The shoeshine guy from the store across the street walks by me on the sidewalk as I stand there making a call to a restaurant I’ll never get into because I always wait till the last minute to make a reservation and asks, after a simple hello nod, “you married?” “No,” I say after a pause, confused, phone still to my ear, waiting, considering saying “not anymore” and wondering where the hell that came from, like he was on to something clear and present and obvious that I’d completely missed.
“Good, that comes from here,” he says, and taps his heart with his right hand. “Keep your girlfriend.” What the fuck does that mean. Keep your girlfriend. How does he know… It was like something from a fortune cookie, completely lost in translation, and I just nodded—slowly, perplexed—and watched him continue on his way. I might’ve said something else, I’m not sure now. Something profound like “ok, will do.” Then the restaurant girl came back on the line and said they’re all booked up and I said that’s fine, I’ll keep my girlfriend because marriage comes from here, patting my heart, we’ll go somewhere else, and I hung up.
I picked her up that night, the girlfriend, so we could go somewhere else. Opened the car door for her, I did, because that’s what you do for girlfriends. Or so I’m so told. It’s how you keep them, manliness without ostentation, my friend tells me. I closed the door after a polite pause so she knew I was making sure she was all in—funny thought, that, nothing like irony to poke a few holes here and there—and I walked around, got in, took a breath, looked at her and said “you know what I don’t understand. You apologize for the leaves falling instead of the thought of having wasted all summer. You don’t understand the difference between time lost and abandoned and irretrievable and the idea of a new season. That makes you my girlfriend, keeps you such.” Fortune cookie. I should go get my shoes shined.