smoke signal. To make things worse, the two wives are sitting next to me and having a long, uncomfortably detailed discussion about breast feeding.
It’s going to be a long night.
Keith comes to my rescue. “Why don’t you place a bet?” he says.
I try to brush him off, because I’m not about to admit that I came here with all of $7.00 in cash. “No, that’s okay,” I say.
“C’mon! You gotta bet at least once,” says Keith. “Have some fun; that’s what we’re here for.”
“Really, it’s okay,” I say. I try to make my voice bright and perky so that everyone will know I’m having a swell time.
But Keith keeps pushing until finally I have to admit that I have no money because I accidentally spent it all last night. My explanation is this: my girlfriend Karen was supposed to meet me at the Aquilon in The Flats, but she never showed, and then this sailor came up to me and asked if I knew some good clubs, so I just ended up going to a bunch of places with him.
The explanation seems reasonable to me but I immediately realize I’ve made a mistake when the restaurant guy chokes on his beer.
Keith looks at me like he’s never seen me before. “A . . . sailor?” he says.
One of the wives puts her hand to her throat.
“It was nothing like that,” I say quickly. “He had a few hours of shore leave and he just wanted to hang out with someone.”
I look around the table at everyone. They all look skeptical.
“Really, it wasn’t a big deal,” I say.
If anything, the guy was a total dud. All he did was brag about himself. Don’t ask me why. He was a grunt on an ore ship, but to hear him tell it, he was Mr. Cool.
Oh yeah, he was cool all right. Until I drove him back to the dock and his ship was gone. Then he looked like he was going to cry.
The guys roar with laughter at my story of the poor sailor who lost his ship. They laugh when I tell them the sailor asked if I could drive him to Michigan to catch up with his ship and I asked him if he was fucking crazy. They laugh when I describe how I dumped him off at the Greyhound bus depot, and they laugh when I say I didn’t get home until seven this morning and I’m still tired, all because of that idiot.
We leave the track around ten o’clock. Keith says they’re going to a local bar and invites my date and me to come along. My date declines, stays behind as the others go to their cars. He wants to talk to me at closer range than shouting distance.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to you tonight,” he says.
I tell him not to worry about it.
“I have to go home now,” he says, “but why don’t we try this again?”
I tell him I appreciate the offer, but let’s be honest: this whole thing was Keith’s idea, so there’s no need to spare my feelings with a mercy date.
“No, really,” he says. “Give me your phone number.”
So I say no really, and he says no really, and we go through several more rounds of no really until finally he screams, “For God’s sake, just give me your number!”
After I give him my number, we walk through the parking lot in silence. We walk and walk, and the whole time I’m wondering how much farther we should go before I tell him I’ve forgotten where I parked.
After my date and I part ways, I meet Keith and company at the bar and join them in a pitcher of beer. The wives are not drinking, naturally. I don’t think they’re having a very good time, plus I don’t think they like me much, either. There’s a lot of that going around.
We’re halfway through the second pitcher when Keith finally asks me the question I’ve been dreading.
“So what did you think of my friend?” he says. “Do you like him?”
I’m not sure what to say. The honest answer would be no, the guy’s really not my type, and besides, I’ve already managed to piss him off. But the thing is, Keith is my boss, and I’m pretty sure he’s hoping this date will change my life or something like that. I know he’s just trying to be helpful and that, at some level, it was a nice thing for him to do.
At the same time, I’m tired and cranky from carting that dumb sailor all over town last night and more than a little resentful at Keith for pressuring me into this. I must discourage him from ever trying it again.
So I take a deep breath, stare dreamily into space as if searching for the right words, and say, “Keith, I don’t know what to tell you, except—I LOVE HIM AND I WANT TO HAVE HIS BABY!”
Keith’s buddy chokes on his beer for the second time that evening.
I force myself to get up early on Monday morning so I can go to the office and talk to Keith before everyone else gets in. I’m going to ask him not to say anything about the weekend.
But as soon as I step off the elevator, I come face to face with one of the VPs, who puts his hand to his mouth and snickers the minute he sees me.
God damn it. Keith just couldn’t wait to blab to everyone, could he? Even though the whole stupid thing was his stupid idea.
I go in the office, walk past Keith’s cubicle, and there he is with another VP, one of the analysts, and my co-worker Nick. When they see me, the guys double over with laughter. One is wiping tears from his eyes. Is that really necessary?
I sit at my desk and try to work but it’s no use. Every time the phone rings, it’s one of my Chicago contacts, singing a sea shanty.
All day it’s like that. I’m so furious at Keith, I could deck him, but I suppose there’s a lesson to be learned from this.
Never tell your boss you picked up a sailor or say you want to have your blind date’s baby. Nothing good will come of it.