As you may know, some dear person is writing about my time in the backwoods of Florida during the Great Recession. Having recently received some advice from a published author who's climbing the Amazon charts as we speak, this dear person realized that she needs to share some of my story with potential readers to figure out what works and what doesn't. And so, without further ado, here is the summary.
I, Jane Q. Phoenix, bought a townhouse in Florida in 2007 that, over the course of the following 5 years, lost half of its value. I also had a *bit of trouble* making friends, working, making ends meet, and dating during that time. However, through it all, I had the support of my good friend Diva and a few others I met along the way. So, it's a book about friendship and dealing with whatever life throws at you... like Sex and the City, but without sex and without a city. I wonder if I should call it No Sex in the Country but then have to wonder why anyone would buy a book with a title that starts with No Sex. It is a quandary.
Without further ado, here is the first scene I will share with you. It's at a point when I am trying to meet people in my new adopted town, Winterville:
The flurry of moving to town and closing on my townhouse kept me busy, but as more things were unpacked, I realized how much time I was spending alone.
Diva had worked for a company that had an office in Winterville and vaguely knew of a few fun people there that I should meet, so she offered to introduce us on Facebook. I jumped at the chance, as I had chosen not to socialize with coworkers outside of work and had not had luck meeting people otherwise. Meetup.com events, which were few and far between, were usually cancelled or took place when I was busy working. Without anyone to introduce me to people in Winterville, I wasn’t sure how long it would be until I could find stuff to do in town.
This guy Jason knows everybody. He can introduce you around. I’ll message you both on Facebook, Diva wrote.
I answered: Thanks, honey, you are a pal. I don’t think it’s going to be easy to meet people around here. This is really helpful!
The next morning, I saw her email to Jason and me:
Hi Jane and Jason! Jason, Jane is new to town and doesn’t have any friends there yet. I wanted to introduce you to each other. Be sure to include her in Happy Hour!
His reply to both of us was totally above-board and seemed fine:
Hi ladies. Welcome to town, Jane.
Then he sent me separate message:
Can you meet up at Bennigans? I’m going there after work for a drink.
I wrote back: OK, I get off work at 5 nearby. See you shortly after then.
I hoped this could be a person who would enable me to socialize locally, but I did worry; after all, Diva had never met him in person, and I didn’t know what to expect. Still, he seemed to be approachable in that already-taken-by-another-woman sort of way. He was separated from his wife and dating someone new; this was something I’d confirmed either with Diva or on Facebook. He also had a daughter.
After work, I drove across the main highway of town and parked at Bennigan’s. Upon entering the dark entryway, I saw the familiar brass handrails and the dark wooden steps up to the bar. After being greeted by a pimply hostess, I looked around the restaurant.
Only a few customers were belly-up to the bar at 5:10 p.m. I looked for a tallish, brown-haired man that matched Jason’s profile picture and found one watching the door intently. He looked right through me, really.
“Jason?” I asked as I approached him. He looked at me, startled. There was one empty beer glass in front of him and a full glass beside it.
“Lexi?” he asked. “I mean, Jane?”
“Yeah, that’s me,” I said. “Hey. It’s nice to meet you.” I sat down on the barstool next to him.
“Don’t you have long hair?” he asked, perplexed.
This was interesting: my only picture on Facebook featured me with Diva at a rip-roaring St. Patrick’s Day celebration in a bar in a faraway city. I wore a basic outfit with my usual flat hair and slightly buzzed expression. Diva, however, was in a dramatic pose and sexy dress, showing off her curves and sporting a green feather boa. Diva’s hair was long in that picture; mine was not. I guess he didn’t recognize her, since her hair hadn’t been that long for a few years, and they knew each other by phone and email, never in person, through work.
“Ah, my hair changes all the time. I am a woman of many looks. But I think you thought I was Diva.”
He looked disappointed, but then shrugged and said, “Well, I never met her in person, so there you go. So, you are Lexi’s friend. She left to go back to school, right?” he asked.
“Yes, she’s in the process now. I’m happy for her.”
“How did she get the name Diva?”
“Her name is Alexandra Bellini. Doesn’t that sound like an opera singer’s name? And besides, she has a flair for the dramatic. Diva’s her nickname from college.”
“That’s cool. So, what brings you to this lovely burg?” he asked.
“A new job. I’m a technical writer, and work for an engineering firm. What do you do?”
“I work in finance. Our company is based in Miami but has offices everywhere. That’s how I met your friend. Over the phone, at least.”
“Cool. What do you go out and do around here? I’m trying to get my bearings. I’ve seen a few things going on but wanted to ask you about them. What about the Improv? Have you ever checked it out?”
“I don’t know much about the Improv, but I do know that there are a lot of good restaurants around here. They could make for some good nights out,” he purred. His glance lingered on my boobs.
Oh, Jesus, I thought. Not this. First of all, trying to make eye contact with my boobs wasn’t going to earn him any points. Secondly, since I was single, I didn’t want to hear about any “outings” that would require a date. I didn’t have anyone to date, and I most definitely wasn’t looking to date a man with a girlfriend and an estranged wife.
“So Jane, what do you do for fun?” he added in an overly friendly tone.
Was he serious? Did people use that line anymore? I wondered how I should respond. I get naked and swing from the chandeliers? I enjoy pottery, hiking, and outdoorsy pursuits? I like sunshine, puppies, and long walks on the beach?
One would think with 3 women/ girls in his life, that he wouldn’t have time to try to add to the collection. Well, maybe that’s just what I’d think. I have to wear bangs to conceal the tattoo that reads GULLIBLE on my forehead.
“For now I leave town, Jason! I don’t know how to answer that question.” I crossed my arms in the attempt to camouflage my chest.
“OK, well, what do you like to cook?” He was either very sexist or grasping at straws to come up with a conversational topic.
But seriously, was I auditioning to be Woman #3, or perhaps Alice from The Brady Bunch? I didn’t sign up for this! I figured I’d cut to the chase.
“Food, Jason, I like to cook and eat food. What is up with these questions? You are acting like you’re flirting with me. Don’t you have a girlfriend? Aren’t you separated from your wife?”
Stop. Stammer time.
“Oh, oh, well,” he said, looking flustered, “my girlfriend and I are on the outs. And my divorce will be happening soon.” He turned and took a long sip from his full beer glass.
“Really? That’s not what Diva told me last night.”
“Oh well, you know, I don’t like to tell people at work my business. It’s not professional,” he continued, staring at the bar in front of us now.
He looked glum. It wasn’t clear what made him sad: woman problems most likely, or perhaps something on the job. Emptying the first glass of beer by 5:05 p.m. wasn’t a good sign.
“OK, well, I need to go. I have a meeting that starts in a few minutes. Thanks for the invitation to meet here.”
“You’re going out right now? I thought you didn’t know anybody in town.”
“Yep, it’s dinner time. I gotta go,” I responded. I didn’t want to come across as bitchy, but I also wanted to get away.
“All right, well... it was great talking with you, Jane,” he said, trying one more time to sound endearing. He extended his hand and I shook it. His hand was wet and sticky from beer.
“Thanks, Jason. Bye.”
“Take care of yourself,” he answered back.
What a confusing encounter, I thought. He was creepy one minute, sad the next. It was impossible to know what was going on with him, and it didn’t seem like it was my job to find out.
As for my appointment, I had a meeting with a miniature pizza, hot from the toaster oven, just a few minutes after I got home. I called Diva after dinner.
“So, Toots, what do you like to do for fun?” I asked her.