“Wait,” Thurston stated slowly. “Tell me again why you had your date drop you home before you even arrived at the restaurant?”
“’Jabberwocky,’” she said. “He’d never heard of ‘Jabberwocky.’”
“And how, exactly, did ‘Jabberwocky’ come up in casual first-date conversation within the first 25 minutes?”
“I said, ‘Chickens sort of freak me out,’ and he said, ‘Chickens? Seriously?’ and I said, ‘Yeah. They make me nervous. They’re so reptilian.’ Then he said, ‘So… like, do you run away or freeze up or go all ping-pong Yoda on them, or…’ so I said, ‘Well, it’s not like I whip out my vorpal blade on them or anything,’ and he interrupted me and said, ‘your what?’”
“He didn’t know what a ‘vorpal blade’ was.”
“Exactly,” she said, touching his arm lightly, relieved he understood.
“So you had him bring you right back home.”
“Did it occur to you,” Thurston stated slowly, as if to a crazy person, “that full-contact Lewis Carroll on a first date might be considered a breach of some sort of first-date etiquette? I mean, it’s not as if you’d quote Homer or Dickens or Hemmingway and expect him to step up, right? Even so, surely drawing a blank on ‘vorpal blade’ is a pretty small offense.”
“You’d think,” she paused for effect. “However, you haven’t heard the rest of the story.”
Thurston settled back into the chair and arched an eyebrow.
“I could forgive simply misplacing the terminology,” she continued. “If I’d slipped him a “slithy tove” reference and he’d initially been perplexed but then suddenly regained footing when I gave him the source, well that would have been fine, naturally. However. He had never heard of the bloody poem! ‘Jabberwhat?’ he’d asked, looking at me as if I’d turned into a … well, into a slithy tove – not that he’d know what one even was.”
“Honestly, Helen. You’ll never have a second date if you keep terminating them before they have the opportunity to tell the jokes they’ve been plotting all week or to pull out your chair at the dinner table!” He was vexed. “What possesses you to become such an incredible snob after you tell them you would, in fact, like to go on a date? This poor man has probably been hovering in a horrific state of anticipation and terror all week because you agreed to go out with him. He might have imagined that it wouldn’t go smashingly well, but never in his wildest nightmares did he think it would end before you even arrived at the restaurant.”
“I’m sorry.” She sounded genuinely forlorn. “He seemed nice, and well-rounded and literate and sweet, but I can’t imagine myself having a serious relationship with someone who has never heard of one of my favorite childhood poems! I could recite ‘Jabberwocky’ by the time I was five! “
“Fine, but do you think it’s a bit, oh, I don’t know, desperately sad to begin planning your future disappointments with someone you’ve only just met? Perhaps he’s a perfectly wonderful person, a well-rounded and articulate person, who just managed to escape the ravages of Lewis Carroll?”
“How you ‘escape’ the classics?”
“You have the misfortune to live in an abysmal school system. You have parents who don’t place a high value on what have been historically considered ‘the classics.’ Your teachers focus on authors who weren’t overtly influenced by hallucinogens. You read it once long ago, it failed to make an impression, and it is lost to the ravages of time.”
“That’s the second time you’ve said ‘ravages’ in the last thirty seconds.”
“I don’t suppose you could stop being such an English major for a moment…”
“Have we met?”
“Allow me to frame it thusly: You’re a music person. Could you date someone who hadn’t ever heard of Pink Floyd?”
“You’re comparing Lewis Carroll to Floyd? Are you out of your mind?” He pondered for a moment. “Actually, that’s not a bad analogy. Still, I object to it on general principle.”
“Whatever. Could you?”
Thurston thought awhile before answering. “I could educate him in the ways of Pink Floyd. I could teach him, try to instill a genuine appreciation of the nuances, of the passion. As long as he got it…”
“Sure, but Floyd wouldn’t have been an integral part of his growing up. He wouldn’t remember tentatively playing ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ on a boom-box in a corner of the playground in elementary school, quietly, rebelliously singing, ‘we don’t need no education!!’ He wouldn’t have seen ‘The Wall’ in high school or college and had his tender mind blown and expanded. He wouldn’t be able to hear three notes and identify David Gilmour’s hands on a guitar, and be sent soaring back in time to the nights spent in his room listening to ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ Those are part of your formative experiences. Floyd is hard-wired into your brain, and I don’t think you could share true intimacy with someone who didn’t have, if not a vaguely similar set of experiences, at least a memory of those songs during those times. You’d always have this gap, this disconnect. That’s how deep is my Lewis Carroll disconnect with Pablo.”
Thurston continued his pondering, wondering what it would be like, having a long-term relationship with someone who didn’t grok “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?!” and with whom he couldn’t share the memory of the boyhood joys of air-guitaring through brilliant, sweeping solos, of the moment of clarity when they each first realized what was behind the story of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and were struck with the tragedy of it all.
Finally, he capitulated. “You may be right. The baseline wouldn’t be there, but I don’t know that I’d absolutely disqualify someone, especially on the first bloody date, for not knowing Floyd.”
“You’re a far more generous soul than I am,” Helen sighed.
They watched the fire dancing and went on in comfortable silence for a very long time, and she rested her head upon his shoulder contentedly.