There’s electricity in the air as I enter our chauffeured town car (neither of us have a driver’s license). “We’re getting French,” he grunts as I slither into the backseat. “Did you know I lived in France, for a time?”
I try to remember what I know of him, but my days as a warm body in Intro to Western Civilization are as ancient as my date. “I don’t recall.”
A precious classical song drifts from the car’s speakers as we drive to the restaurant. “Do you like this song?” he asks. “Sure,” I tell him. “It’s me playing,” he brags. “I bet you didn’t know your date is a multi-trick pony. Have you ever slept with a harpist? Tom Monger has nothing on me.” How on Earth does Benjamin Franklin know who Tom Monger is? “I guess he doesn’t. I mean, Tom Monger was never the President of Pennsylvania, not that I know of,” I say. Ben smiles. “He also never improved upon the glass armonica.”
Once we arrive at the restaurant and order our food, we begin to get to know one another. Typical stuff: “Do you like chess?” and “On a scale of 1-10, how appealing would you find it to spend Saturday afternoon flying a kite?” But then he drops a bomb. “Are you religious?” Yikes. On a first date? I know he hasn’t been on a date in like, centuries, but still.
“…No. I’m Agnostic.” His face turns white(r). “I have lived, Stephanie, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Stephanie, in the sacred writings that ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this. Do you not believe this?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. I don’t believe any of it, in fact, which is why I’m Agnostic. Waitress, another glass of wine, please?”
She returns with our order.
Ben raises his glass of water and waits for me to meet it with mine. “Drink not to elevation, Stephanie. Cheers.”
“Temperance, Stephanie. It’s one of my 13 virtues. I came up with them when I was 20. It’s in my autobiography. What were you doing when you were 20?”
My fork stabs the bouillabaisse in front of me. “Excuse me for saying so, but this was a bad idea.”
Benjamin Franklin is smirking. “Ordering the bouillabaisse? Yes, it was a poor choice, I thought. But it’s also a bad idea to waste it. Frugality. It’s my fifth virtue. Waste nothing.”
“I want to go home,” I say plainly. “Now.”
As if on cue, our waitress returns to the table. “Is everything okay here?”
“We’ll take the check, dear. Oh, and, would you wrap that bouillabaisse up? Wouldn’t want her to waste it,” he sneers.
As the waitress walks away, Ben feigns concern over my leftovers. “Be sure you eat that sooner rather than later. Fish and visitors stink after three days, you know. Says me.”
I take out my wallet to pay for my share of the bill, but he brushes my offerings aside. “Put your money away,” he hisses. “Waitress,” he cries, “can you break a hundred?” He lays the bill on the table, his grimacing green face peeking up at me. We both stare down at it in silence until he speaks one last time. “I’ve never said this to anyone, but I wish they would’ve used the portrait from my 1956 commemorative stamp, instead.”