Dating 101

by Angie Chau

Begin by meeting him in the checkout line, during Happy Hour, at a yoga class. He lets you cut in line. He buys you a cheap drink. He compliments your downward dog. He's a policeman, a fireman, a breast man, a leg man, a straight man. If he does not slobber, you will smile. If he does not smell, you will flirt. If he asks you out, you will quickly agree. I know it's been awhile, but desperation doesn't suit you.

Eat something light so you're not a pig at dinner. The South Beach diet or the South Wales diet, grapefruit or cabbage soup, Atkins or The Zone. I know it's overwhelming. You better eat it all.

If you wear the tight jeans, do the Buns of Steel tape. If you wear the half top, do the Abs of Steel video. If you dare wear the entire outfit, you'd better surrender to Hanoi Jane. I know you're lazy, but they only say it's what's in the inside that counts.

Shower, shampoo, soap, and shave. Use the flat iron to straighten your curly hair. Use the eyelash curler to curl your straight lashes. Wiggle into a Wonder-bra to make sensuous mountains. Squeeze into control top to synthesize the smoothest of plains. Press your face to make it matte. Gloss your lips to make them shine. Darken your lids for that smoky gaze. Whiten your teeth for that blinding smile. Pump up the cleavage, powder the t-zone, paint the nails, pumice the toes. I know the picture's plastic, but they only pretend to like natural girls.

Make yourself a stiff one, so that you'll be loose. Gin and tonic because you're feeling old. Scotch on the rocks because you're feeling tough. Martini: dirty and dry because that's exactly who you are. Martini: dirty and dry because that's exactly what you are. Hide the glass so he won't know you drink alone. Wash the glass so he won't find your secret. I know you want to be honest, but nice girls finish last.

When the door bell rings, jog in place for a breathy greeting. Pinch your cheeks for the glow of pleasured pain. Dab Vaseline on your top front teeth so your smile will arrive with ease.

When he stands before you, you must compliment him. If he has the face of a horse, compliment his suit. If he's dressed like a clown, admire his car. If his car is a heap, run while you can.

If he's still in the running, smile sweetly.

If he opens your door, tell him you miss the chivalry of the past. If he leaves you in the cold, tell him you admire his equalitarian future. If he listens to classical, say the pop charts are a bore. If he listens to reggae, Praise Jah, One Love. If he listens to country, tell him God made American Number One. If he listens to John Tesh, jump out the door. I know you're accommodating, but there are some things a girl just can't bear.

At the restaurant, have him choose the wine so you can defer to him. Allow him the first sip so he can decide its worth. If he says expensive wines are a rip-off, you say they're all a bunch of snobs. If he prefers wine coolers, tell him you were weaned on Bartles and James. If he orders a bottle of corkage, bite your tongue and leave. If he says he's a vegetarian, tell him you were raised on bean curd and rice. If he questions if the salmon is farm-raised, you inquire if the chicken is free-range. If he asks if the produce is organic, you wonder if it's co-op run, compost-friendly. If he orders the prime rib, you order the meat lover's delight. Don't order the most expensive item lest you want to appear a dinner whore. Don't order the cheapest dish, unless you yourself are a cheap dish. I know you know better than that.

Ask him about his hobbies. Listen attentively. Make him feel grand. Ask him more questions about his window coverings business. You agree that faux wood is the wave of the future. You acknowledge that sky lights are obscene. You anoint retractable-arm awnings a revolutionary device. Pleated shades, and cellular shades, shutters, and blinds, curtains, and carpets, installation and insulation. I know you had hoped for common interests, but common interests are a childish dream.

Give him reassuring signals. Coo a little. Widen your eyes. Nod. Ah, yes, uh-huh, absolutely, right-right, totally, for sure.

Don't disagree with his politics. Don't contradict his views on Iraq. Don't bring up Croatia, or Uganda, Haiti or Vietnam. No NAFTA, No NRA, no NPR, not even the ABCs, heaven help you—should it all lead to Ebonics. Sail him back to the sunny topics. I know you want to speak your opinion, but opinionated girls stay home alone.

So you opt to stay silent. You pout and sigh. His are the politics of the money makers. His is a safe future. His is a lawn, a house, a two car garage, and the best damned window coverings money can buy. You let the petroleum jelly work its magic. Avoid that tendency to grind your molars. I know you hate faking a smile, but you're so much prettier when you do.

Flatter his intellect. Massage his ego. Make him feel strong and manly. Ask him if he goes to the gym. Ask him how he got a neck so thick, biceps so bulging, fingers so firm. Tell him spiders scare you, your finances are frightening; the Orange Alert has made you a wreck.

He says he will squash your spiders, he tells you he will balance your budget, he promises to duct tape and seal all of your vents and doorways. He tells you he is the answer to your question, the cookies to your cream, the pudding to your pop. He will finally make his move. He will touch you for the first time, a tap on the toes beneath the table, a brushing of the hand beside the candle, a caress on the shoulder as his arm drapes the booth. It will give you goose bumps and butterflies, summoning shivers and suppressing screams. I know it's hard to tell at first, but one day you'll know whether it's good in a bad way or bad in a good way.

He leans in even closer. You remind him of a girl he once knew. If it's a pleasant portrait, play into it. Evoke her, the geisha girl with the bird like fingers. The girl next door with the perky breasts. The first love, neurotic and suicidal. His sister's best friend, sassy, smart as a whip. Evoke his mother, that's who they're all searching for really. I know you want him to like you, but who are you anyway?

He tells you parables and fables, anecdotes and aphorisms. He speaks of Samuel Johnson and Johnson & Johnson. He quotes from the Bible and from the Bard. He gives you slapstick, and pure schtick, light amusement and dark humor. He parodies politicians, parades the priests, lawyers and rabbis, Catholics and Jews, the yellow people too. His jokes are democratic in their mediocrity. But you continue with your giggling and gurgling. You murmur like a brook. You continue with you nods and sighs, and coy demure. Throw your hair to and fro. Nod again. Widen your eyes. Coo some more. You laugh at his jokes. You laugh until you choke. You laugh until you can't breathe. You laugh until you hear nothing, no more background piano, no more din of plates, no more buzz or hum, not a syllable, not a word he's saying, not even the punch line causing the table to rock. I know you had higher hopes, but this is it, this is how it will continue.

You see your reflection—laughing so hard you've now begun to cry. Eyes wet and runny, dripping like a nose. Make-up lined with crevices deep as an ass. You are a clown. A sad-happy face. Everything twisted, a collection of used parts. A big fat mouth with silly putty lips. Silver fillings and rotten molars. A gray tongue blanketed by the snow of deadened buds. You better shut that mouth. Just smile. No, a little less to lessen those laugh lines. Now, a little more to slacken the jowls. Cup the cheeks to support sagging skin. Angle the hands to hide the liver spots. Hide the hands a dead giveaway. I know you want to share your experience, but they only say they like experienced women. Sit on them dear, pretend you haven't lived at all.

Angie Chau was born in Vietnam and has since lived on three continents and an island. She graduated with a master's degree in creative writing from the University of California, Davis where she also taught undergraduate fiction and was the fiction editor for The Greenbelt Review. She has been awarded a Hedgebrook Residency and a Macondo Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared in the Indiana Review, Santa Clara Review, Slant, and the anthology, Cheers to Muses. She now lives in Northern California and can be reached at [email protected].