The last date I went on prior to the COVID pandemic was…not great. Not great is, of course, a relative term. In fact, what typically qualifies as “average” for another person, actually qualifies as well above expectations for me. What is typically a “below average” date for a more refined and genteel bachelor, would likely be something of a modest success on my end. And so clearly, my version of “not great” would more accurately be reflected in the general population as “categorical disaster” or “train wreck” or “season 8 of Game of Thrones”. “Hello center of the normal distribution curve, welcome to my deviant personality. I try to keep at least 3 sigmas of distance between us, but you’re welcome to visit. Just don’t get lost on your way back towards normalcy. It can be a bitch working your way through all these lower probabilities. They’re nasty things, and honestly? 2 sigma is kind of a racist. Yup, like a grandparent at Thanksgiving. So, tread carefully and just try to tell yourself that they *can’t help that they’re like this*”
I knew going into this date that the girl was a little weird. Which is not a bad thing. I love weird. Love it so much, in fact, that I’ve formed an entire personality archetype around it. Unfortunately, weird attracting weird is like two magnets of the same polarity trying to hold hands. And regrettably, my negatively charged right hand was met with an equally negative force from the palm of her left, and our synonymous energies came together as a Mentos mint joins with Coca-Cola – briefly, messily, and culminating in a violent eruption.
Admittedly though, a large piece of this was on me. *For reasons that I couldn’t entirely control*. The prior week, I had been super sick. Was it COVID? Who knows? Not me. Not now, not ever. It was February. And everyone who got sick at that time now lays claim to having had COVID long before the country actually locked down. (“Oh gosh, I had just the darnedest illness last winter. Ya know, I bet it was the COVID? They say it was here long before March. They sure do by golly. Brought by some liberal European no doubt. *Tct*. Well, I might not know much about how *The French* do things, but here in the U.S of A we don’t go spreading *disease* and *lewd films*. It’s like Mr. Trump always sa- oh, dear, I’m getting on, now aren’t I. Can I get you some casserole?”) Just suffice it to say, that I was sick enough that I actually had to cancel our original date and reschedule for the following week. I had assumed that by then my illness would have passed, and we could carry on merrily, magnets and all.
But….it didn’t really go away. Sure, I didn’t feel like human garbage anymore (Well…I didn’t *physically* feel like human garbage anymore). But dammit, if I didn’t just have this obnoxious lingering cough and runny nose. Which is unfortunate. Because those are two of the most difficult ailments in existence to pretend like you don’t have. I can hide a stomachache. Hell, I hide one most days. What do you think anxiety feels like? A handjob and a gentle foot rub? I can valiantly disregard a headache, or achiness, or a sore throat. I can even get past a flaring fever pretty easily – just give me a bottle of medication, some doctor recommended liquor, and a couple of pairs of wool socks. But a cough? You can’t stifle it forever. Eventually it comes out, medication be damned. A runny nose? Go out and grab the best decongestant that money can buy, and you’ll still feel that telltale mucus sliding down your nostril at every possible inconvenient moment. It’s as unavoidable as a new “NOW That’s What I Call Music” album or getting a call this week about the expiration of your car’s extended warranty. But, having already cancelled once, and in general experiencing the sort of loneliness that can only arise due to chronic singleness and overexposure to Twenty One Pilots lyrics, I decided to go ahead with it anyway.
And as a former tennis teammate (playing an opponent twice his skill level) used to say jokingly about his adversary’s shot right before returning it: “Big Mistake!” It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation to begin with when you’re conversing with someone who’s a particularly unique breed of weird. It then becomes twice as difficult when you yourself have your own unique flavor of crazy (Or as I like to affectionately call it: “My Personal Brand”). But it becomes certifiably impossible when this is then coupled with constant coughing, nose blowing, and an all-around disgusting concoction of bodily functions and fluids. Our conversations for the night went something like the below:
“Oh, hey – it’s so great to meet you in person! Hey, are you okay? You look a little blue around the gills.”
“Oh, doing great, don’t worry. I just haven’t slept since October. And I feel like I just never really got the chance to fully *process* the 2016 election, you know? But hey, so great to finally get the chance to meet in person! Can I get you a drink?”
“Yeah, that sounds great! Hey, you seem to be vibrating a lot…”
(*Me, aggressively trying to stifle a cough*) “No no, that’s just my phone. Ugh, it’s my mom again. Here, let me just put that on silent…..aaaaaand….there. Done.”
“Ummm, okay. Sure. So, how’s your day been?”
“Ugh, well I’ve been sneezing a lot.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, I said I’ve been *teasing* a lot. Yeah, you know, I’m just something of a trickster. Like to play pranks, make jokes, blow my nose.”
“Blow your what?”
“No, *Show my prose*. I’m a writer, you see.”
“Yes, now about those drinks. Lovely. Bourbon over ice, with a splash of grenadine to make me feel like a vampire. Anyway, how was your day?”
“Well, I joined a cult.”
“You *coined an insult*?”
“What, no. I joined a cult.”
“Oh…sorry…I thought we were doing this thing…Never mind. So, tell me about it. What planet are you guys set to take off to, and how much money do you need to spend to get there?”
“Well, it’s really not a matter of how much you need to *spend*. It’s a donation to the- Hey, are you alright? You’re vibrating again. And your face looks to be mostly mucus.”
“Oh, no no no. Totally fine, those are just tears and shakes of ecstasy. You know. From hearing about my impending salvation at the hand of your cult.”
“Sorry, I shouldn’t have used that term. We prefer *Club*.”
“Got, it. Club. Sorry. Anyway, so after you make your donation, what happens- hey, wow, look at that!”
(*Coughs, blows nose, and cries aggressively as she looks over her shoulder*)
“Look at what?”
“Oh, never mind. Thought I saw my grandpa. Disregard. He’s been dead for 15 years. So. Anyways. This donation. What planet will it get me to?”
“Well, we’re not supposed to say to non-initiates…”
“Ah, totally understood.”
“But I can give you a brochure! It tells you all about our glorious leader, and his power to save our souls from the eternal damnation that currently awaits each of us on Earth!”
(*Takes brochure politely yet cautiously*) “So who is this leader”
“His name is Glorkenschnash.”
“Nothing. Tell me about him.”
“Well, he came to this planet after his home was destroyed by the evil Satanists of Zarpur and- hey, are you *sure* you’re okay?”
“What? Oh yes, absolutely peachy.” (*Sneezes aggressively*)
This went on for…oh, 90 minutes or so. By the end, after I had sneezed and coughed on literally every surface of the bar, and she had told me all about her love of possums and the joys of urban foraging, we decided to call it quits. But I wasn’t done with this poor girl. First, I had to go in for the post-date hug. I could feel her repulsion to my germy and diseased meat sack as I draped her in the sickly embrace of my emaciated limbs. I could feel her wilt under her fear of her own impending illness. Truly I was as a vengeful Old Testament God spreading plague among his people for worshipping false idols and listening to pop music. And then I dropped the equally as repulsive comment of “We should do this again sometime.” Which is in itself remarkable, because that was literally the last thing I ever wanted to do. Ever. But the way she just nervously smiled and *didn’t say a single word in response* admittedly cut pretty deep. So deep, in fact, that I had to go get tacos and eat them sadly in my car to cope with the experience.
So yeah. Like I said. “Not great.” But hey, the beautiful thing about dating is that we all get the opportunity to outdo ourselves tomorrow. And I for one feel a flu coming on.