When I knew Hunky Mike outside of cyberspace, back in Boston, I had goals and ambitions that were so strong I could feel them coursing through my veins each time I covered a student protest, a theatrical production, a controversial campus firing, or anything at all that my editor assigned. I was going to be a reporter. I had graduated from a prestigious undergraduate university and struck out on my own in Big Bad Boston. Granted, I chose Boston, because I was afraid of New York City, but still, I had flown from the West Coast and taken up residence in a place where it snowed twenty inches at a time, and where my friend Aida would joke about the terrible summer weather:
“What do you call it when it’s sunny all week and rains all weekend?”
Hunky Mike would laugh his big laugh, and I would smile in appreciation. This was a man who would someday run a newsroom, a kind man who would make the tough calls but never resort to drinking whiskey behind closed doors. This man would not have a heart-attack at forty-five. He would make time for a family, friends, a life, but still have a fabulous career. And I was attracted to all of that. Not that Hunky Mike cared. He was already dating his future Lovely Wife. They had met at a bar and bonded over a brutal Red Sox loss against the Phillies. I never believed that, as Miss California, she cared one bit about the Red Sox, but her bright smile, flowing blond hair and low-cut tops managed to convince Hunky Mike that she was a devout fan who worshipped at the altar of Nomar.
My other friends and I rolled our eyes at her obvious beauty, but Hunky Mike fell for it all. I had thought better of him, but I had also thought that at some point he might realize his mistake and knock on my apartment door, declaring his undying love for my wire-frame glasses, colorful clothing, too-long pink scarf, always messy hair and crooked smile.
He never did any such thing. Instead, we all graduated. He and Lovely Wife moved to Oregon, got married in a lavish ceremony and settled into life in hip, quirky, just where I wanted to be Portland.
I moved back home to Elk Grove, California, refused to apply for anything even remotely close to a job in Journalism, and found myself working in an office in downtown Sacramento. Three years later, I’m still here. Sometimes I get almost motivated enough to apply for another job, but something always holds me back and I stay here. They pay me well. They train me to do new and exciting things like train other people how to do new and exciting things. Plus, it’s fun to watch the women’s eyes bug out of their heads when I wear a new pair of leopard print heels, or successfully sashay down the hall in a new silk skirt. This job has nothing to do with journalism, but it has everything to do with people watching.
The morning passes uneventfully, and I have yet to respond to Hunky Mike.
I take off for lunch, meet my friend Dawn, whom I’ve known since high school, at the La Salsa in Downtown Plaza, gossip about people we know who have done strange things.
“Did I tell you that Blonde Gwen almost set herself on fire?”
“What? How?” Dawn volunteers at a fire-arts studio, in her attempt to hone her own art skills. Blonde Gwen is the studio hussy who apparently only volunteered in order to meet artsy guys with tattoos.
“Oh, so she came into the studio with her hair in this, I don’t know, bouffant, style, just full of hairspray. I have no idea how she thought it looked good, but anyway, Her hair was up, and her shirt was down to there, and I guess she got distracted, because she walked under a fire pipe, and you could just smell burning right away.”
“What, burning hair?”
“But I thought she almost set herself on fire.” I swivel the straw in my ice tea absentmindedly, trying to piece together all aspects of Blonde Gwen’s accident.
“Okay, I’ll be patient.”
“Not your strongest suit,” Dawn pushed her long, pink-highlighted hair out of her eyes, “Anyway, so we all start pointing and jumping up and down, because if we try to talk, we’ll start laughing. Eventually, she crinkles up her nose and starts screaming. She puts her hands, complete with French tipped nails, up to the top of her hairdo, feels around, and then…get this…LIFTS OFF the hair. I almost died laughing. She had her real hair in a bun underneath. She had put FAKE hair on to come to the studio. It was hilarious.”
“I’ll bet she didn’t think so.”
“Oh, no. So, she’s looking around for a bucket of water to dunk this…this…wig into, and she opens up her eyes all wide and terrified, and says, ‘Doesn’t anyone have any water, this is a fire studio for crying out loud. You’d think there’d be some water nearby’”
“Wait, I’ve been there. Aren’t there buckets of water all around, and then extinguishers on the wall?”
“Yes, exactly. So, she’s screaming, but there’s a bucket right next to her. Finally, Jason, you remember Jason, he’s the one who always wears a leather jacket” I nod “Yeah, so Jason comes over and says, Gwen, there’s a bucket on your left, you can put your cat in there.”
“He said, ‘cat’?”
“And she didn’t even notice. She just batted her fake eyelashes and said, ‘Oh, thank you, Jason, I couldn’t have done it without you. It. Was. Disgusting.” Dawn takes a breath, “So, what’s going on with you.”
I tell her about the e-mail from Mike, and she nods at appropriate places, “So, what are you going to do? I mean, I’d miss you, but Tracy, you have GOT to get out of here. You’ve been home way too long.”