Fiction  January 2016 | issue 481

Don’t Call It Vino

by Greg Ames

Greg Ames is the author of the novel Buffalo Lockjaw. He splits his time between Brooklyn and Hamilton, New York, where he is an associate professor at Colgate University. His collection of stories, Funeral Platter, will appear in October 2017.

A man in his kitchen must exhibit dexterity with a chef’s knife. That’s essential. He should also possess a devil-may-care nonchalance around the spice rack and a cunning knowledge of various cheeses. Good, you’ve sailor-knotted your apron. That’s important. You are also wearing oven mitts. A little excessive, but she might think it’s cute. She has a sloshing glass of vino in her hand and a grin on her face. Excellent!

Don’t call it vino.

You’re off to a good start — no, a great start, buddy. Though you have only three go-to meals in your culinary repertoire — a chicken dish, a fish dish, and something involving broccoli — you like to pretend you’re improvising an original creation on the spot whenever you cook for guests: “Hmm, this chicken Marsala tastes OK, but maybe it needs a little … I don’t know, tarragon?”

Cut it out. You’ve been putting the same amount of tarragon in the sauce since 2006.

Marissa appears comfortable on your black leather couch. It’s a mystery why you volunteered to cook on a first date, but it’s too late now to start ruminating on your self-destructive habits. The goal for this evening is to avoid looking inept and/or insensitive.

Question: Is she a vegetarian?

OK. Concentrate. Think. You should know this. You should always know a dinner guest’s food politics in advance. Does she eat meat? Does she despise the evil practices of Big Agra, as you do (most of the time)? Is she doing the paleo diet and hoping for some fatty animal proteins?

Calm down. You’ll just have to wing it. It’s not a disaster. Marissa doesn’t seem judgmental over there on the couch. Nice work, buddy. Really, congratulations. It’s been more than six months since Aubrey walked out on you, and you’re starting to feel strong again. The dirty socks are in the hamper; your underwear is clean. This date might be exactly what you need to raise your spirits.

It’s time to cue up a solid anecdote. Everyone in the break room at work loves your stories because you employ a wide range of funny vocal inflections and facial expressions. In fact, a sign recently posted by management — PLEASE BE RESPECTFUL OF OTHERS IN THIS SHARED SPACE — attests to your ability to provoke laughter. So tell Marissa about that time you and some of the guys from the office—

Wait. She’s standing. Why is she standing? She doesn’t like your black leather couch? Are the backs of her thighs sticking to it? Is it too hot in here? It is hot in here. For the love of God, knock the AC down, you cheap bastard. Splurge a little.

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