July 1, 2010


Things That Make You Go “Hmm”

by Carolyn Johnson

There were early warning signs, big red caution flags. His mouth kept moving. I knew I should just get up from the table, excuse myself to the ladies’ room and head out the front door. But did I listen to that little voice inside my head?

It all started with my blind date, or should I say my missing-in-action date, at Boulevard Bistro. The bartender refilled my glass of Pinot Grigio as I sat like a waif at the bar. He was twenty-five minutes late.

The hostess walked over and tapped me on the shoulder. My blind date wanted to speak with me on the phone. His lame excuse for being late was that he had gone to the wrong restaurant. Way to make a gal feel special. He was going to finish his margarita and join me soon. At that point, I should have gone home, but I figured bad company was better than no company, so I stayed put. The “hmm” was barely perceptible.

A dating service had fixed me up with Mike. They said he was a six-foot-one, blonde, blue-eyed TV journalist who loved golf, cooking and volunteer work. He sounded promising until he swaggered through the door. His hair, what was left of it, was blonde, but he wasn’t anything like the picture I had painted in my mind. He was tall, but he looked rode hard and put up wet for forty-six years old.

I guess I didn’t score any points when I didn’t immediately recognize him, but I was new to town and hadn’t surfed the evening news channels. My account fell further into the red when I asked him what he did for a living. He puffed up and said he was a sportscaster personality for a local TV station. Obviously I didn’t watch that channel. Warning “hmms” were going off in my head, but I was a glutton for punishment. Maybe his ego would deflate just a smidge so we could actually have a nice evening.

He suggested we dine at a nearby Mexican restaurant and allowed me time to clear my tab while he chatted with the door hostess. I assumed we were taking separate cars until the passenger’s side door of my car swung open and he plopped down. Oh well, what would one dinner hurt? The choir was now “hmming,” but once again I ignored it.

At the restaurant, he topped off his margarita level while he unloaded all his dirty laundry on the table. His daughter was nineteen, pregnant, unwed, unemployed and living with him. The sperm donor was a one-night-stand and was nowhere to be found. Thanks for sharing, but that was more than I needed to know at this point in our relationship.

Mike proceeded to swill margaritas and lament about the TV news business while frequently checking out his camera-ready smile in the reflection of the window. Younger upcoming sportscasters were nipping at his heels, jockeying for his time slot on the ten o’clock news. He had already been relegated to field reporting and was threatening an age discrimination suit against the station. The “hmm” was blasting in Dolby stereo now.

As if listening to his woe-is-me life story with feigned interest wasn’t enough, he offered to split the dinner tab. What a hero. I felt like a psychiatrist who was grateful when the hour was finally up.

Afterwards, he wanted to go see a movie. It’s not like I had anything better to do, so away we went. He bought his ticket then kindly stood aside to let me purchase mine. What a gentleman. I wondered if he would offer to reimburse me for his half of the gasoline. “Hmm” finally broke the sound barrier in my head.

I can’t remember what movie we went to see, but I’m sure he enjoyed it. I drove him back to the Bistro at warp speed while listening to his review of the less than spectacular parts of the feature. He was lucky I didn’t make him pony up for a cab to take his happy hide home.

I debated slowing to thirty-five and shoving him out on the fly, but decided he wasn’t worth the jail time. As I came to a stop in front of the Bistro, the “hmm” finally subsided. The curtain closed, the show was over.

His parting words, “Don’t forget to watch me on the evening news and enjoy the city,” bounced in one ear and out the other as he watched the tail end of my car make a fast getaway.

Carolyn Johnson, a former banker and now freelance writer from Houston, Texas, draws on her colorful life experiences in the US, Europe and South Africa as sustenance for her poetry, essays and fiction. Her subject matter comes from the heart, the hurt, the heavenly and sometimes the hilarious. She has been published in The Houston Chronicle, The Austin American-Statesman, Hope Whispers, The Shine Journal, Zygote in My Coffee and Tower Notes. She has two essays appearing in this fall’s Living Lessons anthology, and her work will be included in June Cotner’s upcoming Earth Blessings anthology. Carolyn be reached via e-mail.