As part of a monthly series of stories from the First Person Arts podcast, NewsWorks presents this story from Philadelphia writer and teacher Andrew Panebianco. Because of a wardrobe miscalculation on a humid Philadelphia spring day, a second date that starts with ice cream and hope — and "the vague suggestion of sex" — goes terribly awry.
Stories are chosen from FPA story slams, where storytellers are challenged to deliver a true five-minute tale about their lives, based on a theme, in front of a live audience, and without notes. This story was originally performed live as part of the fall grand slam in 2011. The theme of the night was "in stitches."
Click the audio button above to hear his story. A transcription follows. [Audio production by Kimberly Haas.]
My first date with Jen went really well. It was charming conversation over drinks. And it was punctuated with a nice, somewhat dizzying kiss. And so I was excited about our second date.
We had planned to meet in the city. And we would get ice cream — which is cute. And then we would get on bikes and bike 40-some blocks to her house, where, in her words, we would "just see what happens."
So, uh, good date — because it starts cute and coupley and ends with the vague suggestion of sex.
So I'm getting ready, and I decide to put on my favorite pair of pants. It's a pair of corduroys. I know some people don't like cords. I like them. I teach college to justify the amount of corduroy I own.
And I'm ready to go. I step outside — I'm going to catch the train — and I step into what is unmistakably soup. It is so humid, you need gills to breathe. And it's like a bisque. And it's April — a couple of years ago in the Philly area there was this absolutely, like Old Testament, like angry God heat wave. And my brain says to me, "We should probably go inside and change our pants." But I don't listen to sensible information, and I just ended up getting on the train.
So we meet, and we get ice cream, and it's lovely, and she leads me to the bikes. And I remember that I haven't been on a bike in 15 years. And the whole "it's as easy as riding a bike" thing is theoretical for me. But I decide: Screw it. So I get on the bike, and I'm biking.
Here's the thing. I'm an inside cat, and I don't like the sun. I don't see the big deal, I don't. It's a big, scary terror ball, and I don't like it. So I stay inside when it's bright out, where it's dark. I have the vitamin D deficiency to prove it. (I'm not kidding.)
For the first 10 minutes, I'm doing good. I'm not even breaking a sweat. And then at Minute 10, all the sweat that I'm not sweating falls out of my face. And my legs decide to swell. I would say "to the size of sausages," but if they were giant mutant sausages, that would be my legs. And I really begin dying.
So I'm riding along, and Jen just disappears. She wants to show off, so she's gone. She's a blur on the horizon. And I begin the slow, protracted death of what is riding my bike.
I'm pale, but I start to ged blotchy. I start to bloom with little red patches. And I'm wet. And my legs are really wet. And there's this vvp, vvp, vvp, vvp of the corduroy. And the only reason my pants didn't explode into flame because of the friction is because they were soaking up all of my body sweat. I look like a shelled lobster tail on a bike, basically.
And we stop at a red light and Jen stops and looks at me and she goes, "Are you OK?"
And I'm an idiot. My response is, "Pffft... I'm fine. It's fine." But I'm so hot, it's cold.
She realizes I'm not going to say I need to stop, so she points at this house, this big Victorian house — we're in University City at this point, and there's an open house. And she says, "Why don't we go in, and we'll pretend like we're going to buy it. And you can get a glass of water."
So we go in, and this chirpy, friendly, little realtor lady in a canary yellow blazer comes, and I don't even talk to her. I just kind of leadenly shove past her. And I just stomp into the kitchen. And I see the sink. It's got one of those spray hoses, and I just grab the spray hose, and I just ffffshhhh on to my face, and I go "uuuuuuhhhhhh wet!"
And I hear Jen in the background, like, "So, how many bathrooms?"
And I hear this throat clearing, and I look and it's this yuppie couple, and they're looking at me stricken because I'm this melting lobster man. And I'm still spraying my head. And I want to say something witty and clever, but all I can manage is "'S hot out there!"
So, long story short: We get to Jen's house. And I plop on her bed. And she looks at me and she says, "I think this is so sweet."
I said, "Wha—?"
And she said, "You did all that just to be with me."
And I thought, "You idiot. I just didn't want to die in the street. I wanted to die in a bed like a human and not like a dog."
So she looks at me and she goes, "You know, you look really hot. I ought to go get some ice cubes." And she stops at the door and she turns around and she looks at me and she says, "I just have to ask you one querstion. Why didn't you wear shorts?"
So, yeah ... Jen's not the only one who wants to know. What's up with the cords? We caught up with Andrew Panebianco — many second dates later — to see how he's coping with temperature regulation and his wardrobe.
Why don't you like to wear shorts?
I've begun to relax my shorts policy as time has gone by. But I still maintain that they make men look like giant children. There's just something inescapably silly about a man in shortpants. Which is, admittedly, a bit of a shame ... because I have surprisingly shapely calves for a guy who only runs when he's chased.
How do you cope with Philly summers if you don't wear shorts?
This story took place a few years ago... when I didn't have central air. Now I do, and it's glorious. I honestly can't tell you how much I love stepping into an air conditioned apartment. It's a little envelope of heaven. At the time of the story, though, back in my 20s, I survived solely on a window unit in my bedroom. I'd just go sit by it like a little desert lizard hiding under a rock.
What did you like most about teaching English?
I adored teaching. I got paid to sweep around a college classroom and talk about poetry all day. I got to wax profound and talk to teenagers about love and death and history and culture.
People tend to see intro-level literature to be just one of those miserable things you have to tick off as you go through college. But I honestly feel it's one of the most important things an incoming college student can study.
To consciously step into the experience of characters written hundreds of years ago — to sample the worlds they inhabit, to live in their experience ... to see the innumerable similarities between yourself and them ... it exercises your ability to empathize. Empathy is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. And as far as I'm concerned, we could all stand to gain from that.
Andrew Panebianco is a writer at the Philly ad firm Brownstein Group. Prior to that, he inflicted piles of Romantic poetry and Shakespeare on a decade's worth of college kids. He received his MFA in creative nonfiction from Antioch University Los Angeles, he is a four-time grand slam storyteller with First Person Arts, and he is the author of nearly 200 definitions to words that aren't but should be. Read more at wordsthatarent.com, and follow him @fancywhitebread.