that even if i knew how to flirt, i still wouldn’t do it very often

There’s a woman who pops into the bar where I work every now and then who’s friendly and attractive and inviting and a couple nights ago, when things were dead, I went and talked with her for a while and then, when it seemed after twenty minutes like I mighta been on the cusp of dragging it out too long, I stepped off into the manager’s office where a bunch of my colleagues were clustered, talking shit, waiting for the time to pass.

            Somebody said to me, “I saw you talking to that lady at the bar. You gonna take her out?”

            I started saying something like, “What? Nah. Me? Nah,” and then a buncha verbal lettuce, embarrassed, communicating nothing and tryna change the subject.

            My manager was staring at me as I spoke and once I was done said to me, “You just changed to the deepest shade of red and then went immediately back to like your normal deathly white.”

            He looked alarmed.

            One of my colleagues pointed at the inverted triangle of redness on my chest, jutting out of my shirt, where I’ve got a perpetual sunburn and she said, “No he just changes colors, see?” She pressed down on my perpetual sunburn, it turned white, and then it went back to red.

            And my manager said, “No, no, this was like a full deep change…”

            And I figured, fuck it, and I fessed up: “Yeah no, she said I was flirting with that lady at the bar and I blushed.”

            He said, “Holy shit. You blush really hard.”

I said, “Yeah.”

He nodded, wide-eyed. “It’s kinda scary.”

“Yeah.”

            Whereupon the colleague at my side said, “So you were flirting with her?”

            And the answer, in truth, is “yes,” I was flirting with her in the sense that I had these far-off romantic intentions about it, but the answer’s also “no” in the sense that I don’t think I really know how to flirt. Like I don’t know how to be suave. My way of flirting is to just try to engage with somebody.

I’m in love with the modern impressionist painter Ron Hicks.

            Like with this woman who comes into the bar: I know that she works at another restaurant in the mall, and so I asked her about that place and then she mentioned some of the similar establishments that have just recently gone outta business in the area. From there we got to talking about malls in general, and then specifically about Sunset Place (“I went there last week and it was literally eerie,” she said, “it’s a ghost town; everything is out of business”), and I mentioned, in a spark of wide-eyed remembrance, this time that I was eating at Mellow Mushroom, a pizza joint that used to be on the first floor of Sunset Place, when somebody jumped off of the parking garage and hit the pavement outside.

            Then she jumped in to mention how somebody jumped off the thirtieth floor of her apartment building on the day she was moving in. “Kinda like the universe saying, ‘Welcome home.’” She mentioned that it was a huge fiasco, cuz the woman basically exploded on the sidewalk of a really busy street in Downtown Miami, and it made for a traffic nightmare.

            I mentioned that I hadn’t heard about that in the news and how, in the days after I saw the scene of that suicide outside of Sunset Place, I kept searching Google for some article with details about it, but I never found one.

            “I guess stuff like this just doesn’t make the news,” I said.

            She said, “Yeah—and a friend of mine is a dispatcher in Boston and he showed me a picture of his computer screen one night and everything that was going on in Boston at that moment, the crazy shit he had to send cops to; there was like a beheading, two suicides, a shooting, somebody drove a car through a preschool…all this crazy shit and it never makes the news because I guess it’s just a normal night. Like even the journalists after a while are like, ‘OK, another shooting, big deal.’”

            And then I said something about this thing I’d read regarding the PTSD of 911 dispatchers, how they often hear people being killed over the phone, and then I sprang from that into mentioning that this is apparently also happening with Facebook moderators: you flag content on Facebook if you think it’s inappropriate, and some moderator in a cubicle somewhere looks at that flagged content to see if it needs to be taken down. Well, a lot of those moderators are spending seven hours a day saturated in “flagged” content—some of which is horrifically violent or graphically sexual or infernally racist, misogynistic, hateful. They see the worst parts of humanity for hours a day, and apparently they’re suffering some serious trauma about it.         

            It was a good conversation! Fluent and sprawling and she was totally receptive to the admittedly dark slope of topics—and this is how I guess I technically “flirt.”

            I feel like somebody who’s socially savvier would’ve come up to her with some sort of line, would have found a graceful way of working a compliment into the whole thing.

            But I can’t do that. I see someone who’s cool and attractive and I mosey up to em like, “Did I tell you about the dude who jumped off the parking garage?”

            Another thing: I’ve spent years twisting myself into knots about flirting, about being rejected, and so I’ve lately convinced myself to never again go into a conversation with a stranger having any kind of explicit romantic intentions. I’ve learned that the only way to ensure that I don’t walk away hating myself, either for making myself look like a fool or making the other person uncomfortable, is that I need to just go into these encounters looking to have  a good conversation.

            The upside to this is that I have lots of gratifying conversations with strangers wherein I learn a thing or two.

            The downside is that I think people tend to not realize I’m attracted to them and so…I guess it makes us both ripe for confusion and a potentially calamitous misreading of signals. One of those things where we go out for three consecutive beers and then stop talking because neither of us can tell if these excursions are dates or not.

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