TITLE: Remember-When Girl
DATE: 3/18/2005 11:43:00 AM
Last Week's Remember-When Girl
Just before I started dating Steve, I had a very weird acquiantance with a Russian violinist named Alex. We were in orchestra together, and saw each other in the music department. I believe he was my TA for Music History, which was probably the stupidest class ever. He was a graduate student, majoring in violin performance.
We started hanging out at breaks in orchestra rehearsal, then he started walking me part of the way from the building where we rehearsed to my dorm, and then he started giving me a ride in his car from the parking lot near the rehearsal building to my dorm, which I gratefully accepted due to the fact that the end of orchestra rehearsal was usually somewhere around the 16th solid hour of my manic, workaholic day.
And yeah, I thought he was okay. You know. Maybe. It would be interesting to go home and tell my parents that I was seeing a Russian violinist. So you can tell my feelings were quite deep and well-considered.
Alex had emigrated with his family when he was 11. So he still had an accent. Which was of course, key. And made his eventual utterances just that much more bizarre.
When he was driving me up to the dorm, finally, one night after rehearsal, he said, "Do you vant to go get coffee somewhere?"
"Sure," I responded shyly, thinking in my head "eeee!!"
"Vere do you vant to go?" he said.
"Erm..." I said, thinking in my head, "whuh?" "Didn't you have someplace in mind?"
"Vell," he sighed, steering his car toward the center of town. "We koot go to Rao's..."
Rao's was a chic little coffee bar tucked behind a popular pizza joint. All the beatniks tended to congregate there.
"Okay," I was about to say, when he finished his sentence.
"...But I hate it dere."
We ended up going there anyway. I forget what we talked about, if anything. Perhaps it's for the best.
I forgave him his awkwardness. He seemed sweet. We kept doing the after-rehearsal-ride thing and shy little sojourns for coffee or soda. Finally, he asked me if I wanted to go and see a movie.
Okay, now let's just take a break for a second to ask: ladies, if a guy were to do all the above in relation to you, would you assume he at least wanted to date, even if you weren't actually really dating already? Remember your answer to this important queestion. It will become relevant later.
Meanwhile, I was rapidly getting to know Steve, who was beginning to tease me more and more about Alex. He joked about us (Alex and me) getting married and living together and hollering at one another like Russian peasants. I was too dense to figure out that Steve was becoming jealous.
Finally, Steve, Kellie and I were at the Newman Center having lunch the day before my date when Alex approached our table stiffly.
"Chhhhhallo, Elizabuth," he said in his usual gutteral way. He insisted on calling me by my full first name. "Do ve still have planss for tomorrow evening?"
"Sure," I said. "Would you like to eat lunch with us?"
Alex looked panicked. "Er, no..." he mumbled, eyes darting elsewhere. "I hev...I am...eh..." and then he rushed off.
Steve looked at me for a long moment, and then grabbed up all the beverage bottles on the table, gathering them to his chest.
"NO BOTTLES FOR YOU, YOU CREZZY VOMAN!!" he yelled.
I laughed, but I really still didn't get it.
Then came the night of the date, or at least what I had assumed was the date. People had to call up to a room and be let in from downstairs at the dorms, so Alex' presence was going to be announced by a phone call. I got ready in my room as much as possible, waiting for the phone to ring, but finally had to leave the room to brush my teeth. Heather and Steve were in my room with me, and agreed to listen for the phone. I, meanwhile, prayed it wouldn't ring while I was out of the room. Which is of course what happened. I arrived back from tooth-brushing to find Heather and Steve crouched over the phone, looking over toward me when I entered with expressions of demonic glee I can still remember to this day.
"WHAT DID YOU DO?" I yelled, snatching the phone away from them.
"Told him you'd be right down." Heather said innocently.
I ran down the stairs and jumped into Alex' car, which looked somewhat like the car from Knight Rider. Meanwhile, a Busta Rhymes song "Fire It Up," which was on the Can't Hardly Wait soundtrack, which Heather and I watched obsessively all through college, heavily sampled the Knight Rider theme song, which all combined to put the Knight Rider theme song as sampled by Busta Rhymes blaring through my brain whenever I road in the car with Alex. It was, as you can imagine, music incongruous to the experience.
On our way over to the movies, Alex and I discussed future ambitions. Alex was thisclose to graduating from the music department, but said he planned to earn a second master's elsewhere.
"Oh. Why?" I asked.
"Because. Zuh violin iss useless," said he. "And I hate it anyvay."
"Um...what do you want to do instead?" I asked.
"I think...computer science," he answered.
Then Alex and I discussed what movie to go and see. Sleepy Hollow was playing at the time. We had all but agreed to see that one when Alex suddenly blurted, "I hate skerry moofies."
"It's allright," I said, flirtatiously. "I'll protect you."
To this, he gave me quite possibly the weirdest look anyone has ever given anyone else. I went back to admiring the scenery.
Finally, we arrived at where we were going to see the movie. To my infinite disappointment it was not one of the beautiful art-house style cinemas in Northampton or even the shinier multiplex in Hadley but the crusty, crappy non-stadium-seating old theater in what was affectionately termed "The Dead Mall." The movie theater was the only remaining open business in this failed shopping complex, and even that was tenuous at best.
Something else you need to understand about Amherst and the surrounding area for the purposes of our story is that Western Massachusetts is really more like Ohio than New England. It's covered in farmland, but since the soil in New England grows only granite with any real reliability, most of the farms were livestock-oriented. Cows. Chickens. Turkeys. Pigs.
I don't know if you've ever been near an industrial poultry farm, but, my friend, that is a smell you will never quite erase from your memory.
The Pioneer Valley's many farm animals collectively produced enough methane to make Amherst's sunsets a blinding pyrotechnic display.
And always, when the winter was melting into spring and the temperature increased and the wind blew just right, all those tons of combined animal excrement could be smelled on the wind for miles in every direction.
The night Alex and I went to see Sleepy Hollow was one of those nights. We disembarked his car at the Dead Mall beneath a roaring sunset...and the most diabolically disgusting odor on the wind that I ever smelled in my years in Western Mass.
Alex turned toward me, gazing out at the sunset and seeming to drink in the cool spring breeze. With a sigh of satisfaction, he told me solemnly, "Dis iss vat it smellt like in Russia."
But that isn't even the kicker. Wait for the kicker.
After the movie--which was an exercise in strategy in which my objective was to get him to hold my hand and his objective seemed to be to sit as far away from me in his seat as he could possibly get--he asked once again if I would like coffee. We finally stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts. Where, over a chocolate cruller and a medium regular, I was informed by him that this had not been a date, that he had never considered dating me, that he had never intended on such a relationship, and had no idea where I would've gotten that impression.
He was also kind enough to explain why he was not interested in a romantic entanglement with yours truly: "You remint me too much of my mother."
The next day, Steve and I went to a choral concert together, and that was probably the first time I looked at him and realized that the best deal had been right there all along.
So, I guess, thanks, Alex.