I stumbled half-asleep into the main office like I'd done hundreds of Mondays before, but was suddenly struck speechless by the adorable new receptionist behind the desk.
I choked on a mouthful of donut. She was a petite brunette with huge turquoise eyes and a natural peach blush to her round face. When she smiled, I swore a cloud of pixie dust swirled around the lobby. Glassy-eyed, I managed a "G-g-g-goo' morngh," or something that resembled a greeting and swallowed hard as I headed to my desk.
My buddy Tim came up to me and whispered hoarsely, "Dude! What do you think?"
"The new girl? Geeze, she's a knockout!"
"You gonna ask her out?" he asked.
"I would be a fool not to, but..."
"But what? She was checking your butt out. I saw it! She wants you man!"
I wiped donut crumbs off my chest and took a slurp of some cold coffee. "She does NOT want me you dork." I found myself brushing imaginary powdered sugar off the ass pockets of my Levis in a nervous fidget. I whispered back, "My butt. Right..." I glanced down the hall and listened to her take a phone call. "Tim, you are SO full of it..."
"She does, man! Take her out! If you don't, I will."
"Uh-huh. And what's Melissa gonna say?" Tim snickered as I tossed my coffee down the sink in disgust. "I'll ask her out, I just need to wait for a bit. Let her get used to the new job, y'know?" This was just a ruse of course, as I was petrified when it came to asking a cute girl out on a date and I just needed some courage time to work myself up to it.
I think more than anything else, I was scared of the rejection. I would work myself into a frenzy of machismo every single Thursday, trying to rehearse what it was I was going to say, how I was going to say it, acting all nonchalant like it was this no big deal... then I would always choke at the final minutes and find myself putting it off the question until next Thursday, then next Thursday, then next Thursday....
It took me eleven torturous months.
I think she was beginning to sense a cycle in my end-of-the-week panic attacks so one Thursday she opened a watercooler conversation with a comment about a mandarin restaurant she'd heard about but didn't know where it was.
I said, "Oh, I know where that is, I've eaten there lots of times... they have this awesome shrimp chow mein, and..." I faltered like a possum in the headlights of an oncoming car, then saw the opening I needed. "Y'know, if you aren't... um... doing anything this Friday, I'd like to... um... take you there."
"Oh I'm sorry, I have friends coming to visit." In my mind I heard a guillotine blade drop. "But," she added innocently, "I'm totally free next Friday..."
The blood drained from my face. "Um, sure," I gasped, "next Friday... let's... yeah... let's do it then!"
The commute home was like a magic carpet ride. My truck just floated me along the road in a state of mystical bliss. She accepted! I don't believe it! I've actually got an honest-to-goodness date! I pulled off a freeway ramp in a hypnotic pink cloud only to be woken up by a massive slamming sound coming from under the hood. I limped my truck home and called Tim out to my place where we assessed the damage as a blown head gasket. My dinner date, naturally, was screwed.
Then Tim said those words I'll never forget: "I'll let you borrow the Batmobile..."
Okay, let me explain: The Batmobile was this decaying 1962 Chevy Bel-Air and it was the very first car I ever owned. It was the color of chocolate milk and although it had no primer spots or body dents, this car was simply the stegosaurus of all cars. I had resurrected it from the dead about six months earlier where it had been sitting underneath a weeping willow tree for nearly three years with an empty battery, four flat tires and a cluster of soggy black mushrooms growing in the back seat. After waffling for a week, I broke down and bought it from my second cousin to the tune of $300 cash and a pair of Kiss concert tickets. I towed it home and found that after scraping all the caramelized pitch off the hood, the Chevy was actually a halfway decent ride. It had a flawless 283 in it that purred so quietly, I would amuse myself by sneaking up on bicyclists... and it steered like a tugboat with a big bus-sized steering wheel that needed four or five rotations just to make a corner. I eventually sold it to Tim for $400 (heh-heh...) when I discovered that old age had settled into its metal soul... there was so much rust in its guts, I found that even routine maintenance on the engine usually required a chisel and a hacksaw. Tim secretly loved that ugly car more than his girlfriend Melissa, and we had gone so far as to nickname it "The Batmobile" because the first three letters on the license plate were "B-A-T."
When he offered my old car back to me for an evening, Tim had sealed the fact that he was indeed my very best friend. But with the loaner came a stern warning: "I should tell you now that the car has had some problems since you drove it last time."
"What do you mean? Don't tell me the tape deck doesn't work!"
"No, it's not that, just the blinker arm."
"What do you mean?" I repeated.
"The blinker switch is fried... here, take a look." He showed me that he had jammed the end of a popsicle stick into the gap between the charred arm and the steering column. "Whatever you do, don't take that stick out because the arm is just hanging from a single wire. You're gonna have to do hand signals out the window when you make a turn."
I marveled at his ingenuity as well as his procrastination skills. "Fair enough. Hand signals it is then..."
I washed and waxed and vacuumed out that old Chevy into an immaculate brown luster. When the week was finally up, I took my dream date out in the Batmobile and had a fabulous dinner in the Chinatown district. We joked and reminisced and gossiped for hours, like the way you always do on a first date, each testing the waters like two timid swimmers. Four gin-&-tonics later and we were ready for our fortune cookie and a tour of the town. I showed her some of my favorite sights of the neighborhood but it had begun to rain pretty hard; I found that maneuvering turn signals with my arm out the window was beginning to get really cold and wet but the MSG and alcohol buzz helped me dismiss it as a mere nuisance.
At one point we were joking and laughing so hard I forgot what I was doing and leaned on the blinker arm with my wet hand, when I heard this "Ker-SNAP" of old dead popsicle stick. I glanced down at the hole it left behind and this huge blue-white flash of electricity arced across the steering column filling my face with black smoke. My date jumped back in fear but I assured her it was alright; at the next stop sign I fanned the smoke out the open window and struggled to piece the popsicle stick back together and into the wiring harness. Pissed and impatient, I crammed the whole mess back where it came from, then the horn shorted out and started blasting out in random bursts across the night streets of Chinatown.
To my utter disbelief, I found that whenever I pulled the Batmobile over in a tight left turn, the huge spin of the steering wheel would cause the horn to respond with an obnoxious "HONK-a-HONK-a-HONK-a-HONK-a-HONK," generating rude gestures from the winos and gangsters on the city sidewalks. I smiled sheepishly at my date who had a look of absolute terror on her face. I realized at that point it was probably time to take her home.
I got my date back to her suburban apartment some thirty speechless minutes later. To avoid any more horn blasts, I had actually struggled to get her home by taking right-hand turns only. She bravely told me that she "had a great time" and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek as she slid out the passenger door, but I was convinced after that night, she would never ever go out with me again....
...To this day, my kids like their mom's version of this story better. She tells them that I blushed five shades of red when she kissed me in the dark of that '62 Chevy....