Up close, Poe was much softer and more feminine that I had been expecting. He had full lips and large doe eyes. I was surprised, pleasantly so, as all the pictures I had seen of him made him look at his most benign like Napoleon and at his worst like a drug-crazed, disheveled lunatic coming off a week-long bender. Truthfully, I’m not sure how much difference there is between the two. He still looked a little like Napoleon, but not unpleasantly so. And I am pretty sure he had applied Preparation H under his eyes or iced his face in a bidet a la Sonja Morgan (yes, that was a Real Housewives of New York reference in a post about Edgar Allan Poe. Blasphemy, I know, but I’ve always enjoyed the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane), because his eyes were as tight as Kroy Biermann’s ass (yes, I just sunk a level lower with a Real Housewives of Atlanta reference).
“I suppose you would like our date just a bit better if it was on a dark and stormy night.” I laughed. Here was Edgar Allan Poe standing in the doorway of my Baltimore brick rowhouse cracking a joke, a self-aware one at that. I wondered how many novelty dates he endured. His voice barely topped the street noise and he emitted a nervous energy, which made it all the more endearing. The remaining sun glinted orange off his shiny black curls.
“Well, you certainly dressed the part,” I said as I took his extended hand and stepped down out of the doorway. He wore mostly black, with a white blouse with a ruffled scarf at the neck. He completed the ensemble with a long black cape and a top hat.
“I didn’t want to disappoint,” he noted softly as he looked at the sidewalk. “You look lovely,” he added, his eyes returning to me.
As we walked toward the waterfront, I felt garish next to him in my purple wrap dress. My geometric, multicolored Doc Martens made me look like I had walked through one of Picasso’s cubist paintings. We didn’t match, but somehow we fit.
We walked to Fell’s Point and strode in to One Eyed Mike’s. The tourist vibe ratcheted down a bit here, as it was a little ways away from the main strip of restaurants and bars. But plenty of sunburned faces scarred by white sunglasses lines turned and stared as we headed for the back. Edgar grabbed my hand, pulled me close, and whispered, “I hate it when people stare so longingly at my date. It’s quite rude.”
I laughed and said, “I believe they are staring at the cape. And not longingly.”
We sat in a dark corner at a small wood table with a kitschy pirate-themed candle. Our server came over and stared at Edgar, speechless. She obviously knew who he was. I wondered if she was a writer herself, so many of us mistakenly believing that a restaurant life provides enough free time to write and enough money to pay the bills. I marveled at the fact a structured professional life was actually more conducive to finding time and space, but then again, it had always been about discipline for me.
“So, a pirate bar?” I asked.
“Weren’t your two favorite bars back in San Francisco a tiki bar and a pirate bar?” he asked, a bit defensively. He had me there.
Our date was mostly awkward pauses and sidelong glances interspersed with humorous one-liners, that is until the rum drinks we ordered arrived. We both consumed our first round alarmingly fast and I felt like I was swimming in the twilight zone of the ocean. Nothing makes a wallflower bloom quite like a stiff drink.
“Tell me, Ms. Diva,” Edgar said in a now audible, more confident voice, “what is your opinion of dice?”
I choked a little on another drink that had magically appeared. I reached for a crab cake that had similarly shown up like an apparition. “Um, dice?” I replied, a crumb balancing precariously on my lower lip. He gently grazed it with his forefinger and watched it plummet to its demise on the table.
“Yes, my lovely, dice. Please don’t tell me you are one of these religious fanatic types that opposes gambling.” His face drew lines of real concern above his brow.
I laughed. “Religious types tend not to condone Rum Runners,” I slightly slurred. He nodded and smiled. “As for dice, I like them. A lot. Perhaps a little too much. Usually I am quite lucky and win when gambling, but the last time I played craps, I lost. Big time.” I proceeded to indulge myself in a memory of the last time I was in Atlantic City when two teamsters named Al and Sal made a killing off me and my errors at the craps table. When I had finished, I looked at him and said, “It really was much cooler in my head. All these years I thought that was a great story.” I sensed the date was dangerously close to an early drop-off and a final farewell wave from the street corner.
“Well,” he said, “there is an eloquence in true enthusiasm. And you, my dear, are effervescently enthusiastic. Perhaps what you need is another chance at the table to create a story you will enjoy telling years down the road.”
I paused and took a deep breath. I had gone down this road with Faulkner and it had gotten me arrested and very nearly tried for grand theft. Plus, I had read that Edgar had once had a terrible gambling problem. But, the back of my brain, that part that harbored the devil’s henchman, spoke up saying, “This could be legendary.”
“What are you proposing?” I asked, knowing full well what was on the table.
“My driver is out front. Let’s go to Atlantic City now and rewrite history.” He smiled mischievously.
“Your driver? What? How?” I was more concerned with how he managed to summon a driver than I was with the prospect of heading to Atlantic City with a known drunk and gambling addict. Did he have some supernatural power? Would I become subject to such summoning, commanded as though I had no will of my own?
“I have an iPhone, like everyone else.”
“Yes, of course, you have an iPhone.”
“What, you thought it something mystical?” He laughed at me.
“Well, um,” I stammered, “I feel a little stupid now.”
“Stupidity, my dear, is a talent for misconception. Perhaps your affliction is better described as silliness.” There was nothing I hated more than to be referred to as a silly woman. He distracted me, though, before I could launch into a feminist diatribe on the subject. “Shall we take our leave of fake pirates and immerse ourselves in an environment of true knaves?” he continued, one eyebrow cocked.
I nodded assent, against my better judgment, and held his hand as we walked through back out through the crowded bar.
“I don’t think we paid,” I said when we arrived on the sidewalk in front of his Town Car. “Really, a businessman’s car?” I asked without waiting for a response regarding the status of our check. I was a little disappointed, though I don’t know what kind of vehicle I expected. A hearse would have been too macabre, even for him.
“I have a running tab. What can I say, I like pirates. As for the car, I like privacy, anonymity. And comfort.” He opened the door for me, instead of his chauffeur, which was a nice touch.
I slid in to the car and it was incredibly comfortable. I leaned back against the seat and briefly closed my eyes, nearly falling asleep. I opened them quickly, lest I slumber mid-date and be unceremoniously dropped off at home on his way to Atlantic City. Edgar reached into a box attached to the divider between the front seat and our space. He grabbed two crystal glasses and poured a peridot-colored liquor. I was in trouble.
“I do love a nice absinthe,” he said as he stared into his glass for several seconds. He looked up at me, clinked his glass with mine, and said, “To a grand time in Atlantic City with a grande dame. I look forward to watching you win.”