Shag carpet was never my favorite: at best, it was difficult to vacuum, and if you lived in a small cheap aparment in the 1970s, as I did, the stuff was never close to being at its best. I'm not entirely sure how our orientation to the floor had gone from perpendicular to parallel, but there we were, locked in some hitherto unknown (to us anyway) clinch, occasionally rolling a few degrees, our eyes tightly closed lest we get too close a view of the carpeting.
Came a bustle in my hedgerow, as it were; unexpectedly, she'd thrust one hand down the front of my oh-so-au courant knit slacks. This action had exactly the result you'd have expected. Having never been there myself, I had no such expectations; once she'd reached what I assume was her destination and noted the changes in the terrain, I screwed my courage to the sticking-place, so to speak, and whispered: "Do you know what you're doing?"
"No," she said simply.
That makes two of us, I thought, but I dared not say so.
The incident, however long it had lasted, came to a close with "I think I better go," and I had the rest of the night to contemplate what had just happened there, and why it had halted when it did. People do get carried away, I noted, and apparently we had; perhaps she really didn't know what she was doing, but I definitely didn't. Was it my move? I hadn't a clue, or any idea how to get one. Just before my brain stopped tormenting me for the night, I decided I probably didn't need to rent a carpet shampooer.
Forty-odd years and several failed relationships of varying duration later, things seem marginally clearer. I definitely don't pick up my cues fast enough; often as not, I don't recognize them at all, or I misinterpret them. When I was seventeen, I had a fast-food job and a better-than-average bicycle to get me there; on the way home one afternoon, I had dropped into a convenience store to blow 20 minutes' pay on some sort of soft drink. As I was checking out, there was a trio of girls of indeterminate age presumably checking me out, and the least-clothed one, wearing a two-piece swimsuit reminiscent of chocolate-chip ice cream, beckoned to me.
I decided I probably should not be involved in this, and resumed counting my change.
She would not be ignored. "Would you like to see me in your bedroom?"
For some reason, this struck me as threatening. Voulez-vous se couchez avec moi ce soir? I heard, which makes no sense, since "Lady Marmalade" had yet to be written, and besides we were a long way from New Orleans. I said something incomprehensible and made for the door, imagining I was hearing their laughter.
Back on the road, I concluded that the most likely explanation was that they had wished to mock me, unworthy nerd that I was, and had concluded that the easiest way to do that was to feign interest. I resolved to put it out of my mind, but just the same, I took a different route home for the next several days. The fact that I'm telling you this after nearly half a century is an indication of how well I'd put it out of my mind.
There is, of course, no compelling reason why these women, or any others, should be looking in my direction; I can be mildly entertaining for short periods of time, but sooner or later I run out of material. Still, it would simplify my life if I could read signals worth a damn. Not that anyone is actually signaling me; the last time I thought someone was making an offer was some time in the early 1990s, when I was living in a not-so-small cheap apartment with, um, shag carpet.
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