The sound of the crash could be heard throughout the galaxy. At least, as far as he was concerned. In his mind, there was no way that all extraterrestrial forms couldn’t hear it as well. It was thunderous, stereophonic–a knell that signaled the demise of any sense of cool he might have been able to exude as a first impression. That he was on an inaugural date when he made the plate shatter–jump off the table and commit suicide, as it were–incited him to want to commit suicide along with it. He was hot and flushed with embarrassment, his cheeks so red, it looked like someone had made him up to mirror Marie Antoinette. He couldn’t believe his bumbling nature–his congenital butter fingers–would choose to strike at a moment like this, when he was in the very germinal, therefore precarious, phase of getting to know someone. He supposed he couldn’t help his abnormally high sense of jitteriness that afternoon. It’s just that, he had been burned so many times before, and he really did like Harlow. She seemed as though she might have been able to accept him, and all his shortcomings… were it not for him breaking a plate and humiliating them both.
She tried to make light of the situation, seeing how upset it had made him to a degree that was painting the accident out to be something far more awkward than it needed to be. The waiter, who was vexed and wary of sweeping up the variously-sized shards, left enough remnants behind to transform the sidewalk into something of a social experiment as Joe and Harlow watched passersby and bicyclists blithely walk or roll over the piercing shards only to fathom the pain that hit them a few steps later. Harlow was endlessly amused by it, for she felt it only proved her longstanding belief that people never looked beyond themselves. That they deserved a karmic slap in the face, so to speak, for their intrinsic self-involvement.
Joe wasn’t the same way, he was positively sniveling toward other people, and Harlow was honestly surprised he didn’t try to give the waiter oral right then and there to try to make him forget about the fact that he was sweeping porcelain shards up from the ground. Well, the ones he deemed close enough within his jurisdiction. Which is how Joe and Harlow ended up watching the social experiment unfold. By and large, people didn’t seem to want to acknowledge that anything had “pricked” them in some way. Because it is human nature to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that bad things can’t happen. At least not to you. So it is that it would often take them several more steps to recognize that they had been jabbed or that their tire had been given a flat.
Each time, the person who was slighted seemed instinctively to know to look back at Joe. As though immediately aware he was the culprit behind this. He was sweating profusely and becoming increasingly catatonic. He begged, “Would you mind finishing up that couscous a little bit faster? I really don’t want to be at the scene of this crime anymore.”
“It’s couscous…” Harlow offered as a non-explanatory explanation for why it might be taking her a bit of a minute to finish it. And it was really fucking good, too. We’re talking authentic homemade shit that’s almost impossible to find unless you’re in France. But they weren’t in France. They were in non-glamorous Philadelphia and this was certainly not any “grand romance,” as it would have been in Paris. Instead, all Harlow could feel was pity for Joe’s lack of confidence, his self-deprecating nature pushed to manifest in such a specific way with the crashing of the plate. What was the big deal? she wondered. People made fools of themselves every day in far worse ways and went on about their business without even the slightest sense of shame. How could he be so self-flagellating as to feel the need to punish himself over such a minor offense? It was on that note that a little girl screamed in agony when a shard flew into her face after the wheel of the scooter in front of her ricocheted it back into her cheek, scratching it with the ferocity of a tiger’s claw.
Joe glared at Harlow. “We really need to leave.”
They concluded the rest of their date just as laboriously in FDR Park. It wasn’t exactly the most picturesque tableau, but then, this hadn’t been the most picturesque rendezvous. Harlow felt obliged to keep the hangout going so as to ensure Joe wouldn’t go home and kill himself over that damn plate. They found a spot to sit on a brown patch of grass near the water. Harlow resisted the urge to run away from him and try to find someone to fuck at the skate park.
A palpable silence was mounting, and Harlow felt obliged to fill it with, “You probably haven’t seen City of Angels, but Nicolas Cage plays this guy who gives a fake name to Meg Ryan and he comes up with it by happening to stare at a plate and so then he’s like, ‘Yeah, my name is Seth Plate.’ I think that’s what my nickname for you is going to be.”
Joe blinked at her. “But my name is Joe.”
Harlow put her index finger and thumb up to the bridge of her nose to pinch it. As though it would relieve the tension of spending time with someone so utterly devoid of humor or a sense of irony. She nodded and said, “Yeah. It’s Joe.” She wanted to add, “I’m not gonna know you long enough to make coming up with a nickname worth it,” but kept that thought to herself.
After they parted ways, with Harlow doing the decent thing and actually walking out of the park with him to make him believe she was really leaving, she went back in to find a skater. At her apartment, the new Seth Plate railed her so hard against the kitchen counter that her plate collection rattled out of the cabinet and broke into hundreds of pieces on the floor. She didn’t feel even remotely abashed.