It wasn’t a good date, and it ended with me walking back to my car and finding a parking ticket on the windshield. It turned out the permit she had given me to park legally in her neighborhood wasn’t valid until the following night.

Goodbye, $50.

I was upset and texted her a photo of the parking ticket, for which she apologized profusely and insisted she would pay. At first I thought, “Of course she should pay. It’s her fault.” Then I realized her paying for the ticket would require me to see her again, which I didn’t want. So I paid the ticket myself and sent her the “We Just Want Different Things” text. Nice, easy break-up that I have no bitterness over. Occasionally she pops up in my “suggested friends” on Facebook and I see that she has a boyfriend now. I wish them the best.

***

A year earlier, I was back in the “on” stages of an on-and-off relationship. I had broken things off, but she kept calling and texting and calling and texting, until finally I picked up my phone. She told me we had taken things too fast and asked if we could still see each other, just “more casually.”

Don’t do it, Giorgio. It’s a trap.

I had just gotten food poisoning a few nights before, so I wasn’t particularly in the mood for a big meal. In fact, it was getting late, and I was ready to call it a night. So I texted the woman I was seeing (let’s call her “parking-ticket lady”) and told her I was tired. She interpreted that as a booty call and told me not to be so presumptuous. I wasn’t, but now I felt guilty. So I told her I would take her somewhere to eat as long as they had tea and cold noodles.

“Cold noodles?” she asked. “What does that even mean?”

“It’s what I like to eat when I’m sick.”

“Well, I don’t know what’s open that would serve cold noodles…”

So she suggested a place in Hollywood she’d been meaning to try, a place that “had a little bit of everything,” and I made us a reservation. There was a parking space right in front of the restaurant, and I pulled into it, thinking I had struck gold. Then I read the parking signs, and like all signs in Hollywood, they said a bunch of contradictory things that made no sense, but I decided I would rather be safe than sorry and decided to move my car.

Then the passenger door opened.

“You forgot about me!” she yelled across the sidewalk.

I turned around, “Huh?” I asked.

“You usually get the door for me.”

“I know, but I was readi—“

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go.”

“But the parking signs say, ‘Tow-Away Zone.’ “

“Nobody’s going to TOW us! That’s for people who park here the whole night.”

“Oh,” I replied, and walked her to the restaurant, making sure to hold the door open for her so as to avoid another outburst.

After the host sat us, I sat anxiously for seven minutes, thinking about how I was illegally parked. After ordering a bottle of sparkling water to settle my stomach, I told my date I was going to move my car.

It had only been seven minutes, but the city of Los Angeles shows no mercy. Not three minutes after I had parked there, a meter maid had already showed up and written me up. Goodbye, $72. (Plus the $15 to park my car in the new, legal space.)

When I returned to the dinner table, I tried to have a sense of humor about it. I asked my date how long she thought we had been parked. She said probably 5 minutes. I laughed, pulled out the ticket and laid it on the table.

“Oh my God,” she replied.

“It’s OK. Let’s not let us ruin our night.”

“No, I know. I’m just thinking, maybe I should pay for it.”

Ya think?

She continued, “I mean, I know I don’t have to, but I feel like maybe I should.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Or maybe we could split the cost?”

You’re kidding.

“Let’s talk about this later,” I suggested, so as not to get too upset.

The waiter came to take our order, and I limited myself to an appetizer. After the appetizer, we ordered tea and an apple tart a la mode to share. Our conversation felt very free. We were both seeing other people, knowing that this wasn’t going to be anything serious, and she was telling me all about this guy who was hitting on her at work:

“I have a boyfriend,” she told him when she first realized he was hitting on her.

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “What does he have that I don’t?”

I was shocked that a man would ask that. I mean, I thought the whole reason women said, “I have a boyfriend” to creeps who hit on them at work is that it scares them off. Those types of men won’t respect the word “No” or any variants thereof, so instead have to threaten them with the hypothetical existence of another man.

But apparently, this man wasn’t threatened.

“He knows what he wants,” she told him. “Do you know what you want?”

At first, he walked out of the room, defeated, but then he came back, handed her his business card, and insisted that she take it. She told me she was conflicted because she was attracted to the guy and I hadn’t been taking her seriously, and that when I had broken things off with her initially, she had texted him.

I wasn’t jealous. I thought it was weird she was telling me all this while on a date with me, especially while I was sick, but I wasn’t jealous. We weren’t serious and weren’t going to be. Maybe her running off with this guy would be the best-case scenario for all of us.

“So what’s the deal with you and that girl Melody?” she asked. Melody (fake name, of course) was an acquaintance we had run into once before at a bar where I liked to sing live-piano karaoke. She was what’s known in the gay community as a “fruit fly,” a woman who loves to surround herself with gay men and immerse herself in their culture. She had given me her number once–at that same bar, actually–but we didn’t hit it off and nothing ever materialized. Running into me on a date with another woman seemed to make Melody more flirty, but I didn’t flirt back. I didn’t like her, and even if I did, I was leaving with the one I came in with.

Yet here we were, a month later, and I was still being asked about Melody.

So I told parking-ticket lady the whole story: how yes I was interested in her originally, but upon getting to know her further, it just wasn’t going to happen.

“Well, to be honest,” she interrupted. “When I saw you talking to her, I just though, ‘Wow, why aren’t you dating her?’ “

“Hm…I don’t know,” I laughed. “I mean, who knows? Maybe I misjudged her.”

“She was into you. I saw it. You could definitely date her if you wanted to.”

What’s your angle here, lady? Why do you keep talking about this other girl, egging me on? Is it so you don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that you’re seeing other people? OK, I guess I’ll give you the green light.

I shrugged, “Well, maybe I will.”

Wrong answer.

“I have to use the restroom,” she said, disappearing abruptly. I immediately pulled out my phone to check my messages. Sometimes you get phone-separation anxiety on a date, especially when your phone is in your pocket, buzzing over and over. So it’s a relief when your date goes to the bathroom because you can finally check all those messages.

I was still looking at my phone when she came back and seated herself. I was off in social-media land, not at all mindful of the conversations we’d just had, both about the guy from her work that she wanted to date, or my friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend whom she suggested I should date.

“I’m sorry,” she said, not because she was actually sorry, but because that’s what people like her say when they want your attention. “I did not like where that conversation was going.”

“What conversation?” I put down my phone and tried to make eye contact, even though it was hard because I could see how upset she was.

“About you and Melody! You’re on a date with me and you’re already fantasizing about the next girl?”

“I wasn’t fa—“

“Fine, Giorgio! You want to @#$% Melody so bad. THEN GO @#$% MELODY!”

Everyone in the restaurant was now staring at us, and the waiter was hovering behind her with the apple tart, trying to keep a safe distance so as to avoid an awkward situation.

“I don’t tell YOU about how I want to @#$% other men! Should I tell you about that? Should I tell you about how this guy who hit on me at work looks more like Leonardo DiCaprio than you do?”

 I looked up at the waiter, still standing several yards away, and watched the ice cream melt as the steam rose from our dessert. Eventually, my date took a hint and looked back, too.

He set the apple tart down between us, and I stared at my half of it, having completely lost my appetite. I was already sick, I wanted to be asleep an hour ago, I had gotten a $74 parking ticket, and now I was getting screamed at in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

I stared at the parking ticket and remembered the date. It was April Fool’s Day. That had to be it, right? This meltdown was clearly an April Fool’s joke.

But no. Looking up at her, watching her glare at me as she scarfed down both of our halves of the apple tart, I could tell this was no joke.

“You’re lucky this is so good,” she remarked, “Or I’d probably still be yelling at you.”

I looked back down at the parking ticket, getting ready to cry. I wish I had walked out then and there. I wish she hadn’t seen me cry, I wish I had walked out of the restaurant and stuck her with the whole check as punishment for how unacceptably she behaved. Why didn’t I? Was it because all her yelling made me believe I had actually done something wrong? Was it because, despite how awful she was, she still seemed better than being alone?

…or was it just that I didn’t want to have to go through all this and then have to pay for the parking ticket on top of it?

Seeing the tears well up in my eyes, her tone changed.

“Giorgio, come on,” a new, soothing voice emerged from her lips. “I take it back.”

“You can’t just take that back!” I snapped.

“Giorgio, stop! It’s embarrassing.”

I’m embarrassing you?

I snagged the last of the apple tart before she could take it all.

The waiter walked past us and dropped the check on our table without making eye contact. He wanted us gone. Everyone at the restaurant wanted us gone. I sat there, waiting for her to take out her wallet. This whole dinner was her idea. I was sick and didn’t even want to go out, but she had dragged me there, getting me a parking ticket along the way. She was paying for this meal. All of it.

At least, that’s what I would have said if the incident had happened today, but at the time, all I could think about was how I didn’t want to give her cause to make another scene. So I pulled out my credit card and slid it into the clear sleeve.

She looked at me, horrified again. What had I done this time?

“You’re paying with a Discover card?” she moaned.

***

The parking ticket is just one example of many open-ended conflicts that might arise when dating someone, conflicts which make you stay in relationships you don’t want to stay in, because you’re worried that leaving will prevent the conflicts from being resolved. Sometimes your ex will owe you money, and you know that if you break up, you’re never going to see that money. Sometimes you’ll leave your belongings at an ex’s house, and you know that if you break up, those belongings might get set on fire. In the end, it’s a small price to pay for the sanity of knowing that you don’t owe them anything. They can keep the money they offered to pay for your parking ticket. They can keep your favorite pair of bunny slippers and give them to their dog as a chew toy. But they can’t keep you, and if they’re the type of person who would emotionally (or in this case, literally) blackmail you into staying, then they definitely don’t deserve to keep you, anyway.

I doubt things with the second parking-ticket lady would have gone as badly had I stuck around, but it didn’t matter. Her offering to pay for the parking ticket was the main reason I looked forward to another date with her, and that’s not fair to either of us. So I paid for the ticket myself, let her go, and took comfort in the fact that, for once, I had learned a lesson from a previous dating horror story.

As for “that girl Melody,” it turned out she had a boyfriend the whole time I knew her, and just never mentioned it when she gave me her number or when we exchanged flirty texts immediately after. Worse yet, it turned out she was a Republican. A die-hard, Trump-supporting Republican, at that. Can you imagine? A woman who hangs out with gay men all the time, goes to Pride events to dance and drink with them, and then votes to take their rights away? I guess I dodged two bullets in this story (or three, depending how you look at it).

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