Susan is at the door and I'm not quite ready. I buzz her to come up, but Susan is playing at being impatient and she insists on sitting outside on the wall in the cold while she waits before we head over to Alison and Paul's for dinner.
"How can you," Susan shouts through the intercom, "still be getting ready? Gord
you're a guy for Christ sake."
"And your point exactly?"
"Well you're meant to be like the Wash & Go ad, not still be mucking around in the
bathroom checking you've applied enough moisturizer."
"But wouldn't Wash & Go mean that I had dandruff?"
"Now you're just splitting hairs."
"I'm going to get ready."
I can still hear Susan wailing through the intercom as I return to the bathroom. If she didn't already know it I would tell Susan that she's right. To be fair I used to be Wash & Go guy, but lately I'm not quite so Wash & Go guy. I'm more Wash & Go in about twenty minutes to half an hour guy. I am sadly, and I hate to even admit this, sitting in the bathroom with the toilet seat down reading an old copy of Esquire magazine with a seaweed facemask on. Oh the shame of it. There I said it. I could of course never tell anyone this as of course (and rightly so) I would face heaps of public ridicule, which unlike now would leave me very red rather than blue faced. Fortunately for me the taboo about men talking about beauty products still stands strong and looks in no danger of disappearing no matter how many grooming features they publish in FHM
"You were ages, I want to know what you were doing?" she says testily.
"Guys stuff, sorry I lost track of time."
"Gord there is no such thing as guys stuff."
Susan shakes her head in general disgust.
"Well there didn't use to be until you all started to get more gay than gay and compete with us for bathroom time," she says laughing, "On current performance you seem to be winning."
I smile at this and start to walk down the street, "I'm saying anything."
"Oh come on, it's okay, I know that men don't like to talk about it. Personal grooming is still a difficult subject."
"I hate the word grooming, did I ever mention that?"
"What tough guys don't groom?"
"It's what I'm thinking."
"What was it anyway, an avocado face mask? Or maybe a lemon skin peel? You know I'll make an effort to look in your bathroom cabinet next time I'm around."
I shake my head and try not to smile.
"Okay it was a seaweed vitamin replacement mask, but this goes no further. If word gets out…"
"Gord you don't have a reputation, besides word will not get out."
Alison opens the door, she smiles, a very wide smile. Some people look grim when they give really large smiles everything flies out of proportion. That doesn't happen to Alison. Somehow there is a proportionality at play with her face and the lines flow. Did I mention I was president of the Alison fan club?
"Hello, you two, you're late."
"I just want to say that on the issue of lateness it was Gord's and not my fault. I was on time, but he was cowering in the bathroom with a girly face mask on."
"Oh what the seaweed one?" asks Alison smiling.
I nod, "The very same, and thanks Suze for following through on your word of not repeating my male grooming ritual."
"I recommended that to him," says Alison who ushers us inside.
Alison turns and leads us into the house down the hallway past the sitting room and the dinning room, which is set and ready to accommodate dinner for four, and into the kitchen. Paul has an apron on that says "Danger professional at work". This is good advice and it is well worth standing back a little when Paul is cooking. He tends to bark and flash sharp knives around.
"You guys are late," Paul says as soon as we walk into the kitchen, "you're lucky I've got the culinary skills to accommodate. You have no excuse," he says waving a dripping wooden spoon in my direction, "you don't even have a job."
"Hey, what's with the no job thing? I probably put in more hours on the keyboard than…well okay that is clearly a lie, and a poor one at that, but I work at home where I write incisive pieces about yoga and male grooming."
Paul smiles, "I heard from the doorway, seaweed face mask is your top tip, right?"
"No," says Alison, "that's my top tip as well you know. I bought some for Paul and he was swanning around the house in at the weekend like Elton John."
"Lies, lies," Paul shouts, "I was not swanning. I relaxed in the bath."
"You don't mind do you, but I so need a drink?" Susan asks and without pausing lifts out a bottle of white wine from the fridge.
"Gord needs a drink, as well," Alison says, "We're terrible hosts," she says sipping from her own glass of wine.
"I'm just here for the free food," I say accepting the glass of wine from Susan.
"Well it's a good job you have friends like us who are able to fend for themselves,"
"Good friends like you who can fend for yourself in our kitchen," says Paul laughing.
"Well we don't have kitchens like you Paul, as you well know. This is a trial run for the rest of us. We get to watch you operate in this grown ups kitchen full of acres of chrome. It's like one of those adult training areas," I say.
"Gordie, we've been hearing about your recent embarrassment," Alison starts, "tell us more."
"My recent embarrassment? Give me a moment here...."
"He's trying to place which embarrassment you're referring to," says Susan.
"Oh that's helpful, Suze."
"Your one night stand," Alison supplies helpfully.
"Oh that. You should have come right out and said it. You got me all confused. It wasn't so much embarrassing as absolutely mortifying. It's a subtle difference, but it's okay. I'm out the other side."
"Susan says you have a plight," Alison says coyly turning over some food with her fork.
"A what? I have a plight already? I don't have a plight."
I don't have a plight that's just plain crazy slash Susan talk. Suze has delved straight into self-help 101.
"What you mean going from one meaningless short-term relationship to another short-term meaningless relationship? You have a plight."
"Hey, they're not meaningless they're disastrous, there's definitely a difference."
Paul shakes his head in dismay at this.
"I'm not going to ask you how many hours you spent honing that. But mate, please, why would you even want to make that distinction?"
"Because they start out with, you know, potential."
"Who told you that?"
"Funny. There is always something, but somehow it gets lost in translation."
"See? You definitely, you have a plight," Susan says.
"It does seem like you definitely have a something," Alison adds.
"You're screwed, face it," Paul concludes.
"Are you sure? The other day I suffered a slight setback and already I have a plight. This is like the arms race. You start out with a bow and arrow, tanks by midweek and the A-bomb by the weekend."
"You definitely have a plight. It's the beginning of the end. You'll have to give up one-night stands and grow up."
"Yeah I think I got that bit."
"But Gordie, did you really?" asks Alison.
"Ali, I swear I got it."
"So no more empty one night stands?"
"Empty? I think you should cast you mind back. You know to those pre-historic pre-marriage days. Whoever said one night stands were empty vessels that left you feeling soiled and unfulfilled?"
"Okay, so everyone says it, but serious, the whole everyone thing is definitely overrated. It's fun, you know sometimes."
"Is that before or after they kick you out?"
"Did she really kick you out? Ouch that's so..." Paul starts.
"Crushing, yeah, that about explains it. Although to be honest there was definitely some humiliation in there as well. And difficult to admit as it is, I'm afraid it's all true. I feel like I've grown just by owning up to that."
"You've grown? Wow it's amazing what a new personal low can do for a guy," Paul says.
"You mean lower than not actually having a girlfriend?" Susan throws in.
"Hey you can talk, Ms Single for 18 months."
Susan snorts at this.
"Resting and between boyfriends. Unlike some I have standards. That's sober standards."
"Well it seems that this woman has standards as well considering how fast she kicked him out," Paul guffaws.
"You know who this girl sounds like don't you?" Alison asks cryptically.
I roll my eyes when Alison says this as of course I know exactly who Charlotte sounds like in this story. She sounds just like me, well you know a younger version of me who did not get kicked out really early – without breakfast.
"Tell me about it. It was like I was standing there watching a carbon copy of myself, but with breasts. And I was looking at her and it suddenly dawned on me how little time I spent thinking about…"
And I'm waving my arms in the air in search of the right word before Alison helps me out.
"What you mean, how little time you spent thinking about those women that you slept with in the past? The little regard you paid them?"
Those are of course exactly the words that I am looking for, but when you hear one of your best female friends throw it at you like that it doesn't sound all that appealing.
"Yes, essentially, I started thinking about those women that…
"You'd slept with."
"…that I had previously known if…"
"…for a short-time. So yeah, I was standing there and thinking oh my god, that is exactly how long she is going to spend thinking about me. How depressing is that. Answer, obviously very depressing."
"You mean 30 seconds?" says Paul, who being happily married finds this all rather too hilarious.
"Hey come on that's just callous. Longer than that."
"So Gord what does this new found wisdom tell you?" Alison asks.
"I think it was like a sign."
"Oh definitely a stop sign," Susan says.
"Suze is right, a stop sign with a little proviso at the bottom, you know like the small print in financial ads, that basically says very clearly that 34 is a bit too old for one night stands and that if you pursue them beyond this age results might well vary."
"It's scary just listening to you. You've just realised this?" Paul questions.
"Paul, unlike you I wasn't born with a pre-programmed instinct to want to marry as soon as I humanly could."
"Oh you mean in Paul's case as soon as I would agree?" provides Alison who squeezes Paul's hand as she says this.
"Anyway, I have a plan."
Already I'm not liking the sounds of this. Susan always has plans for other people and they never seem to involve anything appealing or vaguely sensible. Her plans are more like flans, they fall to pieces as soon as you try to do anything with them. They're more like flan plans than real plans.
"You have a plan? I'm not going to like this."
"Possibly not? Oh sell it to me why don't you."
"I think you should confront it."
"Confront? I'm not liking these words. Plight followed by confront? I have to tell you that I am absolutely dreading what comes next."
"You should go round and see Charlotte."
I swear the woman is insane.
"She's right Gord," Alison says.
Let me rephrase, I swear women in general are insane.
"You're insane, you know that right? I mean both of you."
"Listen, you should go around and see her and ask her why she threw you out. You
know you want to know only then will you be able to move on."
"Oh thanks, but in a word, no."
"Gord, it will put your mind at rest," Alison says.
"My mind at rest? You're kidding, here's a better idea, she's Susan's friend, and she introduced me, why doesn't she ask her?"
"I'm sitting here, if you don't mind."
"I know that, you're the one with all the crazy talk."
"Besides Charlotte's not a friend, she's a work colleague."
"And yet you still want me to go around and see her?"
"Absolutely. Anyway, I thought she looked very nice. You know for the type."
Don't you just hate it when women do that? I swear it is only women, they dangle that implied question and you just have to roll with it, you just have to ask. There's no escaping it, there's nowhere to run: you have to ask, so I do.
"For the type?"
Susan is, of course, delighted when I ask the question. I'm only surprised that she was not clapping.
"Oh the junior fashion writer type you can pick up at a fashion party and have a one night stand with."
"Hey? I thought she was cute."
"But a little short maybe?"
"She was a brunette."
"Really more mousey than brunette, I would have said."
That's like an aural cue for both Alison and Susan to touch their perfectly silky brunette hair.
"She was funny, she had a great sense of humour."
"But apparently not that smart."
And it's weird, but I think Susan is on a roll.
"Hey, she was 25."
"Oh, but Gord they are always 25," Susan opines.
"And still a perfectly respectable age to waste time on people like you."
"Oh gee thanks Suze, remind me again who people like me are?"
"Oh that's terribly easy. You're people who aren't even close to 25 and at 34, you are on the cusp."
"The cusp of 35 when things start to go downhill at an incredibly rapid rate, which is really just another reason why you should go around there."
"You make it sound like a downhill bobsleigh event."
"Gord, it's when advertisers lose interest in you and, well, other people do as well."
"You're harsh. Have people told you this?"
"You know she's only teasing you," Alison says.
"Yes, I know she's only teasing, but Suze? You're still harsh," I say smiling.
"Think of it this way, at least if you turn up at Charlotte's she'll be completely gob smacked, I swear. Her jaw will drop like a stone."
"Oh I get it. You've been thinking what kind of social death can I inflict on Gordon, right?"
"Seriously, I promise it will help."
"Mmm, and after that I will publicly flail myself for good measure. I'll sell tickets, make a day of it, are you on drugs?"
"Suze, no way, I mean come on Paul, help me out here?"
"Susan's right you should go round there."
I'm stunned into near silence, I mean seriously I can't speak. This always happens to be me when people make the most ludicrous suggestions in the entire universe. They seem to inexplicably make perfect sense to other people. What's that about?
"Uh? Could you repeat that?"
"I think she's right," Paul says again.
"Are you insane, contrary to popular belief I don't actually go out looking for
"Dude no one ever said you did. We thought they came looking for you," Paul says
"And yet again with the humour."
"Seriously you should go," Paul says.
He pauses and I know he's going to say something else and I know that he is going to twist the knife. I swear I can feel it coming.