My apartment was further out from downtown than Winnie’s place was so I got on the bus about a mile earlier than she did. Months into our morning meetings relationship we had an established pattern. Upon boarding I’d walk back to the center of the bus and grab a seat as close to the rear exit as practical. I’d find two empty seats and take the outer one. This usually ensured that Winnie and I could sit together and chat for as much or as little of the twenty-five minutes that we shared together.
I wasn’t dating and loneliness can be an insidious thing. Winnie was nice and attractive in a middle-aged sort of a way but basically she just fulfilled that most basic of human needs, having someone to talk and laugh and physically sit next to. Seeing Winnie was usually the highlight of my day.
March in the Midwest is highly unpredictable. A significant, wet snowfall usually accompanied college basketball’s March Madness and even on days when the afternoon high might be temperate the fledgling warmth was usually grounded by significant westerly winds. March tends to be a teasing month, one of promises undelivered, much in tune with a 1960’s sex-comedy. The movie might have a whole lot of oh-la-la in the script but the promise of scintillating behavior never materialized to on screen action. Elvis Presley may well have been admonishing March when he called for a little less talk and a lot more action. March did deliver on one front, however. Yesterday had signaled the end of standard time and we had reentered daylight savings.
The good part about waiting for a bus during a predawn, Iowa winter morning was watching the heavens. I appreciated the moon’s twenty-nine-and-a-half-day cycle and spotting Venus, Mars, Saturn and Neptune kept my mind off the temperature during February and March’s cold, cold mornings.
For the last two weeks or so the sky had grown from pale pink as I boarded my bus to actual daylight but that was all behind me now, at least for another month or so. And while I missed the welcoming sun it would be nice to arrive home and have two hours of sunlight after work rather than just one. Come May first the sun would rise around six and not set until eight but we had most of March and all of April to get through before feeling the warm embrace of the calendar’s most forgiving month.
Today was the first Monday following the change from CST to CDT which meant that most folks were a little off in their circadian rhythms. I sat, head in hands, and wondered what my ex-wife was up to. I wasn’t supposed to care but I did. I didn’t wish her any harm but I didn’t wish her well either. Lost in malicious musing Winnie bumped me with her hip and said, “Morning, sunshine. You gonna move in?”
As I said, I enjoyed our half hour together and usually had at least half a witty rejoinder notched on my bow that I’d shoot Winnie’s way. Today I went with the classic, “Huh?” before standing to let her take the window seat.
“Well, you’re a bundle of energy today, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s me,” came the parry of my witty repartee. “How was your weekend?”
Winnie smiled, leaned in and asked, “Do you know what Tinder is?”
I did, or at least I knew what I had heard. Any twenty-first century date lore that I had would be second hand as I had gone on zero dates since my wife left me. Oops! Since “we” decided to separate. My therapist suggested that I might feel less a victim if I frame my marriage break up as something that I participated in rather than as something that was done to me.
I nodded and asked, “It’s a hook-up app, isn’t it? ‘Swipe right for yes, left for no’?”
Winnie nodded sagely. “Yes. Yes it is. But I didn’t know that. My daughter suggested I try it.”
“Your daughter!?” I asked, shock tumbling out unfiltered.
“Yes. She said, ‘Well, there’s always Tinder,’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ She just looked at me funny, installed the app on my phone, took my picture and made a quick profile for me. Saturday night I met my first Tinder man.”
In the four months that I’ve know Winnie she has presented herself as someone who is cautious and conservative. Somehow her declaration about Tinder has me looking at her in a whole new light. Trying not to appear too salacious I ask, “So? How’d it go?”
“Well. At first. We arranged a meeting place at a coffee shop. I thought coffee’s safe, right? Public place, no pressure for dinner if things don’t go well and I can pay for my own espresso. So we’re sitting and he’s tapping his fingers on the table while I’m sipping my coffee and he says, ‘Well?’ drawing out he word at the end.
“I really had no idea what he was asking and I responded in kind: ‘Well?’ Next thing he says is, ‘Are we going to do this or not?’
“I just looked at him doe-eyed and ask, ‘Do what?’ You’d have thought I was a hooker and that he’d pre-paid! I was glad we met in public; he turned so ugly so fast!”
“Did you ask your daughter what the hell she’d been thinking?” I asked.
“Yes! And she just said, ‘Gosh, Mom you’ve been acting like you needed to get some! I was just trying to help!’ I was truly mortified!”
“I bet,” I said chuckling. “How old is your daughter?”
“Twenty-two! Old enough to know better.”
“But apparently too young to care. You still on Tinder?”
“No! I got rid of the app. The world is a very different place than it used to be.”
“That is certainly true,” I agreed. “There are real dating sites out there; or at least that’s what I’ve been told. Have you tried any of those?”
“No. And now I’m scarred for life!” she declared, gently elbowing me in the ribs. “How about you? Have you been to any dating sites?”
“No,” I admitted. “I haven’t really dated since my divorce. I just haven’t felt like making an effort.”
“Well, you need to. But not Tinder! Unless you’re just looking for a wham bam thank you ma’am.”
“No, not me,” I said, shaking my head. “Not my style. My only chance is to convince a woman of my attractiveness is to prove how funny I am. I hear that the way to a woman’s heart is through her funny bone.”
“Interesting sense of anatomy, but not all together inaccurate. Hey! What are you doing for dinner tonight?”
“Tonight?” I asked in return. “Guess I’ll have to check with my social secretary but pretty sure it’s the same thing as last night. And the night before. Nothing. Why?”
“Well, we could go to that diner that’s just before my bus stop. But just dinner, big boy. This ain’t no hook up!”
“The one with the two big plate glass windows?” I asked. “I always think of Edward Hooper’s ‘Nighthawks’ painting when I go by there.”
“Who?” Winnie asks. “Oh, is that the guy who did the 1950’s painting looking into a diner? I love that picture but never knew who painted it. You said Edward Hooper?”
“Yeah, Edward Hooper,” I answered. “Nineteen forty-two. Very iconic. One of my favorite Pop Arts. And really? Sure. What time? I get off work at four.”
“Me too. How is it that we never get the same bus going home?”
“More buses at that time of day? I don’t know. So, meet there right after work or I can go home first and then pick you up.”
“No, no,” Winnie insisted. “Just meet me there. You’re closer so you’ll probably get there first. Here, give me your phone and I’ll give you my number.”
We exchanged phones and Winnie typed in her name and phone number. “Rogers, huh?” I said. “Don’t think I ever knew your last name before.”
“Parr? As in above par? Nice to know you, Henry Parr,” she said, extending her hand to me.
“And you, Miss Rogers. I’ll see you sometime around four-thirty.”
“It’s a date,” Winnie said as we shook on it.