It had all the earmarks of being a classic boy-meets-girl episode, and I think it unfair to assign any blame to me for the way things turned out. You may as well blame the springtime, or the romance inherent in my soul, or the bewitching ways of beauty, or even Love its ownself. I do believe in Love, and sponsor it wholeheartedly whenever it rears its mischievous head, even if I have acquired the cynicism so often attendant of middle age regarding its true nature. I know that it's chemical, hormonal, and the inexorable demands of a very selfish gene demanding he be replicated. That's the one, he'll say. I strongly suggest you bind me with her genetic material. To ensure this, I am going to draw a roseate film over your vision, assign all available cognitive resources to the task and remove any inhibitions or safeguards you may have evolved to prevent you acting like an idiot. Good luck, and if it doesn't work out, I hear alcohol works great.
So it's not the winged archer of myth, that doesn't make it any less powerful and magical, and wonderful in a terrifying sort of way. This is why I always leave myself open to the chance of love randomly striking. I realize the possibility of it occurring like a bolt from the blue is remote in the extreme, but you can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket (although the odds of actually winning are pretty much the same whether or not you buy a ticket).
It was a day in which anyone with even a single romantic phalange or tarsus occupying their skeleton might logically expect Eros' intoxicating dart to come fluttering out of the nearest linden tree at any moment. Birds convoked en masse on every available perch, gossiping madly as the warming spring sun lent an iridescent sheen to their plumage. Worms poked their heads out of the grass to see what all the fuss was about, and for their trouble were as quickly gobbled up by the proverbial early birds. The order of the day regarding one's step was lively and brisk, the accepted expression a smile, and the general outlook of all creatures great and small one of optimism and cheer. Cats lolled on sidewalks, blissfully soaking up the sun. Dogs trotted hither and thither cataloging smells. Squirrels scampered and chittered with more than the usual enthusiasm and easily avoided the murderous wheels of passing cars. It was a lovely day, and a lover's day, to such a degree that even one in thrall to the not inconsiderable sway of the ol' skiddley-diddley-doo — meth, to be precise — was not immune to its vigor and charm.
I was on the porch of a little house on Norton Street in Ukiah, watching the day merrily coalesce as I drank a large cup of coffee infused with a quantity of the above-mentioned chemical compound. I'd chosen to forgo the usual implements of delivery in order to feel more human and present as a willing participant in the day's potential. I wasn't hunched over a pipe in a blacked-out room or shooting up in a filthy toilet, I was enjoying coffee and smiling at passers-by. Combining coffee and go-fast does result in a longer-lasting high, but it also puts an odd little spin on it. Less concentrated intensity and more of a loopy, omnidirectional gusto, so less chance of scaring off a potential mate with my vibrating eyeballs and acrid sweat sheen.
Considering that the likelihood of my soulmate strolling by on this quiet side street was fairly slim, traffic being comprised either of local residents or nomads moving from State Street to the tracks and vice versa, I thought I'd better place myself in a setting more conducive to opportunity: Put myself out there, as they say. Display the goods and see who squeezes the produce. I imagined myself alfresco, in a Continental sort of setting, drinking Campari and soda. But whither to effect this urbane vibe? Ukiah, for all its charms, is a little light in cosmopolitan furnishings. I needed the advice of a native.
"Horatio!" I bellowed, walking back into the house. "Where would a Frenchman go in this town if he wanted to feel at home, dining alfresco and cherchez-ing the femmes, drinking a rosy aperitif and going 'ooh, la la'?"
Horatio looked up from his video game. "I don't know what you're asking me, dude," he said.
"A place with outdoor tables where I can get a classy drink."
"I don't know… The Brewery'?"
Of course! The Ukiah Brewing Company! I should've guessed it myself. Luckily I happened to be possessed of a wad of o'goblins of sufficient size to impede the respiratory function of at least a Shetland pony, because organic don't come cheap. "I'd ask you to join me, but I'm kinda working on a whole thing, here, and you don't really fit the profile."
Okay. All that remained now was to contrive a fitting ensemble, something casually elegant and studiously rumpled. The habiliments of a gentleman of leisure out on the town after a night of casual debauchery. Most anything in my wardrobe would suffice, provided it was capped off at either end with loafers and Ray-Bans. It's all about the accessories.
Thus outfitted, and adding a couple more accoutrements — knockoff gold watch and pinkie ring — I set off down State Street, every inch the gay boulevardier.
I arrived at the Brewery a little after 11:00, the perfect time for a gentleman of the sort I was pretending to be to start drinking. I took a seat at one of the patio tables and in due course was attended by a waiter.
"Good morning," he said cheerily. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"Campari and soda, with a lime," I said airily, as if the blighter should have divined from my general aspect exactly what libation accompanied such class and sophistication.
"All right, here's a menu and I'll be right back with your drink and take your order."
He smiled and spun off in the fresh, energetic manner of a server at the beginning of a shift, before the childlike demands of dissatisfied diners turned him into a surly, plodding misanthrope. He returned a few minutes later with my bev and stood, pad at the ready. I ordered a vegetable sandwich with the garlic-asiago fries. A word about this dish: as a connoisseur of the fried potato, I can without reservation declare that in the field of accessorized fries, this version has no equal. If you haven't tried them and are any reasonable distance, say within 50 miles, away, hie yourself immediately there to experience the humble potato finally living up to its potential.
"And bring me another drink with my sandwich," I said.
"Very good, sir," the waiter said. Clearly the savoir-faire oozing off me had influenced the lad.
By and by the tables around me began to fill, and a lone woman sitting a couple tables away harnessed my attention. She was generously proportioned in a not unpleasing way, possessing the sort of topographical undulations that many men, myself included, find so very alluring. Her face was framed by a mass of rather unruly black hair, which she charmingly tucked behind her ears as she bent to look at her menu. She was beautiful in a classical, Botticellian kind of way, like an unreconstructed Mary Magdalene. I was smitten, for certain. I knew Cupid was riding shotgun with me that day.
She seemed to sense me studying her and looked up, giving me a radiant smile and a look of… recognition? Interest? Appreciation? Something, definitely. Not indifference, that was for sure. I tied the score with a smile of my own, and upped the ante with a hoist of my glass and a wink. She laughed, shook her head and went back to perusing the menu.
All of the relevant cliches passed through my mind, goading me into a moment of truth. No guts, no glory. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fortune favors the bold. Just then the waiter appeared with my order. I took a sip of the fresh C&B, realized there was no way this featherweight European swill could provide the necessary boost of courage and confidence necessary to take the next stop, and ordered a double whiskey to accompany. "O-kay, I'll be right back with that," he said. Was that a note of judgment in his voice? Pert little peasant.
I threw back the hooch, squared my shoulders, and exhaled decisively. I stood up and strolled manfully to her table, tipped my Ray-Bans jauntily up to my forehead, and said, "Hello. Sorry to bother you, but I thought the two of us might do a service to the people waiting for a table by combining ours, right? My name is Flynn, nice to meet you."
She looked at my proffered hand with an expression of mild surprise and amusement, and said, "Are you high?"
"What?" I said, completely taken aback.
She reared back in her seat a little, as if to get a better perspective of me. "High. Are you high right now? On drugs," she elaborated.
What the hell.
"Now that you mention it, I'm not not high," I said. "Why do you ask?"
"Because I'm your parole officer, you idiot," she said.
Oh...hell. I thought she looked familiar. This was really, really not at all good.
"Go finish your lunch and come down to the office at once," she said.
Hard as it was, I sat back down and ate my sandwich, throbbing with embarrassment and marveling at my stupidity. Of all the women in all the restaurants in all of Ukiah, I home in on the one with the power to curtail my tenuous position outside the stripey hole. Not that it wasn't, in a way, par for the course I’d been playing. My criminal career had been rife with instances of bewilderingly inept and ill-advised acts and was utterly lacking in attention to detail.
I walked into the parole office at the appointed hour just as another (male) PO was entering the vestibule from inside. "Hello, lover boy," he said.
Excellent. She told everybody. Now I'm not just the guy who leaves burglary tools with his name etched on them at crime scenes, or calls a cab from the phone of the place he's burgling, or has to be Heimliched by a Safeway security guard because the drugs he's trying to swallow are stuck in his throat. Now I'm also the guy who tried to pick up his parole officer. Later, of course, I'd be the genius who robbed Bank of America on a bicycle. My legacy of buffoonery will add flavor to the annals of local law enforcement agencies for years to come.
I filled a sample bottle for my agent and sat down in her office. "I presume this is coming back hot?" she asked.
"Alright, we'll call this one a COP (continue on parole) violation. If you see me in public again, maybe just wave."
"Good idea. Thanks for not locking me up."
Again, if someone must be to blame, blame the bewitching power of Spring, the enchanting melodies of the birds, and all the universal romance to which my soul is attuned. Oh, and the drugs. Probably we can put some blame on the enormous quantities of mind-eroding chemicals in my system.