valentine cluster

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One of the sweeter people in my life is a bartender, Mandy. Half my age, she is as yet untrodden by life's cleats. For example, when we shared our scars over drinks, she led with her parents not letting her wear makeup in the eighth grade. She was so teased by the other girls! I pretended to empathize while I discreetly texted my mocking to Allie. "She is a Disney character without the fur."

When Mandy's boyfriend sent her flowers for her birthday, I groused that I'd spent $64 million on flowers in my lifetime and never received so much as a carnation back. On Valentine's Day, there was an arrangement waiting for me at my barstool. "I'll always be first, now," she smiled.

"Um, Elan sent you flowers, you ingrate" observed Allie. Shut up, Allie.

Friday night when Mandy's shift was over, she joined me for a drink. We talked about our respective love lives. We talked about how Mandy wants to have babies more than any other life goal. We discovered we like the same dive bar, so we headed over there.

Many, many drinks later, Mandy freaked out. "I JUST CAN'T DO THIS, JOHN!" She kept repeating that. And she kept repeating that she loves her boyfriend. She was very upset. She pleaded for my assurance that I was okay with just being friends. Oh. Seriously?

Uh, considering that's where I already was? "Not a problem."

As I laid in bed that night, I mentally replayed romantic entanglements in my life and marveled at how I nearly never know a woman sees me that way until she comes out and says so. (Or as I told Allie, I am always shocked when someone wants to sleep with me.) I flat-out didn't see Mandy coming, despite the flowers. Perhaps I am particularly dense. As the candy hearts say, all signs point to yes.

marketing twinkies

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From almost the first day of my career, talking to corporate marketers has made me long for the sweet release of death. The worst was a man named BJ at Microsoft, with whom I battled on multiple and impossibly unrelated products over a decade. When we crossed paths a fourth time, we both heaved an audible sigh. "Oh, so you've met," his boss said.

My current boss, Sal, and I just met with some marketing twinkies. Clearly, it was not my idea. They kinda explained what they wanted, and I explained what was possible and legal, and they did not understand. I took another run at it. They did not understand. Sal tried to explain. Nope. If anything, they were getting stupider. The marketing boss said something vomitously dumb, followed by "But that's why I have smart people working for me. To figure stuff like this out."

"Who are these people?" I asked. "And can we get them on this call?"

• • •

Sal has a great pained, breathy, exasperated "John..." in his repertoire. It sounds very much like an exasperated girlfriend or mother. I really need to record it. This was such an occasion.

the left armpit problem

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In anticipation of surgery, I've been practicing one-armedness. The good news is that I can drink left-handed. Everything else is bad news, especially hygiene. Shaving my head left-handed was a debacle I shan't soon forget. I am now the Morgan Freeman of scabs.

Is it poor form to start dating just so I have someone who has to wash me?

cooterville social life

"My god," I said to Jane the bartender. "The last six people to text me work in the Cooterville service industry."

She glared at me. "I'm trying to find a way to not feel insulted by that statement."

"Oh, there isn't one."

spot on

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Lynn isn't often quotable, at least not in a good sense, so this must be shared. I was complaining about an unexpected consequence of getting older: young girls suddenly finding me safe, harmless, even asexual. Girls who 10 years ago wouldn't have given me their numbers at gunpoint are now volunteering them. It is bizarre and strangely emasculating. "But I might be dangerous!" I want to protest.

Lynn summed it up perfectly. "Old is the new gay."

oh, by the way

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"Did they tell you that you severed the two tendons in your back, too?" said the surgeon.

Nope. Nope they did not. They were too busy sending me to physical therapy to treat completely severed tendons.

Now I get to choose between the surgeon who won't return my calls and my insurance's preference, Doogie Howser. He has a whole three years' experience after college. Which was Brigham Young.

the abyss also gazes into me

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I'll learn more about my fate after meeting with a surgeon on Friday, but it seems likely that I will lose the use of my right arm entirely for six weeks. When you type for a living, and when you like to bathe more than once every fourth fortnight, this is daunting.

I can hire some poor soul to sponge my armpits and walk Fredo, of course. Uber Eats, keep your engine running. Everything seems solvable except work. I just cannot imagine editing or coding one-handed or, worse, using speech-to-text.

I might actually have to take my first vacation since 2002.

wearing thin

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It turns out living in a hotel for forever doesn't excite me. Maybe I should have chosen a place with room service.

This morning it occurred to me that I'm looking forward to absolutely nothing. When your MRI is the highlight of all future plans, perhaps this is a sign you need to make some future plans.

good god willing

I knew better, but I shared Allie's joke with Lynn. Of the falling boulder killing my car but not me, Allie had snarked, "John, that wasn't God sparing you. That was God missing."

Lynn took offense and sat bolt upright. "That was God sparing you." She was incredibly confident.

We've fought this battle before. Every possible outcome is proof not only of God's existence, but of His divine intervention. If the boulder misses my car, it's God's will. If the boulder destroys my car, God spared me. If the boulder kills me and Fredo, He's calling me home. Fredo is just shit out of luck.

"Dear Jesus," I prayed aloud after Lynn's proclamation, "Thank you so much for sparing me from the boulder you sent to destroy my Jeep. I'm sure whatever the Jeep did to anger you, it had it coming."

Lynn glared at me. I'd like to think she was silently saying a prayer for my eternal soul, but I think she was just pissed.

• • •

Now that I'm waiting for an MRI on my shoulder, Allie wondered what Lynn would have to say about God causing my slip. I thought about it. "God sent the boulder to destroy my Jeep because He knew I wouldn't be able to drive a standard a month later. See how it all dovetails together?"