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Those darn chocolates get me every year. Or, rather, I get those chocolates. Two boxes of Russell Stover’s await me in the grocery store. Those ridiculous heart-shaped cardboard thigh traps sit there on display, and I know I’m not going to receive them from any other source, so I dish out eight bucks and spend the evening in front of the T.V. with them as my Valentine’s Day date.
I thought grabbing the coconut cream chocolate instead of the Butter Pecan truffle would be my only surprise this year. It was six-o-clock; I was sitting in my apartment, all alone, except for my cat Frederick. Frederick is two years old but his mental capacity to find his litter box is that of a two day old nursling. I love Frederick. The excitement of spraying the carpet with chemicals before his messes soak in is about the only rush I get on weeknights. Just as I start up Pride and Prejudice and settle down with my two boxes of Valentine’s Day drugs, Frederick gets that wild look in his eyes, and I know what’s to come. I run to the kitchen, swing open the cabinet under the sink, grab the bright orange “Doo-D-Gone” bottle, run back to the soon-to-be scene of the crime, and Frederick has done it again. I shove my toe into his side as retribution, and he looks at me like, “Get a life, Diane.” I kneel down and prepare to start nurturing the carpet. The Doo-D-Gone gives me one pitiful spritz, and I do a mental head-slap. I forgot to pick some more up at the grocery; must have been too distracted by the chocolates. I can’t let Frederick’s mess sink in; the day my carpet looks like a brown minefield is the day I move out. I pause the movie just as Mr. Darcy declares Elizabeth not tempting enough, and grab my coat.
I walk to the grocery down the street, get the cleaner, and start walking back. Across the street, I hear music coming from a bar. An omen hits me. The song is “All By Myself” by Eric Carmen. My curiosity is sparked. I’ve never been to that bar before; I’m not much of a drinker, and my childish notion that bars are foreboding still lingers. I don’t know what has gotten into me, I don’t know what demon has possessed me, I don’t know if I feel like becoming an alcoholic this Valentine’s Day, but I have a feeling that the chocolates aren’t going to cut it this year. I cross the street.
The bar’s name is Hammer Time. Bring it on, Hammer Time. I shove the Doo-D-Gone in my purse- it barely fits, but it’s all I’ve got. Frederick’s Doo can wait. Although I’m wearing a T-shirt and half-clean jeans, I’m not under-dressed here. The lights are dim, the crowd isn’t too big, and I don’t have the feeling that I’ll be chugging down Grey Goose by midnight. I sit at the bar and get a drink. I bet the bartender sees people like me all the time. Perhaps my loneliness is written all over my face, maybe it’s the awkward way I smile back, or perhaps it’s the smell of chemicals rising from my bag, but I know he can tell I’m a sad little person. I pick up my phone as if I was actually expecting a text from someone, and it’s dead. I feel as if its death is symbolic of how alive my inbox is.
My fellow Valentine’s Day cherishers at the bar are an old dude, a black lady who’s had four too many, a forty-something businessman, a depressed looking guy in a utility man’s uniform, two kids who were probably carting fake I.D.s and a few other shadows in the crowd. I wondered why all these people were here, finding Valentine’s day an appropriate “Hammer time”. Why was I finding it an appropriate hammer time? Being single never bothered me much before. Just as I was about to put down my drink and talk myself out of this silly outing, the black lady a seat away directs her bulbous, red-stained eyes to me. I am pretty non-confrontational, so instead of saying something, I just take another swig of my beer. She keeps staring at me. I don’t know, maybe she’s looking past me, but just as my weirded-out level is hitting a high point, she slurs, “Suga, why you heyuh on a day fo lovin? Yuh heart hurtin? Yo’ man leff ya fo a good fuh nuthin [lady]? Gits us awl, God blez.”
I feel like I am back at home, age sixteen, working at the local gas station, before city life. I don’t want to admit my pitiful situation, but what else can I say?
“Nope, I’m single. No husband, no boyfriend. That’s how it’s always been.”
She just continues to stare at me weirdly, and said after processing my admittance of disgrace she bursts, “Well, keep it tha way. Don’t need no (insert various words of choice) men.”
She orders another straight whiskey, and gets to it. I don’t want to walk away now, she’d think I was leaving because she talked to me- so I order another myself. The drunk teenage boys at the end of the counter sneer at life. The businessman looks like he is on the verge of tears. The utility man looks like he’s falling asleep. I want to go. The black lady stumbles out of her bar chair, her hefty hips ungluing from the wooden slats. She comes down with a crash. I immediately hop up to help her. She said, “I’m awright, ooh, ooh, Imma feel i’ tomorra.” As soon as she’s moderately steady on her feet, she looks at me with no focus in her countenance and proceeds to expel the contents of her stomach on my shirt. I kind of scream. The lady’s face scrunches up like she doesn’t understand the concept of being drunk and says, “I dinnun mean to, I dinnun mean to, lemme hep yuh.”
I don’t want her “hep,” I want to hit her. I want out of my shirt immediately. Before high-tailing it home, I need to run to the bathroom to get the major chunks off my chest. There’s only one bathroom, which at the time didn’t seem so odd. There’s one sink, and I commandeer it immediately, warm water on full blast. I take off my jacket and consider burning it after arriving home.
Unexpectedly, the door clicks open behind me, and the utility man walks in. He kind of takes a step back, probably from the smell of throw-up clouding the small room, and he apologizes for intruding. I fake a polite smile and tell him that it’s fine. He walks closer and closer to me, and I don’t know what he’s doing, until he swerves to the right and picks up a toolbox on the floor I have not noticed before. He smells good, despite working with God’s most pleasant invention all day. When he stands up I notice the tag on his shirt reads: “Davis Plumbing” and underneath it is a small image of a toilet with legs, smiling like it’s ready to take on all the crap in the world. He opens his toolbox and seems to be looking for something. I really want him to go; I am embarrassed and a little shaken from being spewed upon. He continues to shuffle around in his box.
He kind of makes a sympathetic tsking noise and says, “It’s a shame you were in that lady’s target zone.”
Target zone? What am I? A field goal? A landing strip? I nod and reply, “Lucky me; out of all the places in the world, I’m in a target zone.”
He shakes his head piteously.
After shuffling around in his toolbox, he procures a twenty dollar bill, I’m guessing to pay for his drinks, and attempts to exit. He jerks at the door handle, and I watch in astonishment as the handle comes clean off the surface of the door. Mr. Davis Plumbing holds the metal half circle in his hand like the Holy Grail just fell out of the sky into his palm. The door’s handle on the outside lands on the floor with a clang. Uh-oh.
He stands there for a second in disbelief and immediately tries sticking his finger in the quarter-sized hole to get a hold on the door. It won’t budge.
He says, “I seem to be having some difficulty here,” very matter-of-factly. Uh, yeah. Just a little.
I offer a try. Even though my fingers are smaller and I can fit two into the little hole, it appears as if the lock bolt has gotten jammed in the small fixture below the handle hole. My cell phone is dead. His is in his truck. We are stuck.
I try again and again, and after my attempts fail, he gives it a go. He really gets into it, hitting his shoulder to it like he’s Mister G.I.-Joe-Swat-Man. Still no success. Panic starts to set in, and although we are not in any danger stuck in a bar bathroom, I begin to wonder how Frederick would be fed if I died here.
“As if Valentine’s Day wasn’t hell enough already,” he grumbles.
I laugh nervously and nod. “Just keeps getting better.”
He tries banging on the door to get somebody’s attention. We yell. No response. The bathroom is down a long hallway, and music is still droning on from speakers all over the place. I stick my eye to the hole, as if Shamu was waiting on the other side for me. No such luck. Just the sound of drinking. Shamu must be busy with an apple martini.
“Surely somebody will come to the bathroom soon. There’s only one here.” I say.
He agrees, and we give the loud knocking a break. I ask if he has any tools in his box that could help. He tells me the heavy equipment is in his truck, and that this toolbox was for tidying up and small touch-ups. Great. He tells me he could try unjamming it with a small screwdriver, and I tell him to go for it.
As he looks through his toolbox once again, I really look at his face for the first time. He’s not bad looking, not that much older than I. He is a working man. I can tell by his arms.
“You had a job here?” I ask, curiosity slowly creeping in.
“Yup. Somebody flushed a bra and it busted a pipe.”
“Wow. That doesn’t happen too often.” I comment.
He smiles and says, “Calls to bars are usually pretty interesting.”
He sets to work on the door, kneeling in front of it, shoving the screwdriver against the jammed lock. I sit against the wall and revel in my pleasant smell. My inner germophobe is screaming. My hands almost shake as I tear into my purse, looking for hand sanitizer. I know it’s totally irrational and unnecessary, but as I sprinkle Purell on my chest, I feel like the Pope has washed me with holy water. He sees me out of the corner of his eye; I can tell by his grin.
I take in the scenery- the black and white tiled floor, the fluorescent light, profane words scribbled on the wall. I don’t want to be here. Perhaps the fumes of stomach acids get to me, but I suddenly have the urge to strum up conversation.
“Valentine’s Day not your thing?”
“Nah, not for a long time.”
“Any reason why?”
“Wife left me years ago. Just don’t do the romance thing anymore.”
I sit there in silence for a few moments. What do you say to that? Oh, I’m sorry you couldn’t keep a wife- better luck next time? I decide to let it hang there. The only noise in the room is the scratching noise of his screwdriver and the faint buzzing of an old fluorescent light. He clears his throat and asks, “Your name?”
More silence. He then proceeds to say those awkward phrases that make no difference to the person you’re talking to, but are said to merely fill in silent air.
“I had an aunt named Diane. Had terrible cankles.”
For a minute I just sit with a crinkled brow. Why me?
“Cankles, eh? That’ll get you.”
I have no idea what “get you” means, but seeing as nothing else comes to mind, it makes perfect sense. This is awkward. Jeff starts up conversation again.
“You have anyone waiting for you this February 14th?”
“Oh, well, no.”
He silently continues to fiddle with the door lock. It’s his turn to drop the subject. I am considering pouring the entire bottle of Doo-D-Gone on my torso. I smell like the backseat of Amy Winehouse’s limo. I would gladly let Frederick’s mess stain the carpet, if only I could get out of this stupid bar, this stupid shirt, and leave stupid Jeff’s presence. Well, maybe stupid isn’t the right term for Jeff. Jeff is actually looking pretty good right now. Somehow he pulls off the dull grey utility suit. Somehow he makes jamming a screwdriver into a no-good, deceitful bathroom door look not as bad as it should. I tilt my head back onto the strongly unsanitary wall and laugh in disbelief.
“Who would’ve thought, just a trip to get some carpet cleaner and I end up locked in a bathroom with a stranger, with throw up all over me? Strange chances, indeed.”
Jeff argues my statement. “I don’t know about chances. Sometimes I’d like to think that everything happens for a reason.”
Just as Jeff utters the “n” on “reason,” the door unlatches. He’d finally gotten it. I spring up and smile thankfully, “Thank goodness you’re the handyman type.” Jeff smiles back and says, “I’m just glad we weren’t stuck in here for long.”
We exit the bathroom, kind of chuckling at how weird our little gathering was. Jeff looks at me with suddenly brown eyes and asks if I want a ride home, after all- it’s cold and I’m a mess. Finally, back to Frederick, back to my couch, back to my chocolates. Back to alone. I look at Jeff and tell him I’d love a ride home. I also tell him my toilet has been mysteriously thrumming now and then, and that it needs looking at. I also ask him if he likes chocolates.