OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!! is Caitríona’s subject line. She’s not given to spamlike capitals and exclamation points, but the article I sent her calls for it.
When we were bright young things of 22, I spent a summer with her in Boston. We each worked two jobs waiting tables, and at home we were baited by her roommate, Tom. Tom was 28, a hot-stuff local rock god, and he was sure his apartment was fast turning into Ellis Island. We would annoy him by blasting the Fine Young Cannibals on his stereo whenever we got home. He would bug us by shouting about damn Irish kids and our taste for The Smiths.
Enter…I’ll call him Eugene. Eugene showed up in the Black Crow Café one day when Caitríona was on the morning shift. He was tapping on a laptop and made some complicated request for something low-fat with no sugar and no salt. We were all out of egg-whites, but she found him some olive bread that was acceptable. Because Cait was the sweetest (and best-tipped) waitress in Boston, they got chatting. She told me all about the writer guy when she got home.
The next day he was there again. And the next day. He lived several hours drive away, but the martial arts studio where he took classes was nearby. He was taken by the double-act of Irish girls, and we played up, of course, like Shirley Temples.
He started to invite us out after our shift. We agreed. We didn’t know much about American men, and Eugene was strange enough to interest us. And since he was ancient, he was no threat. He told us about appearing on a daytime talkshow where his ex-wife berated him for being insensitive to her recovered memories of childhood abuse, which she couldn’t actually remember yet. He told us about his ex-girlfriend, the Eastern European refugee he dated for two years and escorted to her high-school prom. Shortly afterwards, she dumped him: graduation. Cait and I looked at each other uneasily. A very mature sixteen? We didn’t know the term “oversharing” then.
He went on and on about his age, how he didn’t feel 41, how he was fit and vibrant and had nothing in common with people his own age. How younger women were just so much more life-affirming. We laughed again. American men were bizarre, we concluded. We put up with him for in-joke material, making brattish cracks in Irish about the probability that he had red pubic hair to match his ginger thatch. Meanwhile, Eugene talked about “yoomer”, which he demonstrated by telling us jokebook jokes. Women love jokes, right?
American self-invention has always fascinated us both. Robert Redford makes movies about the American natural, but Eugene was his own Dr. Frankenstein. You could almost see the bolts in his neck. In a strange way we were fond of him, though we couldn’t work out why he kept tagging along. (That seems clearer in retrospect).
He would deliver long lectures on self-realization, on how he got up at six am every morning and visualized the ten things he most wanted to succeed at. We nodded intently. I’d never met anyone who got up at six o’clock before. He talked earnestly about his many unrelated book projects: on reengineering the corporation, on angel magic, on computer zen, on motivational speaking. His hero was Michael Crichton. He had firewalked at a Tony Robbins seminar, and now he was going to get rich writing books. We thought he was cracked, lu-la, but we also wanted to learn about this relentless, po-faced positivity.
Young Irish waitresses attract their own weirdo following in a place like Boston, and Tom made a Wall of Shame on the fridge for our victims and persecutors. My own favourite was Bobo the Clown, who was eventually banned for repeatedly rushing into our restaurant–in costume–and pressing pictures of his “pride and joy” into my hand. These were a bottle of Pride detergent and Joy dishsoap. Cait, for her part, was chased by various moody actor-boys, who gave her signed headshots and left flowers at her waitress station. Tom’s fridge shrine grew. Finally Eugene gave us a signed picture to share, and Tom scrawled rude comments on it and stuck it in the back of the fridge so he was lit up whenever we made a snack.
We needed Tom. He was the gatekeeper for girls unprepared for the directness of America. It’s hard to believe we were that clueless, but we were. I had never been asked out on a date in my life, and neither had Caitríona. Irish mating is not premeditated. We didn’t know how if saying no was terribly insulting, and we didn’t know what _exactly_ they meant when they wanted to “grab a coffee” or “get some beers”. Dinner was a terrifying prospect. So Tom would growl “She’s not here, pal” while we made frantic gestures from the bedroom.
Eugene seemed mostly unthreatening, though it was clear he was getting ready to move. When he got me alone, he explained carefully that he was mirroring my body language, which was a powerful interview or seduction technique. I didn’t have the wit to point out that it might have been more effective if he hadn’t demonstrated it. My slouch didn’t look any better on a man twice my age. One week he sent a heartfelt love letter to Cait, the next week to me. The content was similar: “Caitríona/Dervala is a wonderful girl, but you, Dervala/Caitríona, really have special, unique qualities and a complexity that’s rare…” We giggled and noted his tiny, axe-murderer’s handwriting. The truth was we were getting tired of his attentions, especially the seven a.m. calls “to say hi to you guys” that made Tom yell at us.
One day Cait and I finally had an afternoon off. For a week she’d been having dreams where she tried to get out of bed in the middle of the night to bring five cappuccinos to table four. Waiting tables is the most stressful work I’ve ever done, especially because I wasn’t good at it. We were exhausted, and decided to celebrate our day off by making margaritas and renting _It’s A Wonderful Life_, to shut out the mugginess of Boston in July. Eugene phoned just as we sat down.
“What are you guys doing?” he said.
“Watching a video,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, “I’d love to join you.”
We really can’t say no. It’s a massive flaw in our training. The guest, uninvited or not, is sacred in Ireland: tasks are dropped, tea is boiled, resentful muttering saved for later. Phrases like “”You know, I just need a little _me time_ right now, honey.” are as foreign as Greek.
“Of course,” I said. “We’d love to have you.” And I gave him the address.
Cait punched a cushion and gave me a filthy look.
“You just invited bloody Eugene over.”
“I had to! What could I say?”
With a thundering glare, she pressed Play. We watched Jimmy and Donna in silence.
Eugene arrived two hours later, with a six-pack of mini Coronas. (Mini Coronas. To visit Irish girls.) He was wearing, as usual, a trench coat, a white suit, a Panama hat, and a pair of braided-leather shoes. I saw a look of pure, evil glee on Tom’s face as this vision appeared, and Cait and I flinched.
“Hullo, I’m Eugene Edward,” said Eugene.
“Hullo, Eugene Edward. I’m Thomas Matthew,” said Tom with a solemn handshake.
Eugene opened the fridge to stick in his doll-sized beers. He turned around.
“Caitríona,” he said quietly, “What am I doing in your refrigerator?” We had completely forgotten it was there. His face looked out from behind the cream cheese, jaw jutting like a CEO. “Eugene Edward,” it said. “Author. Predator.”
We never heard from him again until I flicked through the pages of one of the men’s magazines on my sister’s coffee table last week. There he was, ten years later, bold as brass, with a how-to article on dating younger women. “For the past 10 years,” announces this triumph of American manhood, “I’ve declined to date any woman who isn’t significantly younger than me.” And then step by step, he listed all the tactics he tried and refined on me and Caitríona. He lectured on the importance of wearing clothes that younger women liked (the Tom Wolfe getup??). He stressed that much younger women were a better bet than mid-twenties up. “Nothing turns off a young woman more quickly than an old guy on the make. Low-key and friendly is the way; enjoy the process of getting to know somebody new.” He mentioned the Eastern European girlfriend, though he added a few judicious years to her (under)age and shaved a few off his own. I squealed when I read “I once discovered (under the dress of a 22-year-old Irish waitress) a massive, flaming tattoo that wrapped around her entire body.” Caitríona! Explain yourself!
All the hard work paid off eventually. Eugene just married the 21-year-old who used to clean his house. I’m taking Tom for dinner at Hooters next month, just to thank him for being a bodyguard when we needed him most.