Before I begin, there’s something you should know about me: I love long-form improv. It is an exhilarating art form, created and performed simultaneously. It is raw creativity. It is unbridled imagination. It is often hilarious. In fact my only problem with improv is that it’s over-populated with males. Despite this I hoped, if there were any justice in the Universe, I would one day meet a beautiful woman who shared my love of improv.
Layla was not what a Just-Universe would have delivered, but she intrigued me to no end. Her voice was raspy, and the things she said showed a complete lack of self-consciousness. “I’m sorry I’m late, I was visiting a friend in rehab,” was one of my favorites. She was sexual too, but not in a trashy way. She simply exuded an experience level I won’t amass in my life. Above all though, she was funny – quirky really – which I found incredibly attractive. She was like if Lauren Bacall had played Annie Hall. She was raw. She was unbridled. She was often hilarious – and she intimidated the hell out of me. So how did we end up on a date together? Well we met in an improv class, of course.
“I was a real bitch in the 8th Grade,” Layla once told me, and I believed her. In fact I would’ve been terrified of Layla if we’d met in the 8th Grade; however, since we met in our mid-twenties I was merely panic-stricken. My panic was quickly allayed though, once we started our scene work in improv class. You see, despite confidence deficiencies in life, I have few inhibitions onstage, and I was able to parlay good scenes with Layla during class, into decent conversations afterward. One day I startled myself by asking her out. I invited her to see a “show,” which I thought she understood implicitly, was an improv show. Layla accepted, and maybe I’m delusional, but she almost appeared excited.
“So what kind of a show is it?” she asked.
“It’s the Harold Night,” I said proudly.
There was a silence.
“Oh…you mean an improv show.”
She sounded disappointed, and for all her raw unbridled hilarity, I suspected she would flake. In fact I was so convinced Layla would stand me up; I brought a book with me the night of the date. That way I’d have something to do while I waited in line by myself.
“Ha!” I thought. “She won’t fool me!”
The Harold Night began at 8, so I asked Layla to meet me at 7:30. She had a prior engagement though, and couldn’t arrive until 7:45.
“She’s not coming,” I thought. “That’s fine – I brought a book!”
So at 7:30 I queued up outside the theater, and opened my paperback. That’s when I heard a voice.
“I usually bring a book when I come to shows.”
The voice came from a cute girl in front of me in line. She was slender, had short dark hair, and wore a plaid shirt underneath her leather jacket. Actually she resembled a gregarious version of Lisbeth Salander – a fictional character I had read all about the previous summer, while waiting in line for countless improv shows. Now if there were any justice in the Universe I would have met this gregarious Salander on one of the nights I was alone. As it was Layla was on her way to meet me – or so she said. And here I made a costly blunder. I engaged Salander in conversation. I invited her to continue talking, without even mentioning that I was waiting for someone else. I couldn’t help myself though. I felt I’d found a kindred spirit.
You see, in addition to bringing books out in public, Salander also loved improv. She attended lots of shows and classes. In fact we even had a common acquaintance.
“This is too much!” I thought.
We were really hitting it off, and just as our conversation ramped up, the unthinkable happened…Layla arrived. She was wearing bright blue pants, and a soft cream sweater that hung down off one shoulder. It was 7:35. She was ten minutes early.
“You made it!” I said with genuine surprise.
“Yeah…Why did we have to come so early if you already had a reservation?”
I explained that seating was first come, first serve.
“I’ve gone to improv shows before,” she said, “and I’ve never waited in a line.”
“Hm…I don’t know. This is how it is at every show I’ve been to.”
“I could understand a line if it was a show with some celebrity…”
Just then, to a mixture of my horror and delight, Salander chimed in.
“No, he’s right. You always have to wait in a line.”
Layla eyed Salander suspiciously.
“Weird. I usually arrive when the show starts and get seated right away.”
“Maybe you only attend shows nobody else wants to see,” I offered.
This was an admittedly lame attempt at teasing Layla, and she was not amused.
“I’m gonna go to the corner store. Do you want anything?” Layla asked.
“Oh, no, I don’t…”
“Are you sure? A coffee? Candy bar?”
“I guess I’ll take a juice.”
“You know we can bring beer and wine in with us? Do you not drink?”
“Yeah, I drink sometimes, but I want to be lucid for the show.”
(Yeah, I actually said “lucid.” Did I mention that I love improv?)
“Ok…so a juice?”
“Yeah, something with Vitamin C.”
“Alright, I’ll be back.”
I was rattled. Layla did not appear excited about attending a show, or spending time with me. I racked my brain for a solution, but nothing came. As the minutes wore on my gaze wandered forward to Salander, and here I made a second costly blunder. I re-engaged Salander in conversation.
“So you take classes here?”
“Yeah, I’m really liking it.”
“Me too. I’m meeting a lot of great people.”
“It’s a good way to meet girls,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Almost on cue, Layla returned, carrying a white plastic bag with our refreshments. She took one look at Salander and I talking, and passed us, continuing into a nearby boutique. Salander’s eyes widened with concern.
“Are you two on a date?”
“I’m not sure anymore,” I said, “but if we are, it’s not going very well.”
Salander laughed, and I mistook this to mean she liked me. She was actually laughing because what I said was so true.
Layla eventually emerged from the boutique and rejoined me in line. Salander did me a solid and turned away, and for the first time that night I relaxed. Layla and I chatted in line as we filed into the theater, and laughed and sipped bottles of juice as we took our seats. Things were looking up, and then the lights went down and the show began. I realized then, an improv show was a terrible place for a first date. Sure the show was entertaining, but we couldn’t talk, and our newborn momentum was derailed. When the lights came up Layla looked determined to leave.
I tried rekindling a connection as we weaved through the crowd outside the theater. Layla was moving too fast though, and I struggled to keep up. Appropriately enough, we had parked miles apart, and as our paths diverged I couldn’t take it anymore, and blurted out, “I’m sorry I talked with that girl in line for so long.”
“Yeah, what was that? I didn’t know if you knew her or…”
“She knew somebody, who knows somebody I know…” the ridiculousness of this statement slapped me across the face, so I quickly added, “Small world, I guess.”
“It is a small world,” she said. Then we parted. No hug. No handshake. No nothing.
“What just happened?!?” I wondered as I trudged to my car. I’d made so many dumb decisions I couldn’t tell where I originally went wrong. So I doubled back to the theater. I was frustrated and thought another improv show would take the edge off. (Did I mention that I love improv?) I entered the theater dragging my feet and staring at the ground. When I looked up I saw the one thing that could’ve saved my night. I saw Salander! Suddenly everything fit: My date with Layla didn’t fail because of buffoonery or numb-nuttery on my part. It failed because I was fated to meet another! Salander was a beautiful woman who loved improv! My hopes had paid off! There was justice in the Universe after all! That’s when I saw the girl sitting next to Salander. She was holding Salander’s hand, and looking deeply into her eyes.
“It’s a good way to meet girls,” Salander had said about improv class, and that line reverberated through my head now. “It’s a good way to meet girls…girls…girls…” I was an idiot. Why did I talk with Salander in the first place? Then it hit me! In one shining moment of lucidity it hit me: the book. That’s where I originally went wrong. If I trusted Layla I wouldn’t have brought a book, there wouldn’t have been a conversation with Salander, and the whole night would’ve been different. I assumed Layla was an inconsiderate flake who would stand me up. On the contrary she arrived early, and bought me juice. Suddenly I felt terrible. I wished I’d left my book at home. I wished I’d walked with Layla to the corner store. I wished I’d gotten a beer, instead of remaining lucid. More than anything I wished I could call her, but that was out of the question. She gave me a shot, and I blew it. Nonetheless I remain optimistic I’ll see Layla again someday. After all it’s a small world, and we might bump into each other a year from now. If there’s any justice in the Universe we’ll be able to laugh, and sip juice, and start fresh. I only hope it doesn’t happen while I’m on a date with someone else.
About the Author:
Andrew Hansen was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. In 2006 he headed West hoping to find the meaning of life. In stead he ended up with a BFA in Film Production from Chapman University. Currently he resides in Los Angeles, California, where he acts and improvises.
About the Illustrator: