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How to Give Someone Your Number

It was wedding season in my twenties.


This applies both as far as setting the scene (i.e., “it was a dark and stormy night”; “it was a Tuesday on the Wal Mart loading dock”) and introducing the concept (“during my twenties, everyone around me was getting married”). It was wedding season, and it was wedding season


We can all recite the checklist of what it entails. We know the equation: number of weddings (x) is inverse to the amount of disposable funds available (y) during the given life era (a1). After crying over the numbers you get yourself a weekend job. You have to pretend that you can afford the lineup of events so as not to upset the bride. After all, they’re pretending they can afford to hold said festivities. If anyone knocks a card out of place, the whole house will fall down, and then what will happen to the calligraphist industry? Where will the harpists find work? 


It was during wedding season that I attended a different celebration: my friend Chantal’s mom, Simone, was graduating from a doctoral program and I joined the family and friends for the ceremony and dinner after. It was refreshing. The featured speaker was not talking about happy couples. I’d just been to a church wedding where the priest, in between offering a prayer for the souls of the dead and for those living with cancer, prayed for the single people “who have not yet found love”. 


I didn’t have to wear a bachelorette tank top that said “Sexy 3” that matched Sexy 2, Sexy 4, Sexy 5, Sexy 6, and Sexy 7 (the bride was Sexy 1). I didn’t have to write From Rebecca: Stainless steel apple divider and thermometer fork on a crumpled sheet of looseleaf while someone next to me stuck gift bows onto a paper plate to make a hat for the overwhelmed friend who was opening boxes of thongs in front of her great-aunts. All I had to do was put on my Payless gold slingback heels and go to an Italian restaurant. 


We went to La Viola, a little BYO in Rittenhouse Square. The wait staff pushed together a bunch of four-tops and Chantal, her parents, and the rest of the cast of characters squeezed in around the long banquet setting in front of the window looking over Sixteenth Street. Simone had a group of friends of all different ages and backgrounds. No matter who I talked to, I always ended up hearing a fascinating life story and grabbing a pen to write down someone’s profound words.


I ate bread with olive oil and red pepper flakes and talked with Sandra, a vintage clothing boutique owner seated next to me, about the last guy I dated. She said some people are weeds in our garden and some are flowers. I nodded and reached for my notebook. Connor, a grad student with a ponytail, told a story about bringing a girl back to his place, where he had no bed. He slept on a wooden floor because “why do I have to be comfortable while I’m unconscious?” We made fun of him and laughed and talked and called down the table to each other. I felt better about being recently disentangled from someone, having no “and guest” to bring to the summer’s upcoming wedding lineup. Life felt wide open. 


Connor was seated across from me. When he stood up to go take a cigarette break, I noticed a busboy at the back of the room bringing dirty glasses into the kitchen. I couldn’t see him that well. It was more an outline, an impression. But from where I sat, he looked cute. I had an idea. 


The wait staff put our plates in front of us (I’d automatically ordered the penne, the Target dollar aisle of Italian restaurants). Joey, who wore a leather jacket and ran a cupcake shop, ordered more wine. Connor returned to his seat. I leaned forward and whispered to Joey, Connor and Sandra. 


“That busboy back there is pretty cute. Should I leave him my number?”


Joey whipped around. “Yes!” he said with excitement. Sandra nodded. Connor looked to the back, squinted, and frowned. “That meathead?”


“I’m going to do it,” I said. “After dinner. I’ll leave him my number!” 


We all whispered and giggled about the guy, but we still didn't have a great view. He only crossed the floor once, and there were people blocking him. But he had dark hair; he had to be Italian, and I’m Italian, so, you know. He was probably the owner’s son, putting in hours while he finished his MBA to eventually take over the restaurant. We could get together and eventually run the place as a family, and I could offer classes in pasta-making in the basement (I could learn).

What a perfect how-we-met story this was going to be. Finally something exciting to write about in my journal. (Last week’s entry: Saturday night, 9:20 pm. Went to see Wall-E alone. Came home, shook popcorn out of bra.) This was a bold new beginning, and you know when you know? I just knew. Not only would he be my “and guest” for this summer’s events, he would be more than that. After all those cattle calls to the dance floor to catch a bouquet, my turn was here. 


Boy, was I going to stick it to everyone. My mind worked fast. In between our server removing the dinner plates and Simone ordering a round of cappuccinos, I had the whole lineup of wedding events sketched out for me and my busboy. 


The Announcement

This is where I would get back at all the people who’d sent me a group text about their engagement after not hearing from them in years. I get it. You have to scrape together some warm bodies to fill the brunch bench for the proposal story. Can we stop pretending it’s not about an audience, though? Can we just lean in? For my engagement announcement, I would rent a high school auditorium and take the mic and walk everyone through a slideshow, TEDx style. If the event was about me telling the story, then let me do it up, beginning with my birth and childhood.

The Engagement Photos

Right here in the restaurant, Lady-and-the-Tramping one piece of spaghetti, red sauce all over our white outfits like a vat of ravioli was just murdered. Instead of sharing them on social media I would print them out on glossy 8 x 10s and stick one through the mailbox every week up until the wedding. Just so they wouldn’t forget. 


The Save the Date

Singing telegrams. They would all get singing telegrams. No need to cover the poison control number on the fridge with a bartered photo of la fiancee’s heavy left hand. A man in a crushed velvet suit would be at their door to sing Funicoli Funiocola, pass over a handwritten index card and throw a handful of confetti into the house. 


The Bridal Shower

Back-to-back screenings of Godfather I and II. Once you were in, you weren’t leaving. All doors would be locked.


The Invitation 

I needed Working Hands lotion for my chapped fingers after opening thick invitations all year, handling envelopes inside envelopes, extraneous tissue paper, printed-out driving directions, and monogram-printed cardstock. I would one-up all of it. Everyone was going to get a copy of Ulysses (730 pages) and Infinite Jest (1,079 pages). Plus my 40-page research thesis from graduate school. Observing Children Documentation, page 14: Jasper picks up a pencil. He sniffs it. He puts it down. He picks it up again. He sniffs it (cont’d next page). Also a ream of printer paper from Staples (free with rebate).


The Bachelorette

Everyone would chip in for a limo that would drive in circles for two hours. I’d hire an actor friend to throw a fit and cry, and everyone would have to deal with her all night. I’d be on the other side of the divider in the front seat sharing a box of Junior Mints with the driver. 


The Reception

Here’s where we would bring it all back. The whole wedding would be Italian restaurant themed. Red checkered plastic tablecloths from the dollar store. Tubs of lemon and cherry water ice for dessert (separate, not mixed--come on) (note: remind staff about temperature control). I’d hire a local political candidate to do some speeches. Just to offend people, we’d do the Dollar Dance and circulate a monogrammed velvet bag to collect cash. For the sendoff, everyone would get a bag of breadcrumbs to toss; instead of doves, pigeons would swarm. 


The Favors 

Each guest would get a subscription box with a different photo product of the couple arriving each month. By the end of the year their houses would be filled with the faces of me and my busboy eyeing them from phone cases, coffee mugs, toothbrush holders and toilet paper. 


More Mail

I remembered the card from friends that said The Lovebirds Have Found Their Nest with a photo of them in front of their freshly constructed house. I’d do better than that with a postcard closeup of a bedbug in our one-bedroom apartment.


Joey poked me out of my daydreaming. The check had arrived. “Write your number on the receipt, and I’ll deliver it,” he said. Chantal asked what we were doing. Joey sent word down the table, and the whole group watched and cheered me on. The busboy, still far enough away to be only a silhouette, was in the kitchen doorway. I wrote my name, number, and “Call me!” on the receipt. I was twenty-six years old and I had never left my number for someone like this. I couldn’t help smiling. 


Joey brought the receipt over to the girl at the host stand. He pointed at me. He pointed to the back. A smile spread over the girl’s face, and Joey bounded back to us. We watched as the rest of the wait staff buzzed around the host stand and conferred with the girl like sixth graders at a middle school dance negotiating the terms of pairing friends to slow dance to Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back to Me Now


“Here he comes! They’re giving it to him!” Sandra said, and I looked the other way while the busboy was called over to the stand. I let myself have one quick glance, but everyone was surrounding him and grinning and poking and I still couldn’t see him very well. But they were smiling. They were on my side! “He’s walking away,” Joey reported. “I’ll go see what’s up.” Connor shook his head and slugged the last of his wine. 


Joey came back from the host stand. “She said he’s going to meet you out front,” he told me.  


We all pushed back our wooden chairs to get up. I took a breath and straightened my back. Let’s be real. It wasn’t the wedding stuff. I knew I wasn’t actually going to send anybody a singing telegram. But here was a guy that could be my “and guest." Maybe more. No matter what shape this took, I knew it was going to be something. There was a flutter in my stomach. When you took a risk, you got a reward. This was it.


Everybody moved back to let me go first. I walked out the front door into the early-evening light, and there was the busboy, waiting for me on the front steps in his black and white uniform with my number in his hand. Finally, after everything, I got a good look, an actual look, at his face. 


Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no. 


It was like being on an airplane. There was nowhere to go. I had to say something. So I said, “Hi. I’m Martha.” 


“I’m Tim,” he said. 


He paused.


He said, “I’m fifteen.”



Have I ever gone back to La Viola? Are you serious? 


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