My European Bromance (Part I): The Meet Cute

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The first time I laid eyes on Marcus he was taking a long gasping drag off his asthma puffer at the edge of the playground sandbox on Berliner Strasse. He was far from Kerouac cool. In fact, nothing about him seemed slightly remarkable. But by the look of his salt-n-pepper beard he seemed roughly my age, and when he shouted for his daughter on the slide in a Welsh accent, my heart skipped a beat. He spoke English. I decided right then and there Marcus was going to be my new best friend. If I seem to reek of desperation, well, at this point I do. For the last nine months I have been flying solo through the streets of Bremen, Germany without a much-needed English-speaking wingman. Actually, I do travel all day with a sidekick, but she is barely 30 inches tall and has no taste for good beer, no interest in catching up on Breaking Bad, or could care less about the perceived demise of major league baseball. Worse off, she barely can string together a complete grammatically correct sentence. Granted, my little wing-girl is not even two-years old, but she’s not alone with her feeble attempt at sentence stringing. Fumbling through the German language, with only a handful of phrases at my disposal, renders any chance of a budding friendship, or at the very least a stimulating discussion with the playground dads, futile. Usually the promising encounter awkwardly ends after “mein neuen Freund” and I struggle to share the age of our children. No point in trying to wax poetic on our favorite Dylan LPs. Instead we go on smiling and nodding politely at each other as our sons and daughters dig holes in the sand while the hole in my heart grows forever deeper. You might think I am acting a bit melodramatic, but I have not had a single conversation, let alone drank a beer with another man since we moved to Germany in January.  My wife doesn’t want to talk endlessly about the Chicago Cubs chances in 2015 and I don’t think my 20-month old could handle The Godfather marathon on Blu-Ray — although I promise you she will when she’s two. Bottom line, I needed a wingman in a bad way. What would Murtaugh be without Riggs? Garfunkel without Simon. Pippen without Jordan? What would Maverick be without Goose? Okay, Goose did die and Maverick was able to move on, but only after Iceman begrudgingly stepped in to take Goose’s place. I needed to find my Iceman and pretty dang quick.   Our “pick up” scene goes something like this: each morning, while my wife is at work, my daughter and I hit all the stay-at-home dad hot spots. With our antennas up, we pop into the bakeries, the bookshops, the playgrounds and parks. We hit up toy stores, libraries, grocery stores, butchers and bistros. All the while listening ever-so-carefully for the bubbling up of any familiar English words or phrases. The hot spot for play-dates, as most stay-at-home dads already know, is the local playground. And while we have on occasion found success there, we met a Sara from Scotland and a Wendy from Pittsburgh and a Lori from Auckland, delightful people, I might add, but they were just not quite right. I was starting to lose hope. That is until I laid eyes and ears on Marcus from Wales struggling for a breath at the edge of the sandbox on Berliner Strasse. The “Meet Cute” is staple of the romantic-comedy genre in which a future couple meets for the first time in a way that at its best is adorable and entertaining and at its worst is maudlin and contrived. As a screenwriter and an avid watcher of 1990s Rom-Coms I like to consider myself a master craftsman in this type of conceit. I know the rule: we root for cinematic relationships to work if the couple on-screen make an impression on the people watching them off-screen. I had to make a good impression. And to make the “meet-cute” moment between Marcus and I work, I had to dig deep into my cinematic bag of tricks. Perhaps I should try to be endearing and awkward as perfected by Keaton and Allen in what is arguably the best Romantic-Comedy of all time, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall:     While the Keaton and Allen meet-cute is always a never to miss moment, and one I could most definitely pull off, I did risk scaring Marcus away with an overflowing amount of neurotic “La Di Da” angst. That is if I was playing the Diane to his Woody. But he is from the U.K., so maybe I should pull from his canon and focus on a local “meet-cute” starring homegrown hunk Hugh Grant. Like this endearing, stutter-filled moment with Grant and Roberts from Notting Hill.   Yes, the classic “your-chocolate-is-in-my-peanut-butter” meet-cute moment has its backers, and I did have a sippy cup of juice, but I did risk pissing Marcus off, especially if the cardigan he is wearing is expensive. Too risky.   Better yet I could pull off a moment from a sub-genre of the romantic-comedy: the buddy-cop movie. It’s a bit more masculine plus there is no more memorable meet-cute than the Glover and Gibson encounter from the original Lethal Weapon.   Obviously, a physical shakedown is not going to work. Besides my 43-year old back is not going to work a body-slam either. Like Glover, I too am “getting too old for this shit,” and clearly meet-cute moments like these exist in the movies for a reason. Meeting people in the real world is not formulaic. Yes there are those magical encounters but more often our first introductions with another take on the feeling of the mundane. The relationship becomes entertaining and memorable, not the meet.  Yet in this case I know from experience the formula for an authentic meet-cute moment between any two stay-at-home dads was digging in the sand at my feet.   Or she was moments ago. I looked up and found my 18-month old daughter under the slide, rocking a doll to sleep. And it wasn’t  just any doll. It was the doll belonging to Marcus’ daughter. By the sound of his daughter’s screams, she was none too happy.  Needless to say, I found my meet-cute moment. I immediately sprung into action and gently cajoled Tallulah to return the baby to its rightful owner. Marcus’s interest piqued. “An English speaker.”  I feigned surprise and attempted to play it cool. I took a deep breath and introduced myself.   As I pushed the stroller down the street back to the apartment I texted my wife. “I have a date!” She responded with a 🙂  I was pumped. As we rolled past bistros and bars I no longer gazed with envy at the tables of men laughing, drinking, smoking, enjoying one another’s company. Rounding the corner I looked down at Tallulah who was quietly humming, taking in the bustle of foot traffic. The roar of a plane overhead immediately diverted her attention. She looked up scanning the sky for the passenger jet. I flashed my best Iceman smile down at her: “Hey kiddo, you could be my wingman anytime.” She returned the smile. Yup, she will always be my lil’ wing. To Be continued ….  

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