298.0: Lessons from an imagined romance.
The enzyme is tied to the alcohol oxidation pathway.
That tortures legions of Giants fans who care more about emotion than economics.
REAL. Dateline: three weeks ago. The memory of Encanta Schwartz crept stealthily with the same insidious manner of a former lover taking shape in every area of your life. Many years ago, the woman of mixed heritage had been my supervisor, and now here she was again — except that it wasn’t really Encanta. I had worked with her in an organization that was not the Peet’s coffee shop where I was standing now, in the middle of an afternoon, having just come off a work shift. Nor was she actually my supervisor, which was just a formality, because for the rest of our working relationship, we were friends within the organization. I never saw her much outside of work, though; and now that it had been a long time since I left that job, I suddenly found myself thinking about her more.
The barista on duty helped with that. I was tired. It was Indian Summer in San Francisco, where jacket weather ruled year round except for the weeks immediately following Labor Day. I didn’t like being cooped up in black slacks and a black dress shirt, so I’d taken off the dress shirt and slung it around my shoulder so that I was only donned in my white crewneck. My left hand was in my pocket and I must have been staring absently at the pastry case, indecisive about how to rewardingly end a long day at an unrewarding job, because the barista tried to prank me.
She nearly resembled Encanta, who was the same age as me. Like Encanta, the barista had dark hair and bangs that lined her forehead in stylish, bouncy curls. To know Encanta’s surname was to feel astonishment at how it was seemingly unaligned with her Latin features, mainly her pleasant tan that used to remind me of the hot chocolate served at some taquerias. The barista possessed some of the same features, except that she seemed younger, her cheeks fuller, and she was filled with zest — which is not to say that Encanta was not lively, but like all of us who come into certain years, her demeanor was seasoned. This barista was bubbly in a way that I imagined Encanta might have been if I had known her when we were in college.
Encanta’s bubbly doppelgänger was sneaking up on me from behind the pastry case. She was hunched over and trying to mimic the stealth movements of soldiers in the trench, except that her face beamed with a mischievous grin — and I also totally noticed. But I didn’t know what was happening, so at first I just eyed her in bemusement as I contemplated the wide variety of cookies at the same time I wondered what in the world she was doing back there.
"Are you okay?" I began to mouth, until another barista materialized out of nowhere and asked with not a little bit of scolding: "What are you doing?”
"I was trying to scare this customer," Encanta’s doppelgänger said, and the train of giggles that followed her explanation sealed the deal. The sensation that overcame me was that moment in Notting Hill when Anna Scott, her entrance heralded by the dreamy hum of Trevor Jones’ score, first emerges in William Thacker’s bookstore.
And then I had to turn away to laugh, subtly so as not to offend either of the baristas, yet still cracking up because there I was allowing my heart to be stolen, temporarily, by a girl.
IMAGINED. Dateline: Sunday. The Giants are in New York. Technically, if I wanted to, I could be sitting in The Ballpark, the real and actual AT&T Park, alone with my thoughts on a sunny day like today. But that would involve breaking in, an act that is too extraordinarily out of my otherwise prudish league; so instead, here I am, as usual, in Our Ballpark, where the conditions mirror real life. I look up in the sky and see the same blue sky, the same cast of sunlight, as I might see if I had the chance to sit alone in AT&T Park today with Tim Lincecum. Instead, here I am with my imaginary boyfriend. Our nosebleed seats overlook the batter’s box. It’s warm today.
"I’m talking to a new guy," I tell Linc.
"So I’ve heard."
When I turn to face him, he is staring at the scoreboard monitor, which is presently displaying an entry from my blog. Then I catch something that I’ve noticed lately in recent images of Tim Lincecum.
"What’s up with that?" I ask, my voice teasing. For added effect, I’m pointing at his chin, at the very thing that I’m teasing him about.
"What’s up with what?” Linc asks.
He turns to me and I see how vividly he resembles his real life counterpart. Momentarily, I am awestruck by the power of longing to influence imagination.
"That… that… " I begin, and then suddenly I’m sputtering into laughter of the kind that may or may not have been inspired by Encanta Schwartz. "That patch of fur.”
I lose it. I slam back against my seat and I’m howling in unfettered amusement.
"Like, the fu manchu thing didn’t work out, so now you’re… what?" I try to say between fits of laughter. "What are you growing? A goatee? A beard? You’re half Filipino. This could take a while, you know."
"Fuck you, man."
Those sharp words are softened by the kindness in his eyes and the grin that he is only partially successful at leveling into a game face.
"It just looks so funny,” I say. “It’s…”
But when I reach out for his face, my hand passes through him like he is a hologram, an apparition. In that moment, I am deflated of all hilarity, settling into a space as close to reality as I will allow myself to get in my imagined ballpark.
"I imagine it feels a little prickly. It looks like it, anyway," I say, trailing off with quiet, glum longing. "In the pictures I’ve seen."
Linc shakes his head with what seems like disapproval, but he’s still grinning. He takes one hand to his chin and he begins massaging it as he returns his gaze to the scoreboard monitor.
"Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun with RQ guy," he says in a fishing tone.
"That’s all it is. It’s just fun."
I’m smiling at Linc now, trying to do away with the glum tone that overcame me and replacing it with the breeziness of being lost in a dream.
"Think it could be more?" Linc asks.
I ponder that for a moment and then I am shaking my head in the negative — and even I surprise myself with how comfortable I am at saying no.
"He lives in Chicago," I explain. "And he’s… he’s…"
Linc delivers the explanation that I don’t want to say: “He’s not your type.”
I relax in my seat to the point that I’m slouching. “You know, I used to hate saying that. It felt like I was being… prejudiced.”
"I love Catholics," Linc remarks snarkily.
"You better love yourself," I sassily return (although I don’t know if the real Tim Lincecum is actually Catholic, since I only assume so because of his heritage, as well as the bracelet of saints that he wears on the field).
Without transition, I return to our original topic of conversation. “It’s simpler to say, though. But at the same time, it’s not really true. I don’t really know if he’s my type or not. What I do know is that he runs a lot, and I don’t.”
"You used to. You can do it again."
Linc doesn’t say this unkindly, although in response I sigh heavily.
"Yea. I can," I acquiesce, so closely to the end of that sigh that my words seem drowned out.
"Is it adolescent of me to say that he seems a lot cooler than me?”
Here, I straighten my posture and turn directly to Linc. With a sweet grin, I tell him: “That’s how I felt back in 2009. I saw you and I thought, oh God, it’s classically high school all over again. The unpretty nerd who has closed himself to all acceptable social function is ironically infatuated with the handsome star of all acceptable social function.”
"You thought I was handsome?"
"Actually, I thought you were just cute. But really cute."
"Is there much of a difference? Either way, you can’t seem to stop thinking about me."
"You’re so full of yourself. Athletes."
"You think too much. Writers."
I don’t know if Tim Lincecum is that appealingly witty. But RQ guy is. So was Adae.
"For your information, thinking like a writer is a good thing," I tell Linc. "There are different kinds of thinking, you know. All my life, I’ve been doing introspective thinking. Subjective. Creative. But I like analytic thinking, too."
I make a sour face. “God, no.”
I let a beat pass before I answer: “Law.”
"Law?" Linc exclaims. "What happened to becoming a pastor… oh, God. Wait. This is because you’ve been watching so much of The Good Wife, isn’t it?!”
"What is that tone, Timothy Leroy Lincecum?!"
"I’m not him!"
"But if he were, and he were saying these things to me, I would scold him in exactly the same way!"
Linc eases back against his seat from the rigid, alarmed position he’d taken. With a sigh, he says: “You’re so crazy, Joseph.”
"Whatever, Timothy. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m going through that phase people went through when they watched The X-Files and wanted to become FBI agents, or who watched Star Trek and wanted to become astronauts.”
"That happens to kids.”
"Yeah?" I exclaim defiantly. "Well, I’d like to think that I still have my whole life ahead of me."
REAL. Dateline: two and a half years ago. I used to work for an organization that used one of those enterprise instant messaging applications so you could talk to your coworkers without leaving your desk or picking up the phone. Nearly everyone approached the application as casually as they would use chat on Facebook or — and I’m dating myself here — AOL Instant Messenger. This organization was not the one where I worked with Encanta Schwartz. That job came later, although both employers influenced me to go back to school.
I wonder if the IT people kept logs, and still have the logs, of our instant messages. Fortunately, for my part I never discussed anything sensitive, although if these logs are permanent matters of record, then there is a lot of evidence floating out there about my fondness for Mariah Carey and General Hospital — in other words, nothing that people don’t already know.
I looked up from my desk and saw Adae looking up at me from his.
"OMG," I typed into the IM application.
Donna, the manager who excelled at organizational development by treating everyone like a peer, typed back: “what???”
"Adae Quintanilla is looking at me!!!"
The application displayed: ‘DONNA IS TYPING…’
And then the notice faded away, replaced with: “oooh reeaaaaly”
I found myself thinking about how surreal it was that such an important authority figure as Donna was saying “oooh reeaaaaly” to me in response to an IM about a cute guy whose gaze I may or may not have been meeting. At that moment, I wasn’t yet sure.
I took another peak beyond my computer monitor — and not only was Adae looking at me, he was smiling, he was smiling incredibly at me. It was an incredible smile, not only because I hadn’t expected for him to do such a thing, especially to me, but because for the last few weeks I had become enamored with the smile itself. It made his face, weathered with otherwise adorable freckles and the jowly beginnings of premature aging, seem more boyish.
This was all so much that I simply couldn’t contain the excitement between just Donna and me. I opened the buddy list and clicked on the name of another trusted work friend.
"Adae Quintanilla is looking at me WHAT DO I DO," I hastily typed, and then struck the ‘enter’ key with the force of impact routinely limited to asteroid collisions.
And when I looked up, there he was just as the IM application was flashing with new message alerts.
"Hey," he said.
For some reason, the first thing I noticed then was not his smile but how he had both hands in the pockets of his gray slacks. He was so dapper.
I relaxed in my seat. Miraculously, all trace of prior girlishness had dissipated, limited only to the flashing alerts on my computer monitor, which Adae could not see.
With admirable restraint that seemed to have materialized from nowhere — the grace of God? — I said: “Hey.”
IMAGINED. Dateline: Sunday. We are still sitting in Our Ballpark. The scoreboard monitor is now broadcasting the familiar orange and black ‘SF’ logo. Hours have passed since Linc finished reading my blog entry, although this imagined space is free from the constraints of time. In the real world, it is late afternoon and I am on my way to church. But a significant portion of my thoughts, of my heart, always remains in this space.
Linc’s eyes are shut and his breathing is somnambulant. Yet even from his place of deep rest he says out loud: “You know that law school will be tough, right?”
"Of course," I say, my relaxed state matching his. I am resting deep into my seat, slouching with my hands folded over my stomach, eyes shut.
"And the red flags in your life —"
"Let me stop you."
I reach for him, and even with my eyes closed, my hand meets his.
"I’m not serious about it yet, all right?" I assure him. "It’s just something I’m thinking about. I know law school is hard. I know that life after law school — if I make it through law school — is hard. I’m not a rock star and I won’t get into a rock star school. The most I can probably hope for is to get into a decent regional law school and maybe become, I don’t know, a justice of the peace. If that. Or, hell, maybe I’ll just become a paralegal."
Without warning, I detach my hand from his.
"What do you mean ‘but’?" I ask warily.
“But,” he emphasizes knowingly, which leads me to sigh in acquiescence.
"But," I say through an embarrassed grin. "A law degree is so…"
He interrupts my sigh by venturing: “Prestigious?”
"Yes," I say, and then add: "And no. A law degree is a good gateway degree. People see that you’ve studied law and suddenly they want you to help them do complicated research.”
"And pay you a lot of money."
"The thought has crossed my mind. Yes," I try to remark as casually as possible. "But there’s also advocacy. And helping people. And helping people hardly ever makes much money — but knowing the law? Being educated about the way the world works? That’s power."
"You want power?"
The daylight is a blinding shock when I throw my eyes open.
"What I want," I begin carefully, "is to not be powerless.”
REAL. Dateline: yesterday. All my life, the computer has been both buffer and filter between the inarticulate expressions of my thoughts and the even wilder, wider real world. It was my channel and escape when I was growing up. It continues to be the primary means with which I can most confidently channel myself in adulthood. This is how I am able to comfortably and openly converse with RQ guy, to speak with him so breezily, even flirtingly, without ever having to fully expose myself to uncontrollable realities.
In Facebook chat, I typed to him: “so you really love them filipino gentlemens, huh?”
I struck ‘enter’, relieved that he can’t see my face, which may be registering that I am privately thinking, But most likely not me.
"well it’s my favorite food," he wrote back, and then I knew he wasn’t talking about food. "but yes. I like filipinos. asians."
I didn’t want to venture into other ethnicities. I might not like what he has to say. I have never been fond of having ‘types’.
The conversation hit a lull, so I typed without provocation: “i feel like eating a cookie.”
"dont forget the milk."
"it might make me poo, though."
I grinned as I typed: “#asianproblems”
"actually im lactose intolerant too."
Again, I was relived relieved that he couldn’t see my face, which momentarily hardened with disbelief as I typed: “um you’re white.”
I thought to myself, Hm.
In Facebook chat, I typed: “so your face gets red and then you fall asleep?”
"sort of. not quite. it’s the same enzyme, though, which is tied to the alcohol oxidation pathway."
Moisture accumulated on my tongue the way a sprinkle of showers steadily becomes a rainy day. I bit my lower lip. I was relieved that he couldn’t hear the aroused grunt that escaped from my mouth. Education is such a turn-on.
REAL. Dateline: two years ago. For the first time in my life, in a way that does not involve my closest girl friends, who are all like sisters to me, I am not alone in bed.
Adae snored in a way that was not offensive. But it was audible, like the engine of a remote control car with a dying battery. I had fallen asleep not long after we finished having sex. He was kind enough to cuddle with me for a few minutes, and in my vulnerability, I had deeply savored those few minutes until I voluntarily pulled myself away, making an excuse to go to the bathroom. When I went back to bed, I did not push him to return to our prior position. We talked about this and that. And then we were asleep.
I looked at my phone. Even now, I can’t forget that at 3:27 in the morning, I was awake in bed and wondering what the hell I was doing. I was not the kind of person to go home with a guy. This did not fit with my expectations of dating, of longing for marriage. Even more than with the act itself, I was astonished at my behavior: the level of drinking and the ensuing throwing of caution to the proverbial wind.
It was and wasn’t me.
And when I sat up in bed, I was surprised to find myself clinically regarding my surroundings: the cast of moonlight through the blinds, Adae’s snoring, the residual odors of beer and flesh. (Sex is so pungent.)
Up to that point, I was naïve. I had always hoped that the man lying in bed next to me would be my husband. Instead, not only did I not mind that he wasn’t, but I felt simultaneously detached… and accomplished. No, I am not the kind of person who wants to keep count of “notches in my belt.” What I mean by ‘accomplished’ is a realization that flooded over me that night with such sweeping effect it has colored the years that followed.
This guy came home with me.
This dapper, professional, accomplished, funny, charming guy got to know me and decided that for one night he wanted to be with me.
Me, who sucked in his gut every time he tucked in his dress shirts.
Me, who for most of his life avoided looking in mirrors.
Me, who had suddenly advanced, stealthily and without warning, closer toward that hitherto elusive standard of adulthood: comfort in my own skin.
REAL. Dateline: Monday morning.
In Facebook chat: “Do you ever lust after women?”
"Not really," RQ guy said.
"God, I have it so bad for Archie Panjabi and Kerry Washington right now."
"I have no idea who either of them are."
REAL. Dateline: Monday afternoon. Spencer and I were walking through Golden Gate Park. The foliage imported from various South American countries was striking and beautiful, but ignited my allergies. The sun was out and because we were taking this walk at a little past the noon hour, the world seemed slower, somehow: everyone who needed to be at work had already long gone to work. But Spencer had the day off and I was back in school full time, now taking a break from writing a paper to go with her to the park. I wish all of my life could be like this: not merely to be free from traditional employment, but to be free. To make a living apart from the standards of living.
"I told RQ guy that I have a huge crush on Kalinda from The Good Wife and Olivia from Scandal,” I said now to Spencer. “I think I might have come across as kinda bi.”
As she started to bust a gut, a tall, lean, dark haired man glistening with an impressively even tan and wearing only red shorts to go with his white sneakers jogged past us.
"Wow," Spencer said, her laughter dying down. "That was… unexpectedly hot."
I was barely listening to her as my gaze continued to follow the man even when he had diminished into the distance. “You know,” I began dreamily, ”every time I think that I might be even a little bit bi…”
"We know, Joseph," Spencer remarked, slipping her arm around mine and resuming our winding, carefree course through the park. "We know."