Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Sighting of...The Winterville Junior League! Yikes!

Dear friends:
  After my drinking buddy Patti got to move away from Winterville, I was alone for a while, but then I was amazed to make friends with a very sassy woman named Salina. I arranged to meet her at a local coffee shop (to make sure that our original meeting wasn't something I dreamed up and that she did in fact exist!) and here's how it went. 
Yours truly,
  There I sat in a stuffed chair at the downtown coffee shop, relaxed in my jeans, long-sleeved shirt, leather jacket, and high-heeled boots, enjoying a hot tea. Then, I felt someone staring daggers at me, and turned to investigate.
  She looked vaguely familiar, but it had been a while since I’d given up networking with Winterville’s young professionals and I didn’t recognize her from any of my jobs.  She was undoubtedly a Winterville native, with straight hair striped with highlights hanging to the middle of her back and a figure that could only be described as Rubenesque. Although her gaze was fixed on me, there was no flicker of recognition from her when I met her glare, so I casually looked down at my magazine and waited for Sal to arrive.
  I combed through my memory archive. Who could she be? I wondered. Then, it came back to me. She was one of the people I saw at the young professionals mixer, the only one there with a naked ring finger like mine.
  A minute or so later, Sal walked in and spotted me right away. 
  “Hey!” she said, setting down her large yellow bag in an overstuffed chair next to mine.       “Love the hair. How are you?”
  “Fine,” I said. “Thanks for meeting me.”
  “Of course!” she said.  “I’m going to get some coffee; I’ll be right back.”
  There was no line at the register, so they served her right away. She carefully set down the cup of coffee and then collapsed into the chair.
  “It took a lot to get me moving this morning.  What is up with it being so cold?” she asked, fidgeting with the bright yellow scarf around her neck. “It’s actually warmer in D.C. today than it is here. Too bad my trip home didn’t last this long.”
  “How was it?” I asked.
  “Pretty good. I caught up with my ex. That was good- I’ve really missed him since moving here.  Not that we have long-term potential or anything, but male companionship every once in a while is nice.”
  “I know what you mean,” I said. “I went to a party at a pub in my old hometown right before Christmas. I swear half the guys I liked in high school were there. I thought I’d forgotten how to flirt, but somehow I was able to dig deep and remember.”
  “We just haven’t had any practice!” she said and laughed. “So how was your new year’s celebration? Anything fun?”
  “Actually, I went out back home with some of my longtime friends,” I said, “for a rockabilly show. Got to dance with some cute English dude.  He was extremely noncommittal and very happy to know I was from somewhere else.  But still, dancing with a cute guy is dancing with a cute guy.  What about you?”
  “A house party back home. My ex and a lot of our old friends were there. It was relaxing and so, so fun.  I got to talk to so many people. I really miss that. And you know how it is; it seems like life starts back up again once you leave this town.”
  We laughed. At the same time, a group of women nearby erupted into laughter.  I recognized the Rubenesque starer and She Who Flaunted Her Diamond Ring among them.
  “Do you know any of them?” I asked Sal.
  “Not really, but I know who they are. We have to cover what they do in the magazine. They’re Junior League.”
  “What’s the deal with the one with the blonde streaks?”
  “Jane, they all have blonde streaks.”
  “The one shaped like Barney the Dinosaur, then,” I said, and she laughed.
  “Oh. Rebecca Johnson. She’s the daughter of a rich couple in town. She’s been a b bridesmaid about 15 times; they like to publish wedding pictures of rich local families in the magazine. Anyway, I’ve heard she’s a real bitch. She seems nice to my face, but it’s that fake nice, you know? I keep a good distance from her just in case.”
  “Interesting. She was just giving me the stink-eye.”
  “Well, I guess life hasn’t been easy for her since Thompson, Bell and Johnson was shut down.  Pretty big deal for her family I’m sure.”
  “Oh yeah, I worked there!” I said.  “Briefly,” I added.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Closing time...

Hello friends!
It seems my old-fashioned fear of deadlines has finally abated. Here it is Monday, and a holiday at that, and I'm just getting around to posting. When I started this venture, I strictly posted each Wednesday and Sunday. But then again, all good things must end... like Patti and Jane's jobs at mortgage company Thompson, Bell and Johnson.  
 Come on, you knew it wouldn't last for long... Jane's luck has a bit farther to go to fully "turn around." But in the meantime... don't ask me why this text is so small, I have no idea.

Take care and enjoy this snippet.-Jane

My texts from Patti read:
Landlord is letting me out of my lease early. Starting to pack already. Want to help me pack? I’ll buy you lunch!
Call me! I need to talk about this!
  I replied to Patti’s texts with my own:
  Words cannot express the joy I feel that I do not ever have to go to that office again.  I’ll head over to your apartment after I get some more sleep.  Lucky you, moving away and getting engaged! Take me with you!
  Patti texted back: Awesome. See you soon.
  I showed up at Patti’s apartment around 10:30 a.m., wearing a t-shirt, a pair of overalls, and some sneakers. Patti’s hair was up as usual, but in a ponytail instead of her usual updo. It was the first time I’d seen her in clothes that showed any kind of wear, and sneakers.
  We collected boxes from a nearby liquor store, bought more boxes and packing material, and worked as long as the caffeine in our lunch drinks allowed. 
  “Thanks for keeping me company for all of this, and helping out,” Patti said as we sat in her living room, surrounded by boxes, after we’d run out of steam. “It’s good to have someone familiar around with all the changes coming up.”
  “You’re welcome. I am glad to do it, because I know someday it will be me who’s leaving, so it’s almost like rehearsal, you know? Getting ready for the real thing.”
  “It probably sounds cliché, but change really can sneak up on you.  Even if you’re not ready for it, you have to deal with it.”
  “Do you need a drink, Patti?” I asked, half-joking.
  “No, but I am just a tad bit nervous about all of my life changing so quickly,” she said. “Well, maybe I do need a drink,” she added.
  “I could use one too.  You don’t want to pack that mostly-empty bottle of rum, do you?”
  “Heck no, bring it over here. There’s got to be something to mix it with in the fridge.”
  We had one last drink together and toasted our friendship and the changes to come.  We toasted the demise of TBJ and never having to deal with bar a$$holes like Jim and Alan again. After all, our lives had had an instant feng shui makeover in the span of just a few days. Out with the old, and in with the new uncertainty.
  I applied for unemployment after that. I figured I’d had enough for a while and needed a good drying-out period. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Clash with the Churchies

Dear friends:

Do you know what really grinds my gears? People who wear their religion like an accessory and use it as a talking point with strangers, assuming that these strangers will go along with whatever they have to say about it. When that kind of affiliation is displayed in a public setting, it's about as meaningful to me as seeing a Denver Broncos flag on a lawn. It tells me a little bit about a person, not a lot.

Of course, this is not to say that people can't talk about hot-button topics like religion and politics with one another. However, I think that these topics are best discussed in private settings, among people who can respectfully agree to disagree if that should become necessary. I also believe in the idea of keeping one's own feelings private. Maybe I'm a throwback to the days before social media, but I don't think it's necessary to advertise one's faith or political views with anyone else.

When I lived in Winterville, though, it seemed that the most snarky, stuck-up and angry people I met were the most likely to advertise their faith and religion. There was a righteous air about some of the people I met, and it really affected me.

Anyway, probably one of the sharpest (and in retrospect, funniest) things I said to anyone was when I had this type of encounter in Winterville. See below.

Yours truly,

  A local group of artists put on to show off their wares in time for holiday shopping.  Although it took place downtown, it was scheduled during the afternoon and didn’t present the usual safety and hillbilly concerns. I went to it by myself.
  Predictably, I didn’t know anyone there.  This proved challenging at first. I spent a while staring at the artwork on the walls and taking a serious interest in the Christmas tree decorations, paintings, and jewelry; but at the urging of one artist, Meredith, who introduced herself to me when I arrived, I tried to mingle. She introduced me to a group of women who were chatting in a circle, drinks in hand.
  One woman, Sarah, was in a state of turmoil because her husband had left her for someone else.
  “It’s been a tough time,” Sarah said, and we all nodded in agreement.  “I am still so angry with him.”
  “I can only imagine,” said another woman, who wore conspicuously large diamond ring on the hand she used to hold her drink.  Her blond highlights and French-manicured nails reminded me of the people I’d encountered in Winterville’s “young professionals” group.
  “Did you get married young?” I asked.
  “Seven years ago,” she answered, nodding.
  “And you’d known each other a while before that?” I asked.
  “Since high school,” she answered.
  “Wow,” I answered.
  “He found some 23-year-old,” she added.
  “Bummer. I have an ex who did that too.” And got her pregnant 2 months later, I thought. That was funny, for me at least.
   “Thank goodness you didn’t have children with him,” said her friend with the streaked hair and big diamond ring.
  Sarah nodded, watery-eyed and resigned.  I didn’t ask, but assumed she probably had wanted children.
  “You have the support of your friends, and even though it doesn’t seem like it now, things will get better for you,” I said.
  “He always says he’s such a Christian man. Look at what he’s done!” Sarah said. Her friend nodded and murmured in agreement and I stifled an eye roll. Really? I thought. We’re going to talk about Jesus now?
  “I have to ask,” I interjected.  Does it really mean anything to say that he’s Christian? Do you know anyone around here who isn’t Christian?
  “Well, no,” Sarah answered.
  “Then why did you mention it?” I asked.  Telling me a man in Winterville is Christian is like telling me he wears pants. It tells me nothing about him.  Call me crazy, but I think a man’s behavior says way more about him than whatever religious beliefs he advertises.”
  At first, they were silent. They didn’t know what to do with me. Sarah fumbled and spit out,     “He was taught... I mean, he was supposed to learn...from the example of Jesus Christ. The example!”
  Luckily, a dark-haired woman across the room overheard the conversation, recognized me as a kindred spirit, and walked right over to me.
  “Salina Shaw,” she said, sticking out her hand to shake mine.  “Call me Sal.”
  “Jane Phoenix,” I answered back. “Do you know any of these artists?” I asked.
  “Oh, Meredith and I go way back. We worked together before up north, and again now here at Winterville magazine.”
  “Great to meet you,” I said, smiling.
  “Have you seen the ornaments made out of aluminum cans?” she asked me.
  “No, but that sounds really cool,” I answered.
  “I’ll show you,” she said, “just follow me.”
  “Excuse me, ladies,” I said. There was no response.
  We ended up outside, at a table full of aluminum art, when we exchanged looks and started laughing hysterically.
  “What the hell?” she asked.
  “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I am so sick of people around here wearing their religion like some sort of label or accessory and talking about it constantly. What is up with that?”
  “I don’t know, but you should have heard the snickers in the room.  From the artists, I mean.  I thought one of them might start clapping. I was standing there talking to them, and suddenly it got quiet, and we were all like, ‘Who is that woman who dares to speak her mind?’”
  “I can’t tell you how glad I was that you rescued me,” I told her.  “I didn’t know what to do with those women.”
  “No, thank you,” Sal said to me.  “When I heard you say that, I knew you were the only guest at this gathering that I had any business talking to!”
  We gravitated back to the artists, who stood in a clump in the corner of the room while the guests milled around. Meredith was among them, and I was glad to see a somewhat familiar face.
  “Jane! Good to see you again. I wonder if I could interest you in some ornaments I’ve crafted out of Christian men’s pants,” she said.
  I smiled, a bit suspiciously at first, but then laughed when she said, “I’m Jewish.”
  “No wonder you’re friendly,” I answered.
  “Yeah, I know what it’s like to be different around here. It can be lonely.”
  “Tell me about it. Everybody’s Jesus this and Jesus that. Jesus Christ, do they talk about anything besides Jesus Christ?”

Friday, 16 May 2014

Sneak Preview for Sunday: Job search fun with Jane!


I have a busy weekend coming up so I wanted to post a snippet from the book early. By the time you read this, I hope you are kicking off a wonderful weekend.

I've certainly felt the brunt of this full moon within the last few days. Have you? Things have been intense. Strange dreams, a terrible heat wave, and a really enlightening conversation with a longtime friend have colored the last few days.

I skipped ahead to part 3 of the book, called "Time for an Upgrade." In this section, things start to (finally!) get back on track for your favorite fictional character, me.

Have a great weekend. I'll post again next week!


  I kept a running list of all the positions I applied for during my job search, and as the list expanded, I grew accustomed to being ignored by potential employers. On occasion, I’d visit the local job search service and meet with a counselor. 
  “Well, Jane,” my favorite counselor, Mr. Pritchard, said to me when the job market was at its worst, “the fact is that we don’t have very many high-paying jobs in our database now. You have more education than most of the people around here, which is a good thing and a bad thing.”
  “Sorry, Mr. Pritchard, but I’m from the old school,” I said. “I don’t understand why having a bachelor’s degree is a bad thing.”
  “Well, the fact is... most local employers don’t want to pay what you were earning before, so they choose people with less education to work for them. In a way, people with a high school degree are best suited for some of these posted jobs, but only in the short run, because they don’t pay well enough for them to have any kind of future or retirement. I’m sorry, Jane. I wish this were easier.”
  “How are things going for the other displaced employees from TB&J?” I asked.
  “A few lucky ones have been able to relocate and find work,” he said.
  “No one’s found work in the area?” I asked.
  “None that I’m aware of.  I’m sorry, Jane,” he said.
  “You don’t have to apologize. It’s not your fault,” I told him.
  “No, but I’m sure you were hoping for more,” he answered.  “I looked up some jobs posted by the county; they tend to pay pretty well. But you’d have to have a very specific education, for example, to be a librarian, and you just don’t have it. Plus, there’s the bias toward locals.”
  “Yeah, I’d noticed that,” I said.
  “Some employers, especially those with smaller businesses, want to hire people they can talk high school football with. They look for last names they recognize, from doing business around here or maybe who they know socially or through their kids’ schools. You don’t strike me as the kind of girl who talks a lot of football,” he added.
  “You’ve got that right!” I told him.  “I don’t go to church, either.”
  “Oh, my,” he said. “Well, what about relocating? Have you looked into work in one of the major Florida cities?” he asked.
  “I have, but haven’t heard back from anyone.”
  “It may take a while,” he said. “Our counterparts in the bigger job markets report different problems with matching people to jobs. They kind of have the opposite problem; everyone has a degree and that is actually in demand, but there aren’t that many jobs to go around. It still helps to know people and have connections, but the volume of jobs is so much less than the number of people looking for jobs. Another option you have is to look for work in New Town.”
  New Town! Although it was over 40 miles away, New Town was a total change of pace from Winterville. New Town had a major university and some cultural centers; it was an oasis in a yokel desert. Jobs in New Town also paid better than similar positions in Winterville.
  “Oh, that would be great,” I told him. 

*The nice woman who's busy writing Jane's story just realized with wry amusement that the very same thing is happening to her in her job search now! She wonders if this recession will ever end!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Into the depths of "the seven people you meet when you hit rock bottom"

Friends, I've come up with an outline for my book, and in doing so, revealed that it is divided into six sections. Section One, Voyage to Rock Bottom, is a nod to that 20,000 leagues under the sea title. Section Two, The Seven People You Meet When You Hit Rock Bottom, is chock-full of, let's face it, people who show up in your life when there's something (or maybe a lot of things) to be desired. Everything you've seen so far on this blog is from the first two sections.

On a related matter, the lady who is writing my story met with her writer's critique group and they want to see more snarkiness from Diva. That should be fun. Upon hearing about this, Diva is rumored to have replied, "Snarky? Moi?" and then unleashed a maniacal laugh. So, stay tuned. Those "revisions" are going to be fun to make!

The following scene takes place between me, Jane, and my office friend Patti at a bar, where interesting morsels of info are revealed:

  “I don’t want to date anyone now. If I find a real job, I’ll have to move anyway. It’s not really worth the trouble.”
  “Trouble, huh? Who have you been dating?” Patti asked.
  “Nobody that interesting, and nobody here,” I said, cutting off that discussion. In the world of office gossip, if someone gives up one little bit of information, it can get reinterpreted, repeated, and recycled.  “What will we do about you?” I asked, turning the conversation back to her.  “How did you rate your relationship with Andy? Was there a real connection?”
  “Yes!” she said. “We got along great! I miss him so much now. I don’t know what I’m going to do, and the thought of finding someone else... Omigosh, I’m going to die alone in this god-forsaken town!” she said, holding her head with her hands. Her formerly immaculate hairdo was in the process of falling apart.
  “No you won’t.  You’re too together for this place. You can move anywhere and work, can’t you?”
  Her eyes were sad for a moment.  “I hope so. Honestly, the state of the company seems to be a bit... shaky.”
  “What? You can’t be serious. People have been buying houses left and right. And now the prices are falling.”
  “Yeah, they were buying,” Patti said. “Six months ago, if they’d hired you, you would have made more money and had benefits. But, not anymore.”  She looked around her, as if spies were lurking at the nearby barstools. “Weird stuff is going on now. They’ve come in and changed what I do, made my job a lot harder than it was before. It makes me wonder.”
  “What?” I asked.
  “If I was doing what I was supposed to be doing before.”
  “Oh, shit! Really?”
  “I think I’m just being paranoid, but you never know. Don’t say anything to anyone,” she said.
  “If anyone asks, I know nothing,” I told her.  “Although that does not sound good.”
  Patti finished her drink and looked over at me, obviously ready to change the subject.  “But I really wanted to ask you, woman to woman: what should I do to get Andy back? Because I’m not going to meet anyone worth a shit around here.”
  “Are you sure that’s what you want? I mean, if he wasn’t making an effort before, what kind of husband would he be? Lazy? Barely interested in you? It doesn’t sound like a great plan to me, honey.”
  “I hear what you’re saying, but I’d like to get married and have kids. He’s a decent-enough guy, and we get along. Fairy tales are just that, Jane. But I had someone real.”
  “Of course, nobody’s perfect,” I said. But that sounds so bleak, I protested inside.
  “But what can I do?” she asked. “I feel so powerless.”
  “Oh, that? That’s easy. Make him wish he was with you. Make him jealous. Make yourself busy but not too inaccessible. He’ll be around in no time. And, if you can manage it, call him from a hot tub while you and your friends are partying in some exotic location. Seriously. A friend of mine won over her estranged boyfriend forever when she called him from Woody Harrelson’s hot tub in Miami. They got married! She and her boyfriend, I mean. Not my friend and Woody Harrelson.”

Sunday, 11 May 2014

I am currently out of the office... ha ha ha

Friends, sorry about the delay. I've had such a fun weekend and I also got sucked into a book called "The Marriage Plot" by Jeffrey Eugenides.

On Friday and Saturday I managed to drive over 200 miles. I interviewed with a potential freelance client, came back home, and drove down to the beach with my FH to see friends and take in some great live music (80s throwback; I had to take out my scrunchie mid-show since it was giving me a headache, although the rest of my wardrobe was spot-on 80s style). Saturday I had writing class, followed by a nap (I can't stay out late anymore!) and a dinner out with FH at the fantastic Outback. Today, I called some moms, skyped a bit with the family far away, and finished reading this fantastic book. I won't tell you too much about it except that you should read it. And that it's set in the 80s, one of my favorite times to get nostalgic about since I was there and let's face it, it was a pretty awesome time :)

So that brings us to now. By now, most of my usual readers are in bed, and here I am on the West Coast, trying to get something together. So, let's agree to wait this one out, shall we? I'll put something together for you to read in time for Hump Day. And in the meantime, we'll all have a relaxing Sunday evening.

Much love to you all,

Jane Q. Phoenix

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A glimpse of normalcy- A new office job, and then a happy hour with an office friend

Hi friends! Thanks for tuning in. In this scene, I've found a new temp job and maybe even met a new friend- my first in Winterville!
It was with much trepidation that I even answered the job posting, which stated that the ideal fit for the job would be “able to complete several short-term projects every day as well as provide support to executive management.” Quote: “Must be able to work in a fast-paced environment and deal with constant interruptions.”
Some people love that.  Some people want to fight through every day, argue every point, run from place to place, yell, negotiate, and make deals.  These are people who work on Wall Street or in any position with the word “aggressive” in the description. They are also people who die of massive coronaries in their fifties.
People who loved that constant sea of conflict and stimulation didn’t have much in common with me. However, in an effort to bring in more money than an unemployment check provided, I had to loosen my standards a bit.
In my new position, I tried to make friends with some of the people around me.
Since I emanated the stench of someone who didn’t grow up in Winterville and had a bachelor’s degree, I gravitated toward people like me.  It was a big-enough workplace for that to be possible.  That’s where I met Patti Anderson.
Patti was thin and wore business clothing to work every day.  She may have enjoyed dressing the part more than playing the part, but her work persona was very dignified, in control, and professional.  Her hair was always up, and her shoes were always sexy. That’s what I liked about her at first; she didn’t seem like a stupid hick.
My job, while busy and ever-changing, wasn’t very challenging, so I didn’t need much coaching, but she and I would talk from time to time. I was amazed one day when she popped up with an invitation to Happy Hour. I felt like a contestant on The Price Is Right; I’d been in Winterville for over a year and never had the opportunity to take part in this type of workplace ritual[1]. So, I went.[2]
At Chili’s, the de-facto Happy Hour hotspot in our area of town after Bennigan’s closed, the drinks were flowing, and skinny little Patti was downing a great quantity of them while I nursed a rum-and-coke and promised myself I wouldn’t be too tipsy to leave if the evening got lame.
“Stressful week, Patti?” I asked her.
“You don’t know the half of it.  My boyfriend who lives 100 miles away dumped me last weekend,” she slurred.
“I am so sorry!” I said.
“Yeah, he said the distance was too much, yadda yadda, although he never made the effort to come see me here. Seemed put out when I didn’t have 4 extra hours in my weekend to make that drive to see him. Didn’t want to make the effort himself. He’s a Taurus, you know? His way or the highway. Or in my case, his way AND the highway.”
“I always choose the highway,” I told her. “It’s why I’m single.”
“The reason you’re single is because you’re here!” she said. “When was the last time you had a date?”
“That I could get excited about? 2006.”
“That sucks!”

[1] Note: Finance professionals tend to drink excessively.
[2] Note: Diva and I are allowed to ridicule finance professionals as much as we want, given that both of us worked in that anti-female, semi-toxic environment at a time when finance jobs were plentiful; we had to learn “new marketable skills for the workplace” to keep our heads above water in our post-college twenties and early thirties. Our foray into the financial world didn’t last for either of us, but we made some money and learned about finance as businesses mutated and shrunk due to the Great Recession. Besides, some of our best friends used to work in the financial industry- and a few still do.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Posing a question to the readers...

A message from that lady who's writing Jane's story:

Hi friends,

I had so much inspiration at the start of this story that I went crazy with telling stories of dysfunction, awkward social encounters, and other bits of mayhem. Now that I've passed the midpoint of the story, though, I have to think about how it's going to end.

So, before I write the sequel, Jane Goes to Hollywood, (I just can't decide if it should be Hollywood CA or Hollywood FL- either one has loads of potential) I pose this question: Should Jane fall in love at the end? Or is that too contrived? Do I answer questions absolutely or leave room for interpretation and possibilities? (I'd prefer to do the latter.)

It seems to me, from my semi-objective stance as the writer (and the person to whom only some of those odd, strange things happened) that our woman Jane should get a break once in a while.

I've worked on some other stories lately, from romances to action/adventure, and I know (from both the perspective of the reader AND the editor) that the loose ends have to be tied up. Readers don't want to be left hanging over what happened in a subplot, for example. Of course, it's not like everyone drops dead at the end of a book, so obviously the characters' stories can evolve beyond what was last written about them. The imaginations of the readers can decide what's next for the cast of characters. That's one of the fun things about getting to the end of a book.

Of course, I won't tell the story of what actually happened, because first of all that's private and second of all, no one would believe it anyway. But I do have an idea to give Jane a real love life by the end of this story.

The Author

P.S. from Jane: As the Smiths once sang, Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want... Lord knows, it would be the first time.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Winterville's Bar Scene- Yikes!

Hi friends! Jane here. This story took place when I tried to socialize with my neighbor T.W. and take part in a Friday night Happy Hour downtown. Unfortunately, a strange married dude named Narcissus wanted to add me to his collection of female friends he partied with, and I became more visible to him when T.W. went onstage and entertained the crowd at the bar's Open Mike Night. Narcissus, an aspiring singer, has just given me a free CD of his songs (that I honestly didn't want!).
  When T.W. walked off the stage and back to our table, I couldn't hide from Narcissus anymore. With another man by my side, I earned about 1,000 attractiveness points with him (Narcissus). I didn’t do anything to encourage this, but it seemed that Narcissus’ target was locked on me.
  Narcissus must need constant attention from women, but he is barking up the wrong tree in the wrong ZIP code if he wants it from me, I thought. I smiled at him briefly but avoided his gaze. What did he want? 
  It was a question I'd asked myself for a long time. Why did paired-off people feel the need to flirt with everyone in sight? Why were the married guys from work on the prowl at happy hour, or going to strip joints? What prevented some married people from acting like they were married?
  T.W. noticed Narcissus staring over at us and asked, “You know him?”
  “He has some trouble remembering my name,” I said, “but we’ve been introduced before.”
  He eyed the CD.  “Are you a fan?”
  “It was a freebie,” I said. “You understand I’m on a limited budget,” I added and winked. “That guy has a.... small-town flair.”
  “He has something, all right,” T.W. said, as he put his arm around me possessively. I sat there, rather stiffly, not knowing what to do. This wasn’t part of my usual interaction with T.W. Could this be the night he’d make a move? Oh, crap.
  After a few more amateurs took their turns on the stand, I told T.W. I wanted to leave. Friday nights were rough; the cumulative stress of either working as a temp or sitting at home fretting over my lack of income and the mounting bills that I couldn’t pay did me in at the end of the week. I wasn’t exactly springing out of bed every morning anyway.
  “Let’s hit Steak and Shake on the way home,” he said, and I agreed. Soon, we were in a black vinyl booth, looking at menus and debating which shakes were best. 
  T.W. needed some food in his stomach to sober up, and therefore couldn’t adjust his volume level down from the bar. He thought it would be fun to talk about the characters sitting in nearby booths. It wasn’t long before people noticed.
  “That guy’s giving me a look,” he said, both scared and macho. I turned to look at a redneck in a faded white t-shirt, threadbare blue jeans, and cowboy boots. He looked about 30 years old and had a tattoo of a snake on his forearm. He scowled as he looked in our direction.
  “Whatever, T.W. Stop looking at him. You are high on testosterone and drank too much.”
  “No really, he’s, like, trying to stare me down or something. Like your buddy Narcissus. Stupid mouth breather,” he said loudly.
  “Yeah, why don’t you say that a little bit louder?” I asked him.