Having spoken to my editors and other people, apparently Ha Ha is not as well known as I thought. All persons playing a game of Ha Ha lie down on the floor, each with their head on the stomach of another player, everyone connected like dominos. The first player says, "Ha." The player on whose stomach his head is resting says, "Ha Ha." Each player adds an additional "Ha" until everybody is rolling on the floor laughing. I don't recall playing a round of Ha Ha that went beyond "Ha Ha Ha Ha" before everyone broke into uncontrollable laughter. Kids enjoy it, but it's a fun time for adults as well.
There is no sex in this story.
"I'm free for dinner tonight. I'm free for dessert as well." Her tone was suggestive. Her body was seductive and her face was captivating, with that tight skin, made possible by exposing it to the elements only infrequently for her twenty four years. She was charming, friendly and sexy. Under other circumstances, I would have been out of my chair before she finished her second sentence.
"You know I'm a married man."
"That isn't fatal, is it?"
And she had a sense of humor. But she worked for me and that could be fatal. Eventually another employee would figure out what was going on and some time after that all the employees would know about it. Some time later my wife would know. That wasn't how I wanted to end it.
"Go home, have a life."
"Your loss," she said.
"But first, let's have a hug." I flapped the fingers of both hands in the "come here" gesture.
"You're just a dirty old man at heart."
"I'm just showing my affection and appreciation for a valued employee."
"Sure you are." She joked about it, but she would have been offended if I didn't request it.
I was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. She was the fourth woman I had hugged today. Traces of her perfume mixed with those of the others. I became a touchy feely person because I truly believe it enhances both personal and business relationships. I'm well known for that. It also leaves me with such a mixed bouquet of women's scents that it would be absolutely inconceivable for it to arouse in my wife even the slightest suspicion that I had been inappropriate with another woman, just background noise.
I picked up the phone and called Linda.
Funny how these things work out. I had a desperate crush on Linda when I was thirteen. Unfortunately, it was unrequited. By the time she requited it, I had moved on. Eventually, she moved on too. But the intensity we felt for each other, young though we were, somehow deepened our friendship. I was there for her when she dumped her creep of a husband, who was running around on her.
To make my whole connection with Linda even stranger, she had decided to take advantage of her natural talents as a matchmaker; she started a dating service where she got to know the people, which gave her an advantage over other services. She was very successful using her instincts about how people made connections and even offered dating advice when she sensed there was a problem with how one of her clients presented himself or herself. Linda also did background checks on her clients to assure they did not misrepresent themselves to other clients.
"Hey, Randy. Is this just a social call?" she asked.
"It is social, but I suppose not in the way you meant it. Do you have anything for me?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Of course, you know this comes with nothing remotely resembling a guarantee. I'm doing this because I'm your friend. But it's so unusual I don't even know if it's possible. The honesty you display about your dishonesty could really get in the way of getting somebody to trust you, not to mention that you lie about your financial situation. But, I understand where you're coming from."
"Geez, every time a lecture." But I knew it was not inappropriate.
"You may know what you're doing, but it sounds crazy to me. Anyway, her name is Karen Sugarman and you have a reservation at The Rose Tattoo at 7:30. I have to compliment you on that choice, by the way. It isn't cheap, but it definitely doesn't give the impression that you can afford to go anywhere you want. You're a devious man."
"I'd thank you, but I know it's not really a compliment and I'm only as devious as I feel I need to be. I do thank you, however, for everything you've done to help me."
"Don't mention it and I mean that literally. Don't tell anyone. It wouldn't exactly enhance my reputation."
When times are difficult, it's good to have friends.
I called home to tell my wife I had to meet a new client. I don't know if she believed it, but she accepted it. Most of the time when I called to tell her I had to meet a client, it was because I had to meet a client.
I reviewed some cases and packed up to leave. I didn't want to be late. Karen already knew from her conversation with Linda that I was deceitful; I certainly didn't want her to think I wasn't trustworthy.
I was pleased to find I made it five minutes early, but Karen had beaten me there and been seated. She wore a simple, dark blue dress that ended somewhere around her knees, I couldn't tell exactly where because she was seated. Karen had dark hair and was slim, but what I liked best was her smile. She extended her hand rather than get up and I shook it firmly but without too much pressure.
"Nice to meet you," she said.
"Nice to meet you, too. Linda didn't tell me you were so beautiful."
She blushed. I liked that. "So that wasn't a requirement?"
"A bonus, but not a requirement."
"I, I, this is really unusual. I'm not sure, what to do."
"It's just like a blind date, except that you know a lot about me."
"And you're married."
"You've done this before, I take it?"
"Yes, it just hasn't worked out."
"Can I ask why you want to meet someone this way instead of someplace people normally meet?"
"Why don't we order first, then I'll answer any questions you have and talk about whatever you want to talk about?"
We looked at our menus, gave the waitress, Tara, our order, and I answered her question. "I'm not looking to take you someplace tonight and have my way with you. I'm looking to start a serious, long-term relationship with someone. I took a practical approach to a problem and asked my friend Linda to help me out. Very few women are going to even have an interest in talking about this kind of situation. And a fair percentage of those that will are drawn to married men so they can avoid commitment. I'm looking for commitment."
Karen laughed nervously. "Why don't you just get a divorce and look for a normal woman, not that I'm not normal. You realize this isn't an easy conversation."
"If our relationship reaches a point where it has the potential to get serious, I'll tell you everything. I know this is going to sound silly, but I don't know you well enough and it's too personal to talk about under these circumstances."
This time she just laughed. "It does sound silly. But I don't jump to the end of a novel so I'll know what's coming while I read all the good parts; I think I have the patience to wait to find out where the plot takes us."
"Nice analogy. Linda said you were very bright." Dinner arrived and conversation slowed, though it didn't end.
"Don't you worry about your wife catching you?" she asked. "This is a very public place. You're out on a week night instead of at home with your family. It seems risky."
"What would I be caught at? Who are you? You could be a client, a potential employee, a contact I hope can provide business in the future. You could be a colleague and we're sharing war stories, or a vendor with an interesting product. This is a very public place and I'm out on a week night. What could possibly look more innocent? There was no passionate kiss, just a handshake."
Karen would need a lot more questions answered so I let her take it at her own pace. I commented on how good the food was and she agreed.
"Do you have it all planned out like this, meeting publicly to avoid suspicion? Is everything so calculating?" she asked.
"I hope so. I'm certainly not planning on getting caught."
"I'd like some coffee if you see the waitress."
I nodded. "Tara. I wonder if it's her stage name."
"So what do you see for," she shrugged as if she didn't know how to describe it, "the other woman?"
"Ah. Let me make it easier by talking about you as if you were the other woman. In a fairy-tale world, we would get to know and like each other. From that would develop mutual respect and trust and we would grow to love each other. We'd get married, have a family and live happily ever after; the end. But I don't have any plans to divorce my wife until the kids are grown. That pretty much puts a damper on the marriage thing, even if we were in Utah.
"So, my second choice is that we live as if we were married, except I'd have a previous family I'd have to spend a lot of my time with. I'd devote as much of my time and interest to you and our kids as I possibly could. And of course, I'd be completely faithful to you, except for my legal wife. I can't avoid that without arousing some suspicion.
"I'll sign a contract that gives you rights as close to legal marriage as possible. And when I get divorced, I'll promptly marry you."
"How could I possibly resist such an overwhelming offer?" This time Karen didn't exactly laugh, but she was obviously amused.
"Regular or decaf?"
I had our Tara's eye and held my thumb and index finger together as if daintily holding a coffee cup. Then I held up one finger.
"You don't fool around on your wife at all?"
"Given what we're talking about, it would be pretty silly to deny it, but only when absolutely necessary."
"So why should I trust you?"
"Because I give you my word."
"Didn't you promise that to her?"
"Complicated situation. I'll get into that when we're nearing the point where moving forward puts you at risk of being hurt. Then you'll know enough to decide whether you can trust me or not. Look, I know I've displayed sneaky and dishonest behavior. I've even been called upon to lie. But I'm confident that I'll be able to show you that I'm completely trustworthy."
"You've given me a pile of contradictions that don't seem to make any sense. A slightly more cynical woman would just say you're full of shit," said Karen.
"Thank you," she said, not to me but to Tara, who brought her coffee. Karen added one sugar and took a sip. "Good coffee. Linda told me you aren't crazy and you absolutely wouldn't try to con me so, for the time being, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that there is actually some sense behind this confusion."
"But, I've got maybe just a question or two."
I smiled. That didn't require an answer.
"Why don't you just get divorced?" Karen raised her hand in a stop gesture. "I know, you'll tell me later. Why do want a second family now? Why don't you just wait until you're divorced?"
"I'm thirty four. The youngest child is three. When he graduates high school I'll be forty nine. If I got married right away and we had a child quickly, I'd be sixty eight when the youngest graduated high school. That's awfully old to start a new family and it's awfully old to try to connect to a young child. I'll be daddy when everyone else my age will be grandpa. I'm not sure that's a good situation in which to raise a child. Starting a new family at thirty four or thirty five, however, is not unusual. Other parents will be in that age group. I won't be an old guy when they head off to college."
"I can understand that." She took another sip. I would have to remember to ask her whether she was using the coffee to give her a chance to think about what I said and how to get the answers she needed with follow up questions or whether, in this case, a cigar was just a cigar. "You already have that family. Why do you need another?"
"Good. You ask the tough questions. I'll talk about the problems that led to this later. But what I've been expressing is my, solution, to the problems. I came to the decision that I deserve to have this family I want, at a time in my life when I'm young enough to enjoy it and able to best support and nurture it. You may be the one. You may not. There may be no one. But if I'm going to do it, I have to get started because it could take a while. I'm sure you'd be surprised at how few women are lining up for this opportunity."
"I am surprised. I expected the line to wind half way around the block. You are hot, and not in a boy-toy way, you have a presence, I'll give you that. I haven't read your financial statement, but you're obviously not poor if you think you can support two families. On the other hand, from the way you dress and your choice of restaurant, you're probably not rolling in money either. There's nothing wrong with the way you dress, but it's not custom-made expensive. Your hair isn't coiffed or styled, no showy jewelry. And this is a perfectly lovely restaurant with excellent food, but not a place you would take someone you wanted to impress with your money." Karen folded her arms across her chest. "What is my bra size?" I shrugged. "You haven't looked. We've been together nearly an hour and a half and you haven't looked." She put her arms back down on the table.
"34-B, maybe small C."
She laughed. It was a lovely laugh. "You're confident. You make good eye contact when we're speaking and when you hesitate I don't see any attempt at deception in your eyes or your body language. I'd guess that the hesitations are when you're trying to put something in an accurate, understandable way rather than an attempt to spin it so I'll find it more palatable. Outside of the things you're holding back, you've gone out of your way to warn me about all the things that should make me not want to get involved with you. You're mysterious, but I trust you. All of which means that you better work really hard to win me or someone like me, because when you talk about all the mystery, you come across as callous and unfeeling. That is really attractive to the women looking for a bad boy, and the circumstances will really reinforce that. But they're going to be disappointed to find out that's not really you. I have no idea which way you vote."
I looked over my shoulder, as if to search for someone following me. "Are you here to meet me or investigate me?" I asked. She just laughed. I had to figure out how she did that magic act. "I think we skipped the small talk part of getting to know each other. I really don't care what your sign is, but I'd like to know what you do for a living."
"I'm a psychologist. I teach at Penn," she said.
"That doesn't explain everything."
"I sometimes help pick juries."
"That's ..." I knew it was something, but I couldn't figure out what. "Are you going to help me out with how I feel?"
"I don't do that. And the better I get to know you the less likely I am to use those skills. It's really hard to remember to do it in personal relationships."
"Disturbing. I think that's the word I was looking for."
"But you say it with a smile and no tension. It disturbed you intellectually, but it didn't bother you emotionally because you're very open when you're not being secretive."
I chuckled. "You're starting to sound like me. You could fit right in with this cloak and dagger." Karen was right. I had no interest in hiding anything from her. "Dessert?" I asked.
"I could look at the menu."
"I'm not sure what happened here. Did we just move on to the next stage of dating? Did we decide we're not going any further? Or is this just the strangest date I've ever been on?"
"This was the strangest date I've ever been on before you even showed up."
"Okay, so we haven't broken up?" I asked.
"That was a little bit freaky."
"You should watch me take notes and do it for a whole jury pool. That would be freaky. I'll have the chocolate macadamia nut brownie, topped with white chocolate, caramel, and vanilla ice cream."
"With a dessert like that, you're going to make me fall in love. I'll have the crème brûlée. Thanks." We offered up our menus. "Would you like to do something after we finish?"
"Yes, I'd like that." Karen tilted her head back and brushed her hair off of her face. "Do you have anything in mind?"
"I do. If you're okay with it, I think it's a really good way to get to know somebody better. We could go dancing."
"How do you get to know somebody better in a club where you can't even hear your own voice?"
"No, no, ballroom dancing. There are a number of clubs in the area, if that's something you're interested in."
She had a big smile. I had no idea what it meant. "Those women I mentioned who will initially see you as the bad boy are going to walk away muttering and shaking their heads, convinced that you are a sign they should give up the dangerous life and settle down."
I paid by credit card. You might wonder about the wisdom of creating a trail of evidence that may come into my home. I ask you, who would be stupid enough to create evidence of infidelity? Certainly not me. The fact that the meal showed up on the statement was proof that I was not doing anything wrong. It would be much more suspicious to have a meal paid for in cash. Besides, if this didn't work out, I could certainly find a way to use Karen in my business, so, of course, this interview was deductible.
"Did you bring your car?" I asked, trying to make arrangements.
"No. I took a taxi."
I helped her into my car and got behind the wheel.
"Accord, six cylinder, top of the line. Comfortable, but not affluent."
"You're a very confident woman, aren't you?"
"Is that a problem?"
"No, I find it really hot."
Again, that delightful laugh. "And if I'd been shy and demure, would you have found that really hot?"
"You wound me."
"And you're one of the smartest people I've ever met. That can be intimidating."
"Are you intimidated?"
"I didn't think so. Now I have a compliment for you. You didn't have any idea what my bra size was because you didn't bother to look at my breasts. A man who doesn't bother to look, doesn't care what size they are. That alone qualifies you for MENSA."
It's a good thing I wasn't drinking anything or I would have spit it out all over the windshield. "You have a terrific sense of humor. And, yes, that's sexy too."
"Almost everyone finds it sexy."
"This may sound disingenuous, although I'd like to think I've earned some credibility during the course of this relationship, but how have you managed to stay single? You're charming, you're funny, you're brilliant, you're gorgeous, you're confident. You say what you think so I don't get the impression you dissemble. You're not just trim, you're fit and I haven't gotten even a whiff of attitude over your having the complete package. You must have had your choice of virtually anyone. How can you not be spoken for?"
"Dissemble? I've read it. I've heard it in plays. But I never heard a person use it in actual speech. There was no other word you could have chosen?"
"I was describing things about you and it's the first word that came into my head, and it seemed to have all the connotations I was looking for all rolled up into one word, rather than a phrase, so I didn't stop it from jumping out of my mouth." Karen raised her eyebrows, but didn't say anything. "So, how is it you're not spoken for?"
"As you said, I'm pretty smart. Many men find that intimidating. I am confident. Some men find that intimidating. I speak my mind. More men find that intimidating. I make more money than most men and they find that intimidating. I wouldn't say beautiful, but I'll concede I'm attractive enough for many men to be intimidated. Put together all those intimidatings and I really haven't had much to choose from. And from those slim pickings, a lot of them are so full of themselves, nobody could intimidate them, but who cares?"