“Tish,” the other replied, shaking it.
“Did you get a drink?”
Tish gestured to her mug. “I did.”
“Well then, let’s get on with this.”
Karen dug through her messenger bag and brought out a clipboard and a mechanical pencil.
“First off, thanks for responding to my ad. Before we get started, I’d like to make a couple of things clear.”
Tish raised her eyebrows quizzically.
“This is not a date,” Karen said. “This isn’t even coffee. This is an interview. I’m fishing.”
“Fishing?” Tish’s voice was uncertain.
“Look. I’m just not that flexible and I’m having a hard time finding a woman who can swim with me, you know? I don’t think I’m difficult, in fact I think I’m one hell of a catch, but I haven’t met anyone I’ve wanted to keep. I keep reeling them in and tossing them back.”
Tish took a sip of her drink. “Go on.”
“I have this philosophy. I believe that good matches just happen. We shouldn’t have to work at it. Not you, and not me. It’s either going to work or it’s not.”
Tish mulled it over.
“What about the inevitable conflicts that arise in relationships?”
“I’m trying to beat the casino,” Karen said. “I don’t want any conflict at all. I can’t stand processing. I don’t want to talk about my feelings. That’s why I’m doing this.”
“Seems like you’re leaving a lot to fate. Don’t work and compromise figure into the equation?”
“To heck with compromise. I’m just tired of being disappointed,” Karen said. “Nobody turns out to be what I expected. I want a happy ending, but I want it my way. Nothing wrong with that. That’s why I wrote this interview tool. There are a lot of fish in the sea. I realized I just needed better sonar.”
“You know, a fish finder.”
She flashed the front of the clipboard at Tish. It was a printed page, covered in tiny text and little check boxes.
“You still in?”
Tish looked out at the cold, foggy day and gave it a moment’s consideration. She glanced around. There were no other empty seats in the coffeehouse.
“Okay. I’ll bite.”
“Then here we go.”
Karen adjusted the point of her mechanical pencil.
“First question…” She broke away and looked at the clock distractedly. “Shit! Is it that late already? I completely lost track of time. Okay. We’ll have to do this quickly.”
“Still ready,” Tish said, wishing it was over already. She was doubting the woman’s sanity. But as wacky as this meet-and-greet was turning out to be, she had to admit Karen was attractive in an uptight sort of way.
“Right-O.” Karen’s phone rang, playing the theme from Mission Impossible. She hit the button on her earpiece and answered it. “Hey.” She listened for a moment, holding her finger up to Tish as if to say “just a minute.” Then she began trying to interrupt the caller. “Wait… wait.” she said. “This doesn’t matter. You fix it. You make it work. I’m not interested and I’m in the middle of something. What? A meeting of sorts. No, it’s not that important, but it’s not your business either.” She hung up.
“Okay. Let’s do it.”
Tish had her mug halfway to her mouth, but set it down. She glanced around to see if any other seats had opened up. There were none.
She shrugged again. “Go.”
“Mick or Steve?”
“Mick Jagger or Steve Tyler?”
“That’s the whole question?”
“Steve Tyler, I guess.”
Karen looked pleased, and, to her dismay, Tish felt a little tingle of satisfaction.
“Italian or Thai?”
“Thai,” Tish said reflexively, thinking she was beginning to feel hungry.
“Now a classic… Ginger or Marianne?”
“Marianne,” Tish said, thinking it had been a stupid question.
“Giants or A’s?”
“Cats or dogs?”
“Got any threes?” Tish said.
“Never mind. Dogs.”
“See,” Karen said. “Now you’re getting into the swing of things. Math or English?”
“English,” Tish replied.
Karen frowned and shook her head as she made a mark.
Tish felt momentarily disappointed and then a little pissed off.
“Milk chocolate or dark?”
“Underdog or Mighty Mouse?”
“Converse or Keds?”
“Tea or coffee?”
“Tea, of course. Everyone knows that coffee will stunt your growth.”
“To Kill A Mockingbird, or Catcher in the Rye?”
“Oh definitely Catcher in the Rye.”
“Huh,” Karen said, ticking off another box.
“Smoking or non?”
“Top or bottom?”
“Excuse me?” Tish said, thinking she hadn’t heard her correctly.
“Never mind. We’ll move on.”
“Oranges or bananas?”
“Interesting,” Karen said. “Do you mind me asking why?”
“Because bananas are funnier,” Tish said. “Everyone knows that.”
Karen looked at her blankly and gave a slow blink, then looked down at her clipboard.
“Stanford or Cal?”
“Mary Oliver or Jeanette Winterston?”
“Hike or swim?”
“Red or white?”
“Ira Glass or Bill Maher?”
“Smooth or chunky?”
Again the blank look and the slow blink.
Tish look a sip of her tea.
“Scorsese or Coppola?
“I already said Thai.”
Another blink. Karen didn’t laugh. She just waited for an answer, her pencil hovering above the clipboard.
Tish waited her out.
“Okay,” Karen said. “We’ll skip that one too. Morning or evening?”
“Eight-ball or nine-ball?
“And,” Karen said, “That brings us to our final question.” She paused here for a moment.
“Artichokes or asparagus?”
“Definitely artichokes,” Tish said. “Asparagus makes me fart.”
Karen made a notation and then slid her clipboard into her bag . She slung it over her shoulder as she stood.
“Thanks for coming out today. I’ll call you if the results look promising.”
The women shook hands.
Karen started to walk away and then turned back to her.
“I almost forgot. Can I ask you one final favor?”
“I guess so,” Tish said.
“Will you tell me your favorite joke?”
Tish thought for a moment.
“How many surrealists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
“I don’t know,” Karen said.
“That’s not funny,” Karen said, and she left.