“Hey, my name is Fred.”
The Oscar the Grouch voice came from a guy who couldn’t be more than four and a half feet tall while standing on two phone books. The love child of Danny DeVito and a used car salesman, he had the slickest black hair, shiny enough to see the reflection of the couple sitting next to us. He was a stump of a man to say the least. Fred slid into the chair in front of me and I was shocked that he could reach something that high without help. It’s not that I’m against dating short people but this was a stretch, even for me.
But tonight wasn’t about appearances, it was about connections and I had seven minutes and thirty seconds left to make one with, um, Fred.
“Marty,” I responded shaking his hand.
In spite of his looks, Fred had a baby-like quality that made me want to coo and pinch his rosy cheeks. I had never seen this guy before on the speed dating circuit and wasn’t really intrigued by him until he sat down at my table. It’s not like he turned me on, but something about him made me want to pay attention regardless of his silly 1970’s butterfly-collared sports jacket. He nodded, I smiled and then…nothing. Not even a-beautiful-weather-we’re-having reference. No fizzle. No connection.
“I have this feeling that you’re looking for something.” He slid his hands on the linen tablecloth. The twinkle in his eye gave away his intensions—this little worm thought because I’m speed dating that I’m desperate! Yuck!
Yeah, I was looking for something—a way out of this situation. This was my final date of the night at the Lonely Hearts Speed Dating night and I was quite sure that it would be the final one of my life. The last date ever and so help me I’ll sign up for the nunnery tomorrow and put an end to my miserable existence of a single girl.
My name is Marty Sandoval, I’m 29-years-old and I’m the last single girl in my social circle. I’ve been a devoted bridesmaid five times, a willing maid of honor twice (as if there was honor in being a maid) and have been set up on more countless blind dates, friend dates, and causal I-think-he’s-your-type gatherings than I care to remember. I’ve been dating since kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten when Danny Richardson pushed me on the playground because he said I was ugly.
Since that faithful day, I’ve dated and broken up with Mr. Popular, Mr. Hunky, Mr. Workaholic, Mr. Almost Right and Mr. What Was I Thinking. And yet here I am, having kissed nearly every frog in existence and not finding the Prince. My pucker is tired and so am I.
With so much experience under my belt, I’ve become a professor of sorts and even have my own theory. Men fall into two categories—glamour or bookworm. The glamour men get the full Marty experience. I’m talking about drop-dead gorgeous, like J-Lo or Rosario Dawson’s younger, hotter sister. Hair and makeup are flawless and my outfit—like a dream of a dream-accentuating the curves worth noticing. I’m temptation in a pair of stilettos. Glamour guys tend to be boyfriend material—they have their jobs, places, cars, good credit, no record, professional.
Then are the bookworm guys. For them, I take it down a bit. Glasses, muted makeup, slacks or nice jeans, heels not stilettos, and straight lines over curves. Not that these guys don’t deserve the glamorous me, they just can’t handle it. They’re the just for now type—menial job , lives with a roommate or two, drives an economy car like a Neon or Civic, and makes enough to pay the bills every month, i.e he’s still working on his residency, in law school, grad school, or some sort of professional training. Bookworm guys are generally good guys but they’re not ones that I would consider for the long haul, ya know? Come on, I’m looking for a soul mate, a husband, an active member of team Marty. A bookworm guy just isn’t on my level that way. But I’ll date them just the same because some bookworm guys have the potential of being glamour guys. Haven’t found one yet but I’m hoping.
To make sure that I’m pairing myself to a glamour guy I run background checks. Say what you will, a girl can’t be too careful nowadays. Background checks aren’t that difficult really. I’m lucky that I happen to be a researcher for the local paper. I have it all at my disposal; all I need is a name and a birth date, sometimes an address. Like for example for this speed dating event, I talked the lifestyles reporter into asking the organizer for a list of the men who would be participating tonight. They’re best friends and that reporter owes me several, ass-saving favors. Momma didn’t raise no fool—research is the key to by-passing life’s little hiccups. With two weeks before St. Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t risk being paired with just anybody. Before I even stepped in the front door, I knew who was glamour, who was bookworm, who had the potential to be upgraded. Everyone except Fred, ironically. He must have slipped on the list at the last minute.
“Excuse me.” I flashed my signature broad smile paired with the innocent eye squint. I hadn’t decided what kind of guy Fred was yet but I had six minutes and 45 seconds left to find out.
“You’re looking for something. Here. Am I right?”
I gave him a light-hearted chuckle, a tussle of my chestnut colored bangs, and a delighted sigh. I’d done this type of interaction so many times, I can literally hear an announcer in my head giving the play by play.
“Aren’t we all looking for something?” I keep my tone light and jovial.
“Marty, stop playing games. When are you going to be honest with yourself?”
Fred’s wrinkled brow was anchored by a pair of opal-colored eyes and a smirk that dared me to tell him different. There was enough sass in his glance to make a grown man whimper and a grown woman take a step back. At this particular moment, he was 10 times his size. Then I realized what category Fred was in—jerk.
“No, excuse me.” Fred crossed his arms across his chest. “You have been smiling and chatting all night but you have no idea who any of these guys are. You complain about not having a man but you keep putting yourself in situations where you won’t be able to meet that special someone and I, for one, am sick of it.” He ended his attack with an assertive nod.
My smile faded and I gave him my best death stare. “You don’t know me. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Let’s just say I know you well enough and that your fear about being the last single girl will come true if you don’t shape up.”
Someone call the offended police because there has been a violation! Stumpy with the Jimmy Carter suit was about to know what a size seven black leather pump tasted like. I crossed my legs and sat back in the plush purple chair. “I don’t think I like your tone, Fred.”
Fred’s expression eased up but the insults continued. “You hunt down the type of man you want—one with money and an upward mobile profession—and run background checks on them. You don’t call back the ones that don’t interest you, which happen to be the ones who like you most, and you complain to anyone who will listen that you are done with the dating scene.”
My blood ran cold. Who was this guy? He had me pegged right and it didn’t sound pretty as it tumbled out of his mouth. I felt uncomfortable and insulted at the same time and wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there. Needless to say, the intrigue I felt for good ole Fred had faded like perfume during a heat wave and was replaced by anger.
Fred sat there with a grin on his face, a mile wide and all teeth. I wanted to punch them all in.
“Wait, I’m not done.” He interrupted me and lifted his palm. “You are angry at me. You wonder who I am and how do I know all these things about you. You’re mostly wondering how I have the audacity to tell you this in what is your…uh, what did you call it…the last date ever. It’s not. And trust me when I say this, the nunnery doesn’t want you.”
How did he know that? How did he know what was going through my mind? All the blood rushed to my feet and I began to shiver. My anger was replaced with knots in my gut and a mouth as dry as the Sahara in August. I could kid myself about what was going on but this guy had my thoughts in the palm of his hands. The nunnery thing was clever and an easy guess, but the last date ever, moments after I thought it, was beyond a parlor trick. Fred, this guy I met minutes ago, was reading my mind.
I’d seen enough apocalyptic movies to know mind-readers are no good and signaled the end of the world. That maybe an exaggeration but isn’t the person of color always to the first to die in those movies anyway? I wanted to run, flee from this scene but I couldn’t make my muscles move. My brain was screaming at them but they just wouldn’t budge.
Fred’s smile narrowed into a worried frown.
“Whoa, I’m not trying to kill you and it’s not the end of the world. Stop being scared you’re wigging me out. Let me explain.”
I jumped back in my seat. In response, Fred moved in turtle speed. He pulled a card from his pocket, placed it on the table and slid it over to me. Leaning forward, but still apprehensive, I read the card without picking it up.
Fred Solis – Cupid
He continued. “I’m here to help you find your soulmate” His stubby fingers did the air quotes around soul-mate.
With my brows bunched up in the middle of my forehead, I stared at him for a second.
“You don’t look like Cupid. Where’s your wings and your arrows?”
“Sorry, the card is a bit misleading. I’m a cupid, not THE cupid. The short, chubby dude in the diaper is my cousin. I work for him.”
Note to self: no more speed dating.
“I agree,” he said. “Speed dating is overrated.”
“Ah! Stop doing that!”
The scream stopped all conversation in the room like a Mac Truck that didn’t see a stop sign in time. Eleven pairs of eyes stared at us and the blood that was pooling at my feet rushed to my cheeks.
“It’s okay everyone, I was just reading her mind. She’s just excited, that’s all.”
The pacified crowd returned to their dates and the mumbling continued. I turned to look at Fred and saw that his grin had returned.
“I love it when that happens,” His eyes sparkled and fingers flicked in delight. “Okay let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“Business? I don’t even know what’s going on!”
“You want to find the love of your life, don’t cha?”
Before I could answer, Fred hopped off the seat, took a small blue velvet pouch from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of me. With the care of a mother to her newborn, he opened the bag and removed a miniature hourglass, the size of a roll of quarters, with grey sand. I had expected him to place it on one of the ends but instead he left it on its side.
“Cool it, Keanu. I’m workin’.” Fred’s gruffly voice was knife-sharp. “Where are my glasses?”
After a quick pat, he found them in his pants pocket. Wow, I never would have guessed that Cupid’s cousin was blind. Not only were his avocado green rimmed glasses bi-focals, they were as thick as plexiglass on the Pope’s car. I guess after centuries, civilizations, and the invention of, well everything, it was too much to expect an ancient symbol of love to have perfect vision.
Once the glasses were balanced on the tip of his nose, Fred’s attention returned to the tiny hourglass. With tender hands he picked it up, inspected it for a few moments and finally returned it to the table, turning it on one of its ends. Almost as soon as he set it down, the sand began turning an orange sherbet color and then pink, creating a mood lamp effect. With a touch of his finger, the psychedelic timepiece grew as big as a toddler and I could see the detail on the wooden handles. Carvings of Greek gods and goddess, like those I saw in books during my Intro to Mythology class in college, were etched in the columns. Some I recognized; Athena, Apollo, Zeus, Aphrodite. Other Mt. Olympus residents were more difficult to recognize. Straining to remember what I learned in a college class 100 years ago, I tried to recall my Gods and Goddess family tree. All I remember was that Zeus had many children and he was always getting busy.
Why didn’t I pay more attention in that class? I didn’t remember Cupid having a cousin. He had a mother, Aphrodite, goddess of love. He had a wife, don’t remember her name. Dad? I think I was absent that day. But a cousin? I didn’t remember that.
As the hourglass grew, so did the silence of the crowd. Looking away from the table, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Time had stopped. The woman’s face at the next table had frozen at mid-laugh. The guy across the room, the one with a Mazada and college debt, had his hand in the air and his mouth was contorted into an unrecognizable word. Water poured from pitchers was suspended in mid-air and the flickering lights from the candles on each table stood still.
I hadn’t noticed that I’d gotten up from the table and was now standing next to Fred, mesmerized by the impossible scene in front of me. The entire scene was unreal as if someone pushed a celestial pause button. I was beyond simply believing that Fred was who he said he was and now wished someone could pinch me as I was sure I was dreaming.
Fred grinned. “Sorry, but since we’re on a time crunch I need you to hop on board as soon as possible.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
Fred yanked his glasses from his face and stuffed them back in his pocket. “Why do I always get the difficult ones?” With a sigh, he grabbed my wrist and yanked me back to my seat. For a short person he sure had a lot of horsepower! Fred paced in front of me for a couple of seconds, his hand stroking his pointy chin. Pace. Pace. Pace. Then a stop so sudden, I thought I heard tires screech.
“Okay, let’s go through the basics. I am a Cupid,” he said pointing to himself. “Obviously not the cherub looking fellow you mortals know and love but a Cupid nonetheless.”
He paused and looked straight into my eyes. “Is any of this registering?”
“Okay, you’re Cupid,” I respond. “Definitely not human. No human can do what you just did. So spare me the dramatics, dude. You have my attention. What’s up?”
Fred’s closed mouth smile curled up at one end. “You’re smarter than the others. So let me break the news to you, kid. We’re worried about you up there,” he said pointing toward the ceiling. “Trying to get you to fall in love has been a practice in patience.”
Fred returned to his pacing, quicker this time. “Just when we think we have you cornered, you move. And then this whole background check, selective dating thing you do. What is that? That’s not how you fall in love! You meet. We shoot. Happily ever after. Not that hard.”
I rose one of my arched eyebrows at Fred. “Okay, so shoot one of these dudes to fall in love with me now. Maybe that guy in the black blazer. He’s a doctor with investments and a solid credit history.”
“Stupid mortal! It’s not that simple!” he yelled. “We can’t just shot anyone. It just needs to happen organically and there hasn’t been one man you’ve dated that has lived up to your high expectations. You haven’t been inspired. So we haven’t been inspired. Therefore, no shooting.”
“Hold on, don’t you guys shoot people to fall in love at first sight?”
With his hands on his hips, Fred rolled his eyes. “That’s a myth the greeting card companies have spoon feed you mortals. We don’t make people fall in love! There has to be some interest there on both parties. Then there are formulas for compatibility, length of relationship, blah, blah, blah, yada,yada,yada an arrow is made and shot.”
Cupid’s cousin was a Seinfeld fan?
“So wait, people have to be attracted to each other first and then fall in love?”
“Not everyone who is attracted to each other falls in love, Marty.”
Good point. “Okay, so point me in the right direction and me and him will meet and you can do your thing….”
“You don’t get it, do you?” Fred pointed to the hourglass. “Time is running out for you. Because of your selectivity and lack of inspiration, Cupid has put a deadline for you to fall in love. That’s why I’m here, to help you. You have to fall in love by Valentine’s Day.”
“That’s two weeks! I can’t fall in love in two weeks! What happens if I can’t do it?”
“You’ll be single for the rest of your life.”