Amanda had been dating a police officer, Kevin, for about six weeks when they decided there was nothing more important in their lives than ensuring that I meet Mike.
“You have so much in common,” Amanda said.
“Let me guess,” I groaned. “He has two eyes, I have two eyes. He’s single, I’m single.”
“He’s a cop. You like cops!” she said.
“Stop telling people I like cops, Amanda.”
“He’s not a regular cop,” she insisted. “He’s an undercover cop!”
“You’ll like undercover cops even more!” Kevin promised.
They weren’t wrong. Mike met me at one of my favourite neighbourhood restaurants. He was warm and easygoing, and when he took his coat off, it was impossible to miss his lean and muscular physique. Kevin and Amanda liked me more than I thought.
After the obligatory first date resume swap, Mike had excused himself from the table. One of the benefits of living in a city as large as Toronto is the relative anonymity it provides. With the holidays quickly approaching, restaurants were chock-a-block full of people. Perfect for hiding in plain sight when your blind date has been missing for over 15 minutes.
Our server was table-side. “I was going to take your food order, but… he’s not back yet?”
“No, not yet, Courtney.” I said.
Too bad I won’t be coming back here. Your deep fried mozzarella sticks were top-notch.
“I’ll come back in a few minutes,” Courtney chirped. “I’m sure he’ll be back soon!” She was putting on a good show, but I could tell Courtney had her doubts about Mike’s return.
Maybe, I thought, Mike was murdered in the washroom. Perhaps a nefarious criminal from the murky world of narcotics ambushed him in a stall. Courtney will have to break the news. She’ll probably comp my drink.
I looked up from my almost-depleted, soon-to-be-comped gin and tonic to see Mike walking briskly toward the table.
“I’m so sorry!” His face was flushed. “I’m so glad you’re still here. I was worried you’d have left. Or that you’d think I was…” Mike leaned in and whispered, “pooping.”
In my experience, a date can get back on track as soon as someone starts talking about poop.
“Still here,” I smiled.
“I’m so glad! There was a situation in there. But not a pooping situation,” Mike assured me.
“Well, that’s a relief,” I said.
“See, after I was done going to the washroom — oh my god. Why can’t I stop talking about going to the bathroom?” Mike grimaced and started again. “After I was… finished, I went to the sinks and put some soap on my hands, but it wouldn’t lather. It was really thick and goopy and wasn’t mixing with the water at all. That’s when I realized it wasn’t soap. It was hand lotion.”
“That definitely won’t lather,” I confirmed.
“This is why I don’t like fancy bathrooms,” Mike lamented, “too many options on the counter.”
Duly noted. When we are married, I’ll buy only clearly labeled products for the en suite.
Mike sighed. “I had to wait until the other guy at the counter was done washing his hands so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot. I pretended to be washing my hands very thoroughly. When the guy finally left, I got some soap to wash the lotion off, but it wasn’t soap. I think it was hair gel?” Mike looked defeated. “The gel started mixing in with the lotion and turned into a weird paste. And then another guy showed up to wash his hands!”
“Of course,” I nodded.
“At this point it looks a lot like I’m lingering in the bathroom to pick someone up, but I have to wait for this other guy to finish washing his hands so I can find some actual soap. And I’m panicking the whole time because I know you’re out here thinking all sorts of things.”
Just that you were murdered.
“So that’s why I took so long,” Mike leaned forward again. “I wasn’t pooping.”
“Actually,” I said, “I thought maybe you’d crawled out a window. But in hindsight, I’m not sure you could have figured out how to unlock it.”
“No! I’ve been waiting forever to meet you!” Mike grinned. “But Amanda said I should wait until my undercover work was done because you wouldn’t like my plainclothes disguise.”
“What’s your disguise?” I asked.
“Long hair,” Mike said.
“That’s it? That’s your undercover camouflage?”
“And dirty jeans?” It was clear that Mike thought this was an excellent smokescreen. ”Amanda told me that men with long hair give you the creeps, so that’s why I put off meeting you until this week.”
I’ve got to stop telling Amanda things.
Courtney returned to take our order and looked equal parts surprised and relieved to see Mike. I tried not to let this shake my confidence, but damn, Courtney. As we waited for our food to arrive, Mike shared a story about work.
“Monday was my first shift back on patrol,” he said. “I like patrol, but it always takes a day or two to settle in, you know?”
“Sure,” I said, as if I knew.
“So,” Mike continued, “I’m in my car and a call comes over the radio. It’s about 5:30 in the morning, and there’s an altercation happening at a house, so I respond. I figure it will be a straightforward two-dummies fighting situation.”
This is foreshadowing, I can tell.
“I arrive on the scene, but it isn’t two dummies. It’s a lot of dummies. A whole bunch of people standing on a front lawn.”
“A bevy of dummies,” I offered.
“Yes,” Mike laughed. “A bevy.”
Mike tells me that some people on the lawn are still in their pyjamas and some are dressed for work, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone physically fighting, so no blood.
“A woman runs up to my patrol car in her housecoat and she looks completely freaked out,” Mike said. “She’s talking really fast and I can’t understand a thing she’s saying. I get out of my car and I ask her to back up so I can get things under control.”
Mike explains that once out of his car, despite the dark, he can see a man on a ladder taking the Christmas lights off his house. “That’s not unusual in itself, other than the time,” Mike points out, “But he’s in his underwear. Like, he’s not wearing anything else. Just his tighty-whities.”
“Brave choice given the weather,” I said.
“Yes!” Mike smiled. “Everyone’s yelling at this guy for taking his lights down and complaining about how he’s waking up the whole neighbourhood. And as they’re shouting, I’m thinking the guy on the ladder is actually being pretty quiet. I mean, he’s hollered a couple of things about wanting to take his lights down, but his neighbours are the ones who are waking up the entire street.”
Mike sat back in his chair. “There’s a guy there — a Bay Street type — and he’s losing his goddamned mind. He’s flipping out because he’s late for work and telling me to ‘hurry up and do my job.’” Mike rolled his eyes. “Housecoat woman is beside him, crying. She’s crying! It’s just a guy in his underwear, lady. You’re gunna be fine.”
“Some things can’t be unseen,” I note. Mike nodded solemnly as if to finally acknowledge her suffering.
“So I’m telling people to back off — holding my arms out and looking all professional — and I walk over to the guy on the ladder. I say, ’Sir, can you come down and talk with me? Your neighbours are upset, and I’d really like to get this sorted out.’ And he’s all, ‘Okay! Just a second officer!’”
Mike tells me that as he’s waiting for the man at the bottom of the ladder, he sees Steve, a paramedic he’s worked with frequently. Steve made his way over to Mike, clearly amused, and asked if he needed any assistance.
“There’s not a lot I can do here, Steve,” Mike said. “The guy’s not making much noise.
Your neighbours are the ones doing the yelling. And it’s not really indecent exposure, though Jesus, he must be cold. The man can take his lights down when he wants, wearing what he wants, as long as he’s quiet.”
“Thing is,” Steve said, “That’s not his house.”
“No!” I exclaim.
“Yah,” Mike laughed. “I mean, you’ve gotta know how chaotic it was. Had people been a little more orderly I might have understood that the guy had already pulled the lights off five other houses on the street.”
“Wow,” I said. “He really doesn’t like exterior illumination.”
“Right?” Mike laughed. “And that’s when the guy on the ladder made a break for it. I had to chase him for a block and a half and then tackle him in a yard.” Mike shuddered. “And now everyone at the station is calling me Panty Patrol.”
“Panty Patrol? That’s not even funny,” I said. “Did they put any thought into that? I mean what about Constable Commando? Or Officer Skid Mark? And that’s just off the top of my head. With more time I could come up with something really good.”
“I trust you’ll have something prepared for our second date,” Mike smiled.
Hear that, Courtney? Second. Date.
After a good many more laughs over dinner, Mike offered to walk me home. It was one of those perfect December nights when fairy snow is falling from the sky and the streets are quiet.
“Let’s go this way,” he said. “It will take longer, but the houses are prettier.”
We walked up the darkened block, snow crunching underfoot. I pointed out the parking lot where a prostitute had been found dead a few weeks earlier, and he showed me a crack house I hadn’t noticed before.
Mike grabbed my mittened hand and pulled me toward him. We stood under a streetlight. He wiped a snowflake from my nose and cupped my face in his hands. It was like something straight out of a Jennifer Lopez movie.
“Hey,” he said looking down at me.
This is it, I thought. The most romantic moment of my life.
Mike pointed at a house. “You wanna help me tear that guy’s Christmas lights down?”
“You take your pants off,” I said, “and I’ll go see if there’s a ladder behind that shed.”