Grace had told me earlier in the week that her boyfriend would be out of town for the weekend, so I was reasonably sure that I would be spending at least one night over at her place, wherever that was. She and I were at that stage of flirtation where there's really nowhere left to go but bed, inexorably and inevitably and without much surprise. Plus she was just a one-month contract temp with the firm and she would only be there another week, so we were kind of running out of time to get it done. I was pretty sure my girlfriend would be busy anyway.
Our mutual transcendant "this will happen" come-on happened during a conference meeting about connectivity. Twelve of us were seated around the monolithic table in the long, narrow conference room; the lights were dim and a Toshiba laptop had been rigged to a monitor projector that displayed a graphic onto the wall. We were supposed to be following as the speaker (a hired consultant, he dressed way better than any of us) went over the basics of TCP/IP connection and service providers. The webchart showed a network of computers plugged into one another via a staggering system of phone lines, underground ISDN coils, transcontinental undersea cables, and geosynchronous telecommunications satellites. The graphic was cool but the lecture was surprisingly remedial given the status of the company. Grace was sucking on a Blo-Pop I had bought her for her birthday.
Which was an inside thing, and the come-on. She was always sucking lollipops and I happened to overhear in the supply room one morning as I made Xeroxes that it was her birthday coming up. On my way over to my girlfriend's apartment, I stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought a bunch of Blo-Pops and then stopped by a Hallmark store to buy a little pink bag with bow strings to tie the Blo-Pops in. I surprised her with it on her birthday and we'd already been making heavy eyes at each other for a week and it was a foregone conclusion from the wide smile on her face that there would be sex as soon as we could both get around to it.
After the endless meeting wrapped, and the consultant thanked us and the boss thanked us, Grace invited me to go see the Cowboy Junkies with her at the Great American Music Hall. I accepted, though I don't like that part of the city (the Music Hall is a good small sit-down venue with a great bar, but it's literally next door from the O'Farrell Brothers Theater and the obvious porn/drug-zombie cases wandering San Francisco), and I offered to drive which she accepted, partly because I drive a BMW 740iL which is marginally better than her BMW 535i, but mainly so that we'd have an excuse to go back to her place afterward.
Friday. My girlfriend had plans to go out with people from her work, so I was off the hook for the night. I chuckled at a suggestive e-mail my girlfriend had left for me and then deleted it and got dressed and went out to pick Grace up at her apartment. We both looked very nice. Grace looks sort of like my girlfriend; they both look vaguely like Tea Leoni, except not as tall. We drove to the Music Hall and valet-parked the car and waited briefly in the entrance line while a ticket scalper paced back and forth, saying, "You want some junk, some Cowboy Junk, some junk..." which was starting to make me nervous but there were enough young guys with me in the line that I was confident we could gang-tackle and smash him if he started to get hostile.
Inside, we sat at a table for two and Grace drank strawberry daiquiris and I drank vodka cut liberally with Sprite. In the half-hour or so before the music started we had to converse and it was work, like trying to remain attentive during that connectivity meeting, and I had to be conscious of bridging ideas from sentence to sentence and extrapolating meaning from the dialogue so that the dialogue could continue. She did the same and reasoned that she should ask me about music.
"What kinds of music do you like?"
This is a question I try not to answer, or even get asked. A very embarrassing episode from work came into memory. This guy from my division--we'd never really talked much, so he figured I was a good person to confide in--came into my office after Kurt Cobain killed himself and confessed, semi-tearfully, how much Nirvana had meant to him and what a blow it was for him. I listened, careful to bridge the ideas between his sentences, to extrapolate what he was saying. I nodded understandably, like I've seen listeners do in the movies, like when some girl tells a girlfriend she's had an abortion.
It was too awkward. There was no way I could ever tell anyone about the emotional bond I feel with Michael Hutchence of INXS. Not if an outpouring of meaning looked as bad as this guy. In the pregnant pauses between his stumbling words, I told him that there were songs that really stuck with me, too, like "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama which plays in my head a lot, especially after I see an emotional movie or get in a fight with my girlfriend.
"I guess I like all kinds, a little bit."
The band came on and mercifully spared me from more of this, and Margo Timmins was in a bright mood and with vodka I was able to enjoy myself.
Grace's apartment was tasteful post-college, with an incredible sound system and a big-screen TV and a new Sony PC with a microphone. She told me she would leave a racy voice message on my computer. This was okay because I never check my voice messages with my girlfriend around. She kept her birth control pills on her nightstand, and I noticed most of the pills for this month were punched out and she must have a new one somewhere. Grace pretended to be excited about putting the condom on me with her hands, but she couldn't manage it and it was just taking too awkwardly long for her to do it so I did it and then we got in bed.
As a novelty, we took a shower together before going to sleep. Showering with my girlfriend has become very boring and I think it's soured me on showering with any women at all, because I wasn't aroused with Grace. Naked women aren't even arousing me much anymore in general; I tend to need to imagine them posing in magazine ads, something small and precise to fix on, like the LED light on my CD player at home, which gives me a landmark by which I can find the buttons in the dark and program the disc before I go to sleep.
As usual, I had trouble getting to sleep. Grace was out immediately, and I got a little jealous of her ability to conk right off. I'm similarly jealous of my girlfriend, who shuts off the light and is sound asleep two minutes later, leaving me to stew beside her. Sometimes when my girlfriend goes to sleep really early I am left frustrated with boredom, and laying in bed next to her I'll watch TV until something arouses me, like a Spanish-language dance show with hot Latina girls in mini-shorts jamming to Gloria Estefan music, and then on a whim I might rub my semi-erection across her cheek but she never wakes up and eventually I get bored and masturbate and finally get to sleep. That night with Grace there was no TV and I just sat there until sleep came.
Next Friday. There were about two hundred people at Gordon Biersch on the Embarcadero, all of us drinking, and the curb outside was an unending line of BMW, Saturn, Lexus, Civic LX, Volkswagen Golf and Jetta, and Jeep Cherokee. The chain began at the Bay Bridge back at Harrison Street and continued on past Third Street toward China Basin, and God only knew how far the chain stretched because almost everyone in the bar was single and had come with friends whom they'd met up with after work. I'd come with my girlfriend.
There were a bunch of us from work. We were buying drinks for Grace because it was her last day. She had given me extra-long smiles when I bought my round, but she was conscious of my girlfriend's presence so there wasn't anything flirty going on, which was disappointing because I was bored.
My girlfriend doesn't know my co-workers that well so I was obligated to talk to her, and as our dialogue lulled she even resorted to asking me, straight-up, "So what are you thinking about?"
This is a question I try not to get asked too much. I shrugged, and didn't say anything but this was what I was thinking about, and as you can see it followed a coherent chain bridging idea to idea:
It is too bright in Gordon Biersch and they should dim the lights more. My brown hair is beginning to get blond streaks now that summer is here. The photographs from the Hubble telescope are giving us astounding images of the profoundest depths of the colossal tomb of space. That waify teenage model from the Tommy Hilfiger ad has the look of innocent animal lust that I wish I saw in ads more often. I am twenty-five years old and I haven't been to Hawaii yet. Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star has the most beautiful voice in the world.
But what I said to her was this:
"We had a really interesting meeting on connectivity. The world is getting smaller and smaller, and this is a Digital Information Age we're entering, and the only people who are going to be competitive are going to be those who are wired into everything. We need to start thinking about phone, fax, voicemail, e-mail, vidmail, not as toys but as the tools with which lives--and business--will be conducted in the twenty-first century. It's mind-boggling that anyone in the world, anyone at all, anywhere at all, will soon be networked to all others by the simplest means of communications technology. An age unheralded in human history is upon us--for the first time, men and women the world over will be connected in a lattice more tangible than religion, politics, or nationality. It is a new dawn, and we are the generation to meet the sunrise."
The party broke up and Grace left with some friends, and I would never see her again but we exchanged only the most curt "take it easy," and my girlfriend and I left. I walked with her down the Embarcadero trying to remember how far down we had parked, which was a long way, and we walked five blocks and still hadn't come to the car and I was wondering if we would ever find it.