“There’s a cute guy at the next table,” I texted to Lacie Legume, as I sat in the hotel dining area, enjoying a glass of wine. The man in question was enjoying a beer and the free snacks that the hotel provided at happy hour.
“Go talk to him!” Lacie answered. She’s a new friend from work in San Diego. Younger than me, with a bright smile and innocent eyes—don’t let those fool you! She’s smart and has flashes of insight into people’s characters that astonish me! “I won’t be with a guy who doesn’t see a future with me,” she once told me. Geez, I wish that I were that confident and strong at that age!
Back to the hotel happy hour.
I considered the man: premature gray-white hair, 6’ or so tall, cut like someone who spends a fair bit of time in the gym. He was younger than me – in his 30’s? 20’s? Hard to say from this angle and without talking to him. He shoveled some potato chips into his mouth while he watched the game on the large television set in the corner of the room. I admired the tattoos on his arms; partial sleeves, which were colorful and attractive on his strong arms.
“Hello!” I said to him, standing by his table. I didn’t remember standing up, but here I was, throwing caution in the wind. “Do you mind if I join you? I’m quite bored.” Yikes, that’s a terrible thing to say! Put that on the list of Jules Rules: Worst Pickup Lines Ever.
“Sure,” he said, glancing at me while I moved my book (which I had intended to read, like the good girl that I am not) and purse to his table.
“I’m Jules,” I said.
“I’m Keith,” he said. He reached for his beer with his left hand and I saw his wedding ring. This conversation just got downgraded from “Potential Make Out Session” to “Casual Conversation.”
“Where are you from?” I asked. This *could* go on the list of Worsts, but I don’t think so; gotta start somewhere, and in a hotel, home town makes a good conversation starter. I knew better than ask about his tats; some people don’t like discussing them. Of course, some do, but you never know until after the question is asked, and by then someone may be offended or turned off.
“Bay area,” Keith said. Californians separate their state into North and South, then into areas. “SoCal,” or Southern California, is where I live. The Bay Area is in the north, in and around San Francisco. “I’m a Marine, down here for a leadership conference.”
“San Francisco! I love that city!” I told him.
“The city’s uniform is a construction hat and a sock!” he said.
I tilted my head, picturing him in that outfit, then switched to a fat man and had to shake my head to clear the image.
Two more handsome Marines joined us. I wondered whether I should leave, but they were friendly enough. Hell, the hotel was serving us free drinks; why would they mind?
I recognized one; Lance had said hello to me on the elevator, at 5 a.m., on my way to the gym – urgh at my worst. I wasn’t wearing makeup and my eyes were barely open. And *he*, of course, had looked as fresh as a daisy and as pretty as a rose. Well, handsome, anyway, with his straight blond hair and smooth skin.
“We were talking about San Francisco,” I said. “Have you hiked Mount Diablo? It’s a hike that the natives know about, but don’t expect outsiders to do. I learned about it on All Trails; it’s a fabulous hike.”
Lance said that he hadn’t hiked it, and texted a reminder to himself.
Chad, the third guy, started talking about tattoos. Ah! Now that the subject was breeched, I could learn about the ones that Keith wore.
“This one is for my son; I need to get one for my daughter, she’s just a year old,” he said, and continued to count the rest.
“What’s this one for?” Chad asked.
“It’s just pretty!” Keith said, with a smile. We laughed. That’s not the usual reason that a Marine got a tat; but it’s a damn good reason!
Chad had tats that covered his arms and peeked out of the top of his shirt, climbing almost to his neck. “If regulations would allow it, I would get USMC tattooed big across my neck! Like, letters five inches tall! That’s how much I love the Corps,” he said with pride.
“I knew a guy with his ex’s name on his neck,” I said. “Roxanne. He hadn’t dated her in years—said she was a crazy bitch—but her name is on his neck for the rest of his life.”
“Ah, nah! That’s one thing you don’t do, is get your woman’s name tattooed on your body!” Chad said. “My girl got my name tattooed on the back of her left ear, here; I didn’t ask her to! Just came home from deployment and she had done it!” He shook his head, like he couldn’t believe it.
“I have my kid’s name, and will have both kids’ names, tattooed on me,” Brian said. “But I told my wife that her name will never be on my body. She agreed; she has three tats and none of them are my name. That’s cool with me, we have an understanding.”
I told them my tattoo stories, and added, “I like to tell guys that I have one, so that they wonder where it is. Wanna do a tat check later?” I said, flirting with Lance.
He agreed, looking me up and down, as though he had x-ray vision. I shivered under his intense gaze.
“What about you?” I asked Lance.
“I’m in the officer program,” he said humbly and almost shyly, “So I can’t have visible tattoos. I have one small one on my ankle; a pig.”
“A pig?!” I asked. Well, why not. My mother collected pigs.
“Ask him why!” Chad told me.
“Ok, why do you have a pig?” I asked.
“Because roosters and pigs are the two animals most likely to survive a ship wreck and swim to shore,” he admitted, again in the shy way that was simply adorable. “I have a pig tattooed on my ankle; my buddy has a rooster tattooed on his.”
I thought of The Life of Pi, a book about a boy, animals, and a struggle to survive on the open sea in a small boat. However, the topic changed and I didn’t get a chance. Which may have been for the best, since the book is rather philosophical and a bit much for a discussion with people newly met.
Collin, a man that I’d met the night before, texted me. He was at a restaurant down the street listening to live music, and invited me to join him. Collin was older (52, so 10 years older than me), a hiker from Colorado, and a homeowner. In short, he’s the type of man that I should be looking for, rather than a younger man who may not be ready to settle down.
“We’re going for tacos,” Lance told me. “Wanna join?”
“Sure,” I said, thinking Collin could wait. He wasn’t expecting me until later anyway, and even that was uncertain; I had told him, maybe, I’m not sure when I’ll be back at the hotel. “Where are you going?”
“We’re going to hop in the car and find a restaurant,” he said.
That bothered me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hop into a car with strangers; even three guys who seem like perfect gentlemen. Any one of them could over power me; why tempt fate?
“If you’re walking, I’d join you,” I said honestly. “Why not go to the steak place next door?”
Lance shook his head. “It’s Taco Tuesday,” he told me.
“Ok, get my number and let me know if you want to hang out tomorrow night,” I said, compromising. And so we exchanged numbers.
When I left, there was so much unsaid. Did Keith mention that he was a Lyft driver? How did he do that, work as a Marine, and have time for his family?
Lance was on the officer track, but how? Had he earned a college degree? If so, in what subject? If not, had he scored high on the entrance exam? He seemed very intuitive; he read my body language. Like when he asked if I worked out every morning and I said something affirmative, but that wasn’t the whole truth. I had worked out at 5 a.m. every day, either going for a run or hitting the weights at the gym. On and off my whole life, this has been my routine. Other times, I chose to take yoga, work out at night, and (in the weekends) hike. But all this was boring, and I switched the topic to other things. I could tell by his body language that he knew that I wasn’t giving a complete answer. I wanted to tell all this to Lance, and find out his story.
I walked down the street to meet Collin. Had a good time listening to amateur musicians and eating decent food. I took pictures of a beautiful woman and her baby, while her husband strummed the guitar and sang. Later I’d text them to her, to her great appreciation. Pictures in the studio are nice, but candid photos like this are priceless.
Collin walked with me back to the hotel. “Oh shit,” I thought, “he is not coming into my hotel room.” For even though I had a good time, it wasn’t exactly a date. And even if it were a date, Jules Rules states that I don’t sleep with guys on the first one.
“Good night!” I told Collin, holding my purse in front of me like a shield while I dug for my hotel key.
He considered me a moment, then leaned over my purse and gave me a peck on the lips.
I raised my eyebrows and again repeated, “Good night!” The purse was still in my arms, and after a moment, he took the hint.
“Good night,” he said with a smile, and walked off towards his room.
Once inside my room, I picked up my phone. “How were the tacos?” I texted to Lance.
“Three exceed my expectations and one failed miserable,” he texted.
After a little more chit chat, he asked, “Did you make good use of your time?”
Hmmm, was he asking whether I had a good time? Or whether I was happy with my life choices? “I enjoyed some good music and ate some decent food. So, yes,” I answered. “Can you suggest a better use of my time?”
“You’re bad,” was the reply.
“When I’m good, I’m very good. But when I’m bad, I’m better,” I texted, quoting Mae West.
There was no reply, which is fine. Maybe he was considering a witty response. Maybe he fell asleep. Maybe he was simply considering the fact that he had to get up at 5 a.m. and he should go to sleep.
But still, I wonder. What would have happened if I would have gone for tacos with the handsome Marine? I can dream about hanging out with Marines, and wonder. But should I have the choice again tonight, I would answer the same.
If I were 21, would I have thrown caution to the wind and jumped in the car? I thought back to when I was 18 years old, and I had jumped into a car with a poet from the local college. He had driven me down back roads and parked on a dead-end road. I didn’t know whether to run for my life or beg him to take me home. I wasn’t sure whether he meant me harm or was just trying to scare me. Since I saw no weapon, I assume the latter. That night, though, I could only think about the fact that no one would hear me, if I were to scream.
Then a few months later, the same poet tried to convince me to drop acid. I considered that similar to Russian Roulette – either I’d live or I wouldn’t. Either I’d be fine or lose my mind. I didn’t take the chance.
So maybe, just maybe, at 18 years old I wouldn’t have gotten into that car, either.
But damn, they sure were hot! What would’ve happened if I had gone?
To all those who serve or have served in the military, thank you! To those who still look hot in their uniforms, well, I may not jump into your car, but I may dream about going for a ride with you.
I texted Lacie that I had met a handsome guy.
She replied, “I hope you had great, safe sex!”
Her wisdom continues to astound me!
PS I found a condo in Pasadena! Made an offer, which was accepted. The next steps are inspection (Wednesday!) then appraisal (TBD). After those are successful, I’ll tell you all about it. I don’t want to jinx it by saying too much now!