[Photo by: @chrislinnett]
‘OK, I’ll just be myself,’ I say. I can barely hear my nervous voice over the Cuban jazz.
‘No, don’t do that,’ he says calmly. ‘Don’t be yourself, do the things I told you.’
‘This isn’t what I expected.’
‘What did you expect?’ he asks.
‘Something a little less professional.’
‘I take what I do seriously.’ He shrugs.
Cupid, he calls himself. At first I thought he was being ironic. But no. His real, legal name is Cupid. A pick up coach called Cupid. Come on.
I can sense you judging me. Don’t. I was in a dry patch. A long dry patch. Eight months without even meeting a woman I didn’t already know. Sixteen months since I had been on a date. Over two years since you know what.
I’m twenty-eight. Supposed to be in my sexual prime. Had to do something. Mates signed me up when we were drunk playing Mario Kart. Been in the calendar for weeks. Told myself I was going to cancel it. It was just a lark. But it got closer and closer. And now I am here. In a Cuban cocktail bar with a pick-up coach called Cupid.
‘So where’s your bow and arrow?’ I ask.
‘Not heard that one before,’ he says. Hollow eyes looking over the edge of his amber mocktail. He looks sad but determined. Like a world war one field marshal who knows his men are going over the top soon.
The eyes are the only part of him that look his apparent thirty-six years. His head is covered in floppy, sandy curls. Cheeks flushed pink like he’s posing for a school photo. Slim black suit hanging on him like a cape. Casual, button-down shirt patterned with little wings and hearts.
‘Bow and arrows went out over a hundred years ago…’ he mumbles to no one after a sip of his Old Fauxshioned.
He’s good at this though. I can’t believe it actually works. In the last bar he approached five groups. ‘You need to see it works,’ he said. He came out with three numbers and no outright rejections. With no drinks bought. No waiting till the one he wanted was alone. No drunk, fumbling moves on the dance floor. Just conversation and cajones.
We moved bar to freshen up the ‘targets’. Now it’s my turn. But I don’t have a slick suit and shoes. I have an ill fitting, fake Polo Ralph Lauren cardigan and nervous sweaty pits. I don’t have the boyish looks hanging over that mid-thirties liminal cynicism. I look like I’m twenty-eight going on forty-eight. Like I’m captain of the school chess club. I have the twitching disposition of someone who hasn’t touched a woman for two years.
But he’s telling me I don’t need any of that yet. He’s telling me, ‘You just need to approach. And fail. And realise you won’t die.’
But I can’t. He tells me to be outcome independent. ‘Just start a conversation. That group of five women over there.’ He tells me not to worry about where the conversation goes, ‘Just ask them who lies more, men or women. Don’t think about getting their number, don’t think about trying to kiss them. Just get used to starting conversations.’
Kissing a woman? I don’t remember how. All I know how to do is sweat and stare. The group leaves before I can approach them.
He points to another group. ‘You don’t like that opener?’ But it’s not the opener, it’s me. ‘We can try something else. Ask them if they think it’s possible to fall in love in one night.’
I saw him use that earlier, get into a full argument with a woman about the nature of love and then ask for her number and get it anyway, even though she was still red in the face from arguing. ‘I’m only giving you my number to convince you you’re wrong,’ she said.
But I can’t move. This group finishes their drinks and leaves too while I’m still thinking how I can possibly start a conversation with a throat this dry.
‘There’s another way we can try?’ He tells me. Thank fucking Christ. I can feel my pits closing up. ‘Harsh but effective I’ve found.’
‘Yeah, OK,’ a touchless two years weighing on me. What could be worse than that? Well, the embarrassment of failing tonight could be worse than that.
‘Turn to face me,’ he says. I spin on the bar stool. ‘Don’t look down.’ I don’t but I feel the unmistakable weight of a pistol’s muzzle pushing into my crotch. ‘Like I said, I haven’t used a bow and arrow for over a hundred years. Now, if you want to keep your dick, use it or lose it, simp.’