Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fiction - How Lizzy Met Her Man


What follows is a work of fiction.  The characters were pulled out of thin air and have nothing in common with any human being who ever lived.  Nothing that happens in this story ever happened to a real person, or ever will.  In fact, this story is practically science fiction, except that it’s totally unscientific and doesn’t have spaceships or aliens or anything.  That said, any similarity of any character to an actual space alien, past present or future, is (obviously) purely coincidental.  Etc.

Fiction – How Lizzy Met Her Man

Over tapas the conversation turned to how people had met.  It started because Sanjay was using this crazy new Internet dating site, Vali.Date, that rated member/candidates like an e-commerce storefront.  All the women hated the idea of Vali.Date but half the guys thought it was worth a try.  Before a full-on debate took hold, George guided the conversation in a more general direction.  He and Lisa had met in college, he said, but at a private school so small it was “almost like an arranged marriage.”  Lizzy, meanwhile, was emphatic that meeting people was a total crapshoot and that any effort to improve your odds was, as she put it, “like gathering water in a sieve.”

“How can you say that?” asked Bruno, waving a French fry around emphatically.  “People are highly selective!  You think you’re going to meet Mr. Right at traffic school?”

Lizzy thoughtfully poked at her cocktail with a swizzle stick.  “Well, the circles you run in do matter,” she conceded, “but that kind of comes naturally.  I’m just saying the important thing is to relax and let Mr. or Mrs. Right come to you, instead of hunting around everywhere.”  As she said this she tipped up the edge of her plate as if to look underneath it.  She glanced at Sanjay.  “Whether that’s online, in a bar, at a mixer, whatever,” she added.

Bruno looked at Lizzy’s husband, Marty.  “So Lizzy, how’d you meet your Mr. Right, anyway?  He just came to you, and it was love at first sight?”

George and Schuyler laughed.  “You really haven’t heard this story?” Schuyler asked.  Bruno shook his head and Schuyler said, “It goes back to the days of the sandwich club.  But Lizzy, you tell it.  It’s such a great story.”

Lizzy finished her cocktail, the hissing suction through her swizzle stick rattling the ice against her glass.  Marty looked at Bruno and said, “You really wanna hear this story?  It’s pretty long.” Bruno nodded.  Marty flagged down the waiter, then pointed at Bruno and said, “Orange whip?”  He pointed at Sanjay.  “Orange whip?”  He looked up at the waiter.  “Three orange whips,” he said.  Half the table laughed.  Then they ordered their actual drinks.

Lizzy seemed to have forgotten about the story.  She was working on a small plate of Greek olives.  But when the drinks arrived, she began her tale.  “So:  the sandwich club.  How this worked, Bruno, is once every six or eight weeks all these guys would get together and bring the yummiest sandwiches they could conceive of, to share around.  It was like a book club but for, like, illiterate gourmands.  I had just joined.  This was literally my first time there.”

Bruno raised his eyebrows.  “This sandwich club … is it still around?”  His gaze shifted longingly to the dwindling plate of fries.

“Naw, it folded up a couple years ago,” Schuyler sighed.  “Half the members went gluten-free on us, and the special bread was inedible.  In fact things got pretty testy at the end there.  But let’s not beat that dead horse.”  He drained the last two inches of his beer, then pointed his glass at Lizzy and said, “Please continue.”

Lizzy peered into her glass and stirred her drink.  “I’d just moved to the area and knew, like, nobody,” she said.  “My friend Jackie was in this club and invited me to a meeting, to try it out and meet her friends.  But then of course she flaked.  So here I am sitting around with these three guys I don’t know, with nothing to do while waiting for the others to go get Marty from the airport.  He’d moved to San Francisco a couple months before but they scheduled the whole thing around him.  Like a reunion.

“After waiting a while I started to get agitated.  I was fricking starving.  It’s like these guys had never heard of chips or snacks, or they were too pure about their sandwiches for that.  So I asked if we could start in on the sandwiches people had brought while waiting for the others.  Man, you’d think I farted in church or something—this was apparently totally against the rules.”

“I came to Lizzy’s rescue,” Schuyler said.  “She looked so awkward there.  So I pointed out how Marty had broken the cardinal rule—thou shalt not show up empty-handed—so many times he was on probation.  So we cut the new girl some slack and offered her a piece of a sandwich.”

“Right,” Lizzy said, “you threw me a lifeline—but it was all for naught because all three sandwiches were loaded with meat, and I was a vegetarian.”

“Wait,” Bruno said, “couldn’t you just eat the sandwich you brought?”

“No, I hadn’t brought one—that was another rule!” Lizzy laughed.  “Newcomers didn’t bring anything.  I think this was supposed to be a kind, generous gesture but I’ve always suspected it was to screen potential members without having to eat their gross sandwiches and be polite about it.  This club was practically fascist.  It was worse than my book club, all these stupid rules.  So I had to just keep waiting.”

Lizzy, as if in response to this unpleasant recollection, turned her attention to scraping up the burnt rice in the paella pan.  Dave picked up the story:  “So this whole time Matt and I are at the airport, standing around baggage claim looking for Marty.  We had no idea where he was, other than this really weird e-mail we’d gotten from him a bit earlier.  Well, it wasn’t from him, it was from his phone.  Turns out he was totally late for the airport, as usual, and blazed through security leaving his backpack behind.  And some random passenger had mistakenly grabbed the backpack—well, the guy’s kid had—and Marty’s phone was in there.  So the guy e-mailed us about it.  He just replied-all to the last e-mail Marty had sent, which was about the sandwich club.

“The e-mail said basically that the guy discovered this backpack after Marty’s flight had already left, but but the airline had agreed to put it on the next flight.  So Marty could pick it his backpack at baggage claim at his destination.  And sure enough, we get there and there’s Marty’s stupid backpack, the last bag left from that flight, doing these lone slow laps of the carousel.  Marty’s phone was in there, which is how this random Samaritan dude e-mailed us.”  Dave leaned back in his chair chuckling.

Lizzy grinned.  “Right,” she said, “and so the thing nobody could figure out is, where the hell was Marty if his backpack came on a later flight?  How could it make it before he did?  What we didn’t get is that while his backpack was lucky enough to get a direct flight, of course Marty—being a cheap bastard—had a connecting flight.  And being kind of flaky—“ here she looked at her husband and said, “no offense, but it kind of has to be said.”

“None taken, guilty as charged,” Marty said breezily, licking red-orange aioli from his fingertips.  “Being flaky, I hadn’t given anybody my flight number, and I didn’t mention where my connecting flight originated from.  I was just going to call them when I touched down.  But of course I couldn’t because my phone was in my backpack!  So these guys, checking the board for the most recent flight from SFO, went to the wrong baggage claim—which end up being the one with my backpack.  But of course I had no clue at this point that some guy had found my backpack.  I figured it was being held back at SFO or something, or they took it out and blew it up.  Plus my connecting flight had been delayed, so I got to the airport way later than the guys were expecting me.”

Dave jumped in again.  “So Matt and I paged him over the white courtesy telephone a few times, and never heard anything, so we figured hell, Marty’s a big boy, he can get himself to Schuyler’s from the airport.  But it seemed weird to just leave his backpack on the carousel, so we took it with us.”

“Which is how,” Lizzy said, “Marty’s sandwich got to the party before he did.  Matt and Dave showed up, we dug out his sandwich, and I was so stoked because—yes!—it was vegetarian!  Actually there were two of them, identical.  I was so hungry I didn’t even wait for this sacred sandwich-cutting ceremony, I was totally breaking another of their dumb rules, I just started macking on this sandwich.  And it was amazing.  In fact, let me walk you through this, this culinary masterpiece.”

Lizzy’s eyes glittered as she described it.  “So to start with, it was wrapped in waxed paper, like my mom always did, so I’m getting the nostalgia thing.  And the bread, oh my god, it’s just this perfect baguette, the kind where if you squeeze it, it makes that sound, that crispy, crackly sound.  So, then there’s cheese, a really good Gruyere, just slightly melted on there.  Then slices of avocado, like the Platonic ideal of avocado, and I know because I took this sandwich completely apart to try to figure out what made it so good, and there’s just a bit of salt and pepper kind of embedded in the avocado.  And there are slices of Portobello mushroom, which had been fried in butter, and thin tomato slices, really good ones, like dry farmed ones, just the right amount so the bread isn’t soggy.  Tiny bit of arugula, enough for a peppery taste but not overpowering like it so often is.  And cucumber, peeled, super-thin, a really good one like one of those English ones with the smaller seeds.  And then the red onions—man, I can’t stand how so many people, especially men, just hack them up all haphazardly so the slices are super-thick and overpower everything and you’ve got dragon-breath the rest of the day.  These were cut so thin you could practically read through them.”

“She practically did, actually,” Schuyler said.  “She’s like, holding them up to the light to show everybody how thin they are.  She’s going on and on about it.  It was so funny, she was the newest member of the sandwich club but obviously a way bigger foodie than any of the rest of us.  We were all just laughing.  And then we grabbed the second sandwich away from her so we could actually get some of it.  She’d have eaten them both herself, I’m sure of it.”

“It’s true,” Lizzy laughed.  “I was just so blown away.  And so I start practically worshipping this mysterious Marty before I even met him.  I mean, it wasn’t just the sandwich.  It’s was the whole mystique, like the whole sandwich club is waiting for him, and they all seemed to think pretty highly of him even though all they have to say is how flaky he is, how this and that is typical Marty, etc. 

“Also, I should point out that I’d recently been through a divorce from a guy who was good-looking and smart and made good money but just ended up being a dick.  My ex was the type who was always way early to the airport, and super-precise about stuff, former military and all that, and was all about efficiency and being super-organized, and the funny thing was, I kind of got the impression his friends didn’t actually like him that much, like he was too competitive with them or something. 

“So this mysterious stranger, Marty, is coming off like the exact opposite.  Late to the airport, loses his backpack, hadn’t given anybody his flight number, late for sandwich club, he’s on probation, and everybody is ragging on him behind his back … but with such affection!  Of course I was forming all these preconceptions through like this, this kind of haze of pleasure because his sandwich was so good.  I’m picturing this guy painstakingly slicing the onions so carefully that he’s losing all track of time so he ends up being late to the airport.”

Bruno looked at Marty.  “Lizzy, somehow I don’t think your first impression—well, your first assumption I should say—was exactly accurate.  Marty’ has never struck me as a fussy guy.  And the whole vegetarian thing?  Marty’s always the guy wanting to get the meat-lover’s pizza.”

Lizzy laughed.  “Well, that’s the weirdest part of the whole story!  Marty finally arrives in a cab, and has to keep the cabbie waiting while he knocks on the door because his wallet is in his missing backpack, but he’s oddly unruffled by his whole ordeal.  Dave hands him his backpack and Marty looks on it fondly and says, ‘Boy am I glad to see you.’  Then he asks if anybody has anything to eat, maybe he can make a sandwich or something, and everybody groans good-naturedly.  And I didn’t waste any time telling him how awesome his sandwiches were, and apologizing for there being none left.  I mean, between me and the guys there wasn’t a particle remaining for Marty.  And his reaction, I’ll never forget it, he starts blushing.  It was so cute.  I thought he was just flattered, but it turns out he was blushing because—get this—he hadn’t actually made those sandwiches.”

“What?!” Bruno snorted, looking again at Marty.  “Could that actually be true?”

Marty, with the hangdog look of somebody who’s been through this inquisition many times, replied, “Yeah, the fact is, despite being on sandwich club probation, which the guys reminded me of many times, I managed to show up at the airport without any sandwiches at all.  To be honest, I was planning to grab a couple of those awful chicken-lip-meat deli sandwiches on cardboard bread in the plastic wrap.  Or maybe the upscale kind in the clear plastic boxes if I could find them.  I wouldn’t fool anybody, of course, but at least I wouldn’t get kicked out of the club.  But of course I didn’t have my wallet, and my flight had been late, so I just bailed on the whole sandwich thing.  And then I arrived at Schuyler’s and right away there’s this good-looking stranger raving about my sandwiches.  I kind of wanted to come clean, but then I also kind of wanted to accept the compliment.  So I just kept my mouth shut.”

Izzy slurped up the rest of her vodka-tonic, then looked up and smiled.  “This made things very awkward, of course, on our first date,” she said. “This date was just a few days later because remember, Marty didn’t live here anymore.  That kind of escalated our timeline a bit.  Now, I didn’t want it to be like a date-date, you know, so I had him over and offered to make him some homemade soup and some salad if he’d recreate that sandwich!”

“I was sure it was some kind of trap,” Marty said.  “I grilled my buddies about what was in that sandwich, but they hadn’t paid very much attention, except Schuyler going on about the translucent onion slices.  I knew from Lizzy’s first bite she wasn’t buying it.  But I was going to come clean anyway.”

“I believe him on that,” Lizzy said.  “And of course we got a great laugh out of it.  I mean, if he didn’t make those sandwiches, who did?  It’s not like the guy at the security check snuck something in there.  We realized it had to be the guy whose kid grabbed Marty’s backpack.  He probably felt bad about that, and after all he’d replied-all to the last e-mail on Marty’s phone, which was about sandwich club.  This guy had probably brought the sandwiches for himself and his kid, and donated them to Marty.  And isn’t that just this crazy cosmic coincidence that the random airport guy just so happened to make better sandwiches than any of the self-styled experts in the sandwich club?”

“Wait, I don’t get this,” Bruno said.  “Marty here keeps everybody waiting that first time you meet him, and then on your first date you find out he lied to you, and that instead of this idiot-savant flake who can make an amazing sandwich, he’s just a run-of-the-mill flake, and he doesn’t even live in the same city as you, and yet you’re somehow married now?”

Lizzy beamed.  “Isn’t it romantic?” she said.  “Just kidding—I’m not actually the weak-in-the-knees fool-for-love romantic type.  It’s more like Marty’s timing was just right.  I’d just moved here anyway, and was kind of underemployed anyway, and he was always coming back here on business trips so we got to have some proper dates where he wasn’t faking his way through a sandwich, and it got to the point where I told him I’d be willing to move to San Francisco for him.  And—”

Here Marty interrupted:  “Lizzy, that’s not exactly what you said.  You said you were willing to move to San Francisco for their superior baguettes alone.”

Schuyler laughed.  “Just like I said—she’s the foodie-est of all of us!”  Lizzy grinned.  “Well, I didn’t want to come on too strong,” she said.  “But even so, Marty seemed pretty impressed by my boldness, and I guess that made him bold too because he was like, ‘Cool, but if you’d rather stay put I’m willing to move back.’  Which is why we settled here, and I’ve had to put up with inferior veggie sandwiches.  San Francisco really does have better baguettes.  It’s something about the water, or the air, or something.  But Marty does try … every time he makes that sandwich it’s a little closer to the original.  It’s so sweet.”

Sanjay pointed an asparagus spear right at Lizzy.  “See?” he said.  “You settled!  Your actual Mr. Right is the airport guy!  The good Samaritan, the sandwich chef with the Midas touch, is out there somewhere and you never even tried to find him!  You went all-in with the lying, flaky loser-of-backpacks!  If you were on Vali.Date, you could do so much better!”

Izzy smiled and leaned up against Marty.  “That’s okay,” she said.  “Marty is good enough.  I think I’ll keep him.”  Marty put his arm around her and said, “Awww.  Don’t kid yourself Lizzy … you are a romantic.”

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