Holly, part 1

16 May

After a certain time, fatigue sets in.

How long it takes this to happen is a matter of personal endurance. Profiles blur together. Pictures become indistinguishable. In their photos, people present themselves with friends, or out in some wilderness excursion, or in Myspace poses. After five or six attempts, they capture themselves as well as they can from a vantage point in a bathroom mirror or from the end of their own arms. (I myself had one image of each of these types, soulfully gazing into or away from the lens, with or without a kitten in the frame . . . I might have mentioned it. The Internet asks us for recent pictures, and we are forced to improvise). Each time I logged in, I was able to perceive nothing but a homogenous female mass whose indifference remained constant through unending shifts in form: tall and short, thin and thick, fair and dark, bored and boring. Holly’s profile broke through the haze, but not for any particular reason. She worked at a bookstore. She had red hair and blue eyes. She seemed nice.

Over the past months, I had learned rules of internet dating, and as I grew tired, I broke them. Here is another rule of internet dating: Follow the rules of internet dating. Dress well, but not too well. Spend money, but not too much. Go somewhere you like, but not somewhere you go often. We decided to meet at Kaldi’s, a café on Main Street. I hadn’t been there in almost a decade.

In my memory, the place leaked a dim romance that I hoped would carry over to my date. Along the walls stood tall bookshelves, each sagging beneath an eclectic load of used books, rarely read and more rarely bought. They were the sort of things found in grandparents’ basements or estate sales, but during my late teens, I liked to sit in the back of the shop, drinking coffee and reading part of a book I’d never think about again. Sometimes, in the evening, the management would lower the wall lighting and a band would play in a nook between the two halves of the coffee shop. Over the Rhine played there once, and the café filled to bursting with smoke and beautiful people. I remembered they made an excellent bread pudding, served with cinnamon and cream.

I suggested to Holly that we meet there for afternoon coffee, and she readily agreed.

Main Street is not difficult to find; in Cincinnati, it is where the bars live. Even so, I nearly passed Kaldi’s. The north half of the shop, for reasons unspecified, had been closed. I pressed my face against the glass façade, peering into the cracks between the sheets of brown paper that lined it inside. The floor was bare concrete and the shelves had been ripped from the walls. I discovered a new rule of internet dating: Make sure the place you’ve agreed to meet is still open.

We had not yet exchanged phone numbers, and I felt a nudging, creeping dread. Already, I began to plan and rationalize. Perhaps she had already arrived and left. Perhaps she would think I stood her up. There are worse things. I anticipated the screed or bleak silence that waited for me in my inbox while trying to think of some way to apologize. Everything sounded like calculated bullshit. Hurriedly, I walked south, looking for the other door.

The other half of the shop remained open for business, although the few people inside looked like the sort of people who are bar regulars at 2 in the afternoon. As far as I knew, Kaldi’s did not serve alcohol. Thankfully, I noted the walls still had shelves and the shelves still had books. To my tentative question, the barista let me know that, unfortunately, the kitchen was closed, leaving unspoken the sense that it had spent a good deal of time that way. Thankfully, I could still get coffee. I ordered something modest and difficult to ruin, and, avoiding the curiosity of the grimy people at the counter, chose one of the dozen empty tables to wait for Holly.



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