I never liked the dating scene, but after a failed marriage, I found myself back in the swing of it. I moved from a loveless home and sexless part of my life and settled into a small apartment with hopes for a potentially better future.
It was clear to me that a relationship was not an option. I was at the starting line of divorce; my papers of legal separation were freshly signed, my head was filled with too many concerns about finances and I questioned my faults as a man as well a father.
Aside from physical attention, I saw no reason to date anyone. Besides, I was never good at dating. I lacked the patience for the games that went along with it, and furthermore, I lacked the filter to say the right things at the right time. I was never good with the proper rules of engagement. My approach was often poor and my advances were usually inappropriate.
I never knew when to call or how long to wait before calling after a landing a phone number. But more, I never understood why a man should wait so long before calling a woman. I suppose wanting to know someone is somehow tied to a sign of desperation.
As I saw it, Dating was the furthest from my mind. I was not interested in going through the motions of good behavior or feeling the awkwardness that comes with the first or a blind date. Nevertheless, feeling loveless or lonesome was only half of the equation. I missed the intimate affection of a girl. I missed the feeling of a woman. I missed the thrill of a long kiss—I mean the kind that makes your eyes close and forget about the consequences of making love while standing exactly where you are. I missed the slow exploration across a woman’s body, searching from head to toe, just so I could touch her in a spot that caused her eyes roll backwards.
In short, I had needs that needed to be met, however, I lacked the time and the active social life that would help me achieve a sexual victory
At the time, I was working long hours as a building engineer at an office building on the corner of 34th Street and Park Avenue. My crew at this site was very small. Aside from myself, there was one other engineer.
Then, of course, there was the chief. The chief engineer did little as far as physical work. That work was left for me and my partner.
On the other hand, my partner was very new to the industry. He was unsure of the building’s operation. He was unsure of important valve locations and he was new to the controls in the control room. He was my partner and responsible for half the workload, but he was inexperienced with the building’s heating and cooling systems. He was new to all of the building procedures, which meant in the long run, most of the work was given to me. And with the majority of work on my shoulders, I started the refrigeration machines and switched the building from winter into summer mode. I handled most of the tenant complaints and completed most of the repairs myself.
It was the beginning of June. I was involved with different construction projects that were never organized properly. I was in the middle of pricing a list of mechanical upgrades for systems that I knew would never be changed. I was working . . .always working
Meanwhile, the summer was underway and women were wearing much less clothing in the city. They revealed themselves in low-cut tops and short skirts with open-toed shoes and high-heels that propped them up and gave a smooth shape to long tanned legs.
It seemed to me as if the outside world was buzzing with excitement. I wanted to tap into it. I wanted to feel alive, but my days and much of my time was spent in a commercial office building, working six days a week, and maintaining the HVAC equipment for more than 500,00sqft of commercial office space.
On a rough day, I had just learned that my chief engineer was going to be out on disability. This meant more responsibility was about to fall on my shoulders. This meant more work without any recognition or increase in pay. In other words; there would be even less time for me to have a social life.
I stepped in the elevator that served the lower banks of the building. My face was black with filth and my uniform was dirty. I was tired because I began my shift at midnight and I would not finish until 3:00pm. As for my moment in the elevator, It was still early, perhaps, somewhere after 10:00am and the end of my shift was too far away to think about.
A young girl walked into the elevator. She was a receptionist on the 22nd floor and knew me well. She was always pleasant to deal with, always smiling, and she wore something that caught the eyes of nearly every man in the building. She was young, however, and it appeared she was too young for me.
Or so I thought.
Apparently, personal news travels fast. Somehow, someone with an ear for gossip explained that I was in the middle of a divorce and newly single.
She greeted me as she usually would. Her name was Isabella. She was short in height with light tanned skin. She was slightly curvy with a full chest that always seemed as if were about to burst through the buttons of her tight blouses.
Isabella smelled nice. Her eyes were light-brown and almond shaped. She came from 125th Street in Harlem but lived somewhere in Midtown, not far from the building we worked in
Isabella had roommates.
I suppose she was living the life most young women would prefer to live at the age of 21. She drank wine with her roommates and she laughed when sharing stories about her nightlife. Naturally, I envisioned this as something sexy. I envisioned pillow fights and girls like Isabella, close to naked, and running around an apartment.
Since I have always seen myself as awkward and struggled to believe that I could be attractive to anyone, I assumed Isabella saw me as an older man—maybe even fatherly like. I was 12 years older than her. Our views and versions of reality were very different. And yes, our opinions were very different, but I enjoyed seeing Isabella, especially when she wore low-cut tops and short skirts.
“Good morning,” said Isabella as she walked through the elevator doors.
“Morning,” I smiled.
It was obvious that my morning was busy. I had the kind of dirt on my hands and face that takes weeks to weeks to wash away.
“Jesus,” she replied.
“What do they have you doing today?”
“Nothing fun,” I answered.
I told her, “Today is the kind of day that makes me wish I paid attention in school.”
“Do they have someplace where you can clean up and take a shower?”
“We have a locker room upstairs on the 42nd floor.”
Isabella laughed harder as she lifted her finger to point at me.
“Good because you’re gonna need it.”
As the elevator arrived at her floor, Isabella turned and faced me.
“I hope your day gets better.”
“Me too,” I shared.
She suggested “You should come by reception later and say hello to me.”
I smiled and waved as Isabella walked away from the elevator. Then I went to finish my work. The day continued and I had forgotten all about Isabella and the kind invitation to come see her.
Instead, I was thinking about the heat and humidity index.
I was thinking about the cooling machines that no longer worked properly. I was thinking about the long list of tenant complaints and dreading the explanations I would have to come up with for the different office and facility managers.
The tenants knew me and I knew them as well. I knew who complained often and who complained loud. In this building, everyone complained. They complained about a building that had been poorly kept for decades.
The problems with the building were like this before I took the position of a building engineer. Nothing ever worked properly. Nothing at all, and rather than pay for the necessary repairs, the building’s executives and management retreated to the comfort of their own offices, grinning like the commercial slumlords they were, and sending engineers like myself to be sent out as sheep amongst the wolves.
With most of the day behind me, I stepped into the engineer’s office,
I thought to myself, “I gotta get out of this place.”
I removed the hand tools from my back pocket. I placed my screwdriver and plyers on the side of my brown desk, which was old and scratched across the top surface.
Behind me was a blue wall of motor controls and start/stop buttons. Above these buttons were red lights, which were usually lit when either the fan or pump it controls was running.
Outside the office was the loud hum of machines in an engine room. Two large machines known as “Absorbers” cooled water that went to fan coils which served different sections of the building and helped cool the air. Pumps ran and fans moved. The engineer’s office was mostly soundproof. however, it was a dingy place to enjoy lunch
“I hate this job,” I said to myself.
“I hate the people in this building and the smell of this goddamned office.”
Opening the lid to a poorly cooked lunch from a nearby deli, I removed the plastic eating utensils from a brown paper bag that was stained with a dark brown grease spot. Apparently, the lid over my instant mashed potatoes, poorly seasoned chicken cutlets that was drenched with an almost flavorless brown gravy was not sealed properly.
I complained, “Son of a bitch,” as I shook the excess of gravy from my hand when retrieving my food.
Just as I was about to dig my fork into the mix of gravy and mashed potato, a call came over the radio.
“Engineers, come in.”
Placing the hand held radio up to my mouth; I pushed the side button to respond.
“Go ahead,” I answered.
“Ben, sorry to bother you,” said the lobby security guard.
“I know you’re on lunch right now, but the 22nd floor called up again and said they are still way too hot.”
“Copy that,” I said over the walkie-talkie.
I cursed a few words while placing the radio clip into my belt. I placed my tools back in my rear pocket. Then I pushed the button on my walkie-talkie and called for the freight operator to pick me up in the freight elevator on the 42nd floor.
But of course, the freight operator’s idea of coming “Right away,” meant I was a good five to ten minutes away from going anyplace
Fortunately, the elevator gods were kind for the moment. The double doors opened up to the rear entrance of the engine room, and there he was.
Mario was the freight operator and a good looking kid. He was well liked and in good shape, but Mario had a poor work ethic. He was unreliable, but at least he was reliably friendly.
After the doors opened on 42, Mario joked with me.
“So much for eating lunch,” laughed Mario.
Mario pushed the button inside the silvery panel, which illuminated a white light around the button for the intended floor, which meant Mario knew where I was going.
“You’re going to 22, right?”
I answered, “Yep.”
Mario lifted and lowered his eyebrows quickly to suggest a sly approach.
He smiled, “That’s Isabella’s floor.”
“Yes it is.”
Then Mario nodded his head as if to explain what he would do to Isabella if given the chance.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” said Mario as I left the elevator.
I stepped out of the elevator and headed towards the main elevator lobby. Isabella was not there. Instead, the other receptionist was sitting in Isabella’s seat. The features on her face were far from soft. She was older and she always appeared angry. Her grip of the English language was decent but her accent was stern-sounding and European. Her name was Olga.
Olga dressed with a strange sense of fashion. Her choice of matching colors was odd to me. She was also overweight but wore clothes that were too revealing for a woman of Olga’s size. She was unkind when frustrated and often short-tempered when dealing with building personnel. She was always uncomfortably warm when others in her area complained about being too cold. Even Olga’s supervisors disliked her.
Olga never liked me very much; however, her supervisor was always on my side. After a mild to moderate argument with Olga and a complaint about me, which was written by her was sent to my management, Olga was confronted and reprimanded by her supervisor for a poor attitude.
Needless to say, Olga liked me even less after this altercation.
“Oh, they send you,” Olga remarked as I walked up to the large, wood-grained reception desk.
“Yep, they sent me.”
Attempting sarcasm Olga rolled her eyes.
“I am . . . so happy to see you,” she said in her thick accent.
“Now can you please do something about this room being so hot?”
“I’ll take care of it,” I said.
“Sure you will,” she doubted.
“Just like you will take care of the drawer at my desk.”
I defended myself.
“I was not told to fix the drawers at your desk.”
Olga snapped, “I told you about this weeks ago.”
“Yes you did,” I said.
“But I told you there is a building charge for my service and then you told me you would get in touch with the building office.”
The heavyset woman did not reply to me directly. She simply murmured something in her own language beneath her breath.
I walked away from Olga and walked through the aisles of busy partitions, desks, and work stations to reach the freight elevator. Isabella was heading from the office pantry.
“Did you come up to see me,” she asked.
“Not exactly,” I explained.
“Olga called and said she was too hot.”
“What else is new?”
Isabella lifted her left eyebrow and raised the corner of her mouth.
“Olga always complains it’s too hot.”
“She complains about everything,” I said.
“I know she complains about you,” laughed Isabella.
“She wanted to get you fired.”
“Thankfully, that didn’t work out!”
“I know,” said Isabella.
“That would mean I’d never get to see you around.”
I did not expect Isabella to say this.
“We should get together sometime or go out for drinks one night.”
I did not expect Isabella to say that either.
I was off my game and away from the single world for too long. I had no idea what to say. Aside from the 12-year age difference; aside from my insecurity, and aside from the obvious difference in backgrounds, I was nervous about my job. I was concerned that if the date went poorly, I would have to feel that uncomfortable feeling when seeing Isabella around the office.
After Isabella looked left and right to see if anyone was looking in our direction, she stepped over to me, stood tall on her toes, and then she kissed me on the corner of my mouth at the beginning of my cheek.
“I feel strange about dating people from work,” I explained.
She informed me, “Don’t worry. I’m quitting in two weeks.”
“It’s settled then. We’ll go out in two weeks,” I told her.
“It’s a date,” she said.
I asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I want to go someplace fun.”
I asked, “Like where?”
“Like a freaky club,” she told me.
“Or an S&M place . . . I’ve always wanted to go to a place like that.”
This was not what I thought she was going to say. I expected her to say a movie, or maybe dinner. For the first time, I realized that Isabella’s smile, was not as innocent as she appeared to be.
We agreed not to speak about our date with anyone at work. We agreed that whether the date worked well or not, we would keep the details to ourselves. And, if the date went poorly, we agreed we would be fine, and part as friends.
Isabella delivered her two weeks’ notice, but she was relieved of her position and asked to clear her things from the reception desk. We talked on the phone and the date was supposed to go on as planned. Only, Isabella seemed different to me now. She was not as nice as I expected her to be. She was mean towards others and quick to make fun of people with unfortunate circumstances.
Isabella was not the girl I thought she was. I was seeing a different side—a more rambunctious side of her. She would leave our phone conversations with wild sexual hints. And that was fine with me. But there was a hint of craziness to her that made me nervous.
We agreed to meet in front of the building at 34th and Park on a Saturday night. She was wearing a long white buttoned down shirt with the top buttons opened and revealing the swell of her well-shaped breasts. Her black pants were loose at the bottoms, but tight at the waist. She looked very nice, and of course, she smelled nice as well.
We walked to a bar near 36th St and sat down on the stools near the back of the bar. The beginning of the date was nice. The mood was right and the lights were low. The crowd was thin to moderate, and the bartender served us quickly.
“Club soda,” she asked.
“I don’t drink,” I explained.
“I like to drink,” she said.
“Go right ahead,” I told her.
“At least one of us will be able to make a responsible decision.”
Isabella asked about the people she used to work with. She touched me a few times, which communicated a nice feeling. She asked if I still hated Olga and told me some gossip about Olga’s husband and the affair he had with Olga’s sister.
The date was moving on, and suddenly, Isabella took on a different attitude.
Isabella claimed, “I’m gonna punch this bitch in the face.”
“What,” I asked.
“That girl across the bar,” she said.
Isabella’s eyes looked angry. Her eyebrows moved downward as if she had already made the decision to fight. The dim lights made it hard for me to see the twinkle I once noticed in Isabella’s eyes. Even her rhythm of speech changed. She spoke like a girl from the street instead of the girl I once knew from work.
“Why would you want to punch someone in the face,” I asked.
“Because she keeps looking over at you,”
She explained this as if I were stupid for asking that question. The tone in her voice was ugly and Isabella was becoming even more unlike the girl I once thought I knew.
A few moments passed and we resumed our conversation. I could see Isabella’s eyes checking across the bar. Eventually, I became curious. As I looked across at the opposite side, Isabella was right—there was a girl looking in my direction.
“That’s it!” Isabella complained.
“I’m gonna punch this bitch in the mouth!”
“No you’re not,” I said.
”That’s disrespectful” she claimed.
“Wait a minute, did you ever consider the fact that maybe she knows me? Maybe she’s seen me at the building or around the neighborhood?”
“I don’t care what she thinks,” Interrupted Isabella.
“I’m here with you. I’m not looking at any other men. I’m looking at you!”.
“Right, but I wasn’t looking at her and I wouldn’t have known she was looking at me unless you told me about it.”
“I don’t care,” she complained.
I managed to change the conversation one more time. It slipped backwards again, but we straightened out, and at best, I was hoping the night would still end with something at least mildly sexual.
Isabella touched me. She asked if I was thinking about her since I saw her last. She asked if I missed seeing her at work. And each question she asked, I answered her with whatever answer I thought could get me laid.
Unfortunately, Isabella and her issues with the girl across the bar would not go away.
Isabella became defiant.
“You better stop playing with me,” she charged.
“I could have any man I want come here right now and pick me up,” She said.
That was all I could take!
“I’m gonna to show you something,” I told her.
“What are you going to show me,” she asked.
“I’m gonna show you.”
“Show me what,” Isabella asked again.
I smiled to make her feel a sense of ease.
“I’m gonna show you something and then you’ll see why you’re wrong.”
“Oh, I’m wrong, am I?
“Yes you are,” I told her.
“And in a minute, I’m going to show you something and you will know.”
“Show me them” she said.
“When?” she asked, playing along with a laugh
“In a minute,” I said
“I’m gonna show you something and you’re gonna see why all of this was unnecessary and you were wrong.”
Isabella smiled, “Show me than.”
“I will in a minute.”
“Show me now.”
“In a minute,” I said.
“Show me now.”
I agreed, “Fine. I’m going to the bathroom, and when I come back, you’re going to see why you were wrong.”
Isabella smiled as if she assumed I was flirting with her. I assume she believed I was going to do something—like something charming to win her affection. Maybe she assumed I would get a table so we could hide away in the dark corner and touch each other while the others around us absorbed the nightlife.
Maybe Isabella thought I would find a rose or maybe a flower. Whatever she assumed, I am sure she did not assume that I would walk off as if I were going to the bathroom and then without being seen, slip away, and leave Isabella sitting at the bar, alone, and wondering how long it would be before I came back.
And that’s exactly what happened. I ducked around the corner so Isabella could not see me, and without being noticed, I slipped away without ever hearing from Isabella again.
Two questions were on my mind as I drove from the city that night.
The first question was how long did Isabella sit there before she realized I was not coming back?
And the second question was how do I find that girl that was staring at me from across the bar?
God, I hate the dating scene . . .