©2021, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.
I may be partly of Irish descent, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I wear the color green well. I'm also not terribly fond of Saint Patrick's Day, which has largely devolved into an excuse for the Irish and "Irish for One Day" to drink to excess. And then relieve themselves, sometimes right in the middle of a parade. Like New York's. I have witnessed this first hand. Yuk.
I did own one particular item of clothing which fits the category, a Bright Green cable knit sweater fabricated from one hundred percent genuine polyester, which I bought for a now-unknown reason at a store that was better known for blue jeans than for anything else. I would imagine that it was on sale, which was and still largely is usually a key component of many of my wardrobe purchases. When I remembered, which was not every year, I wore it on Saint Patrick's Day. And hardly anyone saw it because I hardly ever went out.
One year, I made an exception, not on the day itself, but the weekend following. My friend Ben and several other people he'd gotten to know were working at a local branch of Casual Dining Emporium, which served cheap-date meals, overly salty appetizers, and— mostly— various and sundry alcoholic beverages. Ben worked behind the scenes so he largely didn't need to put up with the excess consumption during St. Patrick's Day, or any other day for that matter. He also managed to score a rare Saturday night off, as did a couple of his co-workers, so he asked our little gang of friends from high school if we'd like to join him there. When I asked why he would want to go back to the same place he worked for a gathering, he mentioned that some of his friend's friends were coming in from out of town and that Casual Dining Emporium was conveniently located and easy to find. I couldn't argue with that. It was right across the street from a Major Shopping Destination and also was in the same parking lot as a Nationally Branded Hotel, to which Ben's friends' friends could easily walk, or perhaps stumble, after dinner. I felt that our little gang wasn't spending enough time together anyway, so I agreed to come out.
I didn't find out until I arrived that other than Ben, I was the only one from our local group that showed up. I was also a little late and was the final person to arrive. Ben did some quick introductions, and I quickly forgot everyone's names.
Except for his friend's two friends from out of town, Holly and Lauren. Looking back, I couldn't describe anything about Holly.
Even from her seat at the table, I could tell she was tall and thin. It's not apparent that I'm of Irish decent, but there was no doubt that she was: alabaster skin, long auburn red hair pulled back in a beret, just a few freckles, and, I swear, green eyes. She was wearing an emerald green button-down shirt with just enough buttons undone to tastefully reveal a gold camisole underneath. She clearly knew how to apply just enough makeup to make her eyes sparkle.
If I could have thought of a word at the time, it would have been "smitten." I couldn't think of anything except how instantly attracted I was to her. Numerous cliches applied all at the same time: my heart skipped a beat, I had to catch my breath, I felt a rush, et cetera, et cetera.
And how fortuitous that the only seat left at the table was diagonally across from her. I quickly grabbed it. Ben was even better off; he was sitting right next to her, with Holly at her left.
Unfortunately, though, between the multiple conversations which were hard to break into, and the constant music that played at too high a volume to encourage conversation (and therefore encouraged drinking) I could not get many words in edgewise, once my ability to form them into sentences returned. Those who know me might be surprised to learn that I am not always the leader in conversations. To this day, I sometimes genuinely enjoy sitting back and listening to others at dinners and other social situations. This was not one of those times. So I ended up mostly trying to contemplate Lauren without being completely obvious about it.
And then the music came into play.
"Wow, what song is that?" Holly asked excitedly. "I haven't heard it since high school!"
I tuned in to the speakers and quickly identified it.
"It's 'Really Wanna Know You' by Gary Wright," I replied, Naming That Tune. "His biggest hit was 'Dream Weaver.'" Actually, that was technically not true—it was actually "Love Is Alive" by a few Billboard Magazine Year End Survey Points—but "Dream Weaver" was no doubt Wright's signature song.
And "Really Wanna Know You" was quite an appropriate match to what I was feeling.
My response got the attention... of Lauren!
"Yes, I have the single."
"He's a bit of a pop music junkie," Ben reinforced.
"Yeah, like back when I said I'd made a list of the Ten Worst Songs of 1982 and you replied, 'Toto IV.'"
Lauren playfully smacked Ben on the shoulder. "I love that album! Bobby Kimball is such a hot singer!" Turning to me, she asked, "What's your favorite song on it?"
The two biggest hits from that LP were "Rosanna" and "Africa" so my answer was a bit offbeat. "'Waiting For Your Love,'" I replied.
"Ooh, good choice," Lauren replied.
The others had already ordered so the server came back to get my selection. I went with chicken fingers and fries, which I knew from previous visits was both not terribly sloppy and generally digestible.
"And to drink?"
"Ginger ale, please." I had to shout that above the noise and music, and it was noticed.
"Nothing stronger?" Lauren questioned.
"No tanks, ah'm driving," I replied in my drunk voice.
I was also the only one not drinking.
While I waited and was served, the conversations returned to the way they'd gone before, with me mostly out of them. I couldn't comment on the adventures of working at Casual Dining Emporium; my closest analogy was the six-month sentence I served in retail while in college. Horror movies weren't my thing either, and Ben had forgotten more about those than I would ever know. When my food arrived, I concentrated on eating it, which gave me something else to look at besides Lauren. The rest of the group was already finished eating and had settled down to some moderately paced drinking.
Two other times in the next hour or so, a song played over the speakers and someone tried to figure out what it was. Both times, I knew: "Dreaming" by Cliff Richard, whom I mentioned should have had a lot more hits in the United States than he did; and "Love Is In The Air" by John Paul Young, which was one of my favorite songs. That led to Holly speaking up about One Hit Wonders, a category that John Paul Young certainly fit. I didn't bring it up, and I wasn't the only one to name others that were and weren't One Hit Wonders, or to argue about that status. But somehow one of Ben's co-workers, who was sitting next to Holly, seemed to feel a bit threatened by this and thought to stake a claim by putting his arm around Holly while staring at me.
About a minute after that, Holly excused herself to use the Ladies' Room, and Lauren did likewise. As Lauren got up, I got a better idea of how tall she was. She moved around the table, past me and in the direction of the facilities. She had to be at least five foot ten. And she was wearing flat shoes, not heels. The reaction I had to her at first sight returned, and as a bonus, I felt flushed. From any angle, Lauren was simply gorgeous. The looks of the men she passed on the way to the restroom confirmed that I wasn't the only one who thought so.
The temperature of the room could have been a factor in my feeling warm. The place had become crowded and the collective body heat had made things uncomfortable. I got up for a moment, pulled off my sweater and did my best to drape it behind me. When that didn't work—it kept falling onto the floor-- I loosely tied it around my neck. Hey, it worked in fashion photography.
It took a while for Lauren and Holly to return. Ben had switched seats to talk to the co-worker who had "claimed" Holly, which moved Holly over to Lauren's right and Ben to Lauren's left. I noticed that Lauren had fully buttoned up the green shirt she wore and there was no longer any sign of the camisole underneath.
I looked without trying to look like I was looking at Lauren. She was occupied in a conversation with Ben. Ben's co-worker wasn't pleased about being separated from Holly but Holly did seem to be a bit relieved. I was once again not really conversing with anyone. As riveting as Lauren was, I didn't seem to have any way to get her attention. Perhaps it was just time to appreciate that I had the chance to meet her, however superficially, and call it a night. It wasn't getting any less crowded, and I wasn't feeling any less warm. And the sweater loosely tied around my shoulders didn't feel very comfortable.
Suddenly Lauren shivered. "Wow, I'm really cold," she announced.
"Are you OK?" Holly asked.
"Yeah, I just caught a chill."
Well, maybe I could fix that. "Would you like my sweater?" I asked loudly enough for her to hear.
Lauren looked at me and smiled broadly. She may have been cold but that expression certainly warmed my heart.
I stood up, took my sweater off my shoulders, and handed it across the table to her. She took it, touching my wrist as she did, stood up and gracefully put it over her head. Pulling her beautiful red hair through, she settled into the sweater, which extended a fair bit below her waist. She was tall, I repeated to myself. It would have come down to the knees of anyone I had dated up to this point.
And so the object of my rapt attention was wearing my sweater. How about that. Perhaps the night wasn't over after all.
But the conversations went back to where they were before. Lauren got quite invoved in one with Ben. There was plenty of laughing, eye contact and the occasional bit of playful touching as well.
My heart sank.
Ben's interaction with women was probably every bit as bad as mine, but couldn't it have been Holly who had been interested in Ben?
And wasn't it getting late?
Yes, apparently it was. The server arrived with separate checks for everyone. I paid mine, others paid theirs, and people got up to leave.
Holly made her way over to me. "We have a room at the hotel. Do you want to come back with us?"
"Yeah, a bunch of us are going to come over and hang out."
Oh. Never mind.
Meanwhile, Ben and Lauren, the latter still wearing my sweater, were on the way out the door.
"Sure," I said to Holly, "I'll come over." Although it was more to get my sweater back than anything else.
I was overheated from being inside Casual Dining Emporium for as long as I was, so I didn't mind the breeze blowing on what had become a rather overcast night. I thought I saw some of the other people heading for their cars and not for the hotel across the parking lot. I certainly saw the friend of Ben who was definitely interested in Holly heading toward the hotel.
And that was the entire group that came to "hang out." Ben and Lauren must have arrived first, then Ben's friend, then Holly and me. Five people, two beds, two women, three men. I kind of knew how this was going to turn out. I was going to be the perfect fifth wheel.
Ben's friend was already on one of the beds. Ben was already on the only chair in the room. Holly took up a cross-legged position on the other bed. That left me the floor; I did the best I could. It didn't help that the wall to wall carpeting was not enough to cushion the solid concrete floor underneath.
"Where's Lauren?" Holly asked.
"In the ladies'," Ben replied.
Several minutes later, Lauren emerged from the bathroom. I immediately noticed two things. First, she'd released her long hair from the beret and if she was not a natural redhead I couldn't tell. Just when I thought she couldn't look any more beautiful, the way her auburn locks framed her face and those green eyes sent me swooning again.
Second, she was still wearing my sweater.
And, very possibly, nothing else.
The term "coltish figure" seemed to be made for her. And so did the sweater, which covered her just a couple of centimeters more than what would be considered indecent. At least in public. Sitting on the floor, I was at eye level with the top of her legs, which were quite well-formed, like a dancer's. I was not only swooning, I was blushing.
"Hey, song guy, you came along," Lauren said, remembering that I had provided a few titles of popular hits back in Casual Dining Emporium, which already seemed like a hundred years ago.
And she proceeded directly to the chair where Ben was, and sat on his lap. I think Ben was as startled by this as I was disheartened.
"Yes, well, I don't think there will be any speakers blasting random music in this room," I replied dryly.
"You're so funny."
But funny didn't seem to be an attribute that interested Lauren very much.
I hung around a little longer, taking the time to accept the realization that I was not likely to get my sweater back that night.
"Well, it's getting late," I announced, using a line that Ben would understand. Our little gang meant that not so much as a message that it was actually getting late, but that someone was bored or tired of what was going on or the way a conversation is headed. The last time several of the others in the gang started ripping on Toto IV, I had invoked that phrase myself.
Ben asked Lauren if she would get up for a moment. She did and spread herself across the chair, bare legs hanging seductively over one arm. Ben accompanied me to the hotel room door.
"Sorry, man," he apologized quietly.
"Not your fault. Just try to retrieve my sweater."
"I will. Drive safely."
And with that, I walked out and quickly exited the hotel, thinking that perhaps the next sweater I could buy should be the yellow one with a diagonal black stripe... the one that Charlie Brown always wore in Peanuts. No woman would think to want to borrow that one.
The night had one final insult to deliver. In the short time that I had been in the hotel, the breeze that was blowing had become a strong wind, which was delivering sideways snow in prodigious amounts. Enough of it had landed on parts of the car, including the front windshield, to require a cleaning off—and I had neither a snow brush nor gloves. And, of course, I didn't have a sweater on either. I shivered violently all the way home.
Three days later, Ben called to apologize for two things: first, that Lauren had made a choice of her favorite male at Casual Dining Emporium before I'd even arrived, and second, he didn't have my sweater.
"She thinks that I was the one who lent it to her, and since I guess we're dating now, she doesn't think she needs to give it back."
"Great, it's been getting more attention than I am."
"Well, maybe it will be your lucky sweater."
It was another couple of months before I got it back, but I did. And no, it's not been particularly lucky for me since then, St. Patrick's Day or not.