The young woman who exited the Three Needs bar and approached my taxi was no shrinking violet. Taking full advantage of one of the few warm nights we'd had this spring, she was dressed in a skin-tight, backless dress, vibrantly revealing wide swaths of her chunky frame.
As she stooped to lower herself into the shotgun seat, her tremendous bosom nearly burst free of its flimsy constraint. For some reason, this moment brought to mind the collection of nude self-portraits a photographer acquaintance of mine once shared with me. Stunned and agape, I admired the row of poster-sized, full-frontal images he had mounted along the hallway of his Church Street apartment. At some point he caught my attention, and I was jarred to see him grinning from ear to ear, slightly maniacally. He announced, "I call this series 'Free the People.'"
"Hi," the young woman said. "How's your night going?"
I appreciate when customers ask me this. Sure, it's merely a social nicety, but still. "Just fine and dandy," I replied. "Where we taking you?"
"Oh, I guess just back to Winooski," she said with a weary sigh. "I don't know what happened to my friends. I just can't seem to reach them. So, Bellevue Street, please."
We turned on to Pearl Street and motored through the student district. Spring break had just ended, and the streets were blooming with excited, chatty UVMers. Such a beautiful sight, I thought to myself. I really do appreciate the college kids, although, at this point, I doubt I could sift out my true motives. That their youthful energy enlivens Burlington is beyond question. But if they weren't always hailing cabs, I don't know if I'd love them with quite the same fervor.
"Hey, could we stop at Pearl Street Beverage?" my customer asked. "I want to pick up some of my favorite wine."
"You got it." I pulled into the store's parking lot. She returned five minutes later with a paper bag in one hand, her cellular in the other. The conversation had clearly been underway for a couple minutes when she reclaimed her seat and we turned back on to the street.
"C'mon, Larry," she said into the phone. "You said, like, tonight would work for you if I could make it. Well, I can make it tonight. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
The generally clueless middle-aged cabdriver eavesdropping on this call sure understood what she was saying, so there was no doubt Larry was likewise reading her message loud and clear. I guess this was, technically speaking, a booty call.
"Wait, just wait - would you please?" she continued with her side of the conversation. "Please don't tell me you're tired. Grant me, like, a modicum of respect. Is that asking too much? You know what I have with me? I have a bottle of Little Penguin. You know, that Australian Chardonnay we had that last time?"
I was starting to feel bad for this woman. When a seduction is failing, you have to let go of the project before humiliation takes hold. But what a new world, I thought. It used to be the guys doing all the begging. Now it can go both ways. I guess that's good. To be honest, in the last decade or so, I think I've lost track.
"OK, Larry, OK. Yeah, right - next week."
My seatmate flipped her phone closed, slumping in her seat, her look of frustration laced with disappointment. "I don't know why I bother," she said, kind of to herself and to me at the same time. "There must be something wrong with me."
"You kidding me?" I jumped in. For some reason, I wanted to cheer this woman up. It must have been the dress. It has to take some guts and verve to prance around the downtown clubs in an outfit like that when you aren't model-thin. I dug the moxie. "Man, if I was 20 years younger, I'd jump at the chance for an evening with you and a bottle of Little Penguin. He's just not the right guy, that's all. You need a man who can really appreciate you."
"Oh, jeez - you are so sweet. I don't think you really meant it, but, like, that's still nice of you."
"C'mon," I said. "What do you do for a job?"
"I'm a hair stylist," she replied and named the salon where she worked.
"Well, this is what I'm talking about. That's just about the top hair place in town, so you've got to be really excellent in your work. And you're a good-looking woman to boot, so you've got a lot going for you. You see what I'm saying?"
"Yeah, I know." She smiled. "You sound like my dad now."
"Well, your dad is a very, very smart man. You should listen to him."
We pulled to a stop at her apartment on Bellevue, and my customer paid up. As she opened the door to get out, I noticed what looked like red and green lights emanating from her feet. "Man, that's cool."
"You like them?" she said, getting out and lifting one of her feet to show me the shoes. "When I move, the soles have built-in lights that sparkle. Kinda cheesy, but I liked 'em."
I watched her walk to her door, sparkling with every step. We all have built-in lights, flashed in my thoughts. But how many of us switch them on? Poor Larry just doesn't know what he's missing.
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