Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:

“I must look awful, I just got off a flight from L.A.,” Nicole’s date James said. She’d met him at a bar a few weeks earlier and invited him to our house party so she wouldn’t have to be alone with him. Still, I was hoping at least he’d distract her from obsessing about Doug, her ex with the protection order against her.

But it didn’t seem promising. “No, stranger, you look fine,” she said. “I dig the bullet necklace.”

Fortunately he was wearing too much Under Armor to get the sarcasm. “I spend most of my time in L.A.,” he said.

You could tell it anyway from the expensive sunglasses.

But when I admired them later, Nicole scoffed. “Why does he look like a blind person in sunglasses? Other people look cool,” she said, meaning Doug.

At any rate, Nicole had no interest in jet-setting to L.A.

“The last time I took a long flight, I was seated next to some animal that snuffled and grunted the entire time without covering its muzzle with its paw, constantly moved its haunches like it needed to go out, and wolfed down its food with loud smacks. That went on for four hours until it finally circled around in its bed of blankets and fell asleep. I wouldn’t take a six-hour flight again if you paid me.”

It didn’t bode well for her long-term prospects with James. But he had a special skill at keeping things light.

“Were you there on business?” he asked.

“I guess you could call it that,” she said. “My boss had one of his stupid ideas to pitch something that was never going to work out. But if I try to say anything to him about it he just screams at me.”

“What do you do?” James asked.

Nicole wouldn’t rewind that far.

“It’s not that I think he shouldn’t yell at me,” she said. “I’m all about domestic abuse in the workplace. But it has to have a purpose. I told him, ‘If you use a yell-y tone just to put me down for no reason, I will not let that go. And I’m not telling you this because I need a daddy. I’m telling you because I am totally fed up with you and about to quit.’”

“You should go freelance like me,” James said. “I don’t have a boss.”

But Nicole was not seeking career counseling. “In the meantime I got another job,” she said, “and then I decided not to take it. I didn’t think signing the contract meant I’d accepted. There was still the drug test and I wasn’t necessarily going to pass it either.”

“So where do you see yourself five years from now?” James asked.

Nicole shrugged. “I’m 39. The main thing I need to do is freeze eggs.”

It was a lot to tell a stranger and I wondered what Nicole was up to. But James didn’t even seem to notice.

“You’re 39?” he said. “Congratulations.”

She looks young for her age, not to mention how she acts.

“What’d you think — I didn’t have it in me?” she said. “All that hard living?”

It was a better question for someone who knew her a little better — like maybe Doug.

“How old are you, would you say?” she asked.

“52,” he said casually. He was obviously pretty comfortable with himself, as the bullet necklace might indicate.

But at any rate Nicole was still focused on her own situation.

“The first time I had four eggs,” she said, “or really just three because one was decrepit. Which is very little eggs, but on the other hand a friend of mine had 28, a ridiculously large number.”

There was nothing in James’ script to respond to that.

“Did you know the stuff they give you used to be made out of the urine of menopausal nuns?” Nicole asked.

He evidently hadn’t known that but he did know he wasn’t in L.A. anymore.

“I thought they got it from horse urine,” I said, trying to fill the silence.

“I’d prefer a nun to a horse myself,” Nicole said.

I couldn’t really say I’d prefer a horse to a nun.

“Although I read an article the other day about a guy who had a relationship with a horse,” she said. “His wife supposedly didn’t mind as long as they stopped short of having actual intercourse.”

It was a lot for James to take in.

“If you want to know any more about it just call me,” Nicole said.

Then she went on to tell him all about her visit to the fertility clinic. On top of an hour-long wait for an MRI in a tiny room in the basement, when the technician finally came in she didn’t seem to know what she was doing.

“Have you ever used one of these before?” Nicole asked her, watching her fiddling with the knobs on the machine.

The technician scowled at her. “What are you trying to say? I can learn anything. I taught myself computers online.”

James didn’t ask how it went but Nicole went on anyway.

“They do an exam, collect blood and urine, and anything else disgusting that can be removed,” she said. “That’s just what doctors do.”

But the biggest problem was the bill.

“It would have been okay if I hadn’t had to cancel my credit card a couple months ago due to fraud,” she said. “Some woman stole my credit card and ran up $6,000 in bills for laptops. She even bought the warranties and I kept getting the notices. But when I asked the cop assigned to it what she was charged with he said they couldn’t charge her because she didn’t have any I.D. Obviously he had sex with her in exchange for letting her off.”

Again James was speechless.

“Why, what do you think happened?” Nicole asked.

He had completely retreated behind his sunglasses.

Still, Nicole didn’t stop talking to him until it got too dark in the room and he eventually took them off. At first I thought maybe once she could see his eyes she finally realized he was a real person rather than just some guy from L.A.

But it was a lot more complicated than that. Suddenly her phone rang and she rummaged frantically in her bag to grab it.

“Hello?” she said hopefully.

Then she realized it wasn’t Doug.

“He used to call whenever I tried to go out with someone else,” she said. “Somehow he always knew when I was getting personal with another guy.”

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