“Are you free Thursday?” Ken says on the phone. Let’s meet for a drink and go from there.” An hour we’ve been talking with no lags in the conversation.
“Sounds good,” I say. “How about 5:30?” Thursday at seven is my salsa lesson. That gives us an hour and a half of togetherness and a reason for me to cut out. In case.
When I arrive, he’s at the bar. “Sit beside me,” and he gives a little smirkle, half smile, half smirk. It’s endearing.
He’s tall and dresses in all-black trousers and shirt with a black jacket that camouflages his tummy. He exudes a kind of blond Alec Baldwin appeal. Including the same sexy pudge factor.
I start calling him Rotund in my mind forty-five minutes into our drinks when he tells me he used to be thin. “Well, let’s say I used to be less on the rotund side.”
“Not so very rotund,” I say.
“You’re looking great. Not what I expected.”
“You didn’t expect much?”
He laughs, squeezes my arm. “You’re dressed funky. Jeans and Converse sneakers. Women your––now I mean this in a positive way––age…in your age range tend to wear those little shoes that slip on. And a skirt. Or baggy. Why do women love baggy? Skinny black jeans and a black sweater? I like it.”
The man has an instinct in the compliment department.
“I have a salsa lesson. Tonight. Starting in a half hour. Would you like to come with me?”
“Salsa? I’ve never tried it.” Pause. “Yes, I’d like to go with you.”
There are eight of us in the class, all beginners, but Ken is the only absolute beginner. He practices the basics with the instructor, an unlikely looking couple, Ken holding his body stiff, the instructor all hip and leg action. “Never thought I’d be dancing with a guy,” he mumbles into my ear. “This is a first.”
After the lesson, and after mopping his face with a paper towel, he invites me to Thai. I take him to a place right around the corner from the studio.
“You did great in the lesson,” I say, forking a shrimp.
“Great? I sucked. I’m a musician and I couldn’t find the beat.”
“You didn’t grow up with that beat, did you?”
“Have some pad Thai.” He nods toward the dish. “I sweated like a pig.” As I help myself, he dips a spoon into the shrimp curry and sits back in his seat. “I hate dating.”
“Why? I’m not embarrassing you, am I?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy your company. but I’d rather hang out. Getting to know a new person wears me out. Figuring out what to do, where to do it…”
He’s right. Sometimes trying to connect with a man––or woman––is like wearing one blue and one orange sneaker.