The Leap Day First Date
Her parents named her after a Fleetwood Mac song, but Stevie Nicks didn’t do Sara justice. She waddled down the steep sidewalk towards my apartment in her black Chuck Taylors. Her jet-black hair rested on the shoulders of her denim jacket. She held her phone to her ear.
My pocket rang loudly.
It was the first time I had my phone’s volume on in more than a year.
“Is that you or am I being weird?” Sara asked as she waved her free arm.
I flapped my hand frantically as I jumped up and down. “Now who’s weird?”
Sara patted my back like I was her weird uncle when I gave her a hug.
“Nice to finally meet you,” I said.
“Let’s hope six months of digital flirting was worth it,” Sara said.
“Am I still your best first Tinder conversation ever?”
“Hmm.” Sara pretended to ponder. “So far.”
Maybe I’m not quite the simpleton I thought I was.
“When can I cash in that free beer for being the best?”
“Let’s see how tonight goes,” she said. “I still can’t believe you like Pee Wee.”
“You’re legit the only person I’ve ever met who doesn’t think I’m a psychopath for enjoying the humor of Paul Reubens.”
“You’re my only Pee Wee friend, too.”
The nineties were a strange time culturally for the world. Let’s just leave it at that.
We climbed the stairs to my apartment, and I gave her a quick tour of my four-hundred square feet of living space.
“Want a beer?” I asked.
“Bud Light. I’m romantic like that.”
I threw on an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse and grabbed two beers from the fridge. Sara found a seat on my tiny black two-seater couch. It was all I could fit in the damn place.
“I hate people who make a big deal about Pee Wee jerking off in a movie theater,” Sara said. “We’ve all done some grimy shit in movie theaters.”
“That’s what I always say!”
I said it too excitedly.
“Tell me about that bird picture on your profile,” I said.
Sara had a selfie with a bird hanging right behind her shoulder on her Tinder profile. It was a seagull. Those fuckers still haunted me from my summers at the Jersey Shore. But I was drowning in the silence of the apartment as I opened our can beers and made my way to the couch.
“The bird was amazing because that bird was so my buddy.”
“I was like hanging out with this group of dudes from Arizona, total brohams. They were blasting reggae on the beach and I was wanting to crawl out of my skin, but I was feeding that bird Cheetos, so he kept coming back. I kept telling him not to tell his bird friends and he was ride or die. Just me and him. He never attracted a crowd.”
“What a true dude,” I said.
I packed a bong full of marijuana.
“I went to the dispensary and asked them for their strongest weed. They gave me this.” I handed Sara the weed jar. “It’s forty-three percent THC.”
“Holy fuck dude.”
“For Pee Wee.”
She sniffed and examined the weed. “And Leap Day.”
Sara pulled on the bong hard. When she exhaled, she went into a coughing fit. After I hit the bong, I did the same.
“That’s strong,” I said between a coughing fit.
“Dude. I’m already high, but let’s do it again.”
We packed one more bong.
It was a mistake.
We finished our beer and decided to walk the eight blocks to the theater instead of paying for a ride. It was a cool night, warm enough for a t-shirt, but barely.
“I thought you’d think it was weird that I didn’t want to hang out before this,” I said.
“It’s weirdly romantic. Plus, we already waited five months. What was one more?”
“Usually after a few days, I give up on talking to people I matched with online. You managed to keep me around.”
“It’s my charming personality,” she said. “Men can’t get enough.”
We spent the last few months talking on social media and getting to know each other. Both of us dealing with life’s drudging bullshit and isolating ourselves from the world. As we made our way through the San Diego streets, we laughed, and our online conversations transferred to real life. Sara felt like an old familiar friend, not a stranger I never met.
I was also really high.
That might have been why it felt so natural.
“ I used to ride around on my tricycle pretending to be Pee-Wee when I was a kid,” I said. “I can still do the laugh.”
“Ha Ha ha HAAA Ha HAA.”
Sara laughed. “That’s pretty good.”
“I spent too much time alone as a kid.”
“I can’t believe we paid a hundred dollars for this,” she said.
“What are the fucking odds of Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure playing on Leap Day? Our first date, too.”
“Once in a lifetime opportunity, right here.”
“It’s gonna be weird,” I said.
“So much weird.”
The line to get into the show wrapped around the theater. More hardcore fans than Sara and I dressed up as Pee Wee and various characters from his movies and show. We both took pictures of the lit-up theater sign that had Pee Wee’s name.
“Pee-Wee Herman,” I said. “Bringing people together.”
“Little Sara never imagined this.”
We took pictures in front of the neon theater sign that had Pee Wee’s name.
Some people behind us talked about the venue taking away people’s phones. I listened in.
“They put your phone in a special case that you can’t open until after the show,” a woman dressed as Pee Wee said. “They seal your phone inside until you leave.”
“Apparently, Pee Wee didn’t want any unflattering photos or videos of his show,” said the woman standing next to her.
With it being 2020 in the land of the free, hopefully, there wasn’t some type of violent emergency during the show. How would I be able to film the carnage if my phone was locked away?
When we got to the theater entrance a tough looking monster asked for my phone. I told him no. He said something else, but I couldn’t hear him. His lips moved but there was no sound.
I was super stoned.
I nodded my head and tried to walk into the venue.
He grabbed my arm.
“Phone in here,” he said.
He handed me a pouch that was attached to a necklace. I dropped my phone in the open slot. He sealed it with a magnetic gun of some sort. I threw it around my head.
“Nice necklace,” Sara said. “Let’s find the bathroom, I gotta pee.”
We passed a pop-up gift shop which caused a massive traffic jam of people trying to buy Pee Wee merchandise. Sara and I squeezed our way through the crowd towards the stairs. Sara took a second to look at the shirts and hoodies they were selling.
“A fifty-dollar t-shirt? I love Pee Wee, but that’s capitalist bullshit,” she said.
I wanted to kiss her right there.
“I bet it turns to shit after you wash it twice,” I said.
We walked up a flight of stairs with a red carpet. It was the fanciest theater I’d ever been in. It felt more like a museum. The architecture looked like something rich people in the 1900’s built to watch plays. The joint was classy and elegant, something America never has been.
When we got to the second floor, the theater transformed into a high school. The walls were bleak gray with exposed ventilation. There were dozens of large wood doors and wide hallways that seemed to go on forever.
“I’ll be right back,” Sara said.
She disappeared down a long hallway.
I leaned up against the wall.
And waited some more.
People hurriedly passed me, attempting to get to their seats before the show started.
We’re going to miss the beginning. I bet there’s a long line to use the bathroom. There’s always a line for the women’s room. It’s poor architectural design. Women’s bathrooms should have more stalls than men’s because it takes women longer to urinate considering the process is more complicated than whipping it out and letting it flow. But God forbid women’s bathrooms are larger than men’s rooms. What an equality crisis that would be. This is good weed. Where’s Sara? Maybe she’s in trouble. Should I go down there and check? The hallway is long. The bathroom is far, and it’s in the upset direction of the men’s room. It wouldn’t be a good look for me to wander my stoned self that way. Something has to be wrong. It’s been too long. Maybe Sara couldn’t leave the same way she came in.
I searched around for another exit from the bathroom. All I saw was a sea of people swaying to their seats in slow unison. There was no secret bathroom exit.
Where is she? You’re high. Like really high. If you get all worried, you won’t enjoy it. What if I miss the show? What if the lights are off and I have to climb to our seats in the darkness? I’m too high for that. I’ll fall off the balcony to my death.
I rubbed my fingers in my sweaty palms.
The paranoia of being too high consumed me.
You need to learn to handle your drugs, amateur. High brain versus sane brain. Was it the drugs or a mental disorder?
It didn’t matter.
Sara sped walked down the hallway.
“That line was ridiculous,” she said.
“Sorry I made you wait.”
“I was fine.”
“You sure?” she asked. “I’m so fucking high. I almost forgot what I was standing in line for.”
Our seats were in the last row at the very top of the theater. The climb up the stairs made me nervous. It was too steep for my condition. Yet, somehow, we made it to our seats.
“Not a bad view from the top,” she said.
I grabbed her knee. “At least we’re dead center.”
“Dude. I am so fucking high.”
“I think I’m getting more fucked up. Like it’s not coming down.”
She rubbed my hand on her knee. “Going to make for a great movie viewing.”
The theater filled in. The lights dimmed. The movie reel clanked to life. It started with footage from the 1985 premiere of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
Sara looked at me with a giant childish grin.
The movie began.
Sitting next to us was a little boy who was watching the movie for the first time. Sara and I watched him react to the movie. Shouting “oh nos!” and excited cheers! loud enough to make everyone around us laugh. It was special being next to a child experiencing Pee Wee for the first time. Sara and I quoted our favorite lines with the entire theater. Hundreds of strangers connecting over the same quotes made me smile. A few times, Sara and I quoted lines looking at one another. By the time the movie ended, I was manageably high.
Pee Wee himself came out onto the stage and sat in a chair. He spoke to the crowd and presented a slideshow of behind-the-scenes footage on the screen where the movie once played.
A few minutes into his monologue, a phone buzzed and rang near Sara and me.
Ringing for all in the area to hear.
People are the worst.
Sara looked around pissed off, missing Pee Wee’s jokes in real life.
“Silence your damn phone,” she said.
It sounded close.
“That shit is rude,” I said.
It was coming from my necklace.
I never had my phone on ring.
But I turned it on when I told Sara to call me when she got to my apartment.
“Is that your phone?” Sara asked.
I tried to switch the ringer off through the holder.
No one ever fucking calls me.
Except for right now
At the worst possible time.
That security guard asked me if I had turned my phone off, but I was too stoned to hear him.
Sara glared at me.
I guiltily smiled before stuffing my phone necklace under my seat.
I kicked it against the wall for good measure.
Hoping it would hit the volume button.
It finally shut up.
Sara focused on Pee Wee the rest of the show.
I blew it.
At the end of his monologue, Pee Wee blew up a red balloon and slowly released the air out, little by little, causing a ridiculously farting noise. The curtains came down. It was over.
Sara and I sat in our seats while the theater cleared out. There was only one way to leave, and we’d rather sit for a bit than march like human cattle towards the streets of San Diego.
“My bad about the phone,” I said. “I was so fucking high. I forgot to turn my phone volume off. I never even have it on ring. I didn’t even hear what the guy -”
“It’s okay dude.”
“You wanna go back to my place and get more high?”
“I have to feed my pup,” she said. “This night has been the longest I’ve been away from her.”
“Should have gotten a sitter.”
“A sitter would fall in love with my pup,” she said. “I can’t risk losing her. I love her too much.”
“When can I meet her?” I asked.
“I need to think about if I want to see you again. I mean, that whole phone ringing thing. A total buzzkill.”
“I didn’t mean to -”
Sara laughed. “I’m kidding dude.”
We exited the theater, where security unlocked our phone necklaces, and took them back. Sara and I wandered towards her car, reminiscing about the show, and the experience of being around people with the same childish sense of humor.
Should I try and kiss her? The phone thing might have ruined my chances. I don’t want to be that guy and make a fun night the wrong kind of weird.
Before we realized it, we were at Sara’s car.
I had to do something.
“I wanted to fully kiss you, which is weird to say aloud, but I don’t want to be the guy who you describe as the creep who left his phone on full volume and tried to kiss you when you tell your Pee Wee story,” I said.
“You’re a real ding-dong.” Sara kissed me on the cheek. “But kinda adorable.”
“When can I see you again?” I asked.
“There’s a Friday the 13th in March.”
“Want to get cheap tattoos for the holiday?”
“We can be weird holiday buddies,” Sara said.
“I guess that’s a start.”
“I really have to get back.”
I shut her car door when she sat in her seat.
Sara’s headlights disappeared down the street.
It was the last time I saw her.
We canceled our Friday the 13th plans two days before due to a spreading global virus. A few days later, California went into lockdown. I packed my things and moved back to New Jersey.
But It’s not all bad.
If the world is still spinning in 2024, I have plans to see Sara on February 29.