Talk about the cost of living!

The other day I asked out the woman at the car rental place. I've never done anything like that before. It's only been within the past year -- my 27th -- that I found myself no longer monogamous, as I was for almost a decade. This whole thing at the car rental place is Jeanette's fault, anyway. Jeanette and I used to be married. She got the car. I got the piano, which is of no use whatsoever beyond the Beltway.

Only kidding, Jeanette. (Jeanette and I are friends now, so we can kid about these things, heh, heh. She's gonna kill me when she reads this.)

Anyway, before I get to the woman behind the counter at the car rental office I have to tell you something else which happened first, after I had rented a car where the woman behind the counter works.

My friend Melissa and I and the rented car were on the Cape May-Lewes ferryboat. The car was resting below, between Chevys. Melissa and I were resting on the starboard rail, squinting at the Delaware Bay, having exhausted two bags of Cheez Krunchies on the famous dive-bomber seagull squadrons that hang around ferryboats.

Melissa looked down at my digital watch. I bought it at a drugstore one day because I thought I needed something to time things with. It was made of cheap-looking aluminum and the face was the color of a dead mood ring. It cost $ 16.99.It was really ugly.

"That watch is really ugly," Melissa said.

I looked down at the watch and mused over her remark. As I mused, my right hand reached over and yanked the watch off my left arm. Both of us watched with widening eyes as my right hand tossed the watch into warm wet air. The ugly watch arced in slow motion toward the foam below.

One of the seagulls made a pass at it as it fell, but veered away at the last second. (At least I think it was the last second.)

We looked at each other and laughed until our faces hurt. People thought we were crazy.

Later, back at the rental car place, I persuaded myself that the woman at the counter could only live without me for, at the most, a few more weeks. I'd been there four times, and she was always the one I ended up standing in front of, cracking dumb jokes and looking as worldly as one can in corduroy. She had a great laugh. I made a reservation for a car on a Saturday night, just to get in there and ask her out.

"Hi," I said. I told her my name, and she picked up my rental contract, and started filling it in.

"Driver's license and credit card?" she asked.

"You guys allowed to go out with customers?" I countered, handing her my cards.

She eyed the license suspiciously. "Yeah," she said. "Why?"

"Can you go to dinner with me or what?" I asked. Mister Charm.

She scribbled on the rental contract, and was silent for a few hours."I'm married," she said quietly.

"Oh," I said. "I'm sorry." Pause. "I mean, that's too bad."

"Yeah," she said. "It is too bad." I wondered what that meant, and then she added: "I'm separated."

"Oh," I said. Mister Vocabulary. "So am I."

Long silence.

Finally, she spoke. "You want extra collision?"

"What?"

"You want extra collision and medical coverage? It's $ 5 a day plus --"

I rented the car. I didn't have anyplace to go, much less anyone to take there. But I didn't have the courage to tell her why I made the reservation.

It was a Mustang II. It cost me $ 25.45. I used American Express.

These days you can't leave home without it.