Saturday, February 16, 2008. Natalie is returning from a week-long business trip and instead of flying back, she elected to drive back with a co-worker. This means she will be driving to my house from Gainesville and we’ll be driving to Orlando together. I just lost all my prep time. Fly in the ointment. Monkey in the wrench. I have a ring and whatnot and no plan to get it to Kristin, who I have been planning this with for over a month, at the restaurant. For a person that doesn’t wash his hands without a Plan B, I’m making this up as I go.
We get to her parents in Orlando a little after noon. She knows we have to be out by three but she doesn’t know why. We leave a little late and she’s a little worried she’s put me off schedule. No problem, I saw that coming. That was that Plan B I was talking about.
In the car I tell her I was going to ask her something and forgot what it was.
I changed the names of the locations in my GPS so she won’t know where we’re going but she’s from Orlando so it doesn’t take long. In Orlando, all roads point to Disney. Immediately she starts backpedaling on all the times she’s told me she hated Disney. She thinks we’re going to a theme park and we would be if I were lame. I am not. I say nothing.
We arrive at the Port Orleans French Quarter, a Disney hotel designed to look New Orleans with none of the gambling or VD. I am a little disappointed at the hotel room but it grows on me. I show her the first thing I have planned. Cirque De Soleil: La Nouba at Downtown Disney. She literally starts jumping. She does that. The genius here is she thinks that’s the surprise. She starts to get ready. I take a nap since my getting ready consists of tucking my shirt in.
5:00p, Downtown Disney. We get something quick to eat because dinner won’t be until 10:00p. We get something tasty stuffed with various spicy meats from Gloria Estefan’s joint, Bongo’s. Gloria is not there but I think I saw some of the Miami Sound Machine working the grill. The food is delicious. We really need to drop the embargo to Cuba.
Now if you have never been to Cirque De Soleil, you really should. I find girls like to have reasons to get dressed up and taking them to the McDonald’s in back of the Wal-Mart and ordering for them off the dollar menu is never as romantic as you would think it would be. What keeps me after school is the people who will toss down good money for a ticket and then show up in the same clothes they wore this afternoon picking out fuzzy toilet seat lids at Big Lots. Have some class people… this is why the terrorists hate us.
Cirque De Soleil is fantastic. I expect nothing less. Very funny. Very majestic. Very graceful. Canadian clowns. Five-year-old Chinese yoyo gymnasts. Trampoline acrobats. Not a dude on that stage is taller than five seven and most have stomachs you could do laundry on.
I keep looking at my watch. I don’t think she notices.
7:45p, show’s over. It got dark and windy. Natalie is cold. Natalie is always cold. My dad told me some stuff about women but never told me they are all cold always. Natalie could be in a phone booth with fifteen college kids in New Mexico during a heatwave and she would want a sweater. She has a jacket. She left it in the car. We have almost two hours to kill. Can’t get to the restaurant early because they may seat us early and that throws off my schedule. First rule of comedy, timing is everything. Second rule of comedy, everything is funnier in threes… nobody knows why… it just it.
We go to Virgin Megastore. They have a DVD sale and I walk the entire store and can’t find any I want to buy. What does that say about me? I end up buying the one issue of Vanity Fair I buy every year (the Hollywood Issue… don’t you judge me). I casually mention I have to use the bathroom. I don’t. I just might need the excuse to get away later. Be prepared, that’s what I always say. We leave.
I tell her it’s bugging me I can’t remember what I was going to ask her.
We get to the hotel. The Disney Grand Floridian. If hotels were in high school mine would be on the Chess Team and this hotel would be the Cheerleader that laughed in its face when he asked her to Prom. I immediately start apologizing feeling I cheaped out but one night here was more than my mortgage and they were booked anyway… I did check. We walk through the lobby and across the back forty to Narcoosee’s.
Once inside she heads for the bathroom. Excellent. For those of you who have been paying attention, I have the ring in my jacket, along with a miniature replica of Cinderella’s glass slipper and a Ziploc bag stuffed with white and red rose petals. Kristin assures me everyone will know who I am and I can pass the contents to anyone. I have to get away from her and get these to someone except the people in front of me are taking their sweet time like they’re just here for a nice dinner out. Life-changing decisions are being made here, let’s move it people. Natalie walks out. Damn. My turn, I step up to podium and tell Kristin my name. Her expression doesn’t change. I don’t know if she knows who I am or not. She gives me that pager and we take a seat. Natalie says I look stressed. We don’t say much over the next twenty minutes.
Here is my dilemma. The stuff is in my jacket pocket and I can’t wear the jacket because the bulge will be noticeable. I can excuse myself from the table but why would I take my jacket with me to the bathroom. I have to come up with something fast or this whole things is going fall apart.
I stop and take a deep breath and think, “what would Frank Sinatra do?”
The pager goes off. We get up and Natalie follows the waiter to the table and in one quick deft move, with Natalie eighteen inches in front of me, I take out the contents of my jacket and hand it to Kristin who, without looking up, takes it and tucks it under her arm. She never looks up. She never stops typing.
The Quarterback has the football. The ball is in play.
Danny Ocean would be proud.
We get seated and Amir, our waiter, brings our menus. Natalie notices the top reads Welcome To Narcoosee’s At The Grand Floridian, Ford Party. She asks Amir do they put that on all the menus and he says it’s just a little something they do. He verifies we are the Ford Party. I say ‘Yes’. He asks again and then tells me I have a call at the front desk.
Damn. I was going to use my bathroom out I set up over an hour ago. I need an excuse… now. I look her in the face and as immediately drag my brother into my lies like I always do:
“That’s weird. Only Bobby and Danielle know I’m here… Oh my God, I hope my mom is okay.”
My Mom is on vacation is Israel. I excuse myself. Around the corner is Kristin. Quickly we make a plan. She tells me the ring is being prepped. She offers to send someone to remove a chair needed for another party so I can get on my knee easier, that will be the signal they’re ready. I tell her I’m not doing that. I tell her when I see her across the restaurant, I’m staring as close to 9:50p as possible. I’ll signal her when I am ready. She asks if I need an excuse to get back to the table. I’ll come up with something.
In the ten second walk back to my table I sit down and without even thinking I tell her my Mom was supposed to call when she changed hotels and didn’t. My brother misplaced the hotel numbers and he was calling me for them. I told him to check his email. She believes me.
All last week people would ask me if I was nervous and I told them no. At 9:45p, nervous finds me. Hold it together. Five more minutes. This is going to completely work.
9:50p. Ready. Ready as I’ll ever be. Cover me, I’m going in. I tell her she should move in with me and she declines. She has standards and rules which is one of the reasons I’m with her. I start making my argument about how convenient it would be and how all her stuff would be there and we could save so much money and she agrees and tells me she won’t do it without a ring.
I am formulating an argument against a lawyer. When I am done here I’ll find a nun to get into a Bible-Quoting contest with.
I subtly drift from my argument to why she is so special to me. I feel me starting to wander like I’m stalling.
Stay on target… stay on target.
I can see Kristin over her shoulder and I wonder does she notice me looking past her.
I finish with, “Oh, I remember what I was going to ask you…” and I ask her.
She tells me not to say it if I don’t mean it and I realize she doesn’t believe me and I play with her way too much. I repeat. She starts to ask if I am serious. I raise my hand and Kristin appears with the ring arrangement and steps back.
She asks again if I am serious. I point out the stranger who just brought out a plate with a the glass slipper with the ring she picked out ribboned to the center on a bed of rose petals and chocolate hearts.
She says, “Yes,” and I don’t hear it. She says it again. My mind is in nine different places. The people behind me are playing some kind of movie quote game and they are distracting me. I point out I can hear a piano rendition of “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Seriously, I can’t make that stuff up. I can see her mouth moving but I am not hearing anything. I hear the fifth “yes.”
Kristin asks to take our picture and she does. Amir brings us champagne. For those who don’t know, I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t get my picture taken… then again, Natalie has me doing a lot of things I generally don’t do.
She doesn’t say a whole lot. She doesn’t cry (thank God because crying girls freak me out). She isn’t able to eat, either. We talk a little and I tell her I’m not quite done.
The lights dim and everybody in the restaurant is lit by candlelight. Outside our window is the Seven Seas Lagoon. On the far side is Cinderella’s Castle. Disney’s Wishes Fireworks Spectacular begins.
I try to be good to her and make her feel special because she deserves it, but to be honest, and it comes pretty easy for me. She tells me all the time I am the best boyfriend ever and I tell her I’m really not trying.
As we’re leaving we are congratulated by Amir, then a busboy, then another waitress and finally by the entire kitchen staff. Kristin was right. Everybody knew who we were and for that two hours, my princess, was a princess.
I tell her, for the record, this is me trying.
Now I’m done.