I got out of bed around 10 and walked down to the gas station to buy a newspaper and a coffee. Remember newspapers? It was a cool, clear February day. Back at my apartment, I flipped through the help wanted ads at my desk. Postal Workers needed. Sell tools from home, big $$$$! Laborers needed. Taxi drivers needed, be your own boss!!! Etc.

“I’m getting too old for this shit,” I said to myself.

I was 40 and had been going gray since 25. I still had a little color left. At first, some girls said they liked the bits of gray, like I had come in from the cold with chips of ice in my hair. I assumed they were being nice. My ex-wife Jeannie never said she liked my gray hairs, as she watched them sprout on my chest, arms, and face as well my head. In fact, she once bought me a box of hair dye. Just for Men. I never used it. That was close to the end. On our last night together, I told her I didn’t know why it was taking me so long to grow up. I told her you’d think with all this gray hair, I’d be more mature. It was one of those things you regret saying for the rest of your life because it was so pathetic.

I got ready and went to a job interview I had set up the day before. Some kind of sales position; I wasn’t sure. Seemed like the kind of job where they’d hire anybody who walked in the door. I took the bus. I found the address, a little hole of an office building. This was before cell phones and GPS and all that stuff. Well, maybe some people had them, but I didn’t. Three Mexicans waited in the little entry room when I got there.

“Buenos dias.”

I peeked into a couple of offices. No sign of life. A McDonald’s food sack sat on a desk in one of the offices, with a packet of French fries to the side. It seemed to me that none of this had very much to do with life, with the true vector of being human. Somewhere, a telephone rang several times and then stopped.

I sat down on a blue plastic chair and waited with the Mexicans. Finally, a small, wiry guy with a gray beard came out of a door and looked at us. He was wearing a black shirt and a tie. The whole thing seemed absurd, but that was business.

Mr. Graybeard took the Mexicans into an office for an interview. All three of them at once. In ten minutes, they all shuffled out again. They looked a little happier than before. Then he called out.

“Matt Glasford?”

“That’s me.”

I raised my hand. I was the only one there.

He looked at my jeans and discount store jacket.

“Thanks for dressing up,” he said.

I sat down in front of the desk. It was an “import-export” business, he said. He paid cash at the end of each day. He didn’t ask me if I had any questions. He told me to come in on Monday to “shadow” one of his “best guys” for a day, to see if I was right for the job. He claimed they imported thousands of items, including toys and knick-knacks. He didn’t have any samples on hand, but the idea was I was supposed to sell them. I was supposed to care enough to try to sell them. He told me to wear a tie and show up at 9 a.m.

I took another bus to the Golden Nugget. I wondered who could loan me a tie. It was early and not many people were there. Sally was bartending. Sally was in a good mood, which happens about twice a year. She was 28, with long blonde hair and an ass that could make the pope cuss.

“How’s it goin, Matt?” she said when I sat down at the bar.

“Pretty good,” I said. “Why are you in such a good mood?”

“It’s Valentine’s Day, silly,” she said.


Sally was dating another bartender who worked there, Perry. It was a cute arrangement, the way they both worked at this bar and made all this cash money and were both young and good looking and lazy and kind of stupid and thinking they had it made. They’d been dating for two years. Envied by one and all. They seemed to have everything you could want. Their relationship was like a goddamned blueprint for happiness.

“I can’t wait to give Perry his present,” Sally said.

“You buy presents for each other on Valentine’s Day?” I said.

“Of course,” she said, “Jesus, now I know why you’re single.”

“What’d ya get him?”

“I got him a ninja sword, it’s awesome,” she said.

“Is Perry a ninja?”

“No, silly,” she said. “But he’s really into swords; he’s been collecting them since he was a kid.”

“He never mentioned it.”

I had known Perry for years. I had been a regular at the Golden Nugget long before Sally ever entered the picture. In fact, I had known the bartender who Sally had replaced, Jim, and also the bartender before Jim, a guy named Rudy, who poured a long count but was kind of thick in the head.

“The damn thing cost 119 bucks, but it was worth it,” she said.

“Where’d you buy it?”

“The mall.”

She walked away to take care of a couple of new customers. Then she came back. She looked up at the clock.

“Perry is going to come and pick me up, and we’re going out to dinner, and then we’re going to my house to exchange gifts.”

Her eyes glazed over dreamily. I finished my drink fast just so she would have to walk away and make me another.

Perry arrived, smiling and talking with that voice that sounds like he took a mouthful of beer and didn’t swallow. He was all dressed up in a leather jacket, $200 shoes, hip and slick from head to toe. He kissed Sally.

“I’ve got to do my till,” she said. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

“Sure,” Perry said. “I’ll just have a quick beer.”

Perry poured himself a beer and sat on a stool.

“What’s up?” I said.

“Oh, this fucking Valentine’s Day shit has got me crazy,” he said. “I mean, I hate being pressured into buying a present. And then I never know what to get.”

“I hear ya,” I said.

“Whatever happened to flowers and a note or something?” Perry said. “And candy? What happened to fucking candy?”

“Preaching to the choir, buddy.”

“I was at the mall all day today, and I just about gave up,” he said. “And now we’ve got to go out to dinner at god damned Anthony’s; those motherfuckers didn’t even give me a call when I applied for bartender, fuck them. Food sucks, too, and talk about expensive. But Sally wants to go, so.”

“What’d ya get her?” I said.

“Some kind of back-massager thingamabob. She’s always getting backaches, you know, and she’s always wanting me to give her back rubs, and sometimes I just don’t feel like it, so I thought this thing might help take some of the load off. $140: she better like it.”

“She told me what she got you.”

“Whatever it is, it’s got to be better than what she got me last year.”

“What was that?”

“A fucking samurai sword,” he said.

I coughed.

“A sword?” I said. “Why would she do that?”

“Last year, she was bugging me to take her home to see my mother. So, I did. Big mistake. Anyway, she saw my old collection of swords. I used to collect these swords when I was a kid. I only had five, I think. It was just a dumb thing, a long time ago. I told my mom to sell them. I never even learned how to use them.”

“A sword, geez.”

“Is that anything to buy someone for Valentine’s Day?”

“I’m not really an expert.”

“So what did she get me?” he said.

Just then Sally bounced up.


“Yeah, sure,” Perry said. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

After that, I drank for a long time until nobody wanted to sit by me. The night bartender, Kaleb, called me a cab without asking me, and I got one of those drivers who just wants to talk and talk.

At my apartment, I called Jeannie. Don’t drink and phone, don’t drink and phone, I thought, but I did it anyway. She didn’t answer, which was common. I left a message on the machine. Remember answering machines?

“Hi, it’s me…just wanted to say happy Valentine’s Day…I hope you’re doing good…I miss you.”

Maybe she was out. Maybe she was with somebody. After three years, the thought, and the images that came to me, like her legs spread for another man, still tore at my guts.

I made some scrambled eggs with mayonnaise and ate them standing up staring out the back window. I thought about myself as an old man, cooking for myself, cleaning for myself. Sometimes I’d have a slip in the bathroom and I’d think: that’s why people don’t want to grow old alone, they don’t want to fall onto the floor and die like that, with no one even to call the hospital. I knew it was more than that, but that’s what passed through my mind.

I lay down on my bed and turned on the TV. It was not very late, still prime time. The Olympics were on, the winter Olympics. Salt Lake City, 2002. 20 years ago now. It hurts, this wishing to go back. Men’s ice skating was on. Jeannie always watched ice skating and I learned a lot about it, came to recognize the names and faces and styles of the contenders. I learned the terminology and acquired a certain appreciation for the sport. I even found myself enjoying it. Shame, I know.

A male skater in a sparkling purple bodysuit skated around the rink, around and around, and my head started to spin from the booze and the eggs and the cigarettes and everything else. I didn’t know who he was and the letters on the screen were blurry, but he was good. His circles got tighter and tighter until he was spinning like a top and I lay there trying to keep my head from flying off. A professional ice skater can spin faster than a fan blade. The crisp slicing of the ice, bits flying like wood chips, sparks and galaxies behind my retinas.

The phone rang. I couldn’t stand up. The machine answered it. It was Jeannie returning my call, which surprised me, because she never returned my calls or responded to my messages. It was her voice, the same voice I’d heard for 16 years, but sadder. At least that’s the way it seemed.

“Hi, it’s me…I was out when you called, just with some friends…you didn’t sound too good on your message…I hope you’re taking care of yourself…pick up if you’re there…okay, then…good night.”

That was the last time I heard her voice, the last message I sent her. It wasn’t planned that way; it just happened like that. I guess it was time. My stomach lurched and I vomited on the floor. In Salt Lake City, the spectators were throwing flowers onto the rink, and everybody was crying except the judges.