‘There must be millions of people all over the world who
never get any love letters—I could be their leader.’
I’ve reached a new low. A beginner’s cooking class for singles. It’s like admitting two ineptitudes at once: ‘Hi, my name is Charlie Brown. I’m thirty-seven years old. I’m single and I can’t cook, but I’m really only taking this class so I can impress women and get laid.’ There are men who could say this last bit with the right bit of humour and playfulness and get away with it. I’m not one of them.
Anyway, at least it’s live. At least I’m not on eHarmony hiding behind a ten-year-old picture of myself, pretending to be a wine connoisseur, an avid runner, and a literature buff. Truth is I drink beer (whatever’s on sale), and the only running I do is to catch the streetcar (and only if I’m really late), and I don’t read much other than the sports section, the comics, and a couple of magazines I subscribe to. Clichéd, I know, but true. The whole book-reading thing just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve seen other people doing it—I’ve seen women doing it—so I’ve tried. Like the time I stole a book from work. It was just sitting out on the coffee table in the staff lounge, so I took it into the bathroom and leafed through it. There was a name pencilled on the inside of the first page but I couldn’t make it out so I didn’t feel bad about taking it. I can’t explain why, but simply picking the book up felt good, like it was important, somehow, and worthwhile. And it had that old-book smell which is the one thing about books I’ve always liked for some reason. The title was one I’d heard and it seemed to fit my situation. Hard Times. Anyway, I flushed, tucked the book under my shirt (just in case the owner was out in the lounge looking for it), and took it home. I figured, What the hell, give it a whirl.
I really did intend to read the whole thing. But I couldn’t follow it, which frustrated me and made me feel stupid. So I quit. Which I’m not ashamed to admit. Then I came across this article called ‘The Top Ten Books Every Man Trying to Bed a Smart Chick Should Say He’s Read’ in the September issue of Maxim. It was a special back-to-school issue. Rachel McAdams was on the front cover. Leaning on a desk, she was wearing a white dress shirt (top three buttons undone) and a grey skirt hiked above the knee. Looking right at the camera (and so, right at every man who picked the magazine up), she was holding a pair of dark-rimmed glasses, biting the end of one of the arms. The quotation beside her read, ‘Good morning, class.’ Let me just say, they never had teachers who looked like that in my day. Maybe if they had I’d’ve read more books.
Anyway, I bought copies of the titles the article listed and set them out on the shelf in my living room at home. They look good sitting there. It does something to a room to have books in it. Especially good ones. I read all the summaries online because really, as the article pointed out, who has time to read novels these days. It’s amazing how much I remember from those summaries. I memorized the titles, a few details about the authors, and one quote from each of the books. I bet I could fool most people.
The Christmas issue of Maxim had an article called ‘The Best Way to a Woman’s Bed is Through Her Kitchen,’ which I read and took to heart. The writer’s main point was this: if you can’t dance, if you don’t have (or you can’t convincingly fake) an Irish, Scottish, or English accent, if you look anything like Tony Soprano but possess none of his power or cool, if you’re pushing forty and, like George Costanza, you can never foresee a situation in which you will ever have sex again, then take a cooking class and discover the correlation between peeling and paring in the kitchen and ‘peeling’ and ‘pairing’ in the bedroom.
So here I am in a class called ‘Eager for Bread & Love.’
The ad said, ‘For those who kneed to meet someone else.’ Which is supposed to be some kind of pun. I think.
Anyway, this is the first night. I’m a little nervous, I have to admit. I’ve never been very good at first impressions. Right now, I’m the only one here. I’m a little early, I guess. But that just fits the tone of the class. Shows I’m eager. Besides, ‘being late only tests fate,’ I always say. I’m big on punctuality. Anytime I’m asked for my best quality, I always say, ‘Punctuality’. I figure it sounds honest but not arrogant. Women appreciate men who are on time and not full of themselves. I read that somewhere.
These hors d’oeuvres are killer. If they teach us to cook like this, I’ll be set. Christ, here comes the teacher. Bit of a knockout herself. No Rachel McAdams but still. I wonder if she’s single. Wouldn’t that be something, picking up the teacher.
Hey there, teach. What’s cook’n?
I could never say anything like this. It would never come out right. I read an article in SI one time called ‘Jocks, No Jokes’. It was about how when most professional athletes try to be funny in interviews and on talk shows they end up looking sad and pathetic. The argument was that pro athletes are trained to go on instinct. Which works in sports but not in real life. The suggestion was, ‘Filter the first three things that come to mind and you’ll decrease the chance of looking like an idiot tenfold.
It sounded like advice tailor-made for me. I’m not saying I’m a professional athlete. Far from it. I mean, look at me. But those guys don’t need advice. All they have to do to get laid is make eye contact and nod. Even the ugly ones. Anyway, since reading the article I’ve tried to make a rule of ignoring the first three things that come to mind. The only problem is I’m not usually left with much. Like right now, for instance.
I look at her nametag.
She puts her hands together and sort of grins at me. I’ve seen this look before. It’s not good.
‘Hello. I, uh, saw you come in and just wanted to make sure you were—oh, how do I put this—in the right place.’
‘Yes, absolutely I am. This is Eager for Bread & Sex, right?’
I give her a wink and a grin. She says nothing.
Filter, damn it. Filter.
‘I’m joking,’ I say. ‘I’m joking. Don’t worry. I’m not some kind of weirdo.’
She closes her eyes for a moment, looks over her shoulder at no one, then back at me.
I’m such an idiot.
‘Anyway, I signed up about a month ago and paid in full right away. Probably first on your list there if you want to check. CB Brown.’
I try to point out my name on her clipboard, but she hugs it to her chest.
‘Yes, well, Mr. Brown, although the class is itself clandestine in nature, we like to be completely open and honest about whom we are while we are here. You know, so that there are no surprises.’
Clandestine. I’ll have to look that one up.
‘Yes. No surprises. Open and honest. I agree.’
‘Which means we have to use our real names, Mr. Brown.’
With her pen she indicates the stick-on nametag on my shirt.
I snap my fingers and nod.
‘I see what you mean. You think I made this name up to be cute or funny.’
Unimpressed, she says, ‘Yes, something like that.’
She looks over her shoulder again. More people are arriving.
‘Anyway, Mr. Brown, if you want to stay, you are going to have to use your real name. Now, if you will excuse me.’
I step in front of her. Not aggressively. Just enough to keep her from leaving.
‘I feel I should explain. My name really is Charlie Brown. It is. And it’s not as uncommon as you might think. I know three other people whose names are similar. Chuck Braun, the super in my building. Charles Brun, a prof I had in University who insisted we call him Dr. Sharles and roll the r. And Chocolate Charlee, this stripper I know. Well, I shouldn’t say I know her, exactly, but still, you get the idea.’
‘Yes, Mr. Brown. I get the idea. Now, if you’ll please.’
‘Of course, of course. Sorry.’
I step out of the way and watch her go. So much for picking up the teacher.
The two men and three women who have just arrived look to be in their thirties. All of them, by society’s standards, are good looking. They’re hanging up their coats and I watch as Maureen shakes each of their hands. One of the men says something I can’t make out and Maureen laughs. She leans in and kisses him on the cheek. They must know each other. No one can be that good at first impressions.
Thirty minutes later I’m still at the hors d’oeuvres table. The place has filled up and people are mingling. I’m not really one for mingling. I find it hard just going up to people. Anyway, there’s this woman standing beside me now and I get the feeling she might say something. From what I can tell she’s attractive. She sort of sidled up from behind and I haven’t had a chance to look at her yet. It would be weird if I just turned and looked at her. Anyway, I get the feeling she’s easy on the eyes, if smell has anything to do with it. There’s mint, which must be her breath, and she’s close enough that when I pretend to look for someone over my shoulder I catch a whiff of that real fresh scent beautiful women always seem to have in their hair that sets off a frolic of pheromones and puts that nervous feeling in your throat that makes it almost impossible to speak.
I think, Man, I wish they’d get this show on the road.
She chuckles to herself and bumps me with her hip.
‘Cute,’ she says. ‘Clever.’
I don’t know what she means. I decide not to look at her.
‘You’re nervous,’ she says. ‘I can tell. A first-timer.’
I just stand there. Like an idiot.
‘It’s okay. I prefer the quiet ones, the smart ones.’
She bumps me with her hip again and smiles.
Finally, I look at her. She’s gorgeous. Drop dead. Too gorgeous for me.
She looks at the nametag on my shirt.
‘Charlie Brown. And I thought my name was good.’
She underlines her own nametag with a finger.
‘Amanda Ardour. Get it?’
I don’t but I nod anyway.
‘In Latin,’ she says, ‘the word Amanda means the girl who must be loved. And Ardour, well, eager and full of passion. That’s me.’
Unbelievable. That SI article should have said more about the power of saying absolutely nothing.
Maureen Hynes stands at the front of the room and tings her glass.
‘Excuse me. Excuse me, please. If I could just have everyone’s attention for the briefest of moments.’
She waits and the mingling noises settle. Everyone looks her way.
‘Thank you. I just wanted to welcome you all to your beginner’s cooking class—’
She smiles and says the word ‘cooking’ with finger quotations around it. Everyone laughs but me.
‘And for any true beginners—’
Amanda bumps me again.
‘—I wanted to let you know how it all works and give you a bit of advice. First, remember to pick up your receipts. No one ever questions receipts. Second, avoid any extracurricular communication outside our little classroom here. Phone calls can always be traced. And third, as part of the fee you pay, we have prepared food for you to take home, more evidence of your being here. And don’t worry. We’ve made sure it tastes like a beginner made it. I mean, it’s edible but no one is going to mistake you for Julia Child or Gordon Ramsay.’
Everyone laughs again but me.
‘Anyway, I know you’ve all come with hearty appetites and from what I can tell, the items on this evening’s menu look scrumptious.’
Maureen raises her glass and everyone in the room does the same.
‘To cooking,’ she says. ‘Bon appetit.’
Amanda looks at me and without warning she leans in, nibbles my ear, and whispers, ‘Bon appetit.’
Her breath in my ear, her teeth on my skin, her smell and the feeling of her body up against mine—it almost does me in.
She steps back and all casual-like says, ‘So anyway, I loved On The Road, didn’t you? The jazzy way he wrote it and all that do-what-you-will attitude. Not to mention the sex and the drugs.’
On the Road. Right. Kerouac. He was on the list.
‘That was my test. I told myself, the first guy who knows where ‘Eager for Bread & Love’ comes from, he’s the one. The first four guys I talked to had no idea. They all said, Jack who? Then I came over here all disillusioned and you said, Man, I wish they’d get this show on the road. That did it for me, Charlie Brown.’
What a stroke of luck. I can’t believe I said that out loud.
She bumps me with her hip one more time.
‘So what do you say?’
I’ll tell you what I say. I take what I’ve learned in the last ten minutes about saying nothing and I say nothing. Then I take Amanda Ardour by the hand and lead her through the crowd of society’s standards. I make sure Maureen Hynes sees us leaving together. Her jaw drops and right then I remember the quote I memorized from Kerouac’s book and all of a sudden I feel better than I’ve ever felt in my life, like I’m floating amidst the stars, all full of light and wonder and buzz, and I think to myself, Damn, you’re one of the mad ones, Charlie Brown. You’re one of the mad ones.