by Gordon Polatnick


She was saying something practical about her address book sitting by the key dish in her kitchen by the can opener.  I saw her scribbling on a matchbook cover.  I tried to focus hard on my instructions.   I was to call her at this number in an hour, and she'd give me Shelly’s home number at Paco’s.  As Sunny parted the sunset gleaming through Big Wally’s patio door, I think I smiled and waved like I was saying bye-bye to Santa going back up the chimney. I looked at the matchbook that my hand somehow held, and there was my future. TO BE CONTINIUED...


(we rejoin our story, already in progress)

Walking in a sweet fog, I hitched a ride on the number 9 cloud that was rolling up the street to Dolce Vita.  I had to tell Anna to call off the dogs. She was sure to flip out.  She wasn’t there, so I ordered a double shot of espresso to calm myself down.  Mona was behind the counter.  God, was she cute. And as it turned out she was Anna’s new roommate.  And you know what?  None of that mattered to me on a guy level—I didn’t fantasize for more than ten seconds.  I was focused.  A battery of cupids were hard at work making certain that the mythology of love would survive in one more soul, and I wasn’t about to let them down.

I tipped Mona my last cash and glided over to yesterday’s window seat.  Yesterday?!  How could that be yesterday?  I began to realize something Einsteinian about time.  Yesterdays are relative to nothing when you are on another  planet.  I had jumped planets and made the past irrelevant.  The present became a very amusing place, and the future seemed comically predictable.  As I smiled my ass off in the present state of Dolce Vita’s window seat, I began to write it all down to make it real.

Across the street, I could see Crawdaddy’s Restaurant. "Thank you," I said to the clever cupids who drew my attention to this perfect Cajun meeting place.  I could meet Shelly there to discuss our future over a bowl of filet gumbo.  Hopefully—make that: Clearly, she would be free to join me at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in a couple of weeks.  When life starts to write itself out like a Hollywood script it feels like a living poem.  I was curious if other people sustain this feeling and if that’s why they seem so free of existential trauma.  If so, I was on the right track and heading across the street to Crawdaddy’s to make reservations.

The nice looking waitress was standing behind the counter watching me as I seamlessly navigated the empty tables and chairs and approached her to see a menu.  I double checked with her about what time they closed and if my Visa card would be accepted.  My heightened sense of the present made me feel very organized, and I took in the whole scene picturing where Shelly and I would sit; how’d she be dressed; the way the red light of the strung crayfish lights would play off her blonde hair.  The waitress smiled at me, as if charmed by my contagious  high spirits.  I felt compelled to blurt out the whole story: from meeting Shelly in LA to the revelation at Big Wally’s—but I didn’t.  But I think I did dance out the door.

Back at my motel, I sat on the bed holding my breath as I dialed Sonny’s number.  She was home.  She said, "I just called Paco’s house and talked with his mother."  "Did you tell her about me?"  "She’s not very good with messages, so you’re on your own. Shelly’s at work or something."   I thanked Sunny a lot and told her we’d invite her to the wedding.  With my tape recorder rolling and my pulse pumping, I phoned Paco’s number.  The mother answered.

"Hello is Shelly there?"  "Yes, who’s this?"  "This is Gordon, a friend from LA."  "Shelly’s not here, she’s at work."  Then I hoped I’d come off brashly funny as I replied, "What are you lying, old lady, you just said she was there."   It must not have come off that bad, because she giggled and said, "I’ll get you the number."   It was taking her a long time so I clicked off the tape recorder.  The next voice on the phone was Paco’s:
"Who’s this?"
Returning to seventh grade for a moment my voice crackled:
"HI, tHis Is GoRdOn, a frieND of sHELLy’s fRom LLLA."
I answered again, feigning composure.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"I just blew into town and I thought I’d look Shelly up…for a chat." 
"Well she’s not here."
I was starting to feel like Woody Allen, but if you remember I was actually Bogart:
"I know she’s not there, she’s at work.  I need the number."
Meanwhile, Paco was being Brando in Streetcar:
"Why do you need her work number?"
Bogie rose to the challenge:
"You got a problem with that?"
He actually gave me the number.   Then he hung up.

As I was catching my breath Paco must have been dialing like the devil.  "BEEbau, BEEbau, BEEbau," was all I heard for the next five minutes as I repeatedly tried the number.  A day ago all this would have put me off.  But a day ago didn’t exist.  I already covered that.  Today I was the product of divine intervention.  God was driving this train now, I was just going along for the ride.  "BEEbau, BEEbau, BEEbau."  Let the phone be busy.  Let Paco go off on some jagged jealous rage, and let Shelly see what kind of Neanderthal she’s been saddling herself to.

The phone wasn’t busy forever, and this is what happened next.  This might blow your mind.  The phone begins to ring, and it’s like getting through to the radio station offering Stones tickets to a small club date.  Ring Ring.  Ring Ring. Someone picks up the phone:

"Hello, Crawdaddy’s."
"??!??CRAWDADDY’S?!?!??!Nofuckingway?!!??!! Is Shelly there?"
"You’re kidding me. This is unbelievable. Was she there when I was there twenty minutes ago?  I think I spoke to you about the menu and my Visa card…was Shelly there that whole time?"
"Yeah, she was, that was me.  I’m Shelly.  I thought you looked familiar."
"NO FUCKING WAY.  You mean to tell me that I spoke to you and I didn’t even recognize you?  Oh, God, that’s too strange.  What is this world coming to?  How the heck are you?"
"You know, you got me in trouble.  That was my boyfriend on the phone just now.  He’s really mad at me."
"Yeah, I thought that might be him.  Look, I’m sorry.  It’s no big deal is it?"

Guess what?  It was a big deal.  Her tone of voice was not joining mine on the road to matrimony.  I really blew it by not recognizing her. Romances need that.  They thrive on having the guy travel thousands of miles, run into the object of his desire, and then recognize her.  It’s essential.   My first mistake was making dinner reservations, when I should have been hurdling over the counter and sweeping her off her feet.

Those cupids really let me down. They must have thought I could handle the rest by myself--so instead of following through and walking me over to Crawdaddy’s, they went off to have a beer.  Didn’t they see how much trouble I was having trying to recognize Shelly ever since I landed in El Paso.  I needed a little more help.  Now everything’s screwed up.  Stupid Cupids.   I probably should have watched my language on the phone too.

I'll tell ya, I fully intended to give you the play by play right up through the fourth quarter of this Cinderella story, but I don’t think it will  do either of us any good.  At this point, when I became conscious of the enormity of my folly, I knew in my heart that the wicked step-sisters would win this one.  I continued to play my best till the final whistle, but the ring was not going to be mine.  Bummer.

My image and memory of Shelly was of a woman who could transcend the mundane trivialities of life and love on Earth and join me on my planet where all this magic was happening.  You know what I mean?  I went out to El Paso on a romantic adventure.  I was ready for every obstacle but the one I was facing.  She wasn’t enthused by my visit.  Her imagination had not been sparked.  She was not going to be the one.  The good news is that I discovered the magic for myself, and can pass the news along.  The bad news is obvious.  The other good news is that I hung out with Anna, Mona and their El Paso artist crew every night till dawn and we had a blast.  It was pure bohemia for four days.  Shelly and my mission of love had segued into the best possible alternative -- worthy of its own story one day.

As for this story today, it ends with me running past the old OJ in the El Paso airport trying to make my flight. The plane door smacked me on the butt as I boarded -- homeward bound to spend Passover with my family in New York.   Alone but not defeated.  Like Moses on Mt. Sinai, I was allowed to see the face of God but was not invited into the promised land.  No milk and no honey for Gordie. Not yet, anyway.