I might never have asked Kim out if not for Male Bonding Night. That’s what we called every Tuesday night, when Paul and I got together with Scott, another buddy from the consulting team. We’d hit the buffet at Sadie’s and head back to Paul’s and my apartment to drink beer, watch Coach, annoy our whiny downstairs neighbors and talk about women.
Paul was the only one who had a steady girlfriend at the time, but none of us liked her — including, possibly, Paul. I still think he was waiting for someone better to come along, but settled on her in the meantime. He needed a beard to throw off the suspicions of the people who knew he was my roommate and thought he must be as gay as they already thought me to be. We were stymied by the sheer number of people who, upon finding out we shared an apartment, would ask, “Do you have two bedrooms?” (We did.)
The kicker was the night one of our neighbors from across the hall — who happened to be gay — came over under the guise of borrowing an egg. He said he was making brownies for his partner; this may well have been true, but he clearly had an ulterior motive — recon. It took him all of two seconds to move from small talk to the bombshell: “Yeah, our eggs went bad and I don’t have time to run to the store; by the way, are you gay?” Awkwaaaaard!
I assured him I wasn’t, gave him his egg and sent him on his way, but was shaken by the experience. I could understand some people looking at something as superficial as my lack of a girlfriend and jumping to that conclusion, but how could I have generated a false positive on Gaydar? I thought it was nearly foolproof! Maybe he’d misunderstood what I meant by “male bonding.” Maybe I was giving off a vibe. Maybe I needed a girlfriend, stat.
Which is one of the reasons Male Bonding Night needed a rating system. Inevitably, our conversation on those nights would turn to the paralegals, most of whom were young and female. They were already great fodder for entertainment, as we’d noticed that the whole group of 20 or so left promptly at 5pm each night, vacating the premises by 5:01. We called the tradition “Paralegals on Parade” and those afternoons when Paul happened to be working at our site, he and I would stand in the doorway to the DBA room, waving miniature flags and humming parade tunes as they walked by in single file. They had no idea what we were about.
Nor did they know that we rated each one of them on Male Bonding Night. Which ones were available? Which ones were approachable? Which ones were desperate?
We limited these conversations to the paralegals, since they worked for someone else. We never considered our own employees. First of all, most of them were skanks. Kim wasn’t, but we had an unspoken agreement that she was off limits. She was our friend, the one we went to see when we needed a pick-me-up — which was often. She was always cheerful, but not in a vacuous sort of way. She was smart enough to know that place sucked, but she didn’t seem to care. She was our very own Mary Tyler Moore and it just seemed wrong to objectify the girl next door (or the girl down the hall, in the Archive Room).
I enjoyed Kim’s company while we were at work, but it never occurred to me to ask her out. But one Male Bonding Night, Scott put the idea in my head — by saying he wanted to ask her out. That was the precise moment that something started growing inside me with a little spark. Call it love, call it jealousy, call it a mission. It was almost a living being, a being whose only purpose was to protect Kim from other guys — so I could have her for myself.
“Isn’t Kim Jenkins sweet? I could see myself with her,” Scott said in an offhanded way.
“No, that’s not possible — she’s dating one of the runners,” I replied immediately.
“Yeah, but they don’t seem to get along; maybe they’re getting ready to br–”
“No, that’s not a good idea, Scott. Hey, what do you guys think of Lorraine?”
Odds are good that Paul reacted to that. I’m not sure because I really wasn’t interested in anyone’s reaction, so long as the conversation moved on. Even if it wasn’t that night, Paul eventually had a reaction to Lorraine, as she inspired him to drop his evil girlfriend (the one for whom he dropped the beard) for her. They were married four months after Kim and I were, but that’s another story.
The creature inside me continued to grow, moving me to check on Kim a lot during the late fall of 1990. It was then that I berated her boyfriend for mistreating her and encouraged her to dump him, which brings us back to where I was in Part 2.
Kim wanted to celebrate dumping her boyfriend and possibly get her first drunk on, which would be the perfect time for me to ask her out — provided I was drunk, too. I don’t remember if she succeeded, but I sure did as I celebrated that Scott didn’t know any of this yet. Kim, Nancy Carol and a friend of hers picked up me and Paul at our apartment (where we slept in separate rooms, according to our heterosexual agenda) and we set out to kill a good bit of Mitch’s pitchers.
Mitch’s Tavern is an infamous bar on Hillsborough Street, across from the N.C. State campus. It’s where they filmed the bar scenes from Bull Durham, which has always confused me — the glass door that Nuke broke from out front is actually at the top of a flight of indoor stairs.
Regardless, the place has a cool sort of appeal to the students of N.C. State, so that’s where they took us that night. We had a great time drinking and playing a game we made up called, “Don’t tell Nancy Carol” but I also never got the chance to tell — or ask — Kim anything. Nancy Carol had signed on to support her after the break-up, and apparently support means being joined at the hip. I couldn’t get her alone all night.
Instead, we talked about her plans for reinventing herself in the wake of her break-up — plans that had yet to include me. She was going to get a perm that week and she was going to dedicate herself to having more fun during her last semester. I didn’t want to be included on the perm, but I sure wanted to be part of the fun. It was just too bad that I couldn’t start my plans that night.
Once the evening was over, somebody sober drove us home and as Paul and I got out of the car, I asked Kim to call us and let us know once she’d made it home safely. Trudging upstairs to our apartment, Paul asked, “Well, Dude, what did she say? Are you going out this week?”
“All she’s doing this week is getting a perm — I never had a chance to ask her!”
“She’s gonna call tonight.”
“Yeah, I know, I asked her to –” Lightbulb. “No, man, I can’t ask her over the phone!”
“Because I had it all planned out — I was going to ask her while she was having fun at Mitch’s!”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“You shut up!”
Whereupon we launched into our shtick and forgot all about the coming phone call in our effort to make as much noise as possible as we passed by the door of our whiny downstairs neighbors. But ten minutes later, she called. Paul was in his bathroom and I was closer to his room than I was to mine, so I ran in and answered his phone.
“Hey, Dan, we’re home.”
“Good, I’m glad you made it. Thanks again for setting that up; we had a blast.”
“Ask her, Dummy!” Paul yelled from his throne.
“No, you!” I automatically responded, then explained to Kim that Paul was drunk and shouting stupid things. I sat down on the edge of his bed as we chuckled, and was suddenly thankful that the gay couple across the hall couldn’t see in the window to find me getting comfy on my roommate’s bed. And that thought bolstered me. Full of beer, encouraged by my drunken roommate who was using the bathroom, and wanting the world to know I wasn’t gay, I resolved to ask her — about her perm.
“So, you’re pretty excited about getting that perm, huh?”
“Oh, I can’t wait!”
“W-w-wellll, I think I know how you could debut it to the rest of the world…”
“Y-y-you could go out with me again next weekend — want to have dinner and see a movie?”
“Sure! That sounds like fun!”
“Really? Okay, cool! Fran always brings her paper to work; just stop by the DBA Room some time midweek and we can pick a flick.”
“Way to go, Dude!”
“What was that?”
“Umm, Paul’s calling me; I better go see what he wants. See you next week!”
I hung up and shouted “It’s a date!” I was tempted to add, “with a woman!” for the benefit of the guys across the hall, but I was too busy congratulating myself. I thought I’d been pretty smooth. I was particularly gleeful that I’d done it without indicating that I was asking her on an actual date because, in my mind, it was just foolish to ask a woman out without leaving an escape route in case of rejection — “Oh, you thought I meant that romantically?”
I’ll tell you about that in Part 4.