I fell in love for about thirty seconds the other day.
It was quite amazing. I really didn’t think it was possible anymore. After a certain age, you’ve learned too much about human nature to ever fall in love with it again, at least completely and unreservedly like when you’re young (I think Mencken said that, but I can’t remember). Nevertheless, I experienced a brief resurgence of that long lost feeling that plagued me like a fever in my teens and twenties. Love? Lust? Infatuation? Who knows, who cares? It makes no difference. They all lead to the same ball flattening chagrin in the end.
I was in this depressing big-box store where you can buy cardboard flats of things like Stagg chili and Dinty Moore beef stew, and cases of frozen corn dogs at wholesale prices (except they don’t call them corn dogs. They call them deep-fried honey-battered frankfurters on a stick.) Occasionally you get lucky and find frozen hamburger patties or cans of dog food stamped “For Institutional Use Only. Not For Retail Sale.” Muddy wet footprints mar the entryway. Classic rock plays on the sound system.
This is where the dregs shop, the under-educated, under-employed, shuffling, dragging, stooped and hopeless lumpenproletariat of God and Milton Friedman’s own America, with their curious mixture of shabbiness and hipster chic, of poverty sprinkled with grunge and hip hop flair. There’s a twenty-something mom with two kids in tow, a tattoo on her lower back, a studded belt and freshly dyed pink hair; dad’s distractedly following in sagging jeans, a brand new Volscom hoodie and a backwards Dodger cap. They are the unique products of American consumerism in its twilight phase: grown-up people with grown-up problems who still reflect the habits and tastes of their teen years. Adolescence unto death!
So I’m walking around this smelly groin pit of American capitalism gone bad in search of cheap toilet paper and deodorant soap, when I chance upon a striking, totally unexpected vision: a stunningly beautiful woman, well-dressed and stylish, radiating good health and optimism. The one-two punch of a rotten economy and bad life choices hadn’t scarred her yet. She was totally out of place in that seedy warehouse of frozen food and type II diabetes, and made a striking contrast from its luckless and misbegotten clientele. What was she doing there? Was I imagining her? No, it couldn’t be. No hallucination could produce such palpable flurries of lust and hope in a soul as jaded as my own.
But still, she just didn’t belong there. This was most definitely not her world. Like those bored Victorian aristocrats who took day trips to Bedlam to gawk at the inmates or an anthropologist studying tattooed cannibals in some far off jungle, she was clearly only a visitor there.
Then a sound came out of her coat. A Red Hot Chili Peppers ring tone, Californication. Trouble. Apprehension gripped me. The hot bubbling froth in my loins began to cool and curdle. This beautiful specter was transforming in a split second before me. Then the wet blanket descended: In one smooth easy gesture, natural and instinctive, she drew out an iPhone, whisked it to her lips and said in a loud, nasally voice that sounded like two geese squabbling over a stray corn chip, “Whaddup?”
And then, “Just chillin’.”
And with that, my thirty seconds of love were over.