This is part 2. Part 1 is here.
I reminded my cousin of the short magician I met in my French class when I was in community college.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “Didn’t you say he was fat and bald too?”
He was fat and bald too. In the annals of men I’ve had crushes on, he was not the shortest (there was Costco guy too), but he was the fattest and the baldest. He also had, by leagues and leagues, the. worst. breath. ever.
“Like something was rotting in his gut,” I said.
My cousin spent a good minute laughing into the receiver.
“You have to put that in your blog Betty.” (And here it is).
“But I’m serious,” I said, “When the semester started and this guy walked in, I remember literally rolling my eyes, thinking, “Who is this fat, bald, thirty-something loser taking French 101 at a community college in the middle of the day?”
What’s more, I quickly assumed he had a thing for me. Perhaps as a lifelong jokester it was his habit to seek out sour looking people. And perhaps as someone who had spent most of her life laughing at people in community college, I looked as though someone had shoved a lemon up my nose as soon as I arrived on campus. Thus he zeroed in on me as the person to make laugh. By the end of the first week he had assigned himself a seat next to mine and was my self-proclaimed conversation partner.
“We were made for each other,” he said, grinning like Casanova, “What with your brains and my disastrously good looks.”
I tried not to laugh. I really did. But after the first month, I found myself looking forward to the class, not because I loved French (I did, but not enough to apply myself and actually learn it), but because between his French getting better and mine getting worse, he made me reexamine my many standing prejudices.
No half-ambitious single person goes to community college rubbing their palms saying, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna find me a long-term relationship!” And yet two months in I had overturned my self-imposed rule of “Thou Shalt Not Date the Dumbs,” and found myself seriously entertaining a relationship with this short, balding funny man.
So what if he had terrible breath? It wasn’t something some Listerine along with a major dietary overhaul couldn’t fix. I had, during the four months we sat next to each other exchanging poorly pronounced French conjugations, come to find his round, cheery face, his shiny head, his yellowed teeth, and short stubby fingers somehow endearing if not attractive.
I could marry someone like him, I thought as the third month rolled around. Three times a week my face was in danger of cramping from laughing so hard. I could just laugh and laugh and laugh all day, every day until we died in each other’s arms.
Around the end of the semester it dawned on me that our time together was drawing to a close. I had grown accustomed to the predictability of his presence for two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and hadn’t considered the summer ahead without him. I had not adequate practice “asking people out” but wanted to continue the conversation somehow.
“What do you do?” I asked during our last week of class. Thinking back on this now, it was also the longest I’ve ever waited since asking a man I was interested in what he did for a living. I just prayed he wasn’t a poet.
“Magic,” he said.
“Har har,” I said, though that was the shortest laugh he’d ever gotten from me.
“I’m serious! I’m a magician.”
“Like…Siegfried and Roy?”
“Well, yeah, except it’s just me, no gay partner, and smaller crowds.”
He made his living doing corporate events, and it appeared to be an alright living. He had a car, a house in Tustin Ranch, and no holes in his clothes. He also had enough expendable cash to take French classes whenever he wanted at the local community college.
“Though it obviously helps that my wife has a real job,” he continued, “She was smart to turn down the role of magician’s assistant. Or tiger.”
I was slow to hide my surprise.
“Yeah, she works in marketing.”
He smiled at the thought of her. Above his head I imagined a cartoon thought bubble rising up, from inside which a plain, plump woman smiled down. Two jolly fat people with severe halitosis who found each other.
“Oh,” he said, “I have her passport photo in my bag because we’re taking a trip to Paris this summer -” he winked – “The chance to bungle the language in its native land! Let me show you.”
From his tattered magician’s book bag he produced a little CVS card and opened it. A young, slender blonde woman with delicate bone structure and bright blue eyes who can fairly be described as “stunning,” smiled back at me.
“Oh my God,” I practically cried, “your wife is beautiful!”
“Jesus don’t look too surprised!”
I was aware that my eyes looked as though I’d had a mild stroke. Or too much Botox. I was surprised.
“Oh I’m not surprised,” I said, though not quickly enough.
He laughed and shrugged it off.
“No it’s fine, I get it. She’s like Snow White and I look like I ate all seven dwarves. Let’s just say if we’d met online, she probably wouldn’t have answered my calls.”
But they had met through friends and hung out for a while before they started to date in earnest. I could imagine the chain of events. The girl at first being mildly repulsed – the bad teeth, the breath, the sausage-like fingers… but hanging out because he made her laugh. Then one day, when she was alone, realizing that she missed him to the point where when she saw him next, she saw nothing but the happy feelings he gave her.
He shrugged again with a faux smugness, “What can I say, I got some other stuff going for me. Women love magic.”
I nodded. We did love magic.
“You’re awesome,” I said, “I had the best time in this class with you.”
“Thanks! You’re not too bad yourself,” he said, then smiled down at his wife’s photo, “But yeah, she’s a sweetheart. I’m a lucky guy.”
He was, and she was a very lucky lady.
Later that week we said our friendly “Au Revoirs”and I never saw him again.
“So yeah,” I repeated to my cousin, thinking about lanky old Tom with his long limbs and fresh breath but really just feeling a feeling.
“I could totally be with a short guy.”