Hook loves to brag, “I almost didn’t get a second date!”
If it hadn’t been for the wheat gluten, he may not have. Neither Hook nor I were the common 20 to 30-year-olds when we met. I was 42 and Hook was 53. His balding head was losing hair follicles by the dozen and my body was sprouting new follicles in places I do not care to describe. That we are opposites is no surprise to those who know us, but we are also alike in the most organic of ways, and that organic part began with wheat gluten.
The First Date
Allan spotted me on campus, our common place of work at the time, a few months after I’d started working at the university. He’d asked around and found out that one of his colleagues knew someone who knew someone who knew me. Around the same time, I’d been told by a friend of a friend that someone was making inquiries. Once I learned it was Dr. Hook doing the asking, I figured it was just a matter of time before he made his interest known. I waited but no Dr. Hook.
I’m sure a more liberal woman would have just picked up the phone and asked him out. But I’m a closet conservative so I was going to need to invent a reason to contact him. The thing was, Allan taught traditional, undergraduate biology students while I career counseled working professional students mostly in graduate business programs. I counseled the occasional undergraduate student but rarely were they biology majors. Then one day a colleague asked if I knew which employers were actively hiring biology students. That seemed a legitimate reason to pick up the phone and call Dr. Hook. I left a detailed voice mail explaining who I was, why I was calling, and when he had a moment would he please call me back.
Now, when I tell this story in person, I like to exaggerate and say that I had barely put the phone back in its cradle when Allan showed up on the threshold of my office door. Since I don’t want to embellish, let’s just say at least ten minutes passed between the time I left my voice mail message and what appeared to be a slightly winded Dr. Hook standing in the doorway of my campus office. He walked in, sat down, and propped his feet up on my desk and repeated back to me the question I’d asked on the voice mail. When I saw the side of his shoe on my desk, I couldn’t help but widen my eyes and smile with the thought, Who does this guy think he is? He immediately started talking about biology-related employers which I paid no attention to until I remembered my made-up reason for calling him. I thought I’d better at least pretend to write down some of the things he was telling me. When we’d exhausted that part of the discussion, we started talking about (I no longer remember) and next thing I knew, I was asking him to give me three adjectives he would use to describe himself.
Allan did not like that question at all. I saw what could only be described as a smirk show up on his face as he looked me in the eyes and said, “Old, ornery, and obscene.”
I laughed out loud. This guy is a hoot! What I didn’t learn until months later is that Allan was annoyed at what he perceived to be “a marketing question.” It was a common question I asked of my graduate students as a way to pull from them what they believed to be their greatest strengths, in essence, how to market themselves to employers. Except, this guy in my office, this old, ornery, and obscene man with his feet propped up on my desk was not going to put up with ordinary questions from a commoner. But even my marketing question wasn’t enough to annoy him into forgetting what he came over to do and that was to ask me out on a date.
“So, do you want to get drinks sometime after work?” he asked.
Well, that seemed out of nowhere, but Allan was done with the conversation and wanted to move on to more important matters back in his office.
“Sure,” I said.
“When?” he asked.
Apparently, small talk was over. We agreed on a Friday in the future. We met, we had a drink, actually, I had two drinks – two pints of beer in fact — to kill the pain of our conversation which wasn’t an actual conversation but more me asking questions as Allan sat with his head bent over and mumbling into his salad. This must be the old of old, ornery, and obscene. Halfway through the date, I decided I would not be going out with him again. We didn’t have enough in common and whoever had shown up in my office a week and a half ago was not the same man who showed up for this dinner.
How to Get a Second Date
The day after our date, I received a looong email from Allan, the length of which he has never written to me again in the last five years. He thanked me for the date, said what a nice time he’d had and that he had stopped by the store to pick up a bag of wheat gluten and would I like him to drop it off at my office. What is he talking about? Wheat gluten? Then finally, Oh my God he remembered …
Somewhere between pint one and pint two, I’d asked Allan how to get rid of the dallisgrass weed in my front yard. I’d read something about using an organic alternative like wheat gluten, and since he was a biologist, I figured he must know something about that sort of thing. I’d completely forgotten we’d even discussed weeds and gluten, so for him to remember then to actually follow-up and buy some wheat gluten for me was quite impressive.
I sat there thinking, Wow he was paying attention. In the email, Allan said he’d drop the wheat gluten off at my office or if I wanted, I could stop by his house. He’s insane. I am not going to his house. And then after I’d researched his address which he’d offered in the email, I realized, he’s only a mile from campus! Since I was driving 45 miles round trip every day to work, and since I must have whined about this during our date, the good professor cleverly offered up his logistical attractiveness to our place of work.
To keep him from dropping into my office again, I mentioned something in my response email about meeting up at an art function the following weekend. He could bring the coveted wheat gluten then. Now why I did not say I’d pick up the wheat gluten from his office, I do not remember. Except, as I started to recall bits and pieces of that first evening, I remembered a part of our conversation that stumbled into the area of ‘what do men want?’
Allan said with clarity, “That’s simple.”
“It is?” I asked as I sat up to attention.
“Yes,” he said. “Men just want women to be happy.”
I remembered feeling disappointed with that answer; it seemed too simple. But as I typed out my response on the keyboard to his email, I couldn’t help thinking two things: He listened — and — He’s trying to please me. There was something genuine about the offer of wheat gluten, especially since he didn’t actually believe it would make the dallisgrass disappear. He’d bought me a bag anyway because it meant something to me.
When we met at the art function a week later, Allan seemed different, more relaxed somehow. He told me later, “I was just so happy you agreed to a second date.”
“But it wasn’t a second date,” I said. “I just wanted the wheat gluten.”
“Yeah,” he said, “but I didn’t know that; to me, it was a second date.”
Well, it did end up being our second date because we stayed at the function for several hours looking at all the different artwork. He engaged in the conversation and we laughed a lot. I learned he was a wine drinker more so than beer which surprised me given his affinity to plaid shirts. Allan saw bugs in all the abstract watercolors while I looked for people in the acrylics. Even though I didn’t initially see insects in every piece of artwork, once Allan pointed out how to look at something differently, sometimes I could see them.
Afterwards, as he walked me to my car, I thought: There’s depth to this man. Then as I turned to face him, he snuck in a lightening fast peck on my lips.
“Oh” was all I could think to say.
“Do you want to go on a nature walk tomorrow?” he asked.
“A nature walk …” I repeated, because I was a bit flustered. Did he just kiss me?
“There’s a place where I do some work,” Allan said. “I could take you on a nature walk there.”
The Nature Walk
No one had ever taken me on a nature walk before. I wasn’t even sure if I knew what a nature walk was, but I’d enjoyed myself at the art event so I agreed to meet him the next day at UT’s Brackenridge Field Lab. When I arrived that Sunday, Allan walked me inside the facility, showing me parts of the enormous insect collection full of pinned wasps and moths, butterflies and beetles. There was also a disturbingly large ant mound that gave me the heebie jeebies but which I found myself asking questions about. Then he led me over to the tropical butterfly tent which was a huge blue tarp draped over a greenhouse area with butterflies flying over our heads.
“Wow” was all I could think to say as I stared upwards with my mouth open while watching all these colorful insects fluttering around and around. The tropical part of the butterfly tent was owed to the Costa Rican butterflies that were visiting. Allan said there were Texas butterflies, too, like the Zebra Longwing, the Tiger something and a bunch of other iridescent beauties. From the butterfly tent, we exited outside to a dirt trail where Allan pointed out grapevine and cypress and pecan trees and elms. Surely I’d walked by grapevine a thousand times in Austin but until that day, I’d never really seen it. My ignorance and obliviousness to nature astounded even me. Further along, he showed me a man-made pond full of squishy things that was being used for an ongoing study of more squishy things.
Halfway through our walk, we found a log and sat down side-by-side to share a large Honeycrisp apple. I took a bite then Allan took a bite then I took another bite and so on until the entire apple was gone. I felt shy all of a sudden and worried if I looked okay so close up. But Allan was so comfortable with himself that I started to feel perfectly fine, and I forgot to care whether my hair was too big (it usually was), or whether my forehead was too greasy (you could fry an egg on that thing), or if any apple bits had wedged in between my front teeth.
Our nature walk was on a late January afternoon which would normally be jacket weather. But that particular day, the winter air had warmed so Allan was dressed in blue jeans and tennis shoes and a white t-shirt with pictures of bugs on it. I was bundled up in worn khakis with a navy blue hooded sweatshirt assuming, I guess, that I was going to be mauled by biting insects or something. Allan had on his head a weathered white baseball cap with a blue flap which sat pushed back on top of his head. He carried a long stick in his left hand so that each time he described something to me, he could point to it with the stick.
We didn’t always walk together, sometimes I was trailing him. At one point, when he stopped to show me some cypress trees, he was positioned underneath a canopy of leaves from the live oaks on either side of the path. Their branches reached across the trail to touch one another. Allan stood facing me, smiling, waiting for me to catch up, and I couldn’t help thinking, He’s just a big kid and this is his playground.
Later as we continued to walk, he ran up to what looked like a circular bundle of dark green nothing hanging high from a branch. He poked it with his stick and said, “It’s mistletoe.”
“That’s not mistletoe,” I said as I laughed. I thought he was egging for another kiss except it really was mistletoe. For some ridiculous reason, I thought mistletoe started growing the day before Christmas Eve then died right after New Year’s Day.
“It is!” he said then he began to explain how mistletoe grows.
The more he talked, the more animated his face became, and I finally understood. So this is who he is. He was in his element, at his best, enthralled to be sharing this world of nature he obviously loved with someone who obviously understood so little of it. He was thorough with his descriptions, generous in his sharing, and I began to fall in love with my future husband as he explained mistletoe to me.
Allan eventually gave me the bag of wheat gluten many dates later, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to use it. I’ve been holding onto it, treasuring it I guess. When we were planning our wedding, I thought about dividing it up and placing it inside glass centerpieces for the tables, then realized that was too weird even for me.
But this is our story, how two incredibly opposite people came to be. My husband is not old but he is ornery and he is obscene and I love him.
Thank God for wheat gluten.