Monday, February 14, 2005

The Fuller Oat: A Valentine's Tale

The year was 1997. I had moved to the Ukrainian Village in a giant 2 bedroom walk-up on West Walton. That wasn't my rationale for moving to the Village. I wanted to be within staggering distance of my favorite dive bars- Tuman's Alcohol Abuse Center, the Inner Town Pub, Sweet Alice, the Rainbo, the Empty Bottle, and other places seared in boozy memory.

This story starts at Estelle's, back when you could walk in any time of the night and score some crystal meth and salmonella-laced jalapeno poppers. I was with my roommate and one of his friends pounding back beers and maintaining our equilibrium on the jukebox when I saw her. She was decked out in a flowing dress, six inch platform heeled boots, and a crazed gleam in her eye. She caught my staring at her, walked to me, and asked, "Wanna see my navel ring?"

"Okay," I stammered.

She unbuttoned her blouse, pulled open the vents, and there it was- a black onyx stone set in the middle of a stainless steel ring, smack in the middle of her belly button. Seconds later she allowed me to unfasten it with my tongue while she took errant swings at a couple of Lincoln Park Trixies (who always look the same regardless of the year).

By the time we made it to four a.m. and the salvation of Flash Taco we exchanged numbers and beer-laced saliva. Using the "Rules" method I waited until Tuesday to call her, at which point I got her answering machine. She called back at three a.m., pissing off my roommate. We agreed to an evening of movies and cocktails on Valentine's Day.

I walked to her place and waited while she went through her wardrobe, trying to decide what to wear. She finally settled on a plum-colored ensemble and the platform boots. Leaving her place I hailed a cab and we headed for Pipers Alley for the 8:45 screening of "Evita."

And here's where the trouble began.

We entered the half-empty theater and took our seats just as the previews ended. Settled into our seats behind a blonde with ironed-out hair and her meathead boyfriend my date started kicking the seats. The meathead turned around and stared daggers at us; I shrugged my shoulders and apologized, not wanting to take my chances. My date, however, added fuel to the fire. "Move up a few rows, cunt! I need the leg room!" Her voice echoed in the cavernous din of the screening room. Not wanting to push the issue, the couple complied. Within seconds my date stretched her legs over the newly vacant seat.

"Why the hell did you do that?" I asked.

"I didn't like the look of them," she answered. "Fucking yuppies."

"They weren't bothering us."

"Look at that cunt!" She hissed. "I could kick her ass."

I should have walked out and left her to her own resources. But it was Valentine's Day and I thought I still had a shot. So I stayed. I'm a glutton for punishment. As the movie began and Antonio Banderas took the screen as Che she leaned into my ear and yelled, "SO IS HE SUPPOSED TO BE CHE GUEVARA??"

I pulled myself off the floor and was prepared to quietly explain that Banderas' character was a composite character who voiced the concerns and desires of the Argentine people. I only managed to blurt, "'Che is a composite-" when she turned to me, put a finger to her lips and did her best imitation of an asp while she wore a maniacal grin:


By now I was seriously wigged out but the desire for sex still trumped my common sense. I managed to get her to reduce her volume to a level that was tolerable and all seemed right with the date again. Then Madonna's Eva Peron leapt into the centerpiece of the musical. My date recognized this and, in unison with the Material Girl, stood on her seat and started singing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" in a cackling, warbling soprano. By now I had only the faintest illusions of ending this night with mind-blowing sex, so I leapt up and joined her.

The cab ride back to Wicker Park was uneventful, save for my failed attempt to sneak my arm around her shoulder, a move which she immediately called me on. We headed to Estelle's, where the doorman pointedly asked her, "You're not gonna start any shit tonight, are you. I'm not in the mood."

She just grinned like the Joker as the doorman looked at me like a doomed man. Upon entering she ordered a round, which I paid and left a generous tip. She then started stealing the tips off the bar, which I had to replace from my own pocket. I decided to cut my losses and offered to walk her home. She concurred and we headed for the door. As we were winding our way through the crowd she took a swing at a brunette Wicker Park hipster while dropping the word "cunt" more times than I care to remember. The doorman escorted her the rest of the way out while I checked on the "cunt."

We made it the rest of the way to her apartment building without incident. She told me she had a great time, hugged me and told me to call her for "chit-chat." I smiled weakly and promised to lose her number.

Two days later I'm at home settling into a night of junk food and "The Simpsons." A light snow that started that afternoon had morphed into a snowstorm. The phone rang. I answered.

"What are you doing?" She asked.

When I allowed that I was just laying about she asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping with her.

"When?" I asked.

"Right now," she said.

"But there's a blizzard outside," I argued.

"So what. I'll drive slow." She said she'd be at my place in five minutes and hung up.

Unable to get a word in edgewise to turn her offer down, I resolved to make the best of the situation again and use the grocery shopping excursion as an excuse to restock on some necessary items. We entered the grocery store, picked out separate carts, and proceeded to prowl the aisles. Our shopping styles were studies of contrasts. I came with a list and checked for sale prices and coupons; she threw whatever she could fit into her cart. Our differing styles and personalities came to a head in the breakfast ailse. She crammed a case of instant oatmeal into her cart. I opted for Quaker five-minute rolled oats. Seeing my choice she picked up my potential purchase and studied the nutritional information. Then she patted my belly.

"That's why you're soft in the middle," she said.

"Excuse me," I shot back.

She showed me the nutritional information. "You're eating one gram of fat per serving," she offered as she reached for her oatmeal. "Mine is a half-gram per serving."

I stared at her like the maniac she was coming across and defended my choice of oatmeal with, "But mine is a fuller oat that isn't brimming with preservatives and sweeteners. So even though my oats have more fat, my oatmeal is healthier. It's the real deal."

If I knew two nights earlier that picking the wrong oatmeal was a dealbreaker I would have lunged at the five-minute oats. As it were the conversation was gone and we both rolled to the checkout, where she loudly announced to the cashier that she didn't have the funds in her bank account for the check she wound up writing. She drove me home in silence, dropped me off at my door, and we exchanged our goodnights.

Months passed and springtime brought the potential of new beginning to the city. I was at a friend's loft party when my star-crossed date walked in with a mutual acquaintance she began dating shortly after our moment of truth in the breakfast aisle. Late in the evening we wound up standing next to each other. Our conversation was pleasant if perfunctory. I asked her when she started dating our mutual acquaintance. "Shortly after we saw 'Evita'," she offered. I nodded my head and she added, "You know he likes the quick oats?"

"Five minutes isn't a snail's pace," I countered.

"Sometimes a woman can't wait five minutes. She needs her oats now," she said snapping her fingers for emphasis.

"Well, if a woman wants to eat breakfast with me, she'll have to wait a while for the oats," I said.

We shifted the conversation to what we were doing with our lives. The party wound down and I went home, confused that I read this woman wrong initially and wondering if I would ever meet someone who prefers a fuller oat.

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