Saturday, April 17, 2010

Geek meets girl, and maybe God too, later

A couple of years ago, I saw two twentysomethings talking on the train platform, and started writing the story below. Some notes from that time:
He: Asian, black slacks, shoes, socks, coat; brick-red (a little duller actually) scarf, glasses (20/200?), hair thinning but not that old. Highlights ?? in the hair. Gel/mousse?? Black leather shoulder bag. Heels on the semi-dress shoes somewhat worn but not excessively so.

She: med-blonde collar-length, glasses (20/40? not as thick as his), blue eyes, black coat, brown top, grey/khaki velour or cordless corduroy slacks, tennis shoes
I picked it up and moved the plot ahead a little, which raised some questions for me; I've added those at the bottom.

"Hi. Ray, is it? I haven't seen you waiting for this train before."

I looked up from my paperback copy of The Magic Mountain to see... What was her name? I tried to return her smile; not sure whether I succeeded. "Hey," I offered. "Usually I come in later, but I have an 8:00 con-call."

I glanced down the track; no sign of a train. Not that I really wanted one. I looked back at her.

"What are you reading?" she asked after a short pause.

Doreen! -- that was her name, from the 2nd floor. Met her at last Friday's beer bash. From some big-name school; Caltech or MIT? Works on... filesystem maybe? Networking? But she just asked me something....

"Mann," I said. "Trying to become literate, you know." I did not say, "Chicks dig that." They were supposed to dig this all-black outfit, too. Maybe it was finally paying off?

Her laugh was musical. "You should meet my sister -- she says the same thing, even though she was an English major." Doreen was wearing black. Mostly. Well, dark anyway, except for her white socks and once-almost-white tennis shoes.

What should I say next?? "Does she live around here?" Idiot! Why did I ask that??

"Yes, we share an apartment a couple of blocks away," she said. Doreen pointed off-axis from the train track, and I saw the headlight approaching. The singing of the steel wheels was just becoming audible.

The doors slid open, and she boarded first, sliding to the window in a backward-facing row and patting the seat beside her. Obediently, I sat. "So you share an apartment with your sister?"

"Actually I guess it's a condo. She bought a place and had room...."

The doors slid shut, and the train pulled out.

I turned to face Doreen. I'd never been this close to her before, never noticed her chestnut-colored eyes. I commanded myself to breathe. "How's it working out?"

She gave me a big smile. "Really well, actually. We were best friends growing up -- we're from around here. Both of us went to school on the east coast. Our parents hoped we'd move back, and sure enough we did, though she got here first."

MIT then, not Caltech. "So she's older?"

"No, a few years younger. But I did the PhD thing and she got a job teaching right out of college."

"A new teacher bought a condo right out of college? Here?" Several heads turned. Oops!

Doreen suppressed a little grin, and replied almost in a whisper -- "Our parents helped with the down payment. But what's your story?"

"The usual," I replied. "San Jose State, then Berkeley for grad school. Didn't make it past the quals, got my MS and started working. I rent a house with some guys a few blocks over toward 101."

Doreen was looking out at something. When she looked back, I asked her, "So what do you guys do on weekends?"

She giggled. I loved that laugh! "It's not the usual around here, but we volunteer at our church -- we do a skit for the elementary school kids every week."

"You're right," I said. "That's not the usual around here."

"Kinda weird, huh?" she said.

"No no no no no. It's really cool, actually. Umm, what kinds of skits do you guys do?"

"Well, stuff from, you know, the Bible," she started, rather tentatively I thought.

"You mean, like Jael driving a tent peg into Sisera's temple?" Well, that was a bold gambit, but maybe really stupid too. Could she tell I was kidding?

"Uh, I don't think the parents would go for that one," she replied. She cocked her head to one side. "That's a pretty obscure passage. One of your favorites maybe?"

Was she smirking? "Nah," I said. "I used to think the Bible was down on women, and this girl in my dorm told me about that one. Apparently this Debbie person was ruling Israel, which really surprised me."

"Yeah, there are a lot of misconceptions about the Bible -- that women don't count for anything in it, or that the stories are for kids. Even the stories we do tell kids aren't really children's stories: Noah's ark is about the destruction of pretty much the entire human race. Jonah went to tell the city of Nineveh that a nuclear bomb was going to land on them, then he got mad because it didn't happen. Not your best role model."

She was pretty animated. I wanted to say something intelligent, but I'd just given her everything I knew about the Bible; I knew even less about kids. C'mon, Ray, use those neurons! She mentioned... parents! "So what do the parents say?" I asked.

"That's another thing. Most of them are busy with their careers, or taking the kids to sports or pushing them to get straight-As. Not to say they're indifferent about their kids' spiritual education, but it's not as high a priority as it might be." She paused. "Easy for me to say, though; I've don't have kids."

"That's good to know. Uh, I mean..." My face felt hot but she giggled again, and I caught a whiff of her shampoo or whatever. I tried to get a grip on myself. "I bet you get that kind of thing all the time."

Another giggle. Was the train still on the tracks? "Not so much," she said. Is she surrounded by grandfathers or idiots? Or nerds?? I must have looked incredulous, because she added, "No, really. I guess guys see me hanging out with the kids, and...." She looked out the window.

Great -- now I had the initiative. I gave her about five seconds and tried: "Consider me your resource." She turned back to me, and I gave her my "Hollywood smile." "Listen, Doreen, I know how guys think." She raised an eyebrow, and I thought maybe I'd get another laugh. But she seemed intrigued. So I plowed ahead. "How about dinner tonight?"

That got a laugh. "That was fast!" she said.

"Always happy to provide a little comic relief," I said. She continued laughing. Sheesh, it wasn't that funny. "Can't blame me for trying, can you?"

She was leaning forward, managing with some effort not to laugh out loud. She braced herself against the seat in front of us with one hand; the fingertips of the other were just touching the buttons on her jacket. She recovered and turned to me. "Tonight I'm doing Alpha," she said. Her eyes were still smiling.

"Alpha? What's that, like a double-date -- protons and neutrons?" That got her laughing again, and it was contagious. When I looked up I saw that our stop was next. I reached across her to signal the driver, and she evidently had the same idea at the same time. I drew my hand back, just as she did. Then we both pushed the signal strip. More laughter. To heck with work -- I could ride the train all day with this woman!

"Alpha," she was saying. "It's a group dinner..." We stood up as the train came to a halt. It's always a challenge to keep my feet under me when the train decelerates, but I postponed getting up as long as I could. We lurched toward the doorway, and I was both relieved and disappointed that she didn't stumble into me. The doors opened and we stepped onto the platform.

"A group dinner?" I prompted. We walked toward the office.

"Someone makes dinner, or orders pizza or something, but we all chip in. Then we watch a video -- it's a lecture where this English guy goes over some spiritual issues. Last week it was about the possibility of miracles, and this week... I'm not sure. Maybe something like the reliability of the Scriptures...?"

The reliability of the Scriptures. I'd thought about that before, maybe back in college or something, but never put much effort into considering it. It seemed like an impossibility: the manuscripts were thousands of years old, translated however many times, and didn't that DaVinci Code movie say something about...

"Earth to Ray," I heard.

Oops! "Oh, yeah, I was just thinking that I'd heard of that in college but never spent much time thinking about it."

"Heard of Alpha?" She looked puzzled.

"No. Um, the girl I mentioned? She always referred to the Bible whenever she talked about her purpose, how she made big decisions, that sort of thing. She based her life on that book, which always seemed to me to be like a leap of faith, you know?"

Doreen nodded. "It's huge. If you're going to base your life on a book, you want to know it's reliable." She paused. "Want to come tonight? A friend is giving me a lift after work."

It was still a few minutes before 8:00. She would call me about 5:00 when she got an ETA from her ride, and also tell the host to expect another person. I thought of something else. "Am I dressed OK?" I asked.

She indicated her cords and tennis shoes and laughed again, then turned to climb the stairs to her office. "I'll be counting the minutes," I didn't say.

Okay, so I wasn't being 100% silly; here are some of my questions:
  1. Let's suppose Doreen isn't aware of what's happening to Ray's pulse. If she found out what was going on, would she feel awkward about it? Should she?
  2. If Doreen is aware of what Ray's going through, is she being manipulative?
  3. How sincere would you say Ray is -- in his curiosity about the reliability of the Scriptures? -- in his offer to help Doreen understand guys?
  4. If Ray seems sincerely engaged after Alpha, should Doreen accept a future dinner invitation from him?

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