I noticed Bob before he noticed me. He looked like the kind of guy you have sex with in barroom bathrooms and the backseats of cars. When he said “Hey” as I brushed past him in the Cold & Sinus aisle of Walgreen’s, I hesitated. I knew that “Hey.” It was the cocky “Hey” of a man who’s good in bed and bad at everything else. He’ll stand you up for dinner, but he can guarantee you multiple orgasms before breakfast. I knew better. I agreed to meet him for coffee later that night.
We drove around listening to techno music with the volume so high that I felt like there was a Hitachi Magic Wand underneath my seat. Bob, I learned between CD changes, lived in the area, and liked techno. And Bob thought I was smart. Really smart. “Busting out the SAT words, huh?” he commented. He repeated this often throughout the evening, marveling at my 8th-grade-level vocabulary. Words like “inconceivable” made him laugh. By the end of the night I found it inconceivable that I had made out with him for half an hour in front of my house. I agreed to a second date.
“That’s what’s up, ” Bob said, pleased.
Bob had signature phrases: “That’s what’s up” and “That’s just how I roll.”
“I’m an only child. That’s what’s up.”
“Thanks for the coffee. That’s just how I roll.” And so on.
After a few dates, he invited me over to his place. Again, I was hesitant. Since our last date, my text message inbox had amassed an alarming number of run-on sentences, an abysmal understanding of the difference between “you’re” and “your,” and a total disregard for basic spelling rules.
“I can cook something up,” he offered. There’s hope yet, I deluded myself. On the drive over, I imagined being seduced next to a pan of sizzling stir-fry.
When I walked in, there was no stir-fry. There was steak — his — and one beer, which he offered to split with me. He occupied the only seat in the vicinity of the kitchen, and with nowhere else to go besides the couch at the other end of the house, I stood awkwardly beside him, watching as he cut his steak into tiny choke-proof bits and dunked each piece into ketchup. He only kept enough food in the house for himself, he explained between bites. It wasn’t just his grasp of grammar that was below average. He had never learned how to play well with others.
As he finished, I wandered around. The TV was giant and obtrusive, but it looked inconspicuous next to his sound system. I made my way from the living room to the bedroom, where I found boxes of techno CDs, waist-high stacks of DVDs, and another TV. Where were the books?
I searched for signs of literacy as Bob flipped through the channels, lingering on the Playboy channel.
It wasn’t merely the absence of literature that was nagging at me, I realized. I scanned the room like it was a Where’s Waldo book, searching for the missing piece, and then it hit me. He was missing a bookshelf. Not only did he not own books. He hadn’t even entertained the idea of owning books in the future.
It was somewhere between my literary insight and his Chris Rock impression that I put the final kibosh on the possibility of any romance between us. As a writer, how could I date a non-reader? Sure, I may sound like a snob. But that’s just how I roll.