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Sitting and growling in the back of the intimate grotto, the cavelike walls bumpy with Parmesan cheese, with pesto sauce, Giacomo Jones gulps on his second or third Old Fashioned (rye whiskey, simple syrup, bitters, an orange twist, no ice), and hopes he won’t have to fire Sophie for standing him up and not falling in love with him tonight. Because he like definitely would. Definitely. Giacomo growls, takes another gulp of his stiffer than stiff drink, coughs, sneezes, coughs, and with a not-so-subtle head swivel, scopes out all the giggling couples crammed in tight with him in this hotter than hot cellar. He wipes his superhairy brow and stares through the orangeyellow candle flames at all the handsome-on-handsome gay couples, at all the hip-to-be-square straight couples, at all the lesbian and bi couples, the transgender, transsexual, cisgender, cissexual, intersex, interracial, gender-queer, gender-fluid, pansexual, other—at all the jittery couples out on first dates, second dates, on “Are we getting serious?” dates or “Why don’t we move in together?” dates, on “We should really get a dog” dates or “No, I like cats” dates—at all the crying couples out on engagement dates, breakup dates, anniversary dates, birthday dates, dates, dates, dates . . . His Elvis Presley pompadour spiked with sweat Giacomo Jones then heaves his giraffe eyes away from the marriage proposals, the bridal bouquets, and points his runny walnut nose at the swinging doors, a mustardy disc of drool yo-yoing down his starving muzzle as he watches the tadpole waiters whirling back and forth, back and forth with creamier than creamy pasta plates on their bulblike heads, vodka martinis at the ready inside indigo vests. Giacomo slurping up his yo-yo and peeking in at the hectic kitchen—Guatemalan chefs scrambling for pots and pans as six-course orders are read and shouted, read and shouted, as gas-burning stoves are fired up, industrial ovens fired up, heart rates fired up, butcher knives juggled, dropped, juggled, dropped, pinky fingers singed and severed, tempers broiling, aprons flying, raw food washed, cut, chopped, sliced, diced, tossed, steamed, grilled, roasted, seasoned then hurled up the counter and up the servers’ whirling arms, the doors swinging, the doors swinging, the doors swinging . . . A little tired, a little testy, our favorite superhero gulps on his sippy cup and pulls out his smartphone. He checks the time—6:55 PM. He checks his email—nothing new. He scrolls through all 6.022 × 1023 reviews of Titian’s Tiramisu but decides it’s still way too early to tell whether or not the restaurant like actually deserves its 3.14159-star rating (out of π stars). Because only time will tell. Only time . . . Ugh, fuck time! Totally itchy with courtly love, twirling his smartphone on the table like some kind of postcyberpunk dreidel, our favorite superhero scratches his Komodo dragon scalp, gulps on his sippy cup, gulps twice, and promises himself that if he’s ever fifty-five minutes late to a date—to anything!—he’ll like straightaway go out and buy the most expensive Superman kimono he can possibly find. Plus a 9-inch dagger. Then he’ll write a death poem, edit the death poem, post the death poem online, and commit hara-kiri in Times Square. On fucking principle . . .
At 7:15 PM Giacomo pounds on the two- or three-person table and slobbers on his denim dress shirt while spinning and plucking a mouthful of shrimp off a passing plate of yummy-yummy fettuccine Alfredo. Chewing and licking his superhairy fingers Giacomo realizes that he might just definitely be a little buzzed. Maybe even more than a little. He also realizes, with another 360-degree head swivel, that he probably definitely should have worn a tie or something. He peeks under the table at his Chuck Taylor All-Stars. And he probably definitely should have worn a nicer pair of shoes . . . Giacomo shrugging and gulping the rest of his sippy cup. Giacomo gulping on how best to fire Sophie without getting sued for sexual harassment . . .
After climbing up and falling down a few liquor-slick decision trees our favorite superhero shakes his muzzle and decides to go see a movie before calling it a night. He’ll sleep on it and fire that California tease in the morning. Already feeling much better, like so much better, Giacomo Jones picks his walnut nose and sneezes into his dinner napkin. Sneezes twice. But right as the pressurized snot builds up for a third orgasmic sneeze a lavender lasso wraps itself round and round his spicy wet dog cologne—and squeezes.
“Hey, boss. Sorry I’m so late. It took me forever to read the address on the note you left me,” squeezing and squeezing. “Don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but I think you might have the worst handwriting ever. It’s not even chicken scratch. It’s an angry corkscrew,” squeezing and squeezing.
Definitely not in the mood for any really lame excuses our favorite superhero sneezes himself free and wipes a thick strand of brown snot off his walnut nose. Giacomo Jones stands up, like actually about to raise hell and demand disembowelment. Giacomo Jones stands up and faceplants into a goldgreen net.
“Don’t fucking worry about it,” grinning and grinning and lifting himself off the floor.
Sophie Strudel smiling a beauty queen kind of smile as she takes off her red fur coat, her red ushanka cap with the earflaps folded up, then gracefully glides down into her terracotta chair. The maître ‘d handing her a menu, curling his mustache and whirling away to go check her coat, her cap.
“Have you been waiting long, boss?”
“Fuck no. I told you, don’t fucking worry about it. And you don’t have to call me—”
“Good evening. My name’s Carl. I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Can I start you off with anything to drink? An appetizer perhaps?”
Giacomo growls up at the annoyingly attractive, struggling actor-type waiter leaning over their table with his hands folded behind his back. Leaning and staring down at his date! Giacomo growling and coughing out an order of fried calamari. Giacomo burping across the table that since Sophie’s the one from fucking California she probably knows a whole fucking lot more about fucking wine than he fucking does. Sophie smiling and picking out a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2002 vintage—Carl nodding and salivating over Sophie’s eye-matching goldgreen cocktail dress—Giacomo growling but somehow staying put. Because even though he like actually wants to knock Carl the fuck out, he’s gonna let this whole thing slide because Sophie Strudel like definitely does look delicious tonight—milk chocolate hair curling down her vanilla-almond neck, pineapple freckles soaking up the orangeyellow candle flames. So no wonder Carl can’t stop trying to eat her . . .
When Carl and his rapist eyes finally leave, Sophie flicks a strand of hair behind her peanut butter ear and whispers over the table—“This isn’t awkward, right? That we work together?”
“Fuck no. Why the fuck should it be?”
That being said, our favorite superhero like definitely doesn’t know how to start things off. He runs a superhairy paw over his brown cheeks, his chin, groaning and growling because he totally missed a few knife-swipes this morning. He coughs for something to say. “Eh, why the fuck did you leave fucking LA and move to the fucking city?”
“Oh I thought you knew. I went to school in the city. At NYU.”
“That’s right. Now I fucking remember. And I fucking remember from your CV that you didn’t study fucking web design.”
“Nope, I was a theatre major. I was one of those who actually thought they were going to be on TV the day after they graduated. And I was, kind of. In like commercials and stuff. Nothing big. But I did that for two or three years. Till my parents told me they’d cut me off if I didn’t get a real job. And the only real job I could find was at a web design firm. Which ironically turned out to be the perfect job for me. It’s crazy how satisfying building a website can be . . . Then you guys called and I thought I’d be a great opportunity to broaden my skillset.” Sophie moves in closer to the candle flames. “Plus you guys pay better. Don’t tell anyone though,” smiling a Queen of Sheba kind of smile. “But I’m still hoping to get back into acting at some point. Just for fun though. It’s not like anyone actually makes a career out of their college major.”
Giacomo like definitely wants to say “what the fuck about fucking him” but definitely doesn’t because Carl’s back with the calamari and the wine.
Staring at Sophie, Carl tilts the purplegreen bottle for her perusal.
Sophie reads the label. Nods.
Staring at Sophie, Carl uncorks the bottle, then places the cork on the table.
Sophie picks up the cork. Sniffs. Nods.
Staring at Sophie, Carl pours Sophie a taste.
Sophie swirls the glass. Sniffs. Sips. Smiles and nods.
Staring at Sophie, Carl fills her glass and forgets to pour one for Giacomo. Carl now clapping his annoyingly attractive hands. “Have we decided on what we’ll be having this evening?”
Sophie lightly taps the menu, talks with Carl about preparation methods, cooking techniques, dietary restrictions, allergies and animal rights—Carl nodding and licking his lips as Sophie points and underlines her choice, porcini mushroom risotto, frosted fingernails tap-a-tapping the intricate font. Carl still staring at Sophie as Giacomo coughs out his order of veal scaloppini with a side of pan-fried asparagus (online editor’s choice), even though he definitely can’t be sure if Carl heard him or not . . . Giacomo calming himself and his superhairy paws by subtracting each lecherous stare from Carl’s tip total. Giacomo closing his kangaroo eyes and focusing on Dean Martin’s cooler than cool voice. Swaying and swaying through this hotter than hot cellar . . .
When Carl and his sex offender eyes finally leave, our favorite superhero picks up the bottle of wine and fills his glass to the brim. He raises his arm and grins—“Cheers.”
Sophie takes a small sip, licks the blood of her lips. “So yea, I’ve been living in the city since I finished high school. Well except for that one semester when I went abroad to France and—”
“You did a fucking semester in fucking France?”
“Mhmm, I thought you knew. It was fantastic. I got to travel all over Europe and—” she’s off. Off to foreign lands and leaving our favorite superhero grounded in the USA. All he can do is sit and listen as Sophie now launches into her travels overseas, her studies abroad, her Life As She’s Lived It. Giacomo gulping down his wine and watching Sophie airbrush her autobiography across the table, each watercolor-year diluted into 365 kaleidoscopes of people and places—college theatre classes spilling over into a Parisian dance academy, faceless French boyfriends dissolving into weekend trips to Monaco, Florence, Valencia, a family road trip up and down the Riviera conjuring up shadowy yachts and lighthouses on the restaurant walls, cobblestone ports populated by gossiping townsfolk in black berets with arms folded, legs crossed, centuries idled away at a medieval square, a game of chess left unfinished on a wooden stool, two or three smoldering tobacco pipes, a bronze fountain shooting perfectly perfect rainbows into this limitless azure, sea and sky and Mediterranean men ambling about with their salt-and-pepper hair combed back, a crunchy baguette tucked tight under their arms as they stroll home to volatile wives, olive-black mistresses, the town’s half-naked sons and daughters chasing each other round and round this afternoon mirage while their stoic mothers stare out of quiet cafés, clove cigarettes dangling from their jaded fingertips, the sun in their hair drawn back and up as they gaze out the melancholy windowpanes at the passing, the always passing crowd . . . Ah, Europe . . . Ah, Europe!
“But what about you?” Giacomo hears Sophie ask him forty-five minutes later, when Carl brings out their entrées but thankfully doesn’t stay to chat or stare. “How did you come up with this life-or-death dating algorithm?”
“Oh that,” Giacomo skimming off a tender chunk of veal—“I’ve been fucking working on that since fucking college.”
“Where did you go to school again?”
“U of I. Fuck—the University of Illinois.”
“Yea,” Giacomo washing down the veal with an extra-large gulp of wine, “I fucking came up with that at my family’s funeral.”
Sophie chokes on her mushroom risotto. “Did you just say your family’s funeral?”
“That’s right. My pops, my older brothers, my baby sis,” chewing on a chunk of veal. “They bought a fucking space heater,” chewing. “I was in the middle of fucking exams when the motherfuckers at the hospital called,” chewing. “I drove through fifty fucking red lights,” chewing. “They said it was a fucking blanket that started the fucking thing,” chewing. “We fucking buried them next to my mom,” chewing. “She fucking died giving birth to my baby sis,” chewing. “At the fucking funeral,” chewing, “that’s when I fucking realized that if a motherfucker’s faced with something bad, real fucking bad,” chewing. “If it’s fucking life or death for them they’ll fucking cling to anything. They’ll fall in love with any motherfucker,” chewing. “Problem is, every motherfucker out there has a fucking different conception of what’s life or death,” chewing. “Of course we’re not talking about a fucking conscious conception here. No fucking way,” chewing. “Even if a motherfucker has that—which they never fucking do— it doesn’t fucking matter. There’s too much ego static,” chewing. “Too much fucking noise,” chewing. “What fucking matters is a motherfucker’s subconscious conception of what life or fucking death means for them,” chewing. “That’s what fucking counts. And that’s where the fucking algorithm comes in,” chewing. “It sorts through a motherfucker’s profile—place of fucking birth, credit score, ideological framework, adolescent ambitions, sexual fucking history, etc.—and matches that motherfucker with the appropriate life-or-death scenario,” chewing. “Then it matches together those fucks that share the same fucking scenario.” Giacomo washes down the veal with an extra-large gulp of wine. He burps. He burps twice. “I know what you’re fucking thinking. You’re fucking thinking what if no one shares the same fucking scenario. What if there’s a fucking infinite set of scenarios and a finite set of motherfuckers to match up. You’re thinking I’m a fucking amateur, aren’t you? You’re thinking I’m a fucking idealist, aren’t you! Well maybe I am. Maybe I fucking am . . .” Giacomo takes another extra-large gulp of wine. “But not anymore. These fucking days I’m a piece of practical shit. I sold out the fucking day I introduced probability. Percentages. When I had to set feasible fucking limits for the number of fucking scenarios available at any one fucking time. Margins of error and all that vulgar shit . . .” Giacomo takes another extra-large gulp of wine. “There you fucking go. Truelove.”
Sophie blushes and squirms in her terracotta chair. She picks at her risotto, mumbles into her plate. “I’m sorry to hear about your family.”
Giacomo shakes his muzzle. “Don’t fucking worry about it.” He skims off another tender chunk of veal. Washes it down with an extra-large gulp of wine. “Are you fucking heading back to California for the fucking holidays?”
“No, not this year,” head down, mumbling, picking at her risotto. “My parent’s are flying in next week with my brother. They’re staying till New Years . . .”
Giacomo grunts but definitely doesn’t know what else to say. And neither does his date. So for a few surprisingly comfortable minutes the two or three coworkers just sit across from each other—goldgreen cocktail dress across from denim dress shirt. They sit, eat their really yummy food, and listen to the giggling couples. To Dean Martin’s voice swaying and swaying through this intimate grotto . . .
Sophie talks first. She whispers into her plate. “When I was abroad, I took a trip to visit the firebombing memorial in Dresden. My great-grandparents survived, but no one else in their family made it. I guess I should say my family. Even though I don’t know anything about them.”
“How the fuck did they make it?”
“They ran down the street and hid in an empty slaughterhouse. In the basement.”
“Jesus . . .”
The giggling couples. Dean Martin’s voice and a three-note chime.
Flicking back her milk chocolate hair, Sophie bends down and reaches into her Louis Vuitton handbag. She pulls out her flashing smartphone, glances at it, then drops it back into her handbag with a freckly smile. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t fucking worry about it.”
Giacomo skims off another tender chunk of veal. Washes it down with an extra-large gulp of wine. He feels something delicious tickle-tickle up and down his spine. He coughs for something to say. “What the fuck was wrong with Peter today? He was being a real fucking pain in my fucking ass.”
Sophie nods and sips on her wine. “I know, right? I’m not sure. It looked like he was just having a bad day. Maybe there was something wrong at home.”
Giacomo hacks and hacks at a really tough chunk of veal, growling, “He should fucking stay fucking home if he’s going to be such a fucking prick . . .”
Sophie uses her dinner napkin to wipe the blood off her lips. “So, boss, what do you usually do after work?”
“Eh, after work—after fucking work I usually just go back to my fucking apartment and fucking relax. Go online. Stream a TV show. Jerk off. Sleep. The fucking usual . . . Either that or I head over to fucking Queens and hang the fuck out.”
“You hang out in Queens?”
“That’s right. I know these motherfuckers who live over there—under the fucking bridge. They don’t wear shirts and they only eat mac and fucking cheese.”
“Really? That’s intense.”
Giacomo grins and feels something stir. “Yea it fucking is. Real fucking intense.”
Sophie cracks a Fairy Queen kind of smile. She whispers through the candle flames. “Sounds like fun. You’ll have to take me there sometime . . .”
Almost blushing, almost totally in love and definitely drunk, Giacomo Jones finishes his veal, his wine, and while trying his very best not to cum really hard in his London-gray slacks, promises himself that he’ll like definitely take her there, take her anywhere in the world as long as she’ll be his girlfriend. As long as she’ll move in with him and go to Sunday brunch with him. As long as Sophie Strudel will marry him and have his superhairy kids. As long as she’ll—
“Now have we left any room for our world-famous tiramisu?”
“What the fuck! Can’t you fucking see we’re fucking busy here you piece of motherfucking shit!” Giacomo flipping the table over and punching Carl in his annoyingly attractive face.
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