#34 You Made Me Leap Without Taking A Look
Penn State is a huge university sitting on top of a very small town, directly in the center of PA. I was there in the late 80s/early 90s when Joe Paterno was still a god, the only mobile phones I ever saw were in movies and almost always in James Bond's cars, and I’d never even heard of email. Once you left the actual town, there was nothing but cows for miles all around.
When my BFF Alisha called me on the touchtone landline phone in my dorm and said, “I’m bored. Let’s grab Jimmy and go to Players.” I knew we were up for an adventure.
Alisha was the coolest girl I knew and my coworker at Charley’s Bar, a place known for pretzels with spicy mustard and a deceptively potent cocktail called the Release Valve. We shared a wacky sense of humor.
Alisha is still the coolest girl I know. (New Orleans, ca 2015)
We were still buzzing from a successful Halloween stunt where we’d dressed in identical Little Black Dresses and long wigs. We spent the better part of the night convincing drunk college students that we were in town doing promotion for our new MTV hidden camera reality show — Ebony and Ivory — about 2 washed up lounge singers.
I was Ebony, she was Ivory. She’s Black and I’m white, so that joke was obviously a real zinger. Also, we’d shamelessly stolen this whole bit from Saturday Night Live — but who’s keeping track? At one point we had a line of people waiting to be interviewed on camera (there was no camera) and we had to enlist Jimmy to act as our producer/crowd control. The fact that our microphones were made of construction paper, Styrofoam, and glitter did not deter us or our willing interview subjects.
So we were on a real hot streak the night Alisha, Jimmy, and I went to Players to drink Long Island Iced Teas and hustle pool. The Long Island Iced Tea has 4 kinds of clear liquor, sour mix, and just a splash of coke so it’s the perfect drink if you want to get shit-faced but keep it classy.
I suck at pool, but it’s fine because Alisha is a ringer. She would quickly clear the table, infuriating all the dudes and taking their money. It was 1991: most of these guys were still wondering why our fathers even let us go to college.
While she played, I yammered a blue streak — usually trying to impress the guys with my encyclopedic knowledge of 80s sit coms and tv commercial jingles. Being able sing the Betty Crocker bundt cake jingle on command sometimes won me a bet, but rarely scored me a date.
Alisha was demolishing a couple of frat boys when this guy walks in and says “Hello Ladies. My name is Robert.”
Robert was an older guy, dressed in a suit. He had a beautiful, lilting accent I’d never heard before. He continued, “I’m going to the bar upstairs, but my ex-wife is there on a date. I’d like to bring you with me for some drinks, maybe some food. It would really help me because it would make her very jealous.”
Alisha looked Robert up and down and said, “Can we bring Jimmy?”
Robert said, “But of course. James, you’re welcome to join us.”
We chugged the rest of our LIITs and headed upstairs.
“The bar upstairs” was the one fancy place in town. I’d been there a few times because it’s the only place my father could GET A GODDAM MARTINI in this town. Robert let us order whatever we wanted. We drank and drank while Jimmy stood guard and Robert regaled us with stories of his life. He was so charming and sweet. He told us that his daughter lived in LA and was a writer for the feel-good 80s sitcom Webster. It felt unlikely, but it was a lie I was desperate to believe — it was my dream to be a TV writer.
The highlight of the night was when the piano player ended his set for the evening with I Can't Make You Love Me — a song that Alisha and I loved, even if we didn’t know any of the words. We begged him to play it again and when he refused, Robert just handed the guy $50 bucks and said:
“Let the girls sing.”
And we sang.
Later, Robert invited us back to his apartment. Which, is an insane thing to say yes to, especially once we saw his bright red sports card — that HAD A CAR PHONE. But we shoved ourselves and Jimmy in and were whisked off to his bachelor pad.*
The funny thing is, it was really just another drink. He wanted to show off his daughter's TV credit: a fuzzy photo taken of the moment her name appeared on screen at the end of the Webster episode — probably one where Webster learns an important lesson about friendship.
We were delivered safely home and never saw Robert again.
But we had a night we’ll never forget.
*If you are related to me and are in college or about to go to college, DO NOT DO THIS.