At long last, the next installment of this story. This one’s worth buying BlogShares for!
If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend that you read chapter one first.
Tequila Bookworm, November 1998
Tequila Bookworm, as I’ve probably mentioned several times before, is a cafe on the north side of Queen Street West, nestled among the fabric shops, pan-Asian restaurants and tiny smoke-filled clubs that line this more bohemian stretch of one of Accordion City’s “destination” streets. The front of the cafe has a small collection of tables and chairs. The middle contains a bar and open food preparation area on the west side and a set of eclectic magazine racks on the east. Farther back are more tables, followed by a set of comfortably shabby old couches gathered around a coffee table.
The ‘Worm, as I liked to refer to it, was a ten-minute bike ride from my home, which was in a rather bland condominium building at the rather bland corner of Yonge and College Streets. The condo’s only saving graces were really good soundproofing, decent view of Yonge Street from the kitchen and proximity to downtown, the subway station and a Starbucks. Tequila Bookworm was everything that my surroundings were not: where the corner of Yonge and College is populated with fast food chain restaurants, “grey market” discount electronic shops and dollar stores, Tequila Bookworm is an independently owned, quirky place where you don’t get suspicious stares if you linger for more than twenty minutes.
More importantly, it was a kind of escape.
The stink of laser printer toner and cat
At the time, I was half of a small computer consulting company. My business partner Adam and I were just getting out from under the largest software project of our lives: the from-the-ground-up redesign of a database of every shopping mall in America. The project damn near killed us, what with a crushing workload and sometimes-cranky clients.
In order to get more work done, I spent a good chunk of my time living in Adam’s spare room. I remember weeks where my daily was wake up in a bed not my own – code – lunch – code – dinner – code – sleep in a bed not my own. I left his place only to buy Diet Coke, go to Starbucks or for the occasional night in my own bed and to do laundry. Adam’s the type of person who’s quite happy to enjoy the comforts of home with his girlfriend, massive CD and DVD collection and cats, while I was an unattached guy who liked to go out and was allergic to cats. The arrangement of constant work, not having any downtime and the constant stink of laser printer toner and cat was making me very unhappy.
At some point, I’d decided I’d inhaled enough cat dander and started bringing my laptop to Tequila Bookworm. They didn�t mind that I spent hours there, as long as I kept buying Diet Cokes and the occasional sandwich. In return, the place kept me sane.
“She ain’t comin'”
To make matters worse, things were not looking promising on the girl front either. What little dating time I had consisted largely of unreturned phone calls and a couple of instances of sitting in a bar waiting for she who would never arrive. I have been stood up only twice in my life, and both times were that year.
On one of those events, after the bartender watched me order my sixth Diet Coke and snap my neck towards the door every time it opened said, “It is my sad but required duty as your barkeep to inform you that, well�she ain’t comin’. Trust me, I see this a lot. Sorry, guy.”
It was a film noir moment, so I decided to switch to a film noir beverage. “Shot of bourbon, please.” Bourbon’s sort of an inside joke between me and my friend George: whenever things were going downhill rapidly, one of us who simply exclaim “Bourbon! Need bourbon!”
Worst girlfriend ever
Earlier that year, the worst girlfriend I’d ever had — up until New Girl, anyway — had broken up with me for the last time. We’d had an on-again, off-again relationship punctuated fiery arguments followed by equally passionate make-up sessions. It was finally beginning to get through to my thick skull that this girl was a new-agey capricious hypocritical hyper-critic with unresolved angry-at-daddy issues; it was also beginning to become clear to me that my transition from co-worker to boyfriend to surrogate therapist to emotional punching bag was complete and it was time to move on. I finally lost my patience during one particularly bad revelation of hers with the tasteless but still satisfying retort “You cheated on me with another woman and didn’t have the decency to at least make me a video?”
(I’m quite good at dodging thrown objects, by the way.)
Even after the breakup, I tried to maintain some kind of professional relationship with her, as she was an employee of the interactive department of MuchMusic, the Canadian music video station and occasionally had me do contract programming work there. I decided to play it Macchiavellian, believing that any personal unplesantness coming from working with The Evil One was trumped by the exposure I’d get from programming Shockwave games for one of the highest-profile websites in the country.
I was wrong. Working with her was Hell.
The Power of Attorney Fiasco
The final straw, however, was something I refer to as the Power of Attorney Fiasco.
Hers was a dysfunctional family, and the fact that my family was close — we are Filipino, after all — she alternately saw as a sign of immaturity, a sick dependency or a threat. As revenge against her parents, she one day (and remember, this is after our breakup), decided to give me power of attorney.
A year earlier, she’s decided to switch to a sort of made-up religion: a muddle-headed mishmash of wicca, crystals, aromatherapy and eye-for-eye karmic point-scoring (from the way she carried herself, she seemed to be exempt from karma accounting). Naturally, anything Christian — the religion of her parents — was by definition bad. She was doing a lot of flying that year, and like any superstition-prone fool with less rational scientific thinking skill than a bed of kelp, she was sure that she was going to die in a fiery plane crash. She told me that she had faith that I would honour her burial wishes because I was nice to her even when she was “being a total bitch.”
All that did was fuel dark power of attorney fantasies. I imagined a funeral theme that could only be described as “Maximum Jesus”. I wrote a script in which I would visit a hospital immediately after an accident. It went something like this:
Doctor: Mr. deVilla, she…she’s…
Me: Tell it to me straight, doc. No sugar coating. I can take it.
Doctor: She’s scraped her knee.
Me: I HAVE POWER OF ATTORNEY! I KNOW HER WISHES! NO HEROIC MEASURES! D.N.R.! PULL THE PLUG! PULL THE PLUG!
I remember saying to my sister: “I don’t even have the luxury of wishing she was dead, because I’d be stuck with all the paperwork.”
I initially decided to not care about whether I’d been given power of attorney. If the good die young, she had a good shot at becoming Methuselah 2.0.
But the principle of the whole thing — yet another imposition, another taking advantage of my patient nature — stuck in my craw. I had a talk with her, telling her that she should find someone else to do the job.
Naturally, she took offense. “Don’t you see what kind of an honour I’m doing you?”
The sheer gall of that remark was a like a blow that turned a piece of volcanic glass, forged in heat, into the sharpest blade known.
“No,” I replied ice-cold. “It just lets you off the hook. It’s easy to be nice to me when you’re dead.”
That pretty much ended things between us for good.
By now, you probably have a half-decent idea of my mental state in 1998.
Let’s get back to November 1998.
All that unpleasantness was during the spring and summer. It was now mid-November, and what a difference a few months made!
Adam and I had successfully completed the software project. On time and under budget, even. We were in negotiations with our client to develop the next version.
I’d just come back from a two-week vacation — one week in Manila, where I danced and boozed a lot, and one week in southwest Japan to visit my friend Anne, where I also danced and boozed a lot, complete with confessions of attraction to me from a couple of teaching-English-in-Japan type girls. I was able to go out again, no longer trapped in Adam’s house. I had some new friends. I was becoming a regular at the cafe, to the point where the staff knew what I was going to order as soon as I sat down.
Things were looking up.
One particular weekday afternoon in November 1998, I was sitting at my usual perch at the bar, scribbling little life plans into a blank book that my friend Ashley had given to me for my birthday a few weeks earlier. I was making little lists of the pros and cons of certain options I had, as well as listing in point form certain goals.
(I know I’m not the only one who does this. I’ve recently observed that my friend John does this too. Maybe it’s a geek thing.)
I wrote “Hook up w/ girl” under “goals”, but couldn’t think of any names to fill the column. The available ones weren’t appealing and the appealing ones were unavailable. Murphy’s Law again. I just inked a big, block-lettered question mark in red rollerball.
As I gave the matter a little more thought, the ex wandered in.
This was pre-arranged; she decided that she wanted to catch up with me, to talk, and to give me a birthday present. She sounded genuinely interested in making amends, and while I didn’t trust her, I figured that some kind of peace treaty between the two of us might be a good thing.
We wouldn’t have to be bestest buddies, I thought, just civil.
She took a seat beside me, gave me a peck on the cheek and gave me a wooden box.
“Open it!” she said. “I want to see the look on your face.”
“It is safe for me to open here? It’s not inappropriate for public viewing? Can I show it to my pastor?”
The “pastor” reference got a laugh out of her. We were off to a better start than we’d been in months.
“Maybe not the pastor,” she replied, still giggling.
I opened the box, revealing a chocolate cigar and two chocolate truffle balls. The phallic nature of the gift was underscored by the then-recent revelations about the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
“Ooh, dirty,” said a British-accented voice.
I looked up to see who’d just said that. It was the new waitress, one they’d hired only a couple of weeks earlier. She was standing on the other side of the bar, peering over it to see the cigar. A brunette, a good head shorter that me, with big, almost alien-like blue eyes. Her hourglass figure was accented by a pink Care Bears baby tee and a pair of tight jeans.
“It’s a dirty birthday present,” I said, taking a bite out of the cigar. Dark Belgian chocolate dusted in cocoa power melted in my mouth, which isn’t at all a bad sensation when you’re flirting.
She turned around to serve another customer. The ex whispered to me: “Wow. I love her ass. I’d do her.”
“Nice rack, too,” I said, “and I’m a more likely candidate than you.”
“We’ll see,” she said.
When the waitress finished with the other customer, she came back to where we were. I didn�t even have to start the conversation.
“So, your birthday’s today?” she asked.
The ex looked a little miffed that the waitress was starting a conversation with me. Good, I thought. Payback is a bitch. And so are you.
“No, it was a couple of weeks ago. November 5th.”
“Oh, a Scorpio! I love Scorpios. I date them exclusively.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the ex getting a little miffed.
The rest of the ex’s visit was pretty much the same. Conversations with her, punctuated by welcome interruptions from the cute British waitress, who preferred to speak to me. After a half-hour, she decided to leave.
“Care to try one of the truffle balls?” I offered diplomatically.
“No,” she said. “Maybe you can offer it to your new little friend.”
She gave me a peck on the cheek and left.
“Was the your girlfriend?” asked The Waitress.
“She doesn’t seem very nice.”
I decided to try a stab in the dark and appeal to The Waitress’ odd little fixation with astrology. “Well,” I sighed resignedly, “you know what they’re like, Geminis�”
She put her hand on mine. “You poor thing.”
“Care for a truffle ball?”
Later that night, I opened the blank book into which I was scribbling the life plans I’d mentioned earlier. Under the question mark which I’d doodled under “Hook up w/ girl”, I wrote The Waitress’ name.
Next: Re-introducing Mr. No Impulse Control