The pattern began before I moved to my new apartment. I had recently swapped out my old Mazda Sundowner pickup for an ‘86 Bronco II, which had been my family’s workhorse for years prior to its being put out to pasture with me, and gaining the sobriquet Millennium Bronco (its hyperdrive was similarly unreliable, and I never even attempted the Kessel Run.) I would drive to Danielle’s house, check if her car was in the driveway, and if it was, ring the doorbell. (Calling ahead was for chumps.) If it wasn’t, I would seek out Caspar’s dad’s liquor cabinet. If that failed too, it was a disappointed return home and locking myself away with Soundgarden, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails.
I had way more free time on my hands than Danielle. By the end of August, she was at high school six hours a day. She had an evening math class at the college (just like I did the year before, but hers was due to her being too advanced, rather than mathematically retarded like me.) She had a job at Round Table, and just got a second job as a hostess at a family restaurant. (Yuba City folks loved them some family restaurants — Sizzler, Lyon’s, Perko’s, Jerry’s, Hal’s, Mr. Steak, and the ever-present Denny’s just across the river in Marysville.) That August and September, the precious few hours she had each week before doing something productive were more often than not spent on her family room couch with me, watching videos, or listening to some new CD I’d bought over to spin on the player perched on her kitchen counter. She was also undoubtedly bracing herself for the inevitable moment when I would try to kiss her. Between coughs.
The aforementioned Soundgarden, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails were also all over MTV right around then. The intensely creepy video for the pseudo-psychedelic “Black Hole Sun” was in heavy rotation that summer, so viewers were treated to its face-melting CGI nightmare fuel every 45 minutes or so.
We did get off the couch occasionally. I took her to the opening weekend of the Oliver Stone gonzo bloodbath Natural Born Killers, illustrating how completely tone-deaf I was as to what girls might want to see at the movies on a date. I don’t even recall asking if she wanted to see it. I just announced that was what we were seeing.
But Danielle seemed to tolerate me. When I finally worked up the courage to kiss her cheek (high on the jawbone, near the ear), she accepted it gracefully, but it did not lead to a make-out session. I even asked “Was that OK?” (ever the gentleman) and she said “Yeah, it was nice.” I didn’t push any further at that point.
In my defense, her mother, little brother, and two dogs loved me. Her brother, a sophomore, was another overachiever-type and worked at the McDonald’s in the same shopping center as my video store. He would make me quadruple quarter-pounders (just called “pounders.”) Eating these on a regular basis may be solely responsible for the shooting pain in my left arm every time I rise from a seated position two decades later.
A lot did seem to be going right. But I couldn’t push through to the next level with her. The issue couldn’t possibly be me, could it?
Gas was cheap in ‘94, hovering around a buck-twenty per gallon. I did a lot of aimless driving around, listening to sports talk or the oldies station (no CD player in the Millennium Bronco…yet), but I always ended up seeing if Danielle was home.
As we’ve discussed, Danielle was a busy girl. Her car was there maybe one out of every three or four days that I checked. I imagined her being disappointed on the days she was there and I somehow missed her. Missing her was a highly unlikely scenario because I watched that driveway like a hawk, but I imagined it nonetheless. “When I Come Around” was Green Day’s version of a ballad, and it was then and remains today my favorite song by them. The lyrical narrator is always “out on the prowl,” while the object of his affection is just sitting around “feeling sorry for [her]self.” I naturally applied this scenario to my situation. I was the roaming free spirit, she was the faithful waiter. Pure fantasy, of course…but there was an odd little hiccup that indicated I was subconsciously aware that whatever was going on with Danielle was kind of doomed.
I had a habit of slightly tweaking song lyrics when I would sing along with them to better suit my current state of mind. Even at the height of my delusions, I couldn’t kid myself about the last verse of “When I Come Around.” I mentally reversed the pronouns when I sang along with the song (which was often), switching the song’s “you” and “your” for “I” and “my.” As in “I may find out that my self-doubt/Means nothing was ever there/I can’t go forcing something if it’s just not right…” Very telling.
But “forcing something” I did. I pushed my chips to the center of the table one night as I was leaving, and planted a kiss squarely on her lips. She smiled, and continued saying whatever she had been saying before I moved in. But she did smile. I was hoarding whatever positive signs I got from her, because evidence that this was not going to work was piling up. (The coughing was a purely a nervous reflex at this point, and still lingering.)
Not long after that, I finally asked her to make it official with me. We were up in her bedroom, and she was doing something incredibly labor intensive (draining a waterbed, I think), and I sat cross-legged (not helping) on the floor, nervously fingering my shark’s tooth on a pukka shell necklace that I got in Hawaii a couple of months before. (It went nicely with the three-button polo shirt I was also wearing at the time. Why anyone would let me in their house is beyond me.) I steered the conversation toward Official Couplehood, and she didn’t steer it elsewhere (lack of panicked refusal = permission to continue). I ended up making clear that I was very low-maintenance. But the way I phrased it — “It doesn’t take much to make me happy” — didn’t come across the way I intended it. “Oh, thanks,” was the sarcastic reply. Smooth operator that I was, I somehow rescued the situation, and left for work that evening with the (ambivalent) impression I had a girlfriend again.
And I had one more ace up my sleeve if all else failed… Continue reading