I Love You, Toby Fishbein
Toby Fishbein? Yes, I remember her, even after all these years. You don't forget a girl like ol' Toby Fishbein. I know. I've tried.
You know that feeling you get when you’re sucked into the engine of a turbo Boeing 747 just as it’s getting revved up, and all at once your guts are yanked right through every pore of your body in a gelatinous goop? That’s the way I felt when I first saw Toby on the corner of 5th and Winthrop Street in a soaking downpour waiting for the 43 bus one stormy Friday last August. Her hair lay in wet ringlets over her nose and she looked like a soggy sheep dog. From that moment I knew that I could not live another minute without her.
“Would you like to come under my umbrella?” I asked, sharing the same puddle in which she stood.
She looked at me and wiped a wet strand of hair from her eyes. “But you don’t have an umbrella.”
“I have one at home,” I said. “We could go get it.”
“Listen,” she added without a trace of a smile. “I’m cold and I’m wet, and if this is your attempt at a pick-up, I repeat, I’m cold and I’m wet.”
Of course she was cold and wet. Any fool could see she was cold and wet. But I could play her game.
“Well, so am I!” I answered. “What are the chances of something like that happening to both of us? But I believe everything happens for a reason. Take this rain, for example. There’s a kind of truth in the rain, don’t you think? Your eye make-up is dripping into your nose and you look pretty awful spitting strands of hair out of your mouth. And forget personality. This is the real you. Admit it, you never would have been this obnoxious to me on a sunny day.”
She looked at me as if I had just mugged her grandmother. “Listen. I really make it a point not to talk to psychopaths, regardless of weather conditions.”
This was my cue that introductions were in order. I extended my hand, and she looked at it as if I had offered her a fistful of spiders. But I enjoy a challenge. “My name is Barry Blinderman, and if you tell me you’re married or engaged I might have to throw myself in front of that bus you’re about to miss,” I said as I waved the driver on.
She spun around just in time to see the 43 bus pulling away on my signal, splashing a wall of water into her face as it went.
“Damn! Oh, damn! That’s great! That’s just perfect! There won’t be another bus for an hour!” she said, spinning back toward me. “Thanks. Thanks a lot ...”
“Barry,” I repeated. “You’re welcome. And you’re ...?”
“... leaving!” she answered.
And so we went for coffee. Well, actually she went and I followed her. She ducked into this little coffee shop called Moxie’s off Winthrop Avenue, the kind of place that had been constructed for the sole purpose of welcoming young lovers from out of the rain. After she had taken a few sips from her cup she calmed down enough to tell me her name was Toby Fishbein, that she really meant no disrespect, but that I was beginning to give her a headache and she could not be held responsible if suddenly she broke out screaming. She promised that if I would go away immediately she would not call for the police for at least three minutes after I had left.
I decided to make it easy for her. I called a nearby police officer over and instructed him that this woman at my table had made me an offer I simply could not accept and that she had a complaint she wanted to register.
It might have been raining like crazy outside, but when Toby smiled after I said that, inside Moxie’s the sun shone brightly.
Of course some of that sunshine dispersed a little when Toby then asked the officer to escort me from our table. She politely declined his suggestion that she press charges. It didn’t help at all when I offered to pay for his doughnut.
Just like Bogie and Bacall ...
“It was nice talking with you,” I called to Toby as the man in blue tugged at my elbow. “Can we have dinner together sometime?”
“When pigs learn to tap dance,” she answered.
Then there is hope, I thought.
I believe in the power of love. I believe that if you love strongly enough and if your love is genuine and unwavering in its devotion, then eventually that love will be returned. That’s what I believe. It’s a pretty good theory, too, although so far it seems to work only with dogs.
Time is a slow mover when you’re away from a loved one, and it seemed to come to a dead halt while we were apart. But I had waited long enough. I made the call.
“How did you get my number?” Toby asked when I rang her up ninety-three minutes after I had left her in the coffee shop. “It’s unlisted! It’s always been unlisted!”
“I know,” I explained, “But I figured that if you took the 43 bus then you must live in Riverdale, and so I stopped into the Riverdale High School year book office on my way home and I checked all the year books from the last ten years. There you were, right in the class of ‘88. You know, those braces really seemed to do the trick ...”
“Oh, God!” she shrieked. “You’re one of those stalker types, aren’t you? I’m going to wind up featured on Rescue 911, I know it. Oh, please, please tell me you’re not a serial killer. I’ve had a bad enough day. “
“Toby,” I assured her, “If that’s what you think this is all about, then you can just forget my marriage proposal. I mean, you might want to get to know me before we discuss ritual killings. What do you say?”
“Then you’re not really an axe-wielding maniac?”
“Hell no. Well, actually my mother is into Satanism. But I’m a shoe salesman.”
“Oh God, Oh God.”
I was beginning to break through. I could feel it.
“So, you busy tomorrow?”
For some reason she began to laugh hysterically. “Me? Busy? No, of course I’m not busy. Why would I be busy? A million eligible men in this city, premed students, future lawyers, maybe even some decent men’s room attendants with promising futures. But do they find me? Do they know that I live, breathe, that I have a zip code? Do I attract anyone who is allowed to walk the streets without a weekend pass?...”
“So, you busy tomorrow?”
For a moment she said nothing. It was the kind of silence that just lays there like a lummox waiting to be poked or maybe fondled. Finally she said, “Okay, Barry. You win. I’m too tired to drag this out. We’ll meet in the afternoon when there is sun, for one hour in a public place, and then only if you promise me you’ll never -never - bother me again, never will see me again or talk to me again, never will breathe the same air that I breathe. There’ll be no touching and I have the option to run off screaming any time after the first three minutes. Okay, yes, God help me, I’ll go out with you. Oh God, Oh God.”
The power of love. See what I mean?
Okay, so you’ve probably figured out that I’m a pretty romantic guy. I’ve seen “Titanic” forty-seven times.
I’ll never let go, Rose. Hey, you wanna see me spit ...?
I’m flying, Jack! My dress shields are flapping in the wind!
But I don’t really go in for your traditional walk-on-the-beach, sit-by-the-fire interludes. I mean, I know my limitations, and I fall a little short of Leonardo. Anyway, I prefer my first dates to be a bit less predictable, a bit more avant-garde, something that carries my personal stamp, something that says ‘Blinderman has been here’, ipso facto, ergo, e pluribus unum ...
I got us tickets to see Kid Bomber wrestle the Maniac Twins from Cincinnati.
I also called American Aviation Sky Messages, Inc. with specific instructions regarding what I’d like Toby to see written high above downtown Westchester, above the area not far from the arena around 5th and Winthrop where we shared that special moment together in the rain. But true romance does not come cheap. A single sentence cost me almost a week’s salary. I knew it would be worth six days of wrenching women’s feet into shoes three sizes too small if I could bring that smile back to Toby’s face, if only I could find that secret combination of words that would make her mine.
As it turned out, I didn’t do very well with that smile thing. Meeting at the arena seemed fine with her, but going inside was something else. During the match when the Bomber had the short twin in a powerful half-nelson, the bruiser behind us with the skull and crossbones tattoos spilled his beer directly on Toby’s head. When I told her how the smell of barley is considered an aphrodisiac in parts of Tunisia she suddenly lost all interest in the outcome of the match. Until that afternoon I had no idea a woman in short heels could move that quickly.
“This is a mistake, you are a mistake, my whole life is a mistake,” she muttered as she tried to flag a cab, simultaneously squeezing beer from her hair. “And If you come any closer to me, I’m just warning you, Barry, I carry mace in my hand bag.” She hadn’t stopped walking the entire time.
“Okay, so you’re upset. I can see that your shampoo doesn’t mix well with a Heineken. But can I just talk to you for a minute?” I don’t know what made her stop dead in her tracks, but she turned to me right there on the street. She looked at me as if she were drowning and I had just offered her an anchor.
“Tell me something,” she said so loudly that three people turned as if she were about to make a public speech. “What is it that you could possibly do that would make the slightest difference? Offer me money? Throw yourself in the path of a passing truck because you believe that in bloody death there is truth? God, whatever it is you want from me, I can’t deliver it. I’m not what you think I am, whatever that is . You don’t even know who I am and you act as if you can’t last the day without me.”
The realization hit me like a bag of wet nickels.
“You’re right, Toby. I can’t.”
And there it was, plain and simple.
Toby looked at me as if she had expected a punch line, but I didn’t offer one. The fight in her disappeared, and she sighed.
“Listen, Barry,” she began. “It ends here, okay? I’m not what you think I am. You’ve got this image of me that I can make whatever is empty in your life suddenly full. I can’t do that. Don’t you see? It’s like what happened to us in the rain yesterday. We both got soaked because neither one of us had an umbrella.”
“I’d give you mine,” I told her. “I’d give you every umbrella I ever had for the rest of my life, and if we ever got caught in the rain together, then I’d bring the rubber ducks! One for each of us!”
For a moment Toby flickered that smile at me, but it disappeared quickly when the plane passed over-head and she noticed people on the street looking skyward. Her mouth simply opened, but no sound came as she read the words filling the summer sky.
I Love You, Toby Fishbein ... Look for Me in The Clouds
“I guess you got that part right,” she said. She flagged a passing cab and as she got in she turned to me. “I’m sorry, Barry. I really am.”
I watched the cab pull away. I stood there until I saw it weave its way out of sight, as if Toby had told the driver there was an extra fifty in it for him if he could do warp speed. My feet felt nailed to the sidewalk. Although I knew I couldn’t stand there forever, the thought did have some appeal. I took my first steps toward the bus stop, my first steps into a life without Toby Fishbein.
That’s when I first noticed Francine Wilkinson standing on the corner ...