Part Ten–But Instead I Continue to Waste My Own Precious Time: My Night as a Cougar
“I think I’m in love,” the message from a 34-year-old read.
“Very funny,” I wrote back.
“C’mon, have a drink with me.”
By this point, I was more than six very unsuccessful months into the online dating scene. A drink with a young guy solely for story value seemed like a good way to shake up the process and, for an hour our two, see what a date with a millennial was like. My friend, Taller Me, had always had a good attitude about meeting a wide range of people for the simple fact of meeting a wide range of people and hearing their life stories. So I agreed to meet Cubby, who was born the same year that I got married. And because this was a one-timer, I didn’t vet him. I didn’t even ask him his full name when we spoke on the phone. I didn’t think there was any harm in this because I knew that I would never see him again after this single night.
A word about vetting: I investigated everyone I considered going out with. My background is in journalism and also as a nonprofit grant writer and volunteer coordinator. All three involve research and the latter also included background checks so I utilized two free public online websites–Arizona Judicial Branch and the Maricopa County Superior Court docket–to scrutinize the men with whom I was communicating. I’d learned this tip from a woman who vetted Zippy during his Match.com days. She found some items in his public record that concerned her and she told him so. She also did not go out with him. I thought her intelligence, diligence, and initiative were brilliant and I followed her lead. I never tipped off the potential dates that I was researching them. Often in the early phases of communicating they did not give me their full names but, as ego would have it, they usually did give me enough information to start a search on Google and discover their identities. One man was so proud that he knew my first and middle names that he essentially baited me by saying that I would never figure out his middle and last names. But he’d told me his college major and a trade group that he belonged to. Bingo. I found him through Google in less than 30 seconds. I also found in the county docket that he had a drug conviction. Dead End #9.
So Cubby was a complete and total unknown quantity. On the day of our date, he messaged me with the question, “How do you feel about dive bars?”
I told him that I hadn’t been to one in years but that I wasn’t opposed. Clearly he was a man who knew how to impress a girl.
He messaged me later with the name of a bar in far north Phoenix. Or south Idaho because, with rush hour traffic, the trip took me nearly an hour. During the drive, I started feeling chilled and began shivering. It was April in Arizona and it wasn’t cold outside but something about this date already wasn’t sitting right with me.
The bar was in a strip center just off the highway. Given how I felt in the car about meeting Cubby, before going inside I decided to text Zippy and tell him where I was. I started texting as I stood next to a row of motorcycles parked right outside of the front door until I thought of that scene in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure when he knocks over the motorcycles in front of the biker bar. If anyone has the potential to pull a Pee-wee, it’s me. So I moved over to a rickety wooden stool where, presumably, a bouncer sometimes sat so that I could send Zippy a Google map of the bar and a screenshot of Cubby’s Match.com profile page as well as his cell phone number. Zippy texted me back that he would check in on me every 30 minutes.
The interior of the bar was cavernous with high ceilings, pool tables to the left, dining tables to the right, a large bar midway, and TVs all around on the walls. I sat at the bar next to a post that I both leaned against and hid behind. Everyone seemed to know each other. An old guy next to me chatted up an already-drunk-50-something-year-old woman in Daisy Dukes as she passed by on her way to the restroom. The servers called out to customers by name, like in “Cheers” if it were set in the middle of scrub desert hard by an interstate instead of in downtown Boston. The bartender brought me a water and asked me if I needed anything. I told her no, that I was waiting for a friend.
Zippy had already checked in with me once by the time my “friend” arrived. He was almost 30 minutes late. “Hey, pretty lady,” Cubby said in a low growl as he approached me.
He was a big man, about 6’2″ and more than 200 pounds. He wore his baseball cap backwards. As he smiled at me, he flipped his key ring around and around his index finger. “I need a fucking drink,” he said and ordered himself a large vodka and Monster. “What do you want?”
“A wine?” I said as more of a question than a statement.
“You’re on your own there. I don’t know anything about wine,” he said.
I ordered a house red from the bartender. By then I’d started shaking again, the way my Chihuahua does, his tail between his legs, his bulging eyes popping out of his sockets even more from the rush of cortisol and adrenaline. What was I thinking when I agreed to this? Why didn’t I turn the car around when I started to feel uneasy on the drive up? Or in the words of Admiral James Stockdale during a 1992 vice presidential debate with Dan Quayle and Al Gore, “Who am I? Why am I here?” It was far too late to ask those questions. I was there. I had to deal with the situation. I took a deep breath and told myself that I could leave at any time.
“Let’s sit outside,” Cubby said, leading the way.
That night, there was an oddly constant wind, the kind I remembered from growing up in Colorado. Arizona has winds but they usually precede summer monsoons, roaring in fast with dust then rain if we’re lucky and leaving within a half-hour. The winds outside on the patio that night gusted over and over again, blowing my hair left across my face and then right, and sending dirt and ashes from Cubby’s cigarettes into my eyes. While in the midst of the storm, we made small talk about our kids and our work. He sold promotional merchandise and coached his kids’ soccer and softball teams. Well, he coached his daughter’s softball team. He told me he’d recently been asked not to coach his son’s soccer team because of his “intensity,” which he definitely had. He described how he made his kids go on training runs–they were only in the 1st and 3rd grades–then he knocked back his first drink and went inside for another.
“I am still alive,” I texted Zippy.
“That’s encouraging,” he texted back.
After Cubby returned, I asked him about his childhood, including school. He told me that he’d gone to college for a year but ended up in the state prison in Yuma for three years and didn’t finish. He recounted a few things he was schooled in while in prison including a side gig selling contraband cigarettes. He tipped back his drink and guzzled it, stood up, and went inside for a third drink, leaving me to think about all the illegalities that can cause a person to be arrested and sent to a state correctional facility for three years. This was not a misdemeanor situation. I figured that, given his age, he was popped for either dealing drugs or possession or both.
I checked in with Zippy again. “He went to get another drink.”
“When are you going home?” he responded.
“Soon,” I replied. “With a story to tell.”
When Cubby came back, we discussed our siblings, during which he mentioned his last name while talking about one of his brothers. Armed with this information, I knew that I could find out later what he’d done to wind up in prison. Then he mentioned that he’d been drinking all day, as if that wasn’t already apparent. By this point, his eyes were bloodshot, his arms were crossed in front of him, and he was leaning heavily on the table. “Do you know why I like to go out with fifty-year-old women?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” I told him.
“Because they don’t want to get married,” he said. There he went again with knowing how to impress a girl.
“Oh, yeah, well,” I started to say, my voice strangely higher. I had no clue where my sentence was going. What I did know was that I wanted to go home and that now was the moment to exit because he was staring hard at me, less with bedroom eyes and way more with I’ve-had-750-milliliters-of-vodka-over-the-last-8-hours-and-now-anything-can-happen-and-I-won’t-remember-a-thing blotto face.
“Look at the time!” I said, which was one of my dad’s lines before he left an unfortunate situation. “I have to go. I have a long drive and a long day at work tomorrow.”
“Really?” he asked me.
“Can I have a huggy-huggy before you go?” he said, standing up. “That’s what my kids call it.”
I looked up at him, this giant of a man asking me for a huggy-huggy. He leaned over and wrapped his arms around me like he was a heavy winter coat and a very, very drunk heavy winter coat at that. I patted him lightly on the back. “Take care of yourself, OK?” I said. And by that I meant, “Please don’t get behind the wheel of your car tonight.”
“You too,” he said.
I walked to the gate of the patio, turned around and waved at Cubby, then I ran to my car. And I mean fast. I locked the doors. I texted Zippy and told him that I was on my way home. Then I drove, my small car buffeted the whole way by that strange wind. Once back home, I immediately looked up Cubby on the two court sites and found:
–He was charged with 2nd degree attempted murder
–He pled down the attempted murder charge to an aggravated assault that caused serious physical injury
–He was also found guilty of multiple drug charges
–Additionally he was found guilty of providing alcohol to a minor
And that was for starters. The list went on for a page with arrests outside of the attempted murder crime. He had at least one DUI. There were also newspaper articles about his trial and the violent attack he perpetrated against a male acquaintance. There were videos of him from TV reports about a separate issue involving child neglect.
I started shaking again. I texted Zippy, “He’s got a rap sheet as long as my forearm.”
“Jesus! Don’t ever go out with a guy like that again!”
“I never wanted to go out with a guy like that in the first place,” I texted back. Then I wrapped myself in a blanket and made myself a bowl of oatmeal because I could not warm up or calm down. I couldn’t sleep for hours. Actually, I couldn’t sleep for several nights afterward. Needless to say: Dead End #10.
I recently looked up his file again and found that earlier this year he was charged with another case of assault, this time intentionally and knowingly causing physical injury. His victim was a woman. Yup, he still knows how to impress a girl.
Next time: Part Eleven–FML: No, No, No, It’s “Fix My Life,” Not That Other Acronym