“Beauty” and the Self-Proclaimed Beast

This guy was a musician, but not your “I play music on the weekends at bars” type of musician I had become accustomed to while living in Nashville for a short while. I’m talking “professional, full-time musician with photos on a massive stage before massive crowds and amazing lighting bouncing off his long hair and epic beard while shredding an electric guitar which accented his great forearms” musician.

Is it weird that I notice strong forearms? Probably.

He not only played the lead guitar but was also the songwriter for his group, and (shockingly, eh?) I love me some good writing and introspection.

We started exchanging messages, which escalated to long emails, and finally voice-on-voice action during my weekend drive to and from Pennsylvania. All round-trip ten hours of my drive. I don’t see red flags apparently – I was smitten. This dude got me. We were totally on the same wavelength while coming from completely different backgrounds.

He had travelled the world with his band, spending a significant amount of time in Eastern Europe, Germany and Greece, where their fan-base was most concentrated. He had rubbed elbows with lots of recognizable names but never seemed overly impressed with himself – he was just a person doing what he loved who happened to be in the company of other people doing what they loved – NBD.

We bonded over our common ground and excitedly exchanged details on interests that were new territory to the other. We participated in healthy political debate. We told each other about our families. So much information was exchanged over the course of 5 days – in hindsight, entirely too much information. We both acknowledged it was a bit weird but, hey, we were both okay with it and never ran out of things to discuss. Wasn’t that a good thing? We were both foodies and decided to check out a new-to-both-of-us spot for our first date.

When we started talking about writing, I mentioned that I had done a little blogging. Nothing major, just toyed around with the hobby here and there, never really committing to any one project as I seem to have spurts of obsession and eventually lose interest in world-domination via my Topic of the Month.

“Care to share?” he asked.

My ego swelled – fuck yes I care to share! He wanted to take time out of his day to read my thoughts? To acknowledge the work I had poured blood, sweat and tears into over the past several months? The last guy I had dated while actually working on that piece hadn’t even asked the name of my latest blog, let alone read it. I told him where he could find my latest project and we continued on to other topics.

We made plans to meet up the following week and I was more excited than I had been about any of the past dates I’d been on in a while.

The Pre-Date Pessimism

I was feeling exceptionally hawt a couple days before our date and shot a selfie over to my new pal. A grin spread across my face as the sincere and not-over-the-top compliment of me being “a beauty inside and out” came my way.

And then – then I got the return selfie. Gone was the sexy stage presence. In its place appeared a man who had clearly advertised himself with decade old photos. This supposed 43-year-old looked closer to my father’s age. His once-glorious brunette beard was grayed and scraggly, now coming to long points on either side of his chin. His formerly beautiful head of hair was thinning quickly around the sharp features of his face. His tired eyes told the story of someone who had been through a hell of a ride – in more ways than one. My fantasy of Chris Robinson at his peak had been replaced by a member of ZZ Top at present.

I stared at the phone in disbelief. Why? Whyyyyyy?! Who was this person? It wasn’t solely his appearance that threw me – it was the complete lack of self-awareness from this sensitive and introspective individual that smacked me in the face.

I lamented to my girlfriends over wine on the back patio. “I’m being shallow,” I sulked, tossing my phone in defeat for inspection and confirmation that things had taken a turn for the worse.

My friends examined my phone quietly, looking from the photos to me and back to the phone.

“Look, maybe with a little beard grooming and some general maintenance – ” my best friend’s attempt at shining some sun on this dismal situation was silenced by seeing my eyes flash both hope and hate in her direction.

“Are you still going to go?” asked my other friend.

I released a hefty sigh. “Yes,” I attempted to say with confidence and conviction. “Worse case scenario I have great conversation over an awesome dinner, right?”

The Date

As I stared into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror putting the final touches on my mascara, I tried to reflect excitement back at myself on The Big Night. You connected with this person. You were stoked three days ago. Get it together.

I rolled down the windows of my car on the ride through the countryside, blaring some poppy Top 40 to get my head in the game. The first few bars of Coldplay’s I Want Something Just Like This began playing and I winced, remembering when I had told my pending date that it was currently my favorite song, failing to take its context into consideration.

“I love it,” his reply email had read. “I’ve just listened to it five times. And I do want something just like this.” In the glow of new connection, I had written off the cheesiness of the comment and smiled. I flipped the channel to 80s on 8 and woefully allowed Whitesnake to serenade me.

Here I go again on my owwwwwwwn …

I called to let him know I was running a few minutes behind and when I pulled up to the restaurant he was waiting out front, with sunglasses, a big smile, and a gift bag.

A gift bag?!

He had been there for a half hour already. He crossed the parking lot entrance with a strange, swooping wave of his arm, and as he turned I saw the back of his head. Not the back of his hair – the back of his gleaming, bald head surrounded by a crown of elbow length strands, which cascaded around his shoulders and down the back of his faded black button up, which was tucked into faded black denim atop black sneakers which looked suspiciously orthopedic.

I waved quickly and swung into the back parking lot, pulling to a stop and slamming my head back against the headrest, staring at the roof of my car.

Dinner, it’s just dinner. 

I hopped out of the car and gave him a quick hug.

Is that patchouli?

Stop it, I scolded myself. Stop being a superficial bitch.

As we walked into the restaurant I became increasingly aware of the eyes that followed us to our seats. I suggested we sit at the bar, as bartenders are often my involuntary buffers on first dates. The good ones can sense when you need an interruption and/or distraction, immediately bringing levity to an uncomfortable situation.

We sat down and I greeted our server a bit too enthusiastically, hoping for an instant friendship and an understanding that he would now be the third person on our date. He glanced around and met the eyes of the others working behind him, silently confirming that it would now be a group effort to get through the evening. God bless good bartenders.

I studied the five entrée menu intently – over and over – while he chattered away happily at what a great match we made and how much we had in common. I held up my end of the conversation with the occasional sideways glance toward my dinner companion so as not to be rude and completely avoid eye contact.

As he continued to chirp away, I subliminally started to sense a familiarity to his words. Then it struck me. They weren’t his words. They were my words. I looked over at him no longer hearing him speak, rather hearing my own internal voice parroted back to me as I painstakingly reviewed and edited various blog posts prior to pushing the publish button in WordPress. I don’t remember the context in which he weaved quotes from three different blogs, an ebook, and my published resumé, only that they were recited back to me verbatim. He had read and nearly memorized every piece of writing I had put out on the internet. No longer did I feel flattered and excited, but stalked and nearly violated.

I started at him in disbelief, and as I looked into his eyes it struck me that they were so very sunken into his skull it was quite possible that he had willingly traded sleep for my writing over the past six nights straight.

While proceeding to inform me about my own personal affinity for new notebooks and how they “equate … a clean slate for me … it’s not just paper – it’s space for infinite possibility … ” he presented me with my gift bag that had been looming on the barstool next to him since we sat down. Inside were two items: a box and a notebook.

Sweet Mother of God.

He first urged me to open the box, as the notebook was clearly the grand finale. I uncomfortably protested that any gift whatsoever was not necessary, but was instructed to open the box anyway.

Inside lay a gilded rose – not a rose made of gold, but a legitimate rose hand-dipped in gold accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. A previous conversation regarding my childhood dream of someday having a ginormous library complete with ladders like Belle’s in Beauty and the Beast raced through my mind. I know that I visibly cringed as I touched the rose gingerly. Here he was – my real-life, self-proclaimed Beast.

He then removed the notebook from the bag himself and discarded the packaging behind him. Every single server and patron in the restaurant was eagerly awaiting the next gift, while simultaneously pretending to ignore our spectacle. He opened the notebook and handed it to me. Why had he opened it? Well, for me to read the inscription, of course.

Every story begins somewhere – here’s to ours. <3, [signature] [date]

“You really shouldn’t have,” I insisted, unconsciously pushing the items back toward the bag from which they had emerged.

“I know it seems unusually quick,” observed my Beast, “but I think we are an unusual case.” He stared at me and his beady eyes pierced my soul. I was absolutely terrified by their intensity. Where in God’s name was our food?

Dinner arrived and provided a welcome distraction. I engaged our server at every opportunity as sides and main dishes arrived and were sampled separately.

WHAT is in this amazing macaroni and cheese? OH, GOUDA! YES! That is DEFINITELY the distinctive flavor.

What’s that? Harissa? And how to you make that?

Oh, FASCINATING.

Tell me about this amazing building!

It’s all original? I need details on EVERY beam supporting the ceiling.

As soon as we finished eating I looked out the window and saw a downpour in the streets. Fucking sweet – there can be no parking lot lingering in the rain as we part ways!

I threw my credit card at the server, insinuating his certain death should he allow my date to pay and increase the indebtedness already provided by my gift bag. We paid our bill and I jumped out of my bar stool, stretching obnoxiously and proclaiming my need to walk to my car so as not to fall asleep after my delicious and filling meal.

He stood and gallantly maneuvered my bar stool around me, waving me ahead of him with a slight bow that would rival any knight of King Arthur’s table. Several dinner guests that had filed in after us stared as we made our way to the exit, but I barely noticed as I was being crushed by quickly dissipating precipitation.

As we stepped outside I attempted to say goodbye within sight of the other customers; alas, my chivalrous Beast insisted on walking me to my car.

“So are you just heading home?” he asked, hopping from one foot to the other, plotting what I was sure was a goodnight kiss.

“Yes!” I squeaked. I cleared my throat. “Yep, I have an article I’m working on and need to knock it out before Thursday [blah blah continue lame excuse of a complete lie] … “

“Well, thank you for the wonderful evening,” he said with another cartoonish bow. He swept my gift bag forward, head still bowed, and I gave him a very quick hug as he rose slowly. I (carefully) threw the bag across the driver’s seat of my car, leapt in, waved through the window, and peeled out, checking my rearview mirror every quarter mile until I reached the Highway Outta Hell.

As I sped down the road on autopilot, the clouds from the brief rain had parted ahead and what do you think was there mocking me?

Ding. My phone alerted me to an incoming message which flashed across the screen mounted to my dashboard – “Note the [rainbow emoji].”

I closed my eyes briefly and expressed my desire to the universe to be over that rainbow with the clouds from this date far, far, far behind me.

The Plate

8 oz. medium-rare Filet Mignon topped with Harissa sauce and accompanied by the most amazing macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had – made with a blend of five cheeses including a delicious gouda. The head chef will be happy to explain the recipe in great detail should you so desire. Did I mention my date was now sober and therefore I felt uncomfortable drinking wine in front of him? No alcohol was consumed during this meal. Props to the entire staff for their support and assistance in this adventure.

The Whole Ox, 8357 W Main St, Marshall, VA 20115

From the website: “The Whole Ox is an old-fashioned, full-service butcher shop specializing in whole, local foods from your neighbor’s farms. Our meats are raised ethically on pasture without the addition of hormones and antibiotics. This service provides healthy options for our community and supports our local rural economy.”

Yelp Rating: 5/5

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