It’s been a while since I pulled a shift at Sam’s. Post-Christmas, demos dropped off precipitously. At the same time, we were required to massively overstaff to meet the holiday schedule. Now, there simply isn’t enough work to go around.
It saddens me. Management choices are turning what was once a good paying job into a hobby for dilettantes. I worry that the real Demo Ladies - the ones who take pride in a job well done, the ones who count on a real paycheck - are going to be forced out.
I don’t want to lose them but I haven’t figured out how to fit them into my life outside of Sam’s.
So this week, I was surprised and delighted when The Great Girlfriend Mystery called on a Wednesday and asked me to meet up with her for drinks after work.
The first challenge was agreeing on a location.
Now I don’t really drink. I’ve never kept the kind of schedule where it was possible to go out for drinks after work - if you tend to stay at the office until 8:00 or 9:00 o’clock every night, you find when you get to the bar that a) your colleagues are very drunk or b) they’ve gone home. And one of the things I immediately liked about Jim when we first met was that his cocktail of choice was a Diet Pepsi. So I had no clue where to go. Girlfriend finally came up with margaritas at On the Border and I agreed, a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t propose something more interesting than a second tier Mexican spot. I am, after all, the indisputably older, theoretically more experienced one here but I’m afraid in this case that my age and experience only meant that my ex knows the guy who founded OTB before it was bought by Brinker. True fact, that, but not helpful when it comes to any sort of drinking cred.
The second challenge was appropriate attire. When you are a middle aged lady who spends her days working from home in your pajama pants and a sweatshirt (and - horror of horrors - no bra), after work drinks with a blonde 26-year-old does require a costume change. I dithered until the last minute, finally settling on a black cable knit sweater, big silver earrings and jeans - in other words, not exactly sexy but at least an “I may be old enough to be your mom but I’d be a laid back and cool one” outfit.
When I arrived at the bar - and I did manage to squeak in right on time - Girlfriend had already finished her first mega margarita drink. She was bubbly and enthusiastic and full of news she wanted to share.
- She had graduated from college in December.
- She had found a better-than-Sam’s part-time office job.
- She had passed her real estate exam and had - just that afternoon - applied for her license.
I am enormously proud of her. She reminds me that my role models for transformation come in many ages. And I was tremendously touched that, from our first desultory conversations standing up in the front of store doing demos for soap and toothpaste and lotion, we had somehow come to this point where she wanted to share her successes with me.
We talked about the broker she would be training under and her first client - the on-again, off-again boyfriend. We talked about briefcases and work wardrobes, Christmas parties and Sam’s Club gossip. And of course we talked about the various guys she currently had on speed dial because when you are young and blonde and hot there is always more than one gentleman in line. After my second round (her third), I suggested we get a table and something to eat.
She flirted with the bartender, who brought us more chips and salsa instead.
After my third round (her fourth), a guy my age seated himself two stools down. Girlfriend whispered - or at least she thought she whispered: I have no doubt we were both tipsy enough by that point to be broadcasting our conversation throughout the bar - that the old dude was cute. He smiled at us both and mentioned the weather was getting bad outside. I decided it was time to switch to Diet Coke.
Girlfriend ordered one last round, then headed for the bathroom. While she was gone, I chatted up Old (i.e., my age) Dude, making the standard kind of conversation that us old folks make:
You from around here?
What brings you to town?
What do you do?
And so on.
I did not flirt. (I don’t think I’m probably capable of flirting anymore.) I did not ask about marital status or check for a ring. I did not invite myself back to the guy’s hotel room.
I just talked to a stranger and survived it. And I was feeling pretty good about that fact until Girlfriend got back.
Now I’m not sure what it was about that bathroom run, but when it came to how The Great Girlfriend Mystery holds her liquor, it was like a switch had been flipped. She had seemed fine - a bit giggly, but fine - when she left. Now she tried to climb back on her barstool but slipped, then settled for draping herself bonelessly against the back of my seat. From this position she quizzed Old Dude in a slurred voice:
Girlfriend: Do you think my friend is pretty?
Girlfriend: You should ask her out.
Me: Stop it…
Girlfriend: You’re married! What were you doing talking to her!?
Me: I don’t think you need to be driving home tonight. Is there somewhere closer you could stay?
And this is where I got my lesson in what it’s like to be twentysomething today. Girlfriend pulled out her expensive smart phone and immediately dropped it, picked it up again and texted “asdfjk;” to the on-again, off-again guy. I was under the impression he was currently “on.” He was under the impression Girlfriend had lost her mind. His response to “asdfjkl;” was:
He followed it up with:
You’ve been drinking. I don’t want to talk to you when you’re drinking.
Girlfriend handed her phone to me.
Here, you deal with it. I can’t make it work right. You reply to him.
I couldn’t see the phone screen - I really, really need to break down and get those bifocals.
I couldn’t text fast - my odd insistence on proper spelling, punctuation and - slowest of all - capitalization held me up.
And I really didn’t understand this marketplace, where sex was auctioned off on a night-by-night basis without any sense of friendship or obligation the next night.
As I kept up text threads with three different guys at the same time, determined to find a place for the Girlfriend to crash closer than the forty-minute drive to her home, I kept getting pushback.
Me: She shouldn’t be driving. I’d be happy to drop her off.
Interchangeable Guy: Is she drunk?
Me: Well, she shouldn’t be driving. She said you’d be OK with her grabbing your couch.
Interchangeable Guy: Is she going to throw up?
Me: Uh, I don’t think so. But it really isn’t a good idea for her to drive…
On-Again, Off-Again couldn’t be bothered but said he would reimburse her if she wanted to get a hotel. (Because I’m a grownup and all, I managed not to reply “Go fuck yourself.” But only because I’m a grownup.) Guy #2 said he had to be at work early the next day. During all of this, Girlfriend kept grabbing her phone and flaming the undeniably deserving guys while maintaining a running commentary addressed to the old dude sitting two seats on how/why/when I deserved to find love.
I was exasperated.
I was exhausted.
Even though I could still feel the gently numbing sensation of my earlier cocktails, I was rapidly reaching the point where I needed another drink.
Then Guy #3 finally agreed to a sleepover.
As we exited the restaurant three hours after our evening began we were greeted with Oklahoma’s first snowstorm of the season. It had clearly been coming down most of the time we were inside.
We didn’t have winter coats.
We didn’t have snow scrapers.
And Girlfriend had reached the maudlin point in her journey through the stages of inebriation.
Girlfriend (attempting a sloppy hug): I don’t know what I would do without you. You are just the best friend.
Me (brushing snow and ice off my car with my bare hands): Get in. You’ll freeze. Get in.
Of course I wasn’t going to easily find the guy’s house. I couldn’t even find my way out of the parking lot on the first two attempts. And the snow was sticking to the street signs, obscuring the names. But Girlfriend kept saying she knew the way and to just follow her directions.
That was fine until she suddenly got silent.
I looked over to see her holding one hand over her mouth and frantically motioning with the other one to pull over. And that was how I found myself on a Wednesday at 9:30 at night, holding on to the shirt of a girl who was leaning over so far she was about to fall out of my car while she barfed in a hospital parking lot.
There was only minimal splattering on the door of the car.
I have to admit I’m not really sure what the proper etiquette is in situations like this. It has to have been at least a couple of decades since I went drinking with someone who threw up. And I admit I was amused. And exasperated. And my heart hurt for her, just a little, at how the boys she sleeps with had treated her. I didn’t want to get involved - I wanted to go back to my small and tidy middle-aged life. Then again, maybe I did want to get involved. I wanted to help.
So I shifted into Mom mode. I stopped at a 7-11. I bought wet wipes and water and two types of breath fresheners and gum. I texted Guy #3 one last time for his address, then entered it into the GPS service on my phone. And as Girlfriend leaned back in my passenger seat and closed her eyes, I drove very, very carefully down the slick streets, reminded how treacherous snow and boys and friendship and those twentysomething years can be.