Here’s one of my favorite pieces from a few years back, for those who don’t go to certain other sites. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing.
All I did was drop a meeple. In a diner.
A yellow one. The meeple, not the diner. Not my favorite choice, but sometimes you have to deal with what you’re given. The diner was the typical chrome and neon; the meeple was a typical wooden figure from any of a hundred or so European boardgames.
I bent under the table and reached for the meeple, fingers groping the greasy floor as I absentmindedly began counting the wads of semi-fossilized pre-chewed gum now hanging from the bottom of the table like a fabulously detailed replica of the roof of Howe Caverns. Across the dingy grey and black checker patterned floor that was probably once white and black, I saw the door open and in she walked.
I had never liked high heels and fishnet stockings before. Thankfully, she wasn’t wearing high heels and fishnet stockings, so I wasn’t bothered. My fingers were still skating through the grime trying to find my meeple and by some trick of fate, she glided effortlessly to my table and slid into the slightly cracked maroon vinyl bench on the other side of the booth. The game was on.
There I was, hunched like Quasimodo, half under the table, one hand whisking for my missing meeple, the other grasping the table support for, well, support, and I was being afforded a perfect and private view of everything of hers perfect and private. She thought she was alone. Were I another kind of man, the man with a different kind of story to tell to a different kind of audience, I could have just stayed there and watched.
But I’m not that kind of guy.
So, I tried with glaring unsuccess to sit up straight without slamming my head into the gum festooned table. Running my hand through my hair and trying to pluck out the last bits of hardened Wrigley’s Spearmint, I looked her over. And over.
Her lips were painted redder than a cold war Russian stop sign. Her face a delicate triangle, a pale blush flower holding two glassy dark eyes under a cascading waterfall of black hair that would make Niagara jealous – and I don’t mean the game.
She looked at me in a surprisingly unsurprised fashion and tapped her long manicured nails to the formica table evenly.
“I,” I stammered, trying to collect myself, and failing like a man running after his chits after dropping the complete Advanced Squad Leader collection in a hurricane. “I was just under the table.”
“So I see,” she murmured as a tiny smile licked her lips as I wish I were at that moment. “I’ll get another booth.”
“No!” I shouted with the unsubtlety of a professional Pit player. “I mean, um, please, stay. Sit.”
She pondered this for a moment and gave a slight sideways nod.
The silence between us felt longer than the last game of Monopoly I had to tolerate. I figured I had better say something or lose her right there.
“I’m a dick,” I blurt out.
She didn’t even bat a perfect eyelash.
“Umm, I mean a Private Investigator. You know, they uh, they used to call us that… you know… dick…”
“Got a name,” she purred, “Dick?”
Never give your real name. Basic rule of the job. Think fast, the timer is about to run out.
“Derk. Derk Aldie, PI,” I said before I had a chance to reconsider. It was the first thing that popped into my mind. Well, the second, the first being whether or not she would say yes to a game of either Twister or perhaps Crokinole on a particularly low table.
“Well,” she sniffed indifferently, “Dick…”
“Right. I’m looking for some action in this town. You know. A game. Maybe a partner for it. Although I’ve considered doing it with a group as well.”
What? Did I hear this right? I must have, because I could still hear the echo of her words in my mouth, which had opened to a decidedly unattractive gape.
She nodded to the waiter who poured her a dark roast which she never ordered as I tried to figure my strategy.
I did my best to be suave as I leaned one elbow on the table to gently rub my chin as if this were the oddest question I had ever heard, and not one that I had dreamed of being asked every time I close my eyes and picture someone like her actually speaking to someone like me.
Suddenly, she looked me dead in the eye in mid-sip. Had my furious passion for vegetables left a bit of broccoli lodged in my eyebrow? No, this wasn’t the usual look I got for broccoli in my eyebrow, this was something else.
“Is that,” she said in a hushed inquiry, “A meeple?”
I had totally forgotten my little wooden friend, and my meeple, for the last few moments. I had it between two of my fingers as I was rubbing my chin. In an exhilarated rush of excitement that she knew what I was holding, I gasped.
And I swallowed the meeple.
Actually, had I swallowed the meeple, perhaps things would have gone another way. More correctly, I inhaled it. It got lodged in my windpipe. It is very difficult not to look distressed when you’re choking on a yellow meeple. I’m sure you’re familiar with the sensation. I tried to keep my composure as the tears welled up in my eyes and my breathing stopped.
I’m fairly sure I looked like I was trying to figure out my next card in RoboRally as I began to flail spasmodically, turning first one way and then the other, attempting to dislodge the meeple from my craw.
There was a splash of hot black coffee… an indignant scream… At some point I remember seeing her being escorted out of the diner by one of the attending paramedics. It was hard to see as my vision was blurring, but I think I saw her peering in the back of the ambulance as we drove away.
So I go back there a lot. With my yellow meeple. I can only hope one day, she’ll return to me. Every night I dream her, every day she haunts me to no end. I can barely claim points for a river anymore without become all choked up. But I think that might be the scar from the meeple. She’s all I ever think about anymore. I know she’ll be back. She has to. She’s all I have.
All I did was drop a meeple.