TITLE: Surprise Dessert

When Olivier bills a story as “incredible” or “unbelievable,” or even “stunning,” then sister, you need to sit up. The story in question (“unbelievable”) occurred after Olivier placed a personal ad (because Olivier is an adventurous, highly sexed person hampered by his work schedule and locale, not because he has, as he puts it, “a third eye or anything like that.” Plus, he has a name to uphold).

He developed a rapport with one of the respondents, and they agreed to meet for dinner. Olivier was disapppointed with the woman physically, being that she was “on the heavy side,” but he found the conversation tolerable and was not unable to enjoy himself. They were talking. It was nice.

Here, at the end of the dinner, is where matters took a turn. O’s date excused herself from the table and went to the restroom. When she returned, Olivier felt her hovering at his shoulder. She bent down and placed something in his lap. Can you guess, reader, what she deposited?

It was a big ol’ pair of underpants. (At this point in the story, as you might well do now, I screamed.) Yes. It was her just-removed underwear, and she sat down across from O. and she smiled. Olivier pauses here in the telling, awaiting the inevitable, “What did you do?” What he did was wrap the lingerie in his napkin, pass it to her under the table, and say, “I think you dropped something.”

Oh, the humanity. “How do you recover from something like that?” I asked breathlessly. “You don’t. Is the answer.” Olivier says. “There was a hasty ‘check, please’ and plenty of awkward silence.”

EVALUATION: I mean, all you can do in the face of this is to howl in the name of single people everywhere, and ask more questions; and therein lies the beauty of Olivier’s delivery. He is a master of restraint and pith. It’s like the end of Limbo, where you want to know more, but you know there’s probably no satisfaction in it either way. After all, nothing can quite demystify the horrible, plain wrongness of it all, though O. will gamely respond to your attempts to reveal some hidden explanation for this woman’s behavior. I did take umbrage at some of his “humor” (“I didn’t know they made things that large and frilly,” “Thank God for oversized napkins,” etc. etc.) but the overall recounting is a small yet haunting masterpiece of modern dating that leaves you (dare I say it?) panting for more.

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TITLE: Glittery Happy People

In this light, family-oriented short, Julie runs to grab cash at her ATM and becomes involved in a conversation with a group in front of her in line, a group featuring two children and a few adults. Sparking the exchange is the question of why Midwesterners call ATMs “cash stations” (because there is such a company, Cash Station, apparently, which provides the Midwest with its money purveying systems). One of the group points at the ATM next to him and says to his little girl companion, “This is a robot.” In Julie’s retelling: "She looks at him quizzically, and sort of shakes her head, and looks at me as if to confirm, is this guy crazy or what? I say to her, “I don’t think that is a robot, robots can talk, and all that does is give money.” She looks at me, and says “Yeah, but money is good.” Everyone laughs. The guy at the ATM turns around and says, “Especially when your card works! Mine is not working.” He then turns to the next ATM and tries his card there. I ask, is that ATM not working? He says, “No, my card is just messed.” The little girl has thought of something to add about the robot theory, namely that robots move, and ATMs don’t. I nod my head, and say “Um hm…I like your glitter.” She says, “Mike gave it to me.” And tugs at the ATM guy and says "Mike, can she have some glitter, too? At which point [Michael Stipe] turns around, pulls a thing of body glitter out of his pocket and hands it to her. “Sure.” I clue in as to who this is, and jaw dropped, put on some glitter. Get my money. Say thanks, have a great day….Later, I try not to wash off the glitter in the shower."

EVALUATION: Even those who are not fans of REM will be charmed by this Metropolitan Diary-meets-Gossip Show slice of life in New York. Both spoken and in its e-mail adaptation, this story surprises with its nonsequitur ending. There isn’t much of a payoff beyond the glitter—it would have been cooler if Stipe turned around and he too was wearing the glitter, or if he actually applied it to my friend, or if he had broken out into “Shiny Happy People” while delivering the glitter to his cohort, but still. It’s better than most people’s ATM stories, which usually involve rage and unhappiness and occasionally peril. Avoid the “long version” of this story, which includes a tad too much exposition on why Julie had to go to the ATM, how crappy she looked, how she still had a million things to do before her dinner guests arrived, etc. etc.

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TITLE: Jen Meets the President

My college friend Jen, who was helping coordinate a nonprofit organization’s luncheon at which the president was a featured speaker, got to meet said president. It was, she intimated, “pretty neat.”

EVALUATION: This story, to use a word meant in no way to cast innuendo or aspersion on our great president, William Jefferson Clinton, blows. Encouragement, suggestions, downright exasperation — all tactics proved no match for Jen’s singular lack of narration skills. Was his palm pulsating and sensuous? Or clammy and limp? Did he look her in the eye? What, for the love of God, did he say? Don’t ask Jen. In true Washingtonian spirit, she can’t exactly recall for the record.