My Dinner With Laurie


Tom County was graced with a whirlwind visit from noted cat person, former Voxer, and all around awesome person, Laurie. We exchanged e-mails and numbers, and met up for dinner Tuesday night.

It was an amazing night, one I’ll never forget.

I woke up late, showered, put on my Toronto Maple Leafs shirt, and headed off to Clearwater. Using the DorkFone’s GPS, I got hopelessly lost, till I just looked up and spotted the place. I mean, it’s Clearwater, not Manhattan. Not exactly a forest of tall buildings, and I was able to find her 8 Story hotel by using the “put down the phone, and open your frakkin eyes” system.

The hotel was lovely, and I got a good parking space.  The automatic door opened, and the girl behind the counter started to say a cheery, “Welcome to the Downtown Clearwater–” and she finished typing and looked up from her computer. “Oh! Shit! I’m sorry, tom. I mean, ‘Mister Hagrid.'” She turned around and faced the wall behind her. “As soon as you’re safely on the elevator, I will notify Ms Utley that you are here.”

Odd behavior, to be sure, but I live in the eastern part of my county, and I’ve always found Clearwater to be a little weirdo-intensive. Plus, Laurie’s last name isn’t Utley. Her favorite Phillie is Chase Utley, sure, but…oh, well. I shook my head, and rode the elevator to Laurie’s floor.  Little signs guided me to her room. 

I must admit, I was a little nervous. I mean, Laurie was one of my first friends on Vox, and I’ve always loved her writing, both in “Godblog” and on her blogs. I also knew she was a lovely redhead, and lovely redheads make me deliciously nervous as well. What the hell, right? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I knocked.

At once, the door opened a crack, against that chrome lock thingy. I heard a shotgun ratchet a shell into the chamber, and I found myself staring down into two sawed-off barrels. “Tom?”
“Yes, ma’am?”
“What’s the name of the blogging barista in Godblog?”
“The Canadian National Anthem?”
“‘O, Canada’?”
“Shit. Too easy. Okay, who’s the centre for the Leafs?”
“First and middle, too.”
“Umm, Grabovski, Mikhail Jurjevič.”
“Am I Laurie with an e, or Lauri without an e?”
“WITH an e. The other Lauri lives in the American part of Canada, and works in a lab, wrangling blood and toenails and poo, and probably things that would cause me nightmares.”
“Finally, name two of my three cats.”
“Um, Tumbleweed and Sodapop?”
She closed the door, unhinged the chrome thingy, and threw the door back open. “TOM!!!” She smiled and gave me a big hug without the shotgun. I hugged her back, my fear dissipating. “So nice to meet you in person! I have gifts for you, but I’m starving, so let’s go eat. I would love some nice grouper.”

Laurie grabbed her backpack, and we walked to the elevator, chatting away like the old friends we are.  The elevator door opened, and Laurie bellowed, “DOWN!” There was a scrambling noise followed by silence. We walked outside, “I’ve had fun, but I’m trying to get Cranky to come down with me next spring. Oh! Is this the USS Nimitz?”
“Yup. Be it ever so humble…” I walked to the passenger’s side door and unlocked it, opening it for her.

“Thank you, sir,” she said, then quickly swiped the keys from my hand. “Get in. I’m driving.”

Uh. “Okay, I guess.”

She sprinted around the back of the Nimitz, unlocked the driver’s side door and climbed inside.

“Oh, jeez. We’ll need to move the seat up a bit.”

She pulled the adjust lever and slid the seat all the way forward. My knees hadn’t been that close to my chin in a long time.  Laurie cranked the engine, and mashed in the clutch. “Five-speed, standard-H?”
“Ma’am? Oh. Yes. Standard H. 5th right and up, reverse right and down.”

She backed the big truck up, then grinned. She popped the clutch and roared out onto Court Street, heading for Clearwater Beach. A red light stopped us before we made the Causeway. A Mustang convertible pulled up next to the truck.

“Hey, red! Toss me a cigarette.” Laurie ignored him.

“Seriously. Toss me a cigarette, red.”
“I don’t smoke. And do NOT call me ‘red.'”
“C’mon, red. Don’t be such a b–“

I hadn’t been watching when she unzipped the backpack. Faster than a rattlesnake smiting a fieldmouse, Laurie whipped out a ginormous chrome, .50 caliber Magnum Research Desert Eagle and aimed it dead center on the obnoxious kid’s forehead.

The punk driving the Mustang floored it and ran the light. Laurie snorted derisively. “Wanna try Frenchy’s? I saw their billboard at the Phillies game.”
“Sure. Sounds great.”

There are maybe seven Frenchy’s Cafés in Clearwater Beach. Every one of them was packed and loud. We found one right on the beach. It looked reasonably docile, so Laurie parked the Nimitz, and I unfolded out of the passenger side.

The closer we got to Frenchy’s, the less docile it appeared. It was a cool night, and the wind whipping over the Gulf did anything but warm us up. There was a giant goon at the stand where you put in your table request.

“Help you two?”
Laurie answered. “Is there anyplace quiet?”
“Tried a nursing home?”
Daggers from Laurie’s eyes.
“Around back. The singer will take a break soon, so it will quiet down a little.”
“Do you have real grouper here?”
“‘The hell do you mean ‘real’, lady?”
“Subfamily Epinephinelae? Not a bloody tilapia with a grouper pricetag.”
“Lady, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference anyway.”

Laurie judo-chopped the hulking smartass in the neck, then punched him in the solar plexus, finishing with a swift kick in the giant’s steroid-shrunken balls. “Please. Be. Polite,” she said to his green-tinged face. She grabbed my elbow, and led me back to the Nimitz.

I was shocked and awed to say the least. Lauri drove slowly, laughing as an ambulance drove back toward Frenchy’s. “Oh. Crabby Bill’s!” There, in neon, were the two magic words: “REAL! GROUPER.”

Yes, the exclamation mark was after “real,” as if to say “it’s not tilapia pretending. Please, ma’am, don’t kick our ass.”

We sat at the bar, drinking soft drinks and watching the Phillies game replay on the big screen. All at once, our table was ready. We walked upstairs to the dining room.  We sat down at a table in the corner. A perky little waitress named Ashley introduced herself, took our drink orders, and left.

“Well, at least the sign said the grouper is real.” Laurie looked to her left, then back to her menu. Her hand dropped to her backpack, and out came the Desert Eagle again. A young couple was canoodling to our left.  Laurie slid the gun into her lap.

“What are YOU doing here, MacSweeny? Make a wrong turn somewhere? You’re a long way from Calgary, friend.”
“Crikey! Laurie! Um, this is Penelope, my new wife. We’re on our honeymoon. Penelope? This is Laurie.”
“THE Laurie? From that secret branch of the Onta–“
“Penny, shush!”
“Stay where I can see your hands, Mac.” Laurie picked up her Blackberry and punched in some digits. Mac and Penny made a lovely tableau of young love and moral terror. Laurie smiled at the information she received, just as Ashley arrived with our drinks.
“Our special tonight is Dungeness Crab, a pound for–SWEET JESUS!” Laurie looked down at the giant gun.
“I do apologize, Ashley.” The Desert Eagle disappeared into the backpack. “My colleague and his bride are on their honeymoon. Please add their dinners and drinks to my bill. I don’t think they’ll need dessert.”
“Nope. Come, Penelope. Thank you, Laurie.”
“You’re welcome, MacSweeny. Congratulations. Now then, Ashley,” Laurie purred, patting her backpack. “Please tell me your grouper truly is real.”

Okay. A lot of that happened. A lot of that…well, it didn’t quite happen EXACTLY like I wrote it. Laurie did not have the hotel staff cowed, nor did she beat the crap out of a large bouncer. The thing with the gun and the cigarette and the two fratboys in the Mustang convertible? Absolutely, 100% true! Except that it happened in Tallahassee. During the day. 23 years ago.

Oh, and it was a .38 snub-nose, not a Desert Eagle. And it was a six-foot-five radio engineer named Pete, not Laurie. The skid marks–real and euphemistic–were real, though.

Seriously, I had a wonderful evening with Laurie. I met Sailor Babo, who honored me by posing with the very DorkFone upon which I’m posting this. Laurie rode in the USS Nimitz (I drove, though), and we had a most delicious dinner. She got her REAL! GROUPER, and I had the perfect scallop, along with a 98th percentile deviled crab. We split a slice of orange cheesecake, but we were both so full that a bite or two survived.

The conversation was wonderful, as well. We closed down Crabby Bill’s, and talked in her room till nearly 1am.

It was an interesting phenomenon, this first meeting with an old Vox friend. We’ve been reading each other’s blogs for nearly four years, so we know a lot of the stories, without knowing the “basics.” She knew about my Fournier’s battle and lack of any semblance of logical thought process; I knew about how she trapped cats and published “Godblog.” We knew these big stories, and while she knew I have Brother Marky, and I knew she had a sister, I didn’t know she had NINE sisters!

Lol. Neither did she. 😉

What struck me the most was not just that this brilliant, amazingly interesting woman and I talked for six solid hours without more than a second or two of silence, but that there was no awkwardness. Thru Vox, thru WP, and e-mails and fictions, we’d already vetted one another. We can’t choose our relatives, or our coworkers. But on the whole gigantoid Interwebs, little groups of compatible lunatics find one another. In Cute Overload, Vox, Word Press, even FB and Twitter, friendships are formed that are just as real, sometimes moreso, than the relationships we have in “real life.”

In today’s world, we can buy nearly anything online. A book I buy from has the same words and binding as one I buy from my brick-and-mortar local bookstore. The difference is, it’s less hassle. I don’t have to put on pants or drive on a crowded Interstate.

I loved the movie “My Dinner With Andre.” Tuesday night, I felt like I was in it during My Dinner With Laurie.

The only difference is, she got out of the bitter Siberian Canadian winter, and I enjoyed the perfect scallop.

If ever you visit my sandbar, give me some notice. For I know a place where you can find REAL! GROUPER. (Or the World’s VERY FIRST Hooter’s, if that’s how you’d rather roll.)

Happy Weekend.


15 Responses to “My Dinner With Laurie”

  1. Lol!
    Loved every word!

    This is exactly how I felt meeting every person from Vox at the peepmeet in Boston! (well, everyone that showed up in Boston…not every Vox person)!
    We gabbed and gabbed and laughed and laughed and it was just excellent! SO glad you guys had a good time! But who wouldn’t have a good time with either one of you?!?! I’m really getting a hankering for a peepmeet again!

  2. I was so disappointed I couldn’t make it to Boston to meet you all. It sounded like so much fun.

    And tom county is just a few miles down I-75 from you. I know where we can go for fresh *snerk*. 😀

  3. Some snerks, a few hees and the perfect scallop! Sounds EXcellent! 😀

  4. Something like this happened at the Chicago meetup. I believe someone put up a small brass plaque in an alley, to explain the bullet holes in the brick.

  5. Delightful! (Your company and the chronicle of events.) Thank you for rendering me so kickass!

    • The pleasure was mine. (See how in the end, it sounds like I made-up the part about you issuing the bouncer beat-down or carrying huge weapons? ;))

      Actually, when I met your fellow Canadian, Bruce Cockburn, I had to direct him to a nearby shooting range. He and his road manager enjoy target-shooting, and were off to blow away some targets.

      I’m sure the folks in your section are missing you.

  6. Very very awesome. My favorite part was trying to remember if this was Laurie (with an “e”) or Lauri (just an “i”) that you were meeting. She one bad mutha— shut yo mouth — just talking about Laurie…

    Glad to see the good-vox culture and community lives on.

    And in a non-sequitur, GO PHILLIES!

    • I love it, Steve. Now I’ll have Isaac Hayes running through my head all night. Not a bad thing. Laurie and I talked quite a bit about Vox, mostly about the intersecting Venn diagrams that were our neighborhoods. It was good.

  7. How does Laurie feel about Sam the Wonder Dog? 😉

    All versions of this story are entertaining. Now we know where to find Real! Grouper when we need it.

    • We talked significantly about cats, LT, but Sam the Wonder Dog never came up. Que?

    • Much of Sam the Wonderdog’s work is sub rosa, LT, and I have an INsecurity Clearance, so Laurie wouldn’t be free to discuss him with me. Definitely cats, though. And the importance of REAL! GROUPER

  8. I really, really need new glasses. I thought you were saying Laurie was looking for a “real groper.” :-0

    Do all Vox/now-WP meetups end up like this, btw? Because I haven’t packed heat in a long, long time. I don’t think I can even drive with a manual shift anymore.

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