tagHumor & SatireA Farewell to Alms

A Farewell to Alms


Chapter 1: Genesis: A Dinner Date

Natalie had just told me how much she loved Hemingway, as the waiter stepped up to our table. I was relieved by the interruption: I hate Hemingway. Not to mention the attempt to impress, the whole idea of someone enjoying, much less reading—completely—a Hemingway novel, kind of repulsed me.

Hemingway always struck me as the kind of guy who really disliked himself because he never seemed to like any of the characters in his novels. If you don’t like the people you write about, including your main protagonist—and supposed alter ego—how could you possibly like yourself?

Hemingway’s dialogue, that sucked too. After plodding through the first few chapters of some of his novels, you have to ask yourself, ‘Who the hell talks like that?’ No one I know...or would want to, that’s for sure. Maybe in the 20’s some people who were really attempting to be cool did. Maybe it was what someone like Hemingway thought was the way cool people talked. But it really made you feel like the writer was someone very ‘un-cool,’ who just imagined that this must be how cool people talked to each other:

“Come to bed again.”

“All right I’ll come.”

“Oh darling, darling, darling,” I said.

“You see,” she said. “I’ll do anything you want”

“You’re so lovely”

“I’m afraid I’m not very good at it yet.”

“You’re lovely.”

“I want what you want. There isn’t any me any more. Just what you want.”

“You’re sweet.”

“I’m good. Aren’t I good? You don’t want any other girls, do you?”


“You see, I’m good. I do what you want.”

I’m sure some apologist-critic could give this kind of crap some context and explanation. But you can never explain something that’s really bad well enough to make it good.

God, his stuff is awful.

After ordering our dinner, my Hemingway-loving date thankfully segued into another subject and proceeded to share her day with me:

“Today something funny happened,” she began, with a sheepish, almost childish, grin.

“And...” I encouraged her.

“Well, I was conducting my class...many of the students are so adorable...and, well, right in the middle of my lesson, I had to...well, you know...‘defecate.’”

At this point, I could only stare back into her eyes, which searched mine for a reaction, a reaction I was un-willing to give her—mainly because I was still trying to convince myself that this had to be the beginning of some sort of joke or put-on.

Please, I thought, make this just be a joke or put-on.

I was going to be spending at least a hundred on dinner. I desperately hoped I wasn’t wasting it on an incontinent, though attractive, woman. Not to mention, one with the conversational judgment of a five-year old.

Unfortunately, Natalie proceeded to ramble on for the next ten minutes or so, with this story describing how her bowels moved suddenly and caused her to excuse herself from class, run down the hall, etc., etc.

I struggled to keep a bemused smile plastered on my face throughout the story, a story that had no redeeming punch line or moral, desperately trying to figure out—“Why?”

When she was finished, she smiled, looked across the table at me, and without missing a beat, asked in Donna Reed-like fashion, “So how was your day?”

I was still somewhat stunned and mystified by the inane story of her colonic meltdown, and the mystery for sharing it, so I thought for a long moment, then replied:

“Well, I had a really bad diarrhea-spasm today...and I’d like to tell you all about it. But, if it’s alright with you, I thought I’d save it for dessert.”

The rest of dinner was fairly quiet and awkward.

When we were done with dinner and I was driving her home, Natalie went into a long riff about being a Christian and how she really believed strongly in virginity and family values. (Gee, just like Hemingway.) This was actually a pretty long monologue, but I am not going to rehash it here, mainly because I blocked out a hell of a lot of it.

I consider myself a pretty conservative, run-of-the-mill kind of guy. But the whole evangelical thing has never been of any interest to me. I’ve always been what I’d describe as a ‘hopeful agnostic.’ Like Lincoln, I always figured that if an almighty God wanted to speak to me, He could probably handle it all on his own without the assistance of a relatively narrow-minded—not to mention, loose-boweled—Pharisee to interpret Him.

But, hey, I figured she was on a roll, and I’d let her spill her holier-than-thou guts. And this she did, most of the way home.

When we pulled up to her door, she turned her face to mine in the dim-light and said, “So after my sharing with you tonight, I hope you can understand why I don’t invite you in?”

This was a statement, not a question.

I said, sure, I understand.

Then she asked when she’d hear from me again.

I thought that she had been pretty upfront and straight with me about her beliefs. And I respected that...so I thought I’d share a little too:

“Honestly, sweetheart, I don’t really see us getting together again, soon. Unless, of course, you’d be willing to do it strictly for sex.”

I looked her in the eye, totally straight-faced. I thought I’d just let the words hang there. I really wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just being honest. I mean, what was the likelihood that we would last more than, maybe, one more slow—agonizingly slow—evening together again, anyway? So, I thought I might as well go for the gusto and just flat-out piss her off.

‘Closure’...I think that’s the term they call it. Well, I wanted closure—with a capital ‘C’.

Natalie stared back at me with a look on her face that must have been pretty identical to the one my face wore during her insipid, bowel-movement recital.

Then slowly, the deer-in-the-headlights smile sank into a ...well...I’d call it a, ‘pretty much PO’d’ sneer:

“I don’t think that’s going to happen—ever. Asshole!”

With this remark, she spun and flung the car door open, leapt out, and slammed the door shut. Really hard.

As she stormed off into the front door of the huge house her family owned, I waited, like a gentleman, to make sure she was safely in.

Then as she stepped into the open doorway, she turned to me, silhouetted in the door light, and offered a parting gesture. She raised her fist and gave me the middle finger, then slammed the door shut behind her.

I sighed to myself... “So much like Christ.”


Chapter 2: We Need to Talk

Two weeks had gone by and I’d pretty much forgotten about the ‘last supper’ with Saint Natalie.

Then one night I got home and played back the messages on my answering machine. Among them played back a very familiar voice. The message was short and sweet:

“Bruce. Natalie. We need to talk. Call me.”

Based on my last comments to her, if we were going to get together again, ‘talking’ was the last thing we needed to do. At least in my mind.

As I’d remembered it, the last talk yielded very little of value for me except to inform me about Natalie’s higher spirituality, its inability to cure her irritable bowel syndrome, and, oh yes, that I was an asshole who should go fuck himself.

I felt like we explored talking and, basically, she’d said it all, already. What was left to add to our last discourse? Maybe that I was really, really an asshole who should really, really go fuck himself.

The possibilities were not inviting. I ignored the message feeling it would be better to just take a pass.

Two nights later I got home and among my messages was another from Natalie:

“Bruce. Natalie. I hope you’re not ignoring me. That would be very immature. Call me. We need to discuss your behavior last week.”

I almost started laughing. This was turning into a bad comedy routine from Saturday Night Live or something. You know, the domineering girl who can’t let go of the Neanderthal Guy, who doesn’t really care about her, except to screw her, etc.

Was I intrigued? Somewhat. Enough to call her? No.

I really just wanted to drop it at this point. She was a hell of a looker, but just a little too loony for me. Plus, I didn’t feel like even role-playing through some corny lecture she might use as a ruse to get us back together. She was erratic and unstable in my opinion. Getting her in the sack seemed somewhat interesting right now, but this could turn out to be a Duane Bobbit-type nightmare.

Again, I took a pass. Never returned the call.

Certainly none of this had to do with the girl’s appearance. I first met Natalie when she worked for me as a salesperson. Immediately it was obvious that she was very bright, well educated and articulate. But she was definitely the type that was bright, but not deep. She knew all the authors and stuff, but had no real depth of feeling for them...or anyone for that matter. With Natalie, when you scratched beneath the veneer, you just found more veneer.

We started dating after she left the company to go into teaching at the grammar school level. Some friends of hers at work were concerned that she was playing a little too hard since she’d left our company. Natalie had a little bit of a reputation as a party girl, which made her family values bit at dinner that night even stranger. Anyway, at the time, her friends thought it might be good if I looked her up and saw how she was doing. When I did, she suggested we get together for dinner.

I was all for getting together with her. At 27, she was nearly 15 years my junior, and she was hot: about 5’7”, a redhead, with a great bod. Who was I to turn that down, even for just dinner talk? And like most guys, there was always the hope—who knows, right?

Well, ‘who knew’ it would turn out the way it did: one and out. A very boring evening. And not one I cared to repeat.

Then the phone rang one night and I picked up:

“Well, you’re alive!” It was Natalie—Shit!

“That’s the rumor,” I said, trying to play down my anxiety in now having to face up to the fact that I’d ducked her for the last two weeks.

“Look,” she said, “I think we were both at fault the other night, and I just wanted to make it up to you. Why don’t we get together for dinner—and do it right, this time. My treat.”

She had me cornered. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. Plus, I had laid down the ‘strictly for sex’ rule last time we spoke. I didn’t want to seem like a pushover. And, after all, I really did only want to get together again with Miss Looney-Tunes if it was for sex. She had definitely turned me off with the nutty, Christian preaching on our last date. But it would be really hard to put her down that way, especially with her offering to pick up the tab.

What could I say? I was on the spot.

“Ok. But I’d like to go to some place really nice.”

I was only kidding. But, as I half expected, she was clueless to it.

“Well, how about California Cafe? That’s usually a really nice experience.”

“How about your bedroom,” was what I was thinking, but managed to restrain myself.

“Ok, sounds good. When?”

“Well, I’m busy through Thursday. I’m seeing someone seriously, now.”

Oh brother, I thought. This girl is truly from the planet Zircon. She’s ‘seeing someone seriously,’ but wants to take a guy out to dinner that told her he’d only want to see her again for sex. What a ‘family values’ kinda gal.

“Ok, Thursday is fine with me,” I said, ignoring the serious commitment bit she’d just laid on me. I knew it was a load of crap.

“Great. Why don’t you pick me up around six, ok?”

“Sure, see ya then,” I just wanted to get off the phone at this point and think things through. She was strange and getting stranger. As good looking as she was, the strangeness just wasn’t attractive at all.

One of the major differences between men and women is over just that point. Women love strange, quirky guys. But you’ll never hear a guy refer to the woman he’s seeing as ‘strange and quirky.’ Guys definitely don’t want anything ‘strange and quirky’ scooting around under their sheets at night. But for some reason—one that must be hormonal, like enjoying cold pizza the morning after—women do. Go figure.

Well, there was no getting out of it now. And truth be known, I was kind of curious to see what was up her sleeve...as well as everything else she’d be wearing.


Chapter 3: A Moveable Feast

I arrived at the restaurant and found Natalie sitting at the bar. I wasn’t sure how the evening was going to go and so came up with a pretext for us just meeting there.

She sat with a drink in hand and her legs crossed, wearing a very short, very tight mini, which slid up to the tops of her thighs.

“So what’s for dinner,” I said cheerily, looking her over.

“Are you going to start, right in?” she asked, annoyed.

“That sounds like as good a place to start as any,” I smiled. But she was getting that slightly irritated look on her face.

“Does everything have to be about sex?”

“No, not everything. But the more, the better.”

She took a sip of wine. Looked at me for a moment. I knew something was coming and hoped it would be interesting.

“You don’t believe in God, do you?”

It was a non sequitur if I ever heard one and I had to give it some thought. So, I took the glass from her hand and took a sip of her wine. Then I gave her the best I could come up with at the time:

“Yeah, I believe in God...because I choose to. I have no idea if there’s a God or not. And if there is one, I have no idea what He—or It—thinks about, or what He—or It—wants. But I choose to believe in some sort of kind and loving creator. Why not? It makes me feel better. And, as far as I see it, there’s as good a shot that there is one as not.”

“Well, you certainly don’t seem like you’ve ever read the Bible.”

“No? What makes you say that?”

“Well, you sure don’t act like the kind of people who worship. Everything is dirty with you...you wouldn’t make much of a Biblical hero.”

Biblical hero? I was getting a little miffed that I’d let her lead me down this path:

“Have you ever read the Bible?” I said, betraying a slight edge in my voice. “Sure doesn’t sound like it. Hey, I’m sorry if I don’t live up to all your ‘Bible Heroes’ like Lot, who screwed his daughters; or like Cain, who killed his brother; or Moses, who killed a cop; or David, the peeping Tom and adulterer; or Paul, who made a nice living of persecuting Christians. You know, you’re right, I just don’t measure up to your rogues gallery of Bible buddies, do I?”

I was just slightly pissed off and getting a little self-righteous. But I was on a roll. That is, until I could see that Natalie wasn’t really listening to what I was saying. This smile came over her face, and I have to admit, although she looked good, it was irritating me:

“You’re really very intriguing. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“Yes,” I said, trying to shake off my irritation as fast as possible. She really didn’t care at all about the point I thought I was, so intelligently, making. She liked that she pissed me off. I think somewhere in her mind she read it as me finally taking her seriously or something.

‘Round 1’ to the redhead.

“Well, I find the mind the sexiest part of the body, don’t you?”

Another comment right out of left field. I had no idea where she got this pseudo-sophisticated garbage from, but I had to struggle not to laugh in her face.

“Ummm...no, I think I’d place it about fifth,” I answered.

“Yes. I could see that. You really have no imagination, do you?”

“Yes, I definitely do. Why don’t we go back to your place? I’d really like to prove it to you.”

She smirked at me, took a drag of her cigarette, and held it high in her hand. Very sophisticated. Very elegant. But I could tell she was actually weighing the proposition.

“We haven’t even eaten yet.”

The comment made no sense. She was just trying to buy time.

“Sweetheart, trust me, we’ll perform much better on an empty stomach.”

“You really are a pig, aren’t you,” she said very slowly, as she sucked in another drag of the cigarette.

“You’d have been very disappointed if I wasn’t.”

It was the most truthful thing I’d said all night.

There was a long pause between us...maybe two minutes or more.

“Ok,” she said, looking down at her glass, avoiding looking me in the eye.

Then this beautiful redhead grabbed her purse off the back of the bar stool and slung it over her shoulder. She mumbled as she passed me:

“Why don’t you pick up a bottle of wine on the way over.”

With that, I followed my convert out the door to our cars.


Chapter 4: Tiny Dancer

I pulled my car around to the side-house where Natalie lived. Her folks lived in the big, main house. It was white, with pillars in front. Bag of liquor in hand, I felt like I was off to ravage Scarlett O’Hara.

Natalie greeted me into the dark interior of her apartment. We opened the bag. I brought a quart of Seagram’s for myself; I’d brought a large bottle of cheap Cabernet for her. I felt like quantity would be more important than quality, if the evening went as I’d hoped.

I opened the wine and poured her some. Then I poured myself a shot of the Seagram’s, in a coffee mug I found in the kitchen.

After some long minutes of drinking in silence, she looked at me and asked:

“Has a girl ever stripped for you?”

“You mean the complete show...danced?”


“Well, no Bible-thumping girl ever has...no.”

“Please don’t talk like that,” she said, breaking eye contact, looking demurely down at her wine.

What she really meant was, please don’t remind me of what a hypocrite I am. That was fair. After all, I had the feeling she was about to show me the strip-act she practiced after getting home from Mass each week. Who could pick on a girl whom was that Christian in her giving?

“Sorry. No, no one I ever dated ever stripped for me before.”

“Would you like that?” she asked with a very waif-like, phony-naive look on her face.

I looked down at my watch, “Well, gee...I don’t know...it is getting late.”

I looked at her straight-faced, and then we both cracked up at the obvious cons we were trying to pull on each other.

“Give me a moment,” she said, then hastily scampered from the room. She came back with a cassette she put in a boom box that sat on the room’s credenza. She hit the rewind button. As she waited for it to rewind, she looked over at me nervously. I could tell she was about to play out a fantasy that was a lot more important to her than my side was for me.

I sat back patiently, like a john waiting for a lap-dance. It was all kind of surreal. This was the girl who had lectured me a few weeks ago about virginity and family values.

The tape snapped out loud as it rewound to the beginning. She hit the play button. Suddenly, Elton John was singing, “Tiny Dancer.”

Natalie began swaying and getting into the beat. As she danced, she moved seductively close to me, kneeled in front of me, and licked her lips.

All I could think was, “Don’t start laughing.”

But it was really funny. She was trying so hard, and she was so damned serious about it. I just wished her fellow churchgoers could have seen her.

Before I knew it, Tiny Dancer ended. Now came the main course. Credence, rolling out, “Proud Mary.”

Natalie was warmed up now; she put her hands over her head, rocked her hips to the rolling rhythm, and put on a big talent-show smile for her audience. She was somewhere else right now...I was just an anonymous onlooker for her, sitting there in the dark, snorting down my Seagram’s. And in the anonymity of darkness, the huge grin I was wearing didn’t distract her from the performance.

Then she began unbuttoning the back of the blouse she was wearing. It soon peeled off of her. Next she reached back and unzipped the skirt. As she shook her hips, it slid to the floor. She was very theatrical, stepping out of her skirt, and then throwing it across the room. She was now down to just her bra and pantyhose.

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