meg-ryanToday the stain on his tie was mayonnaise. There was always some food dotted across the cheap striped material, his jutting stomach prevented any dropped food from making it to the table.  Today it was tuna.

“It’s all free advertising, we’ll do a bunch of things,” he said, pausing to take a bite of his sandwich ensuring white, chunky liquid in his mouth for the entirety of the conversation. “Street performance stuff.”

I wasn’t sure how this helped spread the word about the New York Health Fair Expo, but then I didn’t claim to be a public relations genius like he did.  He hired me to do things like hang up flyers around the city and ambush last-minute tax filers with brochures outside the main branch of the Post Office at Midnight on April 15.  His checks always cleared and he paid for our lunch meetings, so when he told me set up actor auditions for a troupe of improv guerrilla performers to stir up publicity in Central Park, I didn’t ask questions.

“If we have a kazoo parade we don’t need a permit” he disclosed, like I was wondering about it. “I did something like this years ago” he continued wistfully after stuffing some cole slaw into his already moving maw, “I hired an actress but the project fell through at the last minute, and she turned out to be Meg Ryan.”
I wondered if Meg had as hard a time as I did taking this man seriously in his disheveled suit and black scuffed sneakers.

Five minutes into our first conversation he offered me a sublet, a huge apartment on the ritzy Upper West Side that was rent controlled, the Holy Grail of New York City real estate. The only stipulation was that when he was in town, away from his permanent residence upstate, he would keep a key so he could “sleep on the couch.”
Something loosened in my intestines at the suggestion, and I thanked the Patron Saint of Tiny Spaces that my little studio had but one key, one occupant, and no couch. He was easily twenty five years my senior, but a kindly older gentleman vibe didn’t synch with his intense eye contact.
“Pseudo-sleazy,” my gut pronounced, but my brain said “shut up and deposit the paycheck before your cable gets turned off.”

The day of the auditions he strode around like a peacock with a stain on it’s tie. Young, beautiful hopefuls milled around like the backstage area on American Idol. We all sat in a big room and he called on them, one by one, asking questions he answered himself with rambling anecdotes. This wasn’t an audition, it was an audience.
“She was cute as a button, and she had…..presence” he mused, “and she turned out to be Meg Ryan.”

After an hour I could see some in the crowd inwardly kicking themselves for choosing this over a chance to pick up a bartending shift at Applebee’s.  At the two hour mark I began blinking apologies to my cellmates in morse code.

When we were finally liberated he asked me to gather up the now tragic and useless headshots as he sauntered to the doorway to talk to someone he knew, a short man with a little devil beard and three piece suit with running shoes. Aggravated and fully feeling the weight of my unfortunate life choices, I met them in the hall and handed him the stack of crushed dreams.
“Thank you, dear” he said brightly, turning to face me and suddenly kissing me, right on the lips.   Shock and nausea ripped from the top of my head and down my spine.  I stared, queasy and frozen in place, for three seconds. Then, I turned and did my best fake casual walk out the door.

The wretched scene played over and over in slow motion from every angle like an episode of CSI in my head as I walked home.   I could still taste his cherry flavored Chapstick now burned onto my mouth.
“He wanted beardy to think you were sleeping together” my brain sighed. “I was wrong. Pseudo-sleazy is too sleazy, HBO is not worth this nonsense.”
My mood swung from enraged to grossed out, I wanted to both run his face over a cheese grater and forget the whole thing. Forgetting seemed easier. I wouldn’t have to puzzle out why I was the one who felt weird and embarrassed when he was the lip rapist. Also, it left time for a nap.  But I couldn’t quiet the voice that screamed for justice, nor the flashbacks of his tuna tongue brushing against my teeth that I saw when I closed my eyes.

I listened to the phone ringing on the other end. My heart was beating an unnatural, nervous rhythm. Helium fluttered around my lungs. I didn’t know why it was freaking me out, and I didn’t know why I needed to do this, but it was. And I did.
He answered and I cut right to the point.
“You kissed me” I said, my voice sounded flat and rubbery. “Don’t do it again.”
“What?” was the innocent reply, dipped in glitter and angel’s wings.
“Today. In the hallway. You kissed me. Don’t do it again.” I repeated.
“Oh, that was a slip!” he said jauntily, “a slip of the lip!” Like a Broadway show tune.
“Don’t do it again.”
He blustered and blathered, he was sorry, I misinterpreted, it was a mistake, it wouldn’t happen again.
Hanging up, I laughed long and loud. My brain was right, this was much better than cable.

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