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If I hadn't blown the whole thing years ago, I might not be alone. Tomorrow, we can drive around this town, let the cops chase us around: 11.17.09

This past weekend, I went to a fiction reading. Which was actually a misnomer because the most enjoyable reader was the head of the nonfiction writing program at the Iowa's Writers' Workshop. He read from his book, Do Over, which chronicles his return to various scenarios throughout his life that were, shall we say, less than ideal the first time around. Kindergarten, prom, summer camp. Funny stuff. Of course, it hit home with me because I am the number one fan of all things nostalgic. And on top of that, I am a connoisseur of missed opportunities, chances not taken, second guessing, and so on. Which brings us to today's topic: the one that got away.

Along the same lines as Do Over, Nick Hornby's High Fidelity is a great read. Almost so much so that it is a shame that the movie was made. Almost, but not quite, since it did feature an awkwardly aging John Cusack (still cute) and the age-immune Catherine Zeta-Jones (yummers) and a host of other great cameos entertaining the classic question, "what if?" to the backdrop of a pretty stellar soundtrack. And it all leads up to the rather bittersweet conclusion that Mr. Iowa Writers' Workshop neatly sidestepped through his literary conceits: you don't get do overs. Now, in the Hornby book, Rob Fleming has to go out of his way to track down and look up all his past girlfriends to try and better understand his present love conundrum. Luckily, for me--living here in Smalltimore--these kinds of dating post-mortems occur purely by chance. Not long ago, I was having a nightcap at the old local and before I knew it, there was A. and we were yet again rehashing why it was we never actually dated, why we weren't dating, why we probably never will, at this rate, date. Here's the story.

Many, many years ago, A. and I were pals. Actually right here in the neighborhood where I now live. We had the same circle of acquaintances, we went to the same places, kept the same routines. One warm spring night, A. and I ran into each other at the Brewer's Art and had a few bevvies together. At some point in that evening, we decided to leave the bar and head down to A's place. Was this under the pretense of the usual subtext to such decisions? Probably. There was probably flirting. There were probably coy innuendos all pleasantly muted by the cozy mantle of friendship. And there were probably some pleasantly confusing mixed messages. All of which resulted in me pleasantly cruising downtown that night, following A.'s car back to his place. Until I got pulled over.

It must have been just a few blocks from where A. lived, although I didn't know exactly where that was. As I slowed to a stop, A. kept going and I saw his tail lights vanish around a corner a few streets away. Understandable, in light of our point of disembarkation. The police action was thankfully brief and inconsequential. I had a tail light out. Did I know this? No. Would I get it fixed? Of course. Baltimore's Finest ended our curbside chat and I pulled off too, thinking I would catch up with A. a few streets down. I turned where I thought I'd seen his car turn. No A. I did a loop of the block and then thought maybe he'd gone back to where I'd been, so I went a few blocks back. No A. I did a few more sweeps and thought, well, another time.

Except there wasn't. For whatever reason, that warm spring mix of handcrafted beers and unveiled intentions never concocted itself again. Of course I saw A. a few days after that, probably down at our usual coffee shop. And we compared notes of where he had gone, where I had gone--if you can wrap your head around it, this was BEFORE cell phones. Oh, for want of a wireless network that night! Can you imagine how communications technology might have twisted all the great romantic plots? One text message and Romeo and Juliet would have just finished hosting yet another Montague-Capulet family reunion picnic. Just think of the Facebook posts from Rhett and Scarlet. Scarlet: I have just shot and kilt a Yankee dead at Tara! LOL; Rhett: Sounds like tough times for such a pretty lady. Let me know when you'll be in Atlanta. FWIW I might be able to help. Anyway. Apparently, A. and I had been circling a four block radius in precision perfect polar opposite circles and had both given up after a while.

Of course I've seen A. countless times since that night. If, like Woody Allen says, 80% of life is just showing up, I'm firmly convinced the other 20% is all about timing. Clearly, A. and I had neither in our favor. Not long after that night, I met someone, A. did and then years just started flying past. When I moved back here last year, A. and I met for dinner on a cold night slashed with freezing rain. Within about 30 minutes, that spring night from years ago was brought up for review.

Which brings me back to the night, not long ago, when I looked up and saw A. a few seats down at the bar. It was yet another deconstruction of that spring night. It's our own little mythology of the perpetual "what if." I think that's what that night is. What it actually was, we'll never really know. I've had years of history with other people that don't get retold and revisited as much as this spring night has. Again, we laughed about it, shook our heads, told the story by letting our sentences overlap, and jokingly argued about who left whom and where in those searching circles that night we'd failed to connect. And then we walked out of the bar. It was one of those unseasonably warm fall nights we've had lately. We stood on the corner and said we'd get together soon, and walked away, in opposite directions through the gentle air.

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