Between Tim and me, we have two six-packs. Tim’s is on his stomach; mine is in my fridge. I used to have something that resembled a six-pack on my stomach if I squinted hard enough, but that was when I still went to Pottruck, the university gym.
“Damn,” Tim noted when I took off my Liverpool jersey after an hour and half of soccer at Penn Park three and a half weeks ago, “this semester took a toll on ya, buddy.” He was referring to the two lines of stretch marks that my belly displayed, as well as the comfortable handles of skin and fat located on my sides. When I exhaled, I had the texture of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
This past semester, I traded in my gym membership for a frequent-visitor badge at Van Pelt, Penn’s main library. Instead of smelling under-deodoranted armpits or watching girls out-bench me for two hours a day, I became VP’s Gollum. The blame lies with the six classes I took and the fact that my brain wasn’t built to handle six classes. I had to partake in collegiate black magic, slicing and parceling away pieces of my soul to the library gods every day in return for a basic understanding of formal logic and the perseverance to read Charles Dickens’ loose, baggy monsters. The ordinary bystander might have thought I was only slicing and parceling away chunks of peanut butter that I then smothered onto ten-inch rolls from Wawa, but she would be mistaken. Magic took place in that building.
But that’s over now, I told myself, as the semester came to a close. I was going to be in Europe this summer – in Spain, Germany, and Italy – and the ladies across the pond were going to witness a changed man.
Before I embarked on my journey to the road leading to 3701 Walnut Street, I was to enjoy one more day of no exercising and a night of swigging beer. I had a date at Frankford Hall one Saturday evening.
I had met the girl on Locust Walk four days before the date. I was on my way limping back home after a bunch of high schoolers had whooped my fellow college seniors and me in a two-hour match of pick-up soccer. I wore my black soccer shorts and a downward gaze at the brick walkway, noticing the pitter-patter of the rain picking up and pelting the back of my head. Right as I passed Huntsman Hall, my right calf cramped.
I had just been thinking of Scarlett Johansson’s raging tits, so I cried out an expletive-laden sentence that incorporated that train of thought. As I hopped around in a circle clutching my leg, a girl with an umbrella approached me and asked if I was okay.
“I’m good, I’m good, just a cramp,” I responded. I took a peek at my stranger, whom I recognized. “I, uh, know you, yeah?”
“Yah! I see you all the time at the library.” She was short, had long black hair, and rocked a red spring dress. She had a nose piercing and stared at me with her light blue eyes.
“Right-o.” Being recognized as the guy at the library all the time put me somewhere between Sigma Nu and a pot of boiling water in terms of coolness.
“I’m Cristina, by the way.” She stuck out her hand. I took it and introduced myself.
We walked together and chatted until we reached the Tampons – the dual, red statues located in the middle of the High Rise Field. She had just finished grad school. Her family lived in Seattle. She thought sports were silly – “And guys who cramp in the middle of Locust Walk, sillier, I think.” She was kidding, I think. When we arrived at the Tampons, I was going to go left, back to my dorm. She was going straight, back to her place on 44th.
“Would you like to grab dinner sometime?” She interjected. I demonstrated my surprise by biting the left edge of my tongue.
“Thure!” I replied through a blob of blood that began to form at the corner of my tongue. “Here, I’ll gith you my numfer.” I typed my number, realized I made a mistake, corrected it, forgot that the four came after the two, fixed it again, and in the process covered her phone with sweat from my palms. She was patient and laughed through the entire ordeal.
“I’ll text you, and you can decide where would be a good place!”
“Looking forward to hearing from you, Hans! And nice meeting you!” She walked away.
Frankford Hall, it was.
“Frankford Hall, is it?” chirped Tim when I told him of where we were going. We were at HubBub Coffee on 38th and Walnut, and Tim had just finished concocting his post-gym protein shake – two scoops of vanilla powder, a dash of milk, and a lot of water. It was Saturday afternoon, and I was to meet up with Cristina in a couple of hours. “Nervous?”
I looked at Tim and saw on his face a playful expression.
“Eh.” I was nervous.
“You don’t think anything’s going to go wrong, do you?” He probed again.
“Naw, man.” I expected disaster to find a way, somehow.
“So you gotta be lookin’ forward to it.” The glee radiated from his teeth.
“Right.” I was sure I was going to regret everything by the end of the night.
“Well shit, in that case, I’m really happy for ya – and this date. About time a chick had some pity on you.” He put his index and middle fingers up to his mouth, trying to contain laughter.
“Look, dude, after tonight, which is totally gonna go well, I’ll start hittin’ the gym, and everything will be back to what they were before this semester.”
“Are you saying that to me or to yourself?”
I spent the rest of the time at HubBub convincing myself that everything was going to be all right. At eight, I walked over to 39th and Locust and waited for Cristina.
When Cristina arrived, she wore a black dress that exposed one of her shoulders and a thin, brown belt wrapped around her midriff. She smelled of vanilla and touched her hair as she made small talk with me, asking about my day.
“I’ve been really looking forward to this!” she interjected. I found it refreshing that someone would openly state that. My shoulders relaxed.
After the niceties, we hopped on the subway at 40th and Market and made our way to Girard Station.
For the directionally challenged, Frankford Hall is about a ten-minute walk from Girard Station. I began impressing Cristina with my wonderful sense of direction by going the opposite way, winding up on wrong streets and dead ends, and, at one point, leading her to a dark alley.
“The scenic route,” I explained. She tried to keep a straight face. By the time we arrived at Frankford Hall, I was ready for a drink.
Frankford Hall is a bar and restaurant modeled after a German beer garden. The darkly lit interior reminded me of bars I had visited in Berlin, particularly Rosie’s, but the patio with its wooden benches, Jengas, and open sky looked just put-together enough for a first date.
I walked to the bar, which stood off to the corner, and saw that the place carried German beer on tap for half-liter and full-liter glasses. I asked Cristina what kind of beer she drank, to which she replied, “Not IPAs.” I ordered two, one-liters of a pilsner for her and a Maibock for myself.
“May-bock, you mean?” the server corrected my pronunciation. I smiled and nodded, wondering how they let the staff at a German restaurant butcher German like that, and sat down at one of the benches. I began to take big gulps of my beer.
“Do you like beer?” Cristina asked, sipping her beer with caution, and then drinking heartily after tasting that it wasn’t an IPA. I stopped mid-gulp.
“I promise I’m not drinking beer to make you seem more interesting,” I retorted.
“No, I believe you,” Cristina chuckled, “That’s why I’m drinking, to make you more interesting.”
“Oh.” Well, shit, I thought.
“I’m kidding, Hans. I’m kidding.” I knew I was making an ass out of myself, and I continued to make an ass out of myself as our conversation went on, but the beer tasted great. I decided to go for another, and asked Cristina if she wanted another liter as well. She replied that she did. I left for the bar and came back to the table a couple of minutes later, where I saw Cristina staring off in front of her.
“You know what one of my favorite things to do is?” She asked. I replied that I didn’t. “People watching. Take that couple over there, for example.” She nodded her head towards a hefty man with a nervous grin and a petite girl wearing a ponytail playing Jenga. They sat diagonally behind me to my right, and I worried that they would notice that I was staring if I looked. Cristina, however, didn’t seem to care whether they noticed or not. “I love people watching. Sometimes, I’ll just sit at Rittenhouse Square and spend thirty minutes looking at people and what they do, nothing else. I try to guess what they’re like – who they are – by reading their body language and the people they’re with.”
“You any good?”
“I’d like to think so,” she responded without blinking, and touched her neck with her hand. Her manicures were dark green.
“Okay,” I straightened my back, “what’s the couple up to then?”
Cristina squinted at the two sitting there, the man pulling a Jenga block out with a shaking hand as if the tepid conversation depended on the tower of blocks not collapsing. The Jenga blocks remained standing, and his taut shoulders came back below his chin. The woman scratched her nose and coughed. Their inaudible conversation continued.
“They’re on their first date. The man is focused on the Jenga game to keep the conversation going – see the way he’s looking at the blocks and then quickly glancing at her whenever she says something? She demands his attention, but it’s still awkward for him to just stare at her. It’s probably a bit uncomfortable for both of them, I think, not because they’re uninterested, but because they’re just getting to know each other. I mean, look at how upright they’re standing, instead of leaning their face towards each other. It’s pretty loud here, so it can’t be too easy to talk the way they’re talking. Now, the chick – she doesn’t give a shit about the Jenga game, and she probably can’t wait for the guy to get up so she can text her girlfriends about how the date’s going and how nervous her date is.”
“Or,” I suggested, “maybe he agreed to a dinner after a night of drunkenly making out with her, a rando, at a shitty university bar, realized within fifteen minutes of the date that making dinner promises with beer in one hand and her ass in the other on a darkly lit and humid dance floor was a rookie mistake, and now he’s seriously questioning all sorts of things, like his decision making abilities, drinking habits, and life in general.”
“Wait, is there a story behind that?”
“I’m getting beer. Would you like another?” Cristina had finished her liter, again, while speaking just as coherently as she did at the beginning of the night. She replied that she would. I came back with liter glasses for both of us, at which point she continued chugging away. I, on the other hand, noticed I’d been drinking without nearly enough food or water. I turned my head away from Cristina, did something between a gag and cough in my throat, and excused myself from the table.
Anyone who’s drank a lick has reached the point of critical mass at which he knows the end is near. He gets up, his face feeling cooler than usual, stumbles over to the bathroom, and begins shuffling his feet quicker and quicker to the nearest toilet bowl. Sometimes, he’s unlucky and has to go in the sink or a trash can. If that white bowl is available, though, he gets down on his knees like a prayer to the BAC gods, latches his cold, clammy hands on to the lifted seats, and lets the projectiles go. That was me.
For how pleasant pissing, shitting, and ejaculating are, vomiting is extremely unpleasant. When you vomit, you’re crying, you’re shaking, you’re letting go of all things tangible and intangible, like pieces of the inner lining of your esophagus or large chunks of your dignity. As I kneeled in front of the bowl, I saw both of them floating in a brownish, yellowish glob of barf. You have to wonder why an Almighty Dog couldn’t have fashioned the human body in a way so that throwing up would be more tolerable.
Of course, that thought wasn’t what was going through my head at the time I was expunging everything in my stomach inside the third stall from the left in the Frankford Hall bathroom, but it’s more pleasant to reflect on that than on the embarrassment of throwing up on a first date, the pain of next morning’s hangover, and never hearing back from Cristina again. The date, after I came back reeking of puke and bits and a shirt stained in several spots, evaporated quickly afterwards.
Tim texted me the next day and asked how the date went. I told him that it was time the beer and I went on a break – the gym called.