by Nathan Masserang
I meet a friend on Grindr and he offers to take me on a date. He drives a Rav-4 and plucks me from my stoop like I am ripe and good. I am prepared for disappointment. I have already forgotten his name. He says that we are going to do something special, a surprise.
“This is where you live? Kinda ghetto,” he says.
“I do my laundry across the street,” I tell him.
“I’ve never been to the south side.”
“I don’t own a car.”
We drive an hour north to an Olive Garden for lunch. He texts and drives, which makes me nervous but also excited. I crave danger, I guess. I may never have to speak to this person again if we are in an accident. The last time I had an accident, I t-boned a girls car in the parking lot at school. She was okay and we didn’t know what to do so we called our dads. I don’t want to call dad now because I don’t want to frighten him. If dad were here, there would be more danger than I could handle.
It is spring and the pavement is wet. It is still cold, but the snow has melted and everything is a mess. I instinctually shuffle across the entryway of the restaurant. There is a line at Olive Garden. It’s 11am on a Saturday and there is a line at Olive Garden. It’s 11am on a Saturday in suburban Chicago and there is a line at Olive Garden. It’s 11am on a Saturday in suburban Chicago and I am waiting about 20-30 minutes for soup and salad that I hope I don’t have to pay for.
We are standing by the bathroom. I go into the bathroom and vape. It’s not my vape; it’s my friends that I borrow when I go on dates with strangers. I don’t even like vaping, but I like breaking the law. I feel bad for a minute for breaking the law. Normally this wouldn’t be happening. There’s a mirror on the stall door that is slightly convex and my face bends with it. I sit up and down on the seat and watch myself fold into everything that could have been. I think, oh no, here I am getting dangerous again. I mumble ‘funhouse’ and laugh to myself. Our electronic placeholder lights up and vibrates in my pocket. This is the only desirable interaction I have felt today.
We have a booth and an elderly server named Agnes. Agnes probably was a mom but now owns cats. She shuffles to and from the server stand and her sleepy hands love to lull on tables while she talks to us.
“Is it your first time dining with us?” she asks.
“Yes,” I said, and I put my head down on the table. My friend looks at me in awe, but I can’t look at him.
“Oh great! Let me show you how the menu works.”
As Agnes walks me through the steps of ordering pasta at Olive Garden, I take a look at my friend who is surprising me today. He is wearing a Boston Red Sox hat and a jacket that he hasn’t taken off. He’s smiling at me like he hasn’t seen such good things before, a young man on his first trip to Olive Garden. I realize in that moment that he doesn’t know I’m joking about having never been to Olive Garden. He rubs his beard like he’s looking at a puzzle and he has no idea that I’m more basic than Olive Garden. Does that mean his basic is compounded upon mine infinitely in an exponential curve? Have I lain an asymptote of basic that he is dangerously reaching at a fitful rate.
I tell Agnes to bring a salad bowl filled with pepperoncini and italian dressing and keep it coming. I reaffirm with her that it’s a joke and order ravioli. Here are some things that were said between ordering and receiving food.
“So I don’t have a job right now but I might have one next week.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I’m an actor, but I don’t want to be super famous.”
“I’m ready to make more money.”
“Oh my god, same! I was just thinking that the other day.”
“My parents will disown me if I am not making more than fifty thousand dollars a year by the time I’m twenty-five.”
“Seems extreme. Doesn’t that mean being famous is a good thing?”
“I guess but how do you make money being famous?”
“Well first of all, you’re famous.”
My ravioli comes and I am filled with glee. “Look at me I’m in the ravioli spa!” I say and put two of them on my eyes and tilt my head back. I can’t stop laughing. I peel them back off my eyes and no one noticed. Maybe I vaped too hard. Agnes is gone and my friend is eating chicken parmesan. I wipe the alfredo from under my brow. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and clean up and my friend looks up saying “Oh my god, what happened?”
“I went to the spa.”
In the bathroom I vape on the toilet again. I don’t feel anything except high and dangerous. There’s no more alfredo on my face, but I wish there was. My ravioli is probably cold. I could skip them across the river or something. I made a great joke but now that I’m high again. I don’t want to make anymore jokes. I want to eat my cold ravioli in silence.
“Thanks for taking me to lunch,” I tell my friend.
“Our day is only getting started! Just wait and see,” he says.
I’m back in the Rav-4 Again with a takeout box filled with my ravioli. My friend takes a phone call about a job and doesn’t tell me anything about it. We are driving further away from the city and I’m getting anxious. I’m dangerous but the suburbs of Chicago are terrifying. I kind of zone out and we are at a hotel by the airport. I still have no idea what we are doing.
“I have no idea what we are doing and I am anxious,” I tell him.
“Just you wait, I’ve been so excited for this for a while,” he says. I’ve been excited to go home for the last twenty minutes. We enter the hotel and a small board with rearrageable letters points to MVC in conference room A. This is the most nervous I’ve been in my entire life. There is a pair of double doors with brass handles on them that look so official. Less than a half an hour ago, I was in an Olive Garden.
The doors open and there are approximately 25 people milling about 25 other people sitting at tables. They all have vapes and vape related products. I’m at the Midwest Vape Convention. This is what I am surprised with on a date.
“I hope we didn’t miss any of the action.”
“It’s gonna be rad.”
As soon as he says this a man walks to the center of the room with a microphone attached to an anachronistic boom box. He begins by introducing himself as the chairman of the midwest chapter of the National Vape Society. He is wearing a Big Dog shirt under a leather jacket and has a neck tattoo.
I stare down at a table and see that they have samples of vape juice littering the tablecloth. I pick one up and see that this particular juice has 60mg of nicotine in it. I read last year that a baby died from drinking vape juice. I think if I were a baby, I would be drawn to vape juice. I want to drink this vape juice. I feel my heart exploding.
“Let’s get our first presenter up here!”
Another man in a leather jacket walks to the center of the room. He has two chains connected to his wallet. This man is secure with this finances, I think as I watch him pull out a vape the size of a tube of crescent rolls. He picks up 5 containers of vape juice and drips them scientifically into the atomizer.
“Oh so he’s doing like, tricks and stuff.”
“Is he famous on Vine?”
“Just watch,” my friend snaps with an emotion I haven’t seen him make ever.
Leather jacket man screws the mouthpiece back on his vape and starts to inhale. The entire room goes quiet, like he is inhaling all voice in the room. He pulls the vape away from his mouth and my friend looks on, slack jawed and terrified. Leather jacket man exhales a large cloud of vape juice and the entire room, all fifty or so people, applaud and cheer.
Here are some things that people said:
“It’s like watching a surgeon!”
“He has mad talent.”
“What I wouldn’t give for his lungs.”
A woman then steps forward, this time with another vape roughly the same size. The practice repeats itself with almost everyone in the room, barring myself and my friend. Someone steps forward, loads a vape, and exhales a large cloud of vape juice and everyone cheers and compliments them.
“So does anyone do tricks?”
“Tricks are for teens,” he deadpans. I idly finger the tablecloth of the table with the vape juice. I want to drink this vape juice so bad.
“I didn’t know you vaped,” I mention. “Are you gonna go up there?”
“Oh I vape, but not on the professional level that these guys do. And I left my vape at home”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Yeah, these guys are sponsored. I can’t wait to meet them.”
I stand around for two hours while my friend makes conversation about vapes with complete strangers. He is eager and salivating at the idea of making the world a better place through vaping. I’m not high anymore and I’m out of weed. No amount of weed could make this better or worse.
It’s now 5:30pm. I’m leaving the hotel conference room. My friend leans in and tries to kiss me. I think he’s turned on by all the vaping.
“You wanna get a room at this Marriott for the night? I hear they have sick minibars in the rooms,” his breath is so close to my ear. I wish it smelled of vape. I wish I smelled of vape still. I’m thinking about the last six or so hours and how I wish I felt something. The danger is gone, I’ve braved a vape storm and protected myself the whole time.
“I just kind of want to go home, I think I have a secondhand vape high.”
“Okay cool,” he looks bummed. He wanted to fuck. I think I wanted to fuck to but I forgot. We both are displacing affection to all the wrong things and don’t know how to recover. I wish I could kiss someone. I forgot his name and avoid saying it for the car ride home. We listen to pop radio and I look out the window. The sun is starting to get lower in the sky.
I am not a man to give it up on the first date for a trip to an Olive Garden and vape convention, but one day I hope to be.
Nathan Masserang lives in Chicago. His writing is peppered about the internet. He is usually sad, but that's okay. He tweets at @rapgamenathan