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Greta

The first warning sign is that he says he works at Microsoft. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that he works at Microsoft (even though it kind of is). It’s that this is the first thing that he says to me. He’s been talking to Greta for a few weeks and has already told her this, even before he makes the reservations and offers to pick me up. I decline and tell him I’ll just meet him there, like I always do, and he warns me that he’s always early. But he arrives late, as they always do, complains about the table, and then tells me he works at Microsoft. “He’s a nice boy,” Greta had said, the glow of the laptop on her face like moonlight, turning her skin into smooth, hard porcelain. “He’s a nice boy and he has a nice job and he owns his own house.” It’s my own fault of course, for letting Greta fix me up with someone again. Greta, who sleeps with a stuffed penguin she calls “Mr. Nibbles” and still refers to guys as “boys”. Greta, who is afraid of thunder and thinks a two bedroom condominium is a reason to go on a date.

I see him before he sees me and he is pretty close to his pictures. Surprisingly so, in fact. That’s the problem with one of these things. Most people are nothing like their pictures and it’s not really even their fault. It’s got nothing to do with willful deception. When you put up a picture of yourself in a sexy green dress, head turned just so with the wine glass you were holding carefully cropped out, you’re not really trying to cover up a drinking habit or that unsightly mole you’ve always dreamed about getting removed. That picture of you in a green polo shirt at a picnic, holding a hot dog and laughing, has nothing to do with hiding how much weight you’ve put on since you started working a lot or how sad you’ve been since she left. Neither does it really even have to do with advertising. No, it’s more of a poem, a song, or a message. It’s an exercise you might do at a doctor’s office or in a self-help seminar. WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN TEN YEARS? You look at someone online, at the collection of words and pictures that they have put on display for strangers, and what you’re seeing is not a lie, but a wish. A desire. A hope. This is the person I was meant to be, is what you’re saying. This is the person I could be, if I could be rearranged. If I could be cropped, edited, airbrushed and spell checked. Underscoring this is the inevitable longing to be loved and adored, but the primary goal is to bring this other into existence: this better version of you. This improved and updated model. If there does exist a lie, it is that you are somehow not a part of it, that you somehow see through the bullshit, and thus, remain impervious to it. But really, the moment you upload a picture, or write about how you love to laugh, or even at the moment that you hit “sign up” you’ve already bought in. You’ve already agreed, with the world, that you will be a better version of yourself.

Or maybe I’m just stoned and it’s all a sham and you’re just trying to have an orgasm and we are all complicit in the lie that we are inherently good people. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to talk to this guy and try to make him like me. For Greta.

He is tall, as he stated in his profile and he has a lean, muscular build that hints at good genes and a youth spent running around on a field, catching balls in front of an audience. His hair is short and curly, the dark brown of stained wood that looks almost black in comparison to his pale skin. He has the kind of skin that doesn’t tan, but roasts into a burn at the slightest provocation. The only color in his face comes from two anxious spots of red that ride high on both of his cheeks, giving him a perpetually agitated look. His online profile photo was the inevitable wedding picture, him in a fashionable suit, his date chopped off at the arm, the photo in black and white as though a classic look implies a classic man. He faced the camera dead on, his entire face clearly on view, those angry red spots on his face like balloons. He faces the camera in all of the photos he sends Greta and at first I think it’s because he is an honest man and this is all he knows. After I meet him, I realize the reason is far less impressive. He simply does not know any better.

When he first sees me, nestled into the shadows of the restaurant, he gives me a nod, like a man acknowledging his foe, and heads in my direction, pointing me out to the hostess who scurries behind him to catch his answer to her question. It has been raining since 8AM this morning, and he is dressed in a grey jacket that repels the rain in small, round beads. His jeans are also grey, baggy and a size too large for him. He is wearing a t-shirt tucked into his jeans. The t-shirt has the word “Kinetics” printed on it and underneath that, it says “Solving Tomorrow’s Problems Today”. Underneath the printed words, there is a picture of a small dog with a bone in its mouth.

He says my name as a question, and then he goes “Ryan.”

And he sticks out his hand, emerging from the sleeve of his jacket like a watery worm. “Ryan Spencer,” he says.

I shake his hand and it’s soft and warm; thin and brittle, like cheap furniture. When I let go he points at the empty seat in front of me and says, “May I?”

“So what do you do?” he asks as soon as he sits down, holding his arms neatly folded on top of the table in front of him. I open my mouth to say something even though I don’t know what, but before I can produce a sound, he answers his own question.

“I work at Microsoft,” he goes.

“I’m a program manager there,” he goes.

“I also own my own company,” he goes.

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