I haven’t had a date since the Carter administration, so excuse me if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy when I say: we used to set the bar a bit higher.
My friend Bridget flew into Chicago a couple of weeks ago and we met up for a girl’s weekend in the city. I brought a couple of bottles of wine, but left the good corkscrew at home figuring we could get one from the hotel concierge. Major miscalculation. After waiting an hour for the bellboy and tipping him handsomely, we found ourselves in possession of the kind of cheap corkscrew owned by people who never open wine bottles. Also, apparently, the kind favored by hotels. This is no doubt due to their extensive experience with guests stealing anything that will fit in a suitcase.
I tried to open first one bottle, and then the other. No go. Bridget tried next, using all of her strength. No luck. She braced and held the bottle tight while I pulled on the corkscrew, my foot on her thigh for extra leverage and both of us straining so hard we were in danger of bursting blood vessels. No use. Both bottles resisted our every effort.
We briefly considered smashing the bottle necks on the bathroom sink, but sanity prevailed – this was no time to panic. Our choices were: go out in search of a decent corkscrew, or pay $12 a glass at the hotel bar. We bundled up and hit the cold, dark city streets.
It seemed the wine gods were smiling down upon us; there was a Target store right around the corner. It was rather depressing to see deals on Brawny paper towels and Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear in the windows of the venerable, old Carson Pirie Scott building, windows which once delighted generations of Chicagoans with their elaborate Christmas displays, but our need was great and so was our relief.
You can get anything you want at Target: food, drink, clothes, house wares, or pharmaceuticals. You name it and they probably have it.
The joint was jumping on that early Friday evening, full of people buying groceries, Christmas shoppers, protesters stocking up on essentials before going out, yet again, to blockade State Street, and those making last minute preparations for date night. We got in line behind one of the later.
It’s human nature to look at the other guy’s cart when you’re waiting in line, and anyone who says they don’t look is either a liar, or they’re too busy fiddling with their cell phone to notice anything going on around them. You can tell a lot about someone by what they buy. The man in front of us was very young – he looked barely old enough to shave – and he was small; 5’ 2”, 130 lbs, tops. His purchases were in a hand-held basket, so we didn’t get a look at them until it was his turn to unload onto the checkout conveyor belt. He had three things:
- A jumbo Platinum Pack of Trojan condoms (ribbed for added stimulation)
- The Plan B morning after pill
- A box of Hamburger Helper. Cheeseburger Macaroni, to be precise.
Bridget and I have been exchanging elbow-to-the-rib nudges and muffled giggles since Mr. Johnson’s homeroom in 7th grade, so we’ve had plenty of experience stifling inappropriate laughter. This situation tested that control to the limit.
I didn’t know you could buy the morning after pill in a store, just like that, without a prescription. It must be a popular item for thieves because it was packaged in a Lucite security box, like printer ink cartridges at the office supply store. We all had to wait while the cashier found somebody to unlock it. While we waited, Bridget and I speculated in whispers;
- Romeo might be small of stature, but it was clear he was a man with big plans for the evening. Very big plans.
- Oysters are considered an aphrodisiac, but who knew Hamburger Helper was in the same category?
- You would think that somebody willing to spring for the top-of-the-line Platinum rubbers, instead of the Bronze, would up the ante on the dinner menu.
- An actual hamburger, as opposed to goulash made with burger meat, would be a big step up in the class department.
- If this approach worked, then young women have sure as hell lowered their dating standards since we were out there.
- The Hamburger Helper was perfectly understandable when you consider it probably took his entire allowance as well as the contents of his piggy bank to afford the other two items.
- We had to admire his caution in having a backup plan in case his hidden soldiers escaped their Trojan horse.
- He should put everything back on the shelf and save his money. We could almost guarantee that once his date saw the one item, he was not going to need either of the other 2 items in the basket.
We wondered if he would mind some dating advice from a couple of older women who were motivated purely by a strong maternal instinct to see a young man prosper, but decided our input might not be welcome. The manager eventually came with the key to the Lucite anti-chastity belt; the young man counted out the requisite number of nickels and quarters, and then he went on his merry way.
We returned to the hotel with our new corkscrew and made easy work of the stubborn bottles, then went down to enjoy a glass or two in the palatial lobby of the Palmer House. As the evening wore on and the bottles emptied, our laughter may have mixed with a few tears as we reflected on the contents of the young man’s basket and what it said about society. Romeo was, by then, presumably busy wooing his lucky Juliet.
Just another Friday night in the big city.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a really bad date? Have you ever hosted one? Would you admit it if you had?
p.s. Arlo Guthrie’s song, Alice’s Restaurant, has absolutely nothing to do with this post except that the refrain was running through my brain the entire time I was writing this post, retrofitted to, “you can get anything you want at Tar-ar-ar-ar-ar-get.”