Inappropriate Men Excerpt


Chapter One

Geoffrey M. Fahl, Esq. is holding my hand.

Now I know this may seem a rather insignificant detail to you, but to me, this is the probably the best, and certainly most unexpectedly fabulous thing that has happened in a very long time. I suppose that what I am finding interesting about this little bit of random human contact with the esteemed Mr. Fahl it is that it is forbidden and wrong on so many levels that I am loathe to admit to myself that I am awfully intrigued about what it might mean.

Perhaps I should begin with the fact that Mr. Fahl is, at this moment, sitting on my right in the last occupied row of a small movie theater, and that the hand holding mine bears on it’s fourth finger a wedding band. I did not place it there. Additionally, it may be worthy of note, on the end of my left arm is a hand that is tingling and dewy, jealous of the attention my right hand currently enjoys, and that this hand too feels the weight of a thin band of gold, a small diamond solitaire, years of living with a man who is most definitely not Mr. Fahl. Mr. Fahl seems reasonably casual about this entire situation, and yet is not coming off as a practiced Lothario. He just seems bored by the film, bold enough to make contact, and right now his thumb is making lazy circles on the fleshy pad below my thumb, and my thumb is gently stroking the first joint on his pointer finger, and the whole arrangement seems to be the most exhilarating and intimate of activities.

Several thoughts cross my mind all at once. I am the luckiest girl in the world. I am an evil seductress. I am making a huge mistake. I am a slut. I am having the best time. Nothing will ever be the same.

As it turns out, these statements are all true.

Of course I don’t know that at this moment, at this moment I am concentrating only on the feel of his hand in mine, the way our arms are touching along their length with an easy pressure. The way our legs are aligned, connected at the knee. The feel of his pulse beneath my fingers. The light scent of his cologne, the rhythm of his breathing. I am trying to remember how it happened, what made it okay, why we ended up here, like this, connected and disconnected, full of strange promise.

It is blurry.

I remember wanting to see the movie, and that my husband was out of town. I remember my girlfriend Pam blowing me off, and the decision to go alone. I remember arriving at the theater to discover that the listing in the paper was wrong and that I was an hour early. I remember sitting at a table in the café next to the theater, and perusing The Reader, Chicago’s free alternative weekly paper, even though it was last week’s, and I had already read the really important bits, like News of the Weird, and Savage Love. And I remember the voice breaking into my concentration.


I looked up into a face I recognize from all the Fun events, (Functions and Fundraisers and Funerals), which I have occasion to attend with my parents. A face I had always found strangely appealing, despite quirky crookedness. Despite age. Despite being attached to the personage of a partner in my dad’s law firm, married to a woman who serves on three different boards with my mother, one of which happens to be the Women’s Auxiliary Board for the college where I happen to teach. I think it was the eyes. Really lovely blue, twinkly sparkly starkly blue, with the tiniest squinty quality, as if he is always pondering something important, which may be why you don’t really notice the eyes till you are right up on them. He is smiling hopefully at me, and his brow is furrowed in a way which makes me think that it is somehow important to him that I remember who he is.
“Mr. Fahl, you startled me. What an unexpected pleasure to bump into you, how have you been?”
He seems chuffed, and lowers his head a bit.
“Geoff, please. I have been very well, thank you, and yourself”
“Can’t complain, really. Busy as usual. What brings you to the neighborhood?”
“Movie next door. Paper got the time wrong, so I am early and came in here for a coffee and to waste an hour.”
“Ditto. Please, join me? Save me from reading the personal ads?”
“Absolutely. And I promise not to tell your husband you were reading the personals.”
“Tell him if you like, just don’t tell him I am thinking of PLACING an ad.”

Mr. Fahl, Geoff to his friends, which apparently now includes myself, laughs.

Your secret is safe with me. Will he be joining us?”
“He is out of town on business for the week. And Mrs. Fahl?”
“She is also away.”
“If we were the suspicious sort we might think they were having an affair!”
“I suppose they could suspect the same of us, especially after the slumber party incident.”
“This is a good point.” We laughed together.


So a little over a year ago, maybe a year and a half previous to tonight’s fateful movie house meeting, my mother calls me with a completely strange proposition. Did I want to spend a night in the Shedd Aquarium? Now, on the one hand, my love of all things aquatic might make this a logical offer, were it not for the fact that I am not TEN YEARS OLD, and there is something really bizarre about a grown up woman with a husband and a Master’s degree spending the night in a sleeping bag at a museum with god knows how many strangers. Sigh. My mother means well, she is a totally fabulous batty lady who I dote upon, but here and there she gets these really ridiculous ideas, which usually involve me, a portion of my limited free time, and an event that is deeply tedious. As I am for all intents and purposes an only child, (my sister Naomi is eight years my senior, and lives in New York with her husband and kids, and we see each other once a year at most, and my brother Adam, two years my junior, is living and working in London for the time being) I have no siblings available to take up the slack when it comes to dutiful child responsibilities. All the ‘great things’ parents have a tendency to volunteer you for because they think you would have such a ‘good time’. The parking lot duty for the art fair, filling the last empty seat at their table for any number of rubber chicken dinners in support of diseases, the arts, and Jews in general (sometimes in support of diseased Jewish artists for a grand slam), donating myself at silent auctions to lead book discussions or give one-on-one workshops in the writing and performance of poetry.
I love Mom, she means well, it is easier to acquiesce, so I am scheduled for a Slumber at the Shedd event, complete with seafood buffet dinner which is (a) a little creepy considering we are at the aquarium and the fish will be watching us chow down on their cousins, and (2) annoying, because I don’t eat seafood.

At least I can drag my husband Mark to this one, and eerily enough he seems excited about it, which for whatever reason makes me irritated with him. I suppose it is important to acknowledge that of late, most of what he says and does makes me irritated with him.

And by ‘of late’, I mean for the last couple of years or so.
But that is not particularly relevant at this moment, we will deal with it later.

Long story short, we go to the aquarium, find a good spot to camp out near the seahorse exhibit, hit the buffet, (where I show solidarity with my fine-finned friends by eating only salad and rolls, and Mark eats his way calmly through about three pounds of shrimp, crab legs, mussels marinara, and baked cod as if he has never seen seafood before) and begin to wander through the exhibits, all of which have been lit to show us what happens to the seas and rivers at night. A great deal of it is very interesting, or would have been, except most of the guests are families with small children, and these little people are out past their bedtime, and many are behaving badly. Mark is tired, (probably from all the strenuous digestion) so we head over to our little nook and try to sleep. Sleep is impossible. Ever notice how your house or apartment makes those strange noises which you can only hear when you can’t fall asleep? Well, imagine the racket an entire museum makes. At around 2 a.m. I get out of my sleeping bag and go for a walk. They have limited the ‘camping’ areas to the gallery spaces, which leaves the central tank and it’s surrounding grottos blissfully free of dozing patrons. I find a small cave and wander in to watch the parade of the nocturnal ocean life, at this hour consisting primarily of sharks, rays, and one sea turtle. I adore sharks. They are truly fascinating creatures. So serene, yet with an underlying dangerous quality. So clearly perfectly designed for their environment. So, so very, well…

There is a tired looking man standing behind me in my little hideout. “Excuse me?”
“Elegant. The sharks, they are the most elegant fish in existence, don’t you think?” He looks very familiar to me, but I can’t place him, and the pale blue-green light from the tank settles in the lines on his face, and the shadows of the big fish as they pass by glide over his features making them so much jumbled nonsense. Plus, I took my contacts out when I thought sleep was a possibility.
“It is a perfect word for them, yes, awfully sinisterly elegant. I was just trying to put my finger on it.”
“Can’t sleep?”
“Not a wink, you?”
“My wife planted us near the otters. Not only was that a prime spot for families with kids that are scared of the fish, but apparently, little known fact, otters snore.”
I laughed, imagining those sweet furry faces, peaceful in dreaming, lithe brown bodies tangled in a heap, gently snoring away.
“Don’t laugh, it is a real racket. Can’t get a wink. Plus, I am too old for this sleeping bag on a mat on the floor business.”
“Poor Methuselah, is your rheumatism acting up?”
“Oh I see, a comedienne. If you’re not careful, I’ll tell your dad you were teasing the fish and tapping on the glass.”
Mental smack in the head. One of dad’s partners. Had only ever seen him in a crowd before, by himself he is all out of context. Then again, I never saw him in his pajamas before either, but I have to say he seemed to wear them like they were a business suit.

“Oh please, don’t tell daddy. He paid so much for these tickets.”
“I was wondering how you got roped into this?”
“Mom bid on it at some auction and passed it off to me. And you?”
“My wife’s best friend is on the Women’s Board here.”

And so it began. We walked from grotto to grotto, wandered into the Great Lakes gallery, which apparently wasn’t exciting enough for anyone to want to sleep there, and chatted easily about nothing in particular. At around five-thirty he suggested we go to the oceanarium and watch the sun come up over Lake Michigan. It was a perfect sunrise, and we sat in silence, hearing only the clicks and whistles of the pacific white-sided dolphins and the beluga whales. And then we left in search of a few hours of exhausted sleep. It was a strange and lovely night. We didn’t spot each other at the breakfast, (lox and bagels, have these people no souls?) and after a week or so, I completely forgot it had even happened. Then about a month later, Mark and I are at my parent’s table for somebody’s annual gala, and the Fahl’s wander over to say hello. Mrs. Fahl asks if I enjoyed the salmon, and before I can reply, Mr. Fahl says:

“She doesn’t eat fish.”
My parents, my husband, and his wife all turn to him perplexed. I look down at my half-eaten dessert, feeling vaguely guilty, and not knowing why.
“Really? Is that true?” She asks me.
“’Fraid so.”
“Astounding. Geoffrey, are you suddenly psychic?”
“Not at all, I bumped into Sidney at that thing we went to at the Shedd, and asked if she had enjoyed the buffet and she informed me that she didn’t eat seafood.”
“I am sorry Sidney, I don’t remember seeing you there.” Then turning to her husband, “Where was I when you two were chatting?”

There is an awkward silence, which I decide needs to move past strange into mortifying, so I pipe up with…

“I couldn’t sleep and went for a stroll, and Mr. Fahl couldn’t sleep either, so we bumped into each other at the main tank in the middle of the night and kept each other company for a bit.” Which might have landed better if either one of us had mentioned this little adventure to our spouses, which clearly, we had not. Blissfully, my dad changed the subject quickly to some big case the firm was dealing with, and Mrs. Fahl and my mother began discussing someone’s declining health, and Mark and the gentleman on his other side continued their political debate, while I looked sheepishly at my panna cotta as if it was going to speak to me. When the dancing started, we three couples all retreated to the floor, but once, over the shoulders of our swaying spouses, we locked eyes for a moment, and he winked at me.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Over coffee (my Grande Skim Cappuccino and his Venti Decaf House Blend) we chat about nothing in particular, but in a way that makes us both laugh, and when it is time to head over to the theater, he offers me his arm like a gallant gentleman of old, and I take it, liking the feel of his crisp shirt sleeve, his surprisingly strong forearm. He purchases my ticket, waving off my proffered money with a wink. I don’t know why this makes me blush, but it does. We find seats towards the back of the theater and after the usual twenty minutes of previews and Snapple ads, the movie begins. The house is completely empty behind us, maybe two thirds full in front of us, and the film quickly bores Geoff. He leans over every two or three minutes to make some clever comment, and I laugh quietly at his jokes. It is easy here with him. Strange and familiar, awkward and comforting, it is inexplicable. About a half-hour into the movie, something strikes him as bizarre, and he smacks his forehead dramatically, sighs, and drops his head onto my shoulder for effect. Instinctively, I let my own head lower to touch his, and despite the fact that we both tense, neither of us moves for thirty seconds or so. His hair is surprisingly soft under my cheek. And he smells really good.

Then everything seems to slow down. Our arms, sharing the armrest between us, get heavy. And I don’t remember our hands so much moving, as realizing that our pinkies were touching. And then of their own accord, those rogue pinkies interlocked with each other, like they were making a childhood promise. I wanted to cross my heart.

Geoffrey M. Fahl, Esq. is holding my hand. And I like it.

Gradually this hand holding escalates until the length of my forearm is entwined with his, resting lightly across the tops of his thighs, and now both his hands are there, the left one in it’s original place clasped around mine, the right one now crossed over and resting with a firm pressure on my forearm. My arm is most pleased. Quite beside itself really. And it really suddenly wants a large martini and a cigarette, which is a new sensation for an arm. My left arm is still pouting, and has decided to fall asleep to punish me. It can play with the pins and needles all it wants, I can barely breathe for fear that something I do might spoil the thing entirely.

And then, too quickly, the movie is over. We rise, he assists me with my coat, and we walk out through the lobby and into the night air, which has a delicious chill about it. He walks with me almost silently to the parking garage.

“May I escort you to your car?”

We do not speak, Geoff and I. At my car he says only “Thank you for the distraction.”
He leans in and kisses me on the mouth, lightly.

And then is gone.

I ponder the events of the evening on the drive home. The whole thing seems surreal. I find myself thinking of all the times Geoff and I have been in the same place at the same time, how frequently we have been seated at a table together at an event, how often I have spotted him at the lectures and luncheons and readings that seem a consistent fixture in my life. How many times I have taken note of his form across a crowded theatre lobby or hotel ballroom. He had never made more than friendly small talk, had never seemed to take particular notice of me, certainly not in the way so many of my father’s friends and colleagues have.
I think men in their early fifties have a certain affinity for me. I find that now that I am in my thirties, I get a great deal of attention from these middle-aged men, gray at the temples, slight softness of the skin below the chin, the twinkling eye contact when they speak to me, full of benign and embarrassed flirtations. I think it has to do with the fact that while I am young, I am not ridiculously so, and my innate intelligence and maturity has an appeal very different from the twenty-something Twinkies that these men sometimes fall prey to. I am married, which makes me a little safer. They get to have some harmless banter with a younger woman, which feeds their need to think of themselves as virile still, and I get the rush of power that comes from knowing you are having an effect on a member of the opposite sex, that silly tingle of ego-boost that never seems to get old. When I am feeling especially wicked, I may flirt a little more shamelessly, touch an arm to make a point, lower my eyes a bit, and then raise them again to meet a gaze with a small smile playing around the corners of my mouth. I love the way they blush when I do this, the slightly fevered look behind the eyes, the tiny questioning move of the shoulders as they try to figure out if I am indeed available to them, the small nervous backwards step as if I might lean in for a kiss. I know it is sort of wrong, but what can I say, it is harmless fun for me. But Geoff and I have never had one of these moments or exchanges. I never really thought he paid me much attention at all, which makes tonight’s adventure that much more interesting, that much more titillating.

Reprinted from INAPPROPRIATE MEN by Stacey Ballis Copyright © 2004 by Stacey Ballis.


Design by Exsto