We’d met during the 4:40 showing of ‘Something About Mary.’ I was feeling really low at work, so I left early, ducking into the closest theater. There were only six other people in the Quad Cinema on 13th Street and she sat in the row directly behind me. When it got to the part where Cameron Diaz introduces her “special” brother to Matt Dillon, I heard her say, “Ohmigod! Goofy bastard!” And even though I was a little appalled, she leaned closer, and whispered in my left ear, “He looks just like my boss,” which raised my curiosity. I tried to figure out if she worked with special people, or meant Matt Dillon.
When the movie ended, she stood, held out her hand and said, “I’m Karla. I’m going to El Rey Del Sol for margaritas, wanna come?’ Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked away. I really didn’t make a choice, not then. I just followed until we were standing outside the theater.
She lit a cigarette. Her thick, blonde hair glistened in the setting sun, that slanting kind of autumn light that reminded me of bales of straw. “So, whaddya think?” She took a long drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth.
I shrugged. I often go to movies alone. I wasn’t used to discussing them. “It was a little, well…” I had trouble finding even one word to summarize it all.
“Goofy?” she asked, smiling a grin that made me smile back. “C’mon,” she said, linking her arm through mine. The impact of her movement carried us both forward, and I was swept toward 14th Street and El Rey Del Sol.
“Ever been here before?” Karla asked as we were led through the tiny restaurant to an even smaller patio in an alley behind the kitchen.
We sat, and I looked up at the various apartment buildings looming around us. “No, I live across town.”
“Brooklyn?” she said, with a faint air of disdain, like I was some piece of shit if I lived over a bridge or through a tunnel.
“No, the East Village.”
“Hmm.” She gave me a once over. “You don’t look the type.”
I sort of half-smiled. I’d heard this many times before: one version of it or another. You look like a Kennedy. Or, do you come from money? Women often tried to carve some myth out of my location. And who cares, right? I say let them!
Karla lit up again. “I like this place ’cause you can smoke. Even wacky weed. And the drinks come in these Jesus candles.” She demonstrated with her hands, but I was clueless. “Ya don’t know Jesus candles?” She started listing off the most common margarita flavors. “Usually they’ve got cantaloupe, banana, pineapple, and coconut. Then there’s a flavor-of-the-day. What day is it, Thursday? Might be kiwi!”
I have to admit, her childish enthusiasm was amusing. Before our kiwi margarita’s had even arrived, I knew I was gonna get laid.
I told her I was an accountant, to which she added, “What a hoot!” I was somewhat afraid to ask what she did for work. When I did, she replied, “I book clowns.”
The drinks arrived.
“You…what?” I’d never heard of that before.
“Yeah, clowns, like Ronald McDonald? We have several professional clowns who do everything- entertain people at carnivals, act on TV commercials, go to birthday parties. We keep them pretty busy.” She sipped her margarita. Well, more like gulped.
“And you’re their booker?”
She nodded. “It’s a cake job. I’ve been with the company since college. Just can’t leave. I’m too attached to those clowns.” She laughed, so I did, too. “I know, crazy isn’t it?”
“No.” I shook my head emphatically, trying not to think about my wife who’d left six months earlier. Karla’s inability to leave her clowns suddenly made her look like a prize to me. I smiled a big grin at this clown booker.
“You have any siblings?” I asked, wiping a dribble of kiwi juice from my mouth.
“Yeah, my older brother’s HIV positive. He owns a tattoo shop in the Mission.” Her voice got smaller. “San Francisco. That’s where we grew up.”
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what to else to say so I looked at my feet and wished I’d worn something other than my tasseled Cole-Haan loafers.
“Hey, man, no sweat. He’s a survivor. It’s been something like ten years since he was diagnosed.” She paused. “My little brother’s in the clinker.” She narrowed her already slanting eyes. “I know,” she snorted, “ya gotta wonder which is worse, huh?”
“Really? Gosh, Karla, I’m…”
“He fucked up. He got caught doing what lots of executives and presidents and all sorts of hoity- toity people do.”
I wondered what his crime was- murder? “What’s he in for?”
“He was working for the mob. An inside job. And they made him the fall guy, or at least that’s what he says. He wasn’t willing to blow the whistle on his loser buddies, so he got twenty years, booked for armed robbery with attempted murder.” She lit a cigarette, blew out the match. “Enough about me, how about you?”
I was reluctant to disclose any details about my family after that. “Well, I’ve only got one younger sister. She’s working on her master’s at Columbia. Journalism.”
“Wow, she must be smart. Smarter than you, I’ll bet!” she joked, and the pressure drained away. “Listen, you wanna get out of here?”
She’d already pounded her entire margarita, and I was only half finished with mine. But I had reason to think that something better was coming, so I said, “Sure.”