A serious woman

I was young — 19, maybe 20 — and stupid. At the office where I worked, I'd been transferred to a different department with a brilliant boss, who was fired shortly thereafter. The new boss who replaced her was an ass, and I soon informed him of this, which got me fired, too. Lesson learned. The boss gives you a performance review, but you don’t get to give him one.

Unemployed, I assessed my options and decided that the easiest, most obvious option was going back to fast food. I’d been very low-level management at both McDonald’s and Burger King, and having fast-food experience means you can easily get a job if you’re willing to flip burgers again. The nearest fast-food to my apartment was a McDonald’s — the one under the Space Needle, in Seattle — so that's where I worked for the next few years.

All the unasked-for advice says you shouldn’t date people from work, but that’s an implausible rule if you have 2/3 of just one friend and no social life. Work was all I had, so McDonald's is where I met Joyce, and clumsily flirted with her. She laughed at my jokes, I laughed at hers, and we shared a geeky love for Star Trek, so after we'd made a few thousand hamburgers together, I asked her out.

On McDonald’s wages, there’s not very ‘out’ you can go. Our dates were usually a meal at that same McDonald’s, and then, always, she’d drive to my place, and we’d watch TV. We had seven dates, Joyce & I, and every one of them ended up on my couch watching TV. I’m a boring man, and nothing much happened on that couch.

Joyce was 19, Asian, and from a strict family. She was only supposed to date and marry an Asian man, and she was dating an Asian man. She liked me better than him, but I’m not Asian, so even holding my hand was a violation of her family rules.

Holding hands was all we did until ending our third and fourth dates with quick smooches, and our fifth and sixth dates with longer smooches. Our seventh and last date is the night I’m writing about today, 41 years later.

We had burgers and fries and shakes at McDonald’s, and then she drove us to my place, and we settled onto the couch to watch Little House on the Prairie. How damned wholesome were we?

When Little House ended, we changed the channel to MASH, and our conversation drifted toward war. She said something like, “MASH is funny and all, but you can tell they’re against the Korean War.” Being Korean-American, she went on to explain that without US intervention, the commies from North Korea would’ve captured and would probably still control Seoul, and all of South Korea.

I didn’t know anything about the Korean War except MASH, so I only nodded, but Joyce wanted more than nodding. She pressed for my opinion, and I didn’t have one, but I wanted some smooching so I said I agreed.

You know, I still don’t really have an opinion on the Korean War. I don’t share the Republican opinion that commies are bad and must be beaten back everywhere, but when one country invades another — the commie North invaded the moneyed and US-backed South to start that mess — I’m rooting against the aggressor. That said, rooting is one thing, but fighting is altogether something else. It always seems to fall on US soldiers to hold back the commies, the Shahs, the terrorists, but I'm not convinced that Americans should die for Korea, or Vietnam, or Afghanistan. 

When MASH was over, there was nothing good on any of the four rabbit-ear channels, so instead Joyce and I had our first and only serious ‘relationship’ conversation. She asked what I wanted from dating her. 

Well, come on. What do you think I wanted? I answered her question, and she said, “Well, you’re not getting that unless we’re married, and my family would never let me marry you, so you’re just not getting that.” I can’t remember my mom’s middle name, but I can remember exactly what Joyce said, right down to the pauses, reflected in commas.

“I’ll settle for some kissing,” I said, trying to be sound more like Michael Landon on Little House than Hawkeye on MASH. And behold, there was extensive kissing, which I later realized was kissing goodbye. After some mild-mannered couch wrestling, she straightened her hair and mine and asked her third tough question, “Is McDonald’s where you want to work?” 

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s pays the rent, and there's a free meal every shift. It’s not gonna be my life’s work, but I’m not planning to quit soon.”

“I’m giving my notice tomorrow,” she announced, and explained that she’d been accepted at college, and she wanted some time for herself before classes started.

I said congratulations, and asked the mandatory question, “What are you going to major in?”

She said, “Criminal law,” and I didn’t even know what that was. I thought it meant she’d be a lawyer, but she corrected me. “It’s training to be a police detective,” she explained, “though of course, I’ll have to start as a beat cop.”

Being a zygote, I had no particular political beliefs yet, but I didn’t like cops, and I’m sure Joyce saw that in my face. To me, police were the people who prevented other people from having fun — they’d arrest kids for drinking, for smoking tobacco, and definitely for smoking weed. Cops were the guys who banged on the windows of parked cars to break up make-out sessions, like the one we’d just had on my couch. Cops were no fun at all, and I'd been kissing someone who wanted to be a cop?

Angie Dickinson was fine in Police Woman, but I didn't want to date a police woman. That thought flashed across my brain, but there’s a severe shortage of women willing to kiss me, so I wasn't going to break up with Joyce.

It wouldn't be my choice, though. She took a deep breath, and told me that she’d been asking these questions because, "I needed to know whether you’re a serious man.” She’d decided I wasn’t, so this would be our last date.

No tears. No arguments from me. She was right, and I knew it. Just 19 years old, she was already a serious woman. I was not a serious man, and never became one.

“Can we kiss some more, for old time's sake?” I asked, a joke to break the tension. She said no, and gathered her things. I walked her to her car, and as promised, there was no kiss. We worked a few more shifts together at McDonald’s before her last day at that job, and we were cordial, but beyond 'hi' and 'good night' we never spoke again.

Joyce hasn't popped into my mind in ages, but this morning I was having a nostalgic ride on Seattle's monorail, and hey, there's the McDonald's where we worked (1:52). One Google led to another, and soon I found a single paragraph in a 2016 newsletter, mentioning her retirement after thirty years with the county sheriff’s office, including 22 years as a detective. Congratulations, Joyce.

Back then I didn't like cops, and now I dislike cops much more than then, but for Joyce I’ll make an exception. She was serious at 19, knew what she wanted, worked for it, and earned it. I hope she didn’t knock on too many fogged-up car windows, or fracture any skulls that didn’t need to be fractured, but I am proud of Detective Joyce. 



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