From BIG TIME
published by Penguin Random House, March 2022
The Adventure of the Mistaken Right Swipe When I glance over the pages I’ve devoted to my adventures in the dating world, I’m faced with so many strange and peculiar incidents that it is difficult to select one as the most unusual. There is, however, one episode so remarkable in its particulars that it bears special mention. This strange interlude began, if I’m not mistaken, on an inclement winter’s night, when my friends started bugging me to get on Smush.
You see, Tia and Steph had been riding me about getting back out there ever since I broke up with Rob, but the idea of condensing myself into a couple of pictures and a two-line bio felt gross and overwhelming. So one night, they came over to my place, got bombed on Franzia and made me a profile.
With the hard part over, I couldn’t believe how easy it all was. I swiped left on the first couple of guys I saw: a guy with a crazy long beard, and another whose pictures were all of him rock climbing. The first guy I swiped right on was this cute, academic-looking 32-year-old in a tweed blazer. He was wearing a hat that was definitely a “choice”, which gave me pause, and I wondered what kind of a name Holmes was. But his apartment was full of books and had a working fireplace. I decided he was at least worth meeting in person.
That Thursday we met for a drink. Right away, there were red flags. First of all, it was obvious he’d used old pics. He looked way older than thirty-two. Also, he had a friend with him. Yeah. So right away I’m like, sorry, not my thing. But he just said, “It’s not like that. He’s my roommate.” (So you lied about your age and you have a roommate? Jackpot.) I decided to just get the date over with, so I knuckled down, took a gulp of my drink and asked him what he did for work. He told me he was a freelance homicide detective. I tried to keep a straight face, but he must have noticed something, because he said, “I detect…that you want to leave.” I laughed. I mean, he was right. And it actually broke the ice. After that, I started to have a really good time.
It turns out freelance homicide detective actually is a job, and he’s super good at it.
He told me about a few of his recent cases: one where he recovered some compromising letters for a copper heiress, and another where a man killed his Indian manservant in a rage. The police hired him regularly as an expert consultant. I thought that was pretty cool. For background: my ex-boyfriend worked as a Party Motivator for corporate gigs and bar mitzvahs. So you can understand why I was intrigued.
By my second Aperol Spritz I was having such a blast I was ready to suggest grabbing dinner, but all of a sudden he stood up and said he had to go meet a divorced woman about a pearl. That was a turn on. I mean here’s a guy with real shit going on. Again, I guess that just shows how low the bar was for me at that point. Anyway, he left quickly but Watson stayed a little longer, taking care of the check and saying that Holmes would be in touch.
The first time Holmes and I had sex, Watson was there. He was reading a book called “New Techniques in Wound Drainage”, but we made eye contact a few times.
Holmes definitely knew what he was doing. I liked how focussed he was, how much he paid attention to what I was into. I told him I like it when guys talk during sex—so when he put his mouth up to my ear, I was like, hell yeah—but then he just told me he’d deduced I played the cello and had once lived on a boat. He was right, and ordinarily I would have been really impressed; it’s just that he was also inside me at that point. Overall, though, he was a really generous lover. Super into oral. I asked him how he was so good at it, and he replied modestly that whatever skill he had was acquired after perusing a monograph on the Anatomy of the Pygmy Female.
It wasn’t completely smooth sailing in bed, however. Like, I’m almost sure he never came. At a certain point he’d just pull out and start taking notes. The first time, I asked him if everything was ok, and he nodded, took out a magnifying glass, and examined my vagina for forty-five minutes. But he seemed pretty happy with that.
And I tried sexting him a couple times, but we never really found a groove with it. Like this one time, I sent him a picture of me topless—and then followed it up by texting, “can you deduce what I’m thinking about (wink emoji).” After several minutes, he replied, “No. Any deductions drawn would rely on mere speculation.” I gave him one more chance, a layup. I spread out on the couch, stuck my hand in my panties and sent that—but he just texted back, “Based on visual evidence in your immediate environs, I deduce that you’ve recently mailed a letter.” So that was the end of that experiment.
But as dense as he could be at times—he could also be super thoughtful and just, well, unexpected. He stayed ahead of you. It was exciting. Take that day when I was home sick from work. Holmes knew I was super-stressed about this presentation I had to give to our investors on the West coast, and two days before my flight, I came down with this awful virus. So there I am at the apartment, sick as a dog, trying to work. And I get a knock on my door, and it’s my super, Gabor, this old Romanian dude. He says he has to look at my kitchen sink because there’s water damage on the ceiling below me. So I’m like, sure.
Gabor goes to the kitchen, and I stay in the living room, camped out on the couch with my laptop. A couple minutes later he comes out with a tray of steaming chicken noodle soup and I’m like, oh my god, Gabor, what?! This is too sweet of you! And then he sets the tray down and starts doing this little twirl, and he keeps twirling and twirling—and it’s Holmes! In a wig and some kind of nose prosthetic, and a lot of fake moles. It was extremely impressive, except that in the moment before I knew it was him, I started to scream because I was thinking, “This is how I die, Gabor is going to murder me and and probably eat my body.”
Once I stopped shaking, though, I realized that it was super sweet and spontaneous. He surprised me in other disguises, too—once he was the sushi delivery guy, and another time he was this middle-aged Turkish electrician who actually fixed the track lighting in my hallway. Sometimes we’d even spice it up, and he’d leave the costume on. There was definitely a memorable night when I slept with a Caribbean Jehovah’s witness named Theresa — I ripped off her wig as I was riding “her” to reveal Holmes in ecstasy.
And then there was an even more memorable night, when I seduced Darvin, the Time Warner guy. I had just assumed he was Holmes—but when I pulled his dreds, they didn’t budge. I never mentioned that one to Holmes, but if he ever found out, he really couldn’t blame me.
It all went up in flames when my parents came to visit. Even though it was super new, things were going so well with Holmes that I invited him to join us for dinner. He seemed really touched when I asked him. That night, he presented me with a monograph entitled, “Upon the Distinction Between the Varietals of Ink”. The dedication page said, “To Sarah—a woman who needs no ink to add color”, with a little smiley face. I made a big thing of displaying the book on my mantle, but honestly, I was disappointed. I mean, we’ve never talked about ink once. I don’t have any strong feelings about ink, one way or the other. It seemed like it was just a gift for him, you know? But at that point I was just like, cut him some slack, let’s see what he does for my birthday.
In the days leading up to my parents’ visit, Holmes seemed relaxed enough. But then when we were actually on the subway headed over to the restaurant, I could tell he was nervous. He kept fiddling with the chain of his pocket watch and tapping his pipe against his leg. He’d obviously just done a huge amount of cocaine. I hated when he used. But was it a dealbreaker? Again, my bar was low. Anyway, when we got out at Christopher Street, he abruptly announced that he had to go work on something.
“What is it this time, babe?” I straightened his scarf and kissed him on the cheek, trying to just be normal, calm him down. “A pearl?”
“No,” he said, his wheels turning, clearly buying time. “It’s…The Case of The Amber Brooch.”
“Nice try. You solved that one last week. Don’t you remember telling me about it at Sweetgreen? The boatswain did it.”
He reddened. “Ah. Quite so, quite so.” He wiped his hand through his hair. “I’m kind of really fucking high right now.”
“It’ll be fine,” I said, squeezing his hand. “They’re going to love you.”
We walked over to Ladle and Fork, a quiet farm-to-table restaurant I’d found in the West Village, and saw my parents seated at the far end of a communal table. My dad excitedly waved us over.
“Honey! Sit down, sit down!”
He gave us bear hugs as my mom clapped her hands in delight. She leaned into Holmes conspiratorially. “So. You’re the mysterious Holmes!”
Holmes was sweating. A lot. I tugged his scarf playfully, and gave his knee a reassuring squeeze. He didn’t answer, so I chimed in. “Yup!”
My dad gestured to the line of strangers seated alongside us at the table. “I guess these one-big-table places are pretty hip right now, huh? In my day, we used to call this a soup kitchen!”
My mom elbowed him playfully. “Oh, Rich.” “I’m just saying, if this is what you’re into, there’s a Salvation Army three blocks away. You could save me a lot of cash!”
“It’s elementary: You had a homosexual relationship in college,” Holmes began, his eyes trained intensely on my father. “Your brother died in an automobile accident and you have a secret family with a JetBlue flight attendant named Natasha.”
My parents stared at Holmes. My mom looked down and started fiddling with the fringe on her blazer.
“What in the living fuck?” I hissed into Holmes’s ear.
Holmes trained his eyes on me, visibly concentrating as he spoke slowly and deliberately.
“It’s elementary: you’re mad at me for the things I just said about your dad,” he began.
I turned to my parents and tried to laugh off the moment. “Sorry, guys. I guess he’s just nervous. That’s insane!”
But when I looked back at him, my dad was just taking a somber sip of his beer. Mom was staring down at the table, suddenly looking really tired. Finally, my dad spoke.
“Natasha has advanced Lyme disease,” he said. “Having a child certainly wasn’t the plan. I tried to break it off, but when she got pregnant, it made her feel like she finally had something to live for.” He looked away then, trying not to cry.
We sat in silence while I waited for him to say, “Just kidding.” When that didn’t happen, I swiveled over to my mom.
She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “No marriage is perfect, honey.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I looked around the restaurant at the other diners, still laughing, talking, going about their evenings. That’s when I noticed Watson sitting at the end of the table reading a treatise on the properties of ether. We made eye contact, and I glanced toward the bathroom. He nodded.
He was waiting for me inside the handicapped stall with a little sink. I grabbed onto the porcelain and stared hard at my reflection in the mirror. “This was such a huge mistake.”
Watson pulled me in for a hug.
I sobbed into his shoulder. “My dad has a secret family. With a woman who has advanced Lyme disease.”
“Even late-stage Lyme can be treated with antibiotics,” he murmured, swaying us gently. “As long as it’s given intravenously, Natasha has the same shot at survival as—“
“I don’t care about Natasha’s fucking survival!” I yelled, breaking out of the embrace.
Just then, a woman stepped out of the middle stall. I couldn’t see her, but she sounded older, and I could see she was wearing orthopedic dress shoes. “I’ve lived with Lyme for twenty-nine years,” she began. “And let me tell you, it hasn’t been a picnic. But with the help of my doctors and family, I’ve flourished. With the right treatment, so can your friend.” We were silent as the woman washed her hands quietly and left.
I looked at Watson.
“Fuck her,” Watson said.
I nodded. “Well, what the hell am I supposed to do now? This night is beyond screwed.”
Watson sighed. “Just give him a chance. I’ve never seen him as nervous as he was on the way here. He obviously really likes you, he’s just spectrum-y.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t think he actually had autism.”
“Are you serious? They guy has an encyclopedic knowledge of blood spatters but he doesn’t even know you love Frasier.”
I laughed. “How do you know I love Frasier?”
“You always put it on when you’re getting ready for bed. And when you laugh, you get this little dimple in your right cheek.”
There was an awkward pause as the implications of that sunk in, but frankly, I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with it.
“Anyway,” I said. “This is a disaster. I mean, I’m thirty-two. If my dad has a secret family, at this point I don’t even want to know.”
He nodded sympathetically. “Totally. But, look, Holmes’s relationships never last long enough to meet the parents. He’s just new at this, he’s trying to impress them, and he’s stumbling.”
I zhuzhed my hair in the mirror, trying to get ahold of myself, then remembered.
“Hey, do you have a tampon?” I asked.
“I do, actually,” he said, reaching into his vest and handing one over.
When I got back to the table, Holmes was gone.
“Your friend went outside for a pipe,” my mom said. My dad’s eyes were red. He had obviously been crying.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. “You have a half-sister. Her name is Madeleine and she’s eight and she wants to be a biologist.”
My parents and I sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Holmes rushed back into the restaurant, carrying his violin. He leaned into my ear.
“I’m cleaning this up,” he whispered, touching the bow to the strings. “Trust me.”
Holmes started playing the familiar, doleful melody that I recognized as Wagner’s Faust Overture, the music he put on during sex.
My parents listened politely, but it was obviously getting him nowhere, and he knew it. When he got to the second movement, he put down the instrument and ran a hand through his hair.
“Great Scott!” he said, feigning inspiration. “I’ve just realized a flaw in my deduction: Mr. Weinbaum, you don’t have a secret family. So it follows that you didn’t have a homosexual relationship in college, and you’re not 90,000 dollars in the hole for your ceramic rabbit addiction.”
The mom of the family next to us at the communal table perked up.
“You didn’t say anything about a ceramic rabbit addiction the first time.”
Holmes loosened his scarf and visibly gulped.
My mom glared. “So that’s why I couldn’t get the loan for my catering business?”
My dad was staring at a groove in the table, silently imploding. Finally, he lifted his head. “I am not in control,” he said, his voice unsteady. “And I need a lot of help.” He bit his lip, but he was on the verge of more tears. I reflexively looked away and hated myself for it. Jesus. What the hell were we all going to talk about now? I had a hundred questions about my dad’s second family, about the emotional toll that’s taken on my mom, on him—how often does he see my half sister? And where the hell was he holding $90,000 worth of ceramic rabbits? I was emotionally overwhelmed.
“You guys watch Succession?” Holmes asked.
My mom picked an olive from the little bowl our waitress set down a while ago. A few beats passed in silence. He continued.
“Took a while to warm up, but once it got going, hoo boy.”
“I think you should leave,” my mom said, finally looking at him again.
“Quite,” Holmes said, clearly hurt, but trying to play it off. “Quite. I’ll see you soon,” he said to me, giving me a peck on the cheek. Then he grabbed his phone, swung on his cape, and walked quickly out of the restaurant.
To my parents’ credit, once Holmes was actually gone they looked at each other and, god bless them, laughed a little. Man, that was a relief. I even joined in. I mean, I was still shell-shocked from the News, and of course it was depressing that my “boyfriend” turned out to be a disaster. I’d obviously have to end things. But I could already see that this night was going to make an epic story.
My dad rubbed my mom’s back and when the waitress came by a little later and started reading off the specials, we actually listened. It felt sort of insane to stay and eat, but at the same time, we were hungry, so what the hell. When I asked if she could repeat the risotto special, she suddenly she started to sputter and cough—then double over, hacking up something. My dad moved behind her to give her the heimlich, but then she threw off her scarf and stood up tall. Holmes was wearing another nose prosthetic and a lot of foundation—he had disguised himself as a thirty-something Korean woman—but it was clearly him. I looked over at Watson, who was motioning for his check and giving off a very clear “don’t involve me” vibe.
My parents just stared. A young Asian-American couple who happened to be seated further past down the table stared too. “Not cool,” the husband said. “A fair conclusion,” Holmes replied, wiping his face off with a napkin. “But entirely immaterial to its effectiveness as a disguise.”
“WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” I shouted, finally losing it. I’m really not one to make scene. I’m not a big yeller. So I think it was scary for Holmes to see me go to eleven. I was disgusted. Mainly with myself, for making such a rookie mistake. How could I introduce my parents to a guy I had just started seeing a month ago? What kind of move was that? And what the hell was he trying to do with the waitress bit? It was all pouring out of me now. “YELLOW FACE? YELLOW FACE WILL MAKE IT BETTER?”
Now it was his turn to lose it. His face got all splotchy and he slammed his hands into the table. “What is this, a seminar at fucking Oberlin?” My parents looked at me then like, whoa, we hope you aren’t serious with this person. Holmes pulled back quickly and wiped some more makeup off his face with the back of his jacket. “Sorry. Sorry. That’s not me,” he muttered. My dad started peeling bills out of his wallet, and tossed a few on the table. Holmes nodded back towards the kitchen: “So, should I put in the risotto for you?” I stared at him, agog, as he refilled our waters. My parents were already standing, holding their coats.
I turned my mom. “How about I meet you guys for breakfast at the hotel?” They nodded, and I motioned for the check. In the cab home, as I watched Holmes dart out at a red light to collect a soil sample from a nearby flowerbed, I reflected on our time together. Yeah, we had fun when it was just the two of us. Or, rather, when it was just me and “Theresa, the Jehovah’s Witness” or when “Mayor De Blasio” came canvassing door to door. But that wasn’t enough to keep a relationship going. I don’t want to be with someone that I have to take care of in a group. If a simple dinner with my parents was too much for him to handle, the writing was on the wall.
As we got closer to my building, Holmes casually mentioned that he’d been reading more monographs on the anatomy of the Pygmy female—that’s how oblivious he was to the damage he’d done. When we got to my place I told him I just wanted to be alone.
I texted him the next morning that we’d jumped into everything too soon, that I needed more time to get over my ex. I wish he’d written back something weird, to make it easier, but all he texted was, “I understand.” I offered to bring his stuff back—the monograph on inks, some of his wigs, a napkin where he’d written “warships of the future” with a bunch of diagrams—but he said I was welcome to keep them. I threw them out that day.
Sometimes Holmes texts me, just to stay in touch, I guess. Usually they’re deductions. On my birthday he deduced that I’d had a good time at ABC Cocina—which I assume he saw on my Instagram. Once he just texted, “pearl handle”, which was weird. (Was he reminding me of our first date? Or did he mean to send that to someone else?)
I did end up going on one date with Watson. It was weird. First of all, he’s married. I had no idea. He said keeping it open is the best thing they ever did for their sex life, which was a lot to dump on me on a first date. The other thing was, without Holmes there, we didn’t have a lot in common. We just ended up talking about his knee surgeries. He’s had like nine of them.
After that, Tia and Steph gave me an ultimatum: no more old guys. But when I joined Bumble, I couldn’t help swiping right on this distinguished dude with wild hair and a dark, editorial overcoat. His vibe was very All Saints, very dark and purposeful. Yes, he was over fifty—but he said he owned his own business. And I wouldn’t mind talking to a sugar daddy for a minute. “Okay, Ebenezer,” I murmured as I DM’d him a simple “hey” with a smiley face. “Let’s try this.”
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