I had been at my new job just over a week and already the newsroom assistant did not seem pleased with me.
"Thanks, Amber," I said hopefully, trying not to stare at the sunlight glinting off her nose-ring.
"It's Am-da," she replied, rolling her eyes.
Most of the people at my new job had been lovely and welcoming and, fortunately, not particularly stereotypical examples of crusty, hardened journalists.
The new job was officially: Cool.
My desk, an open cubicle of sorts, is in the newsroom on the 8th floor of the Review's downtown building. All four sides are floor-to-ceiling windows, and although the western side is obscured behind a row of offices and the cafeteria, I can see Squaw Peak and Camelback Mountain from my chair.
I was fixated on the fact that green-eyed Joel was nowhere to be found.
I had been surprised at the relief that came from not working in the same complex as Rick. Although we'd had the requisite closure conversations, I had become accustomed to the daily bubble of fear that our paths might cross. Now this past week, I was more fixated on the fact that Joel Rabkin, the green-eyed guy I'd met a few weeks ago at Steve and Rina’s Shabbat table, was nowhere to be found.
Steve had asked around about him at the synagogue and no one knew him. Alison asked around in Young Leadership circles and no one knew him.
The distractions of the new job had prevented me from trying some sort of voodoo ceremony to conjure him up.
Most of my first week was spent writing up calendar items about this or that tinsel-season event. I was delighted to be sent -- yes, this is my job -- to a local Jewish bookstore to write a short piece about what books are great gifts for Chanukah. I decided to take along Ari, Rina's 5-year-old kid, as a tester.
Usually if I go for a short jaunt with Ari, I swap cars with Rina to avoid the cumbersome process of transferring car seats. This time, though, Rina had a doctor's appointment, so we put Ari's seat in the back of my trusty Volvo.
Driving down Shea Boulevard, glancing at him in the mirror, I fantasized that he was my kid and that his father was Joel the Mystery Man, completed by my imagination to perfection, of course.
Rina had managed to seat Joel and I across from one another at the Shabbat meal two weeks prior, and we had had a lovely, if slightly shallow, conversation. He was a pediatrician (heavy sigh), had been in Phoenix for four years, and was from Chicago.
I would have liked to have learned more about him, but there were simply too many people at the table for substantive talk, particularly since sitting next to him was an older woman who came to Rina and Steve's on occasion and doesn't have family in the area. I find her a little creepy and strange and have never understood why Rina invites her.
The idea is to give according to what people need, not necessarily what’s comfortable for you.
"Simple," Rina has explained, "because she needs the invitation. Hospitality is fairly meaningless if it's only offered to the people whose company you enjoy, or would otherwise have a place to go. The idea is to give according to what people need, not necessarily what’s comfortable for you.”
But even Rina seemed alarmed when the woman leaned dangerously close to Joel and started telling him about how she was involved in projects to bring "heavy water" to Serbia. "Either that or a reggae festival," she said, seemingly serious.
I was flabbergasted, but Joel just nodded politely and had managed to keep off his face the look of incredulity that I was wearing.
I was impressed.
But then he had disappeared into the ether.
In the Jewish bookstore, the owner helped me collect samples of the hottest-selling books while Ari tore around the store, leaving a trail of chocolate gelt coins in his wake.
I was alarmed when I realized that I hadn't heard him knock anything over for a few minutes.
I was alarmed when I realized that I hadn't heard him knock anything over for a few minutes, and scanned the store for him. I found him behind a display of stuffed dreidels, playing nicely with a little dark-eyed girl about his age. She turned to look when someone behind me called her name, which was apparently "Michal."
"There you are!" came the voice. I turned.
It was green-eyed Joel, straight from the ether.
"Uh, hi," he said, seeing me. I wasn't sure, but I thought his eyes lit up a bit.
-- Ooooh this is “meet-cute,” I thought. Here we both are, with friends' kids, in a Jewish bookstore. Really, it doesn't get more ethnicized Nora Ephron than this.
"Uh, Joel, right?" I said, summoning every ounce of suavity at my disposal.
"Right, and you're Jessica," he said warmly.
"And this must be Michal," I said, waiting for the quick explanation of how she's his friend's or brother's kid.
"Daddy, this is Ari. He’s in my kindergarten class," she said, looking up at him.
-- Arrrrrgh!!! He's married!?
Where were his wife and child when he sat across from me at Rina’s Shabbat table looking so single and available?!
"Michal's mother had her the weekend I met you," he said, as if hearing my thoughts.
"Oh..." I responded, dumbly.
"We're divorced," he said, filling in the blanks.
"Oh..." I repeated.
I suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of awkwardness, a sort of comfort abyss. I unfortunately countered this by opening my mouth.
Into the comfort abyss bravely marched my open mouth.
"I really love kids," I said, brightly. "I love taking Ari and Sarah -- his sister, Sarah, she was asleep when you were there -- I like taking them with me places. Even just on errands, but usually I use Rina's car, and this time I used mine."
-- Omigosh, shut up, Jessica! Shut up!
"Because there was a doctor's appointment..." my mouth mercifully trailed off.
He has a kid. He is divorced. He has a kid. He was already someone's husband. He has a kid...
Unaware of what was going through my head, and not particularly phased by my verbal spillage, Joel asked if I would like to have a cup of coffee sometime. I gave him my cellphone number, and then, walking out of the store -- books under one arm, Ari clutching the other -- I couldn’t stop thinking: "What am I going to do?!"