He was pretty hung over.
So bad that he was burping into a glass of water. He hadn’t noticed the waitress right away. She must have been new. It was wintertime. The morning after the Smart-TV Christmas Party.
Booger had secured the location for the station and he put together a very bad Christmas reel. The bureau chief cornered Booger at one point and asked what happened with the reel…why was it so lame? Booger was mortified and the only thing to do at that point was drink heavily. He ordered a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser and kept hitting the same number until the embarrassment gave way to stupor. He got home, smoked a bone, whacked off and went to sleep. When he woke up in the morning his mouth was full of cotton and his stomach was doing somersaults. He threw on a coat and went across the street to “My Most Terrific Dessert Company.” It was expensive but he could sit there order a soda and a croissant and feel a little better. The waitress moved across the floor like a ballerina. She was friendly too.
Very friendly, Booger thought.
“What’s your name?”
“Are you a dancer?”
“Why yes…how did you know?”
“Well, for one thing, you are standing en Pointe,” it was a trick Booger had picked up from dating dancers in the past. Like boxers they would stick their feet sideways instead of out front. Once a soldier always a soldier. Once a dancer always a dancer. He left her a $20 tip. The biggest tip in his life. He said goodbye and he bowed to her as he headed back home. Hit the can from both ends. Flushed and crashed on his bed. When he woke up it was dark outside his window.
Gotta love Saturdays.
The next day he got stoned and listened to The Doors and the Dead and made a pact with himself to forget the lame Christmas reel and focus on the future. The future to Booger, right now, was dancing across a restaurant floor across the street.
Monday morning. Booger dressed in a suit and long black coat with scarf. Walked into the restaurant and quickly sat down. He put his briefcase and another item on the chair next to him. Clara came by and quickly recognized Booger. Her delight when he said hello to her seemed genuine.
“Feeling better?” she asked him.
“Like a million bucks…you look great”
“Thank you…what can I get you?”
“Just coffee please”
“One coffee coming right up.”
Booger went into his briefcase and studied his work notes. He had an early edit scheduled with his favorite editor Drew to turn a package on a British novelty music act that had scored a hit song on MusicTV with a silly tune about shaking your little tush on the catwalk. The week was looking up and Booger asked for the check by looking up and nodding at Clara. She danced over with a smile on her face.
“By the way, thank you for that really generous tip the other day. No one’s ever left me a twenty dollar tip before”
“It was my pleasure. You helped me survive the worst hangover of my life.”
Booger laid a fiver down and then reached underneath the table. He took the single red rose and handed it to Clara.
“This is for you…I hope it's ok for me to give you this”
Clara seemed stunned and then a huge smile broke out across her delicate face. She had black hair in a cute page-boy style and she smelled like patchouli. Booger was smitten.
“What perfume are you wearing??? It has left me completely defenseless?”
Actually, Booger felt pretty strong at that moment.
“Its patchouli oil…I’m glad you like it…some people can’t stand it…”
“I don’t think I’ll be able to think of anything else for the rest of the day”
“That’s very sweet”
“So Clara...time for the 64 million dollar question…do you have a boyfriend?”
“Actually, yes I do.”
Booger’s heart sank.
“But we just recently broke up…it’s kind of weird right now…and you seem pretty nice…”
She handed Booger her phone number on a blank green receipt. CLARA and a phone number underneath. Even her handwriting was charming. Booger took it, nodded, stuck it in his pocket and said; “Thanks, are you free for dinner tonight?”
“Sure…I get off of work at six…if you want to meet me here”
“I’ll see you then…”
He looked her in the eyes. He liked what he saw.
The older lady who owned the restaurant looked on. Booger grabbed his briefcase and walked out the door with the scent of patchouli oil and Clara’s angelic smile on his mind.
Bus, subway, office.
Morning meeting, edit session, shoot for News with a political expert discussing the latest oval office indiscretions, some phone calls, a bull session or two with Chick about the weekend show. And then it was time, finally, to head back to pick up Clara at the restaurant.
Booger was funny and charming and he took her to a romantic, cozy little French bistro a short walk away. Booger couldn’t take his eyes off her. Clara’s positive energy was electrifying. Booger sat in his chair tingling all over. After dinner they took a short walk. Booger resisted the urge to kiss her. “Don’t do it” he told himself… hold back…let her be the one to initiate it…she already knows how much you like her…hold back...she must know you find her adorable the way you look at her and she must pick up the exquisite yearning feeling that is wracking your body like you were in high school all over again.
“Please let me pay for your cab.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
It was coming. She spun around and put her hands on both sides of Booger’s face and then kissed him so beautifully on the lips that Booger was speechless.
They smiled at each other and then Booger went toward her for another kiss. This time, she opened her mouth and slowly, languorously, and with a total sense of presence in the moment, passionately French-kissed Booger.
They stood there making out for about a minute.
Thankfully, the cab driver saw what was going on and didn’t honk or do anything obnoxious to ruin the moment. Booger reached into his pocket peeled off another $20 and handed it through the front window to the driver.
“Please take very good care of this passenger and please get her home safe.”
Booger was the gentleman. Clara smiled and seemed to appreciate the gesture. Booger didn’t care that she was a waitress. He was a worker ant at a different factory.
She twinkled at him and thanked him for a wonderful night.
“I feel the same way…I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The next day he called and there was no return call.
The following day he walked by the restaurant and looked through the window.
He walked in.
“Excuse me, is Clara here this morning?”
“The attractive waitress with the short black hair and beautiful smile?”
“Oh...no…she doesn’t work here on Wednesdays…she works at this bar near Penn Station.”
Booger knew the place. It was an Irish bar near Smart TV. Later that day on his lunch break, Booger decided to surprise Clara at the Irish Bar. When he met her there she smiled brightly and asked him how he knew to find her there.
“Around these parts a mere scrap of information can mean a man’s life.”
“I’m sorry but I can’t really talk right now they are pretty strict here, and the bartender is a friend of my old boyfriend so it would be kind of awkward if he sees us talking.”
Booger felt relieved to hear her say “old” boyfriend.
“Sorry to pop in on you…I work a few blocks away and I was on my lunch hour”
Booger actually never had a lunch hour. He just grabbed a bite whenever his hectic schedule permitted.
“I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed our date the other night particularly the end of it outside the cab”
“I know what you mean Craig, I’ve been thinking about you all day”
Maybe after all the messed up one night stands and short lived relationships he had found a girl that would be the one. She made him feel so utterly alive...maybe he was in love…maybe it was the patchouli oil and her smile maybe it was that kiss.
“Thanks for visiting me...I’ve got to get back to my tables”
Booger smiled and nodded and walked out the door testing the sidewalk outside to make sure his legs would carry him all the way back to work. When he called her answering machine later that night, he got a strange message.
“Hi this is Ilene…I’m not home.”
What? Why did she tell me her name was Clara? And now her answering machine said:“Hi this is Ilene...I’m not home.”
Ilene? What the fuck was that? He didn’t leave a message. She wasn’t at work the next day. Booger started to feel desperate and confused. What did it mean? Was Clara her stage name? Why did she seem a bit uncomfortable at the Irish bar? Was she still seeing the old boyfriend…was he still seeing ILENE? It all started to make sense and it was a horrible feeling. Booger felt like he had been punched in the stomach. The perfect romance story was starting to feel like a psychological thriller with a weird and unhappy ending. When he saw her the following week he had walked by the restaurant as he had done every day until then, peeking in to see her. She waved. He was looking good. Inside he felt torn up…tortured and confused…such drama and mystery.
Booger imagined a tattooed Irish hoodlum watching his every move from across the street…like in the movies…Seamus Muldooney…ready to show this fancy boy in the suit and tie how we do things in Hell’s Kitchen when you try to steal a feller’s girl…
“Hey Ilene. What’s up?”
Clara’s face froze.
“I guess I should explain.”
Booger was heartbroken.
“No need to…I pretty much figured it out.”
“No, it’s not what you think.”
Booger was pretty sure it was exactly what he thought it was. She was still seeing the “old” boyfriend and she had given Booger a fake name. Booger had to appreciate the drama, mystery and imagination this girl possessed.
“My real name is Ilene…but I sometimes also go by Clara”
“Why? Are you wanted for murder in three states?”
Booger looked in her eyes...he saw embarrassment.
“So, you’re still seeing your old boyfriend.”
“Yeah…I guess we are still…”
Booger felt his heart drop once again like a boulder in the ocean.
“But I really like you Craig…it’s just kind of messy right now.”
“I understand Clara…my good friends call me Shaka Zulu instead of Craig…”
“Actually, no they call me ‘Booger’.”
“Really? …that’s a funny nickname… how’d you get it?”
“In college…my last name is Bugowski… one day a friend called me Booger and it just kind of stuck.”
”…wasn’t that a character in Revenge of the Dorks, the guy who picked his nose…”
“Oh yeah that’s another thing ...I like to pick my nose all the time.”
“I don’t believe you …you’re just being silly”
“I guess so…so…uh…where does this leave…us?”
“Well, I’m working a double if you want you can pick me up after work and we can get a drink”
“Are you sure that’s ok?”
“Yeah …I’m sure”
She started to twinkle again.
“By the way do you want me to call you Clara or Irene?”
“Whatever you like.”
“Ok, I’ll think about it.”
He left the restaurant.
Bus, subway, work.
Asked Chick what he thought of the whole mystery and drama and Chick laughed and told him; “Looks like you picked a real winner there Romeo”
Booger didn’t feel like a winner. He felt like he had a ticket for the second place prize, a lifetime supply of, “I’m still fucking my old boyfriend, asshole, but thanks for the 20 bucks and the rose” When he picked her up they went back across the street to Booger’s bachelor pad. They made out passionately and one more time Booger felt that amazing tingle of mystery and danger mixed with patchouli oil and lies. He would leave messages on her answering machine for a week until she finally called him back.
“Sorry, I’ve been really busy…but I’d love to see you tonight…why you don’t come to my place I have a surprise for you”
It could have been a severed head on a stick or a home cooked meal, Booger had no clue, he just knew that he wanted her more than he had ever wanted a girl. All the cat and mouse had aroused and startled him.
When he got to her apartment it was a dingy walk-up.
He rang the bell half expecting to see a gun pointed at his face. What he saw was a candle lit room. Clara or Irene, whatever her name was, came out wearing a black fishnet body suit. It was sexy as hell and Booger or Craig or whatever she felt like calling him didn’t need an engraved invitation.
He savored fucking her and kissing her and smelling that patchouli oil as he fucked her from behind and marveled at her beautiful, pale, heart-shaped ass. He was stoned so he lasted a while.
He couldn’t sleep over though because he had to be at work very early the next day.
It was a “happy ending” to a rocky relationship.
When she didn’t return his calls for the next week and a half, He knew she had gone back to her other boyfriend for good.
That’s ok, Booger told himself. At least there was that one night. She had helped him recover from the worst hangover in his life and she woke him up to the fact that telling the truth is important or some such other lesson or moral. Whatever.
He would trade away all that valuable knowledge just to be able to kiss her again and again.
Some years later he would find her name and number on that old green receipt. She would pick up phone and say “Hello?” in that same sweet, melodic voice. After an awkward silence, Booger heard a baby crying in the background. He quickly hung up. Walked over to his window and looked out at New York City in the dark orange haze. He could make out homeless squatters perched on public property and a garbage truck gliding down glittery garbage stained asphalt.
Adam Kluger is a New York writer & artist.