Walking With a Ghost

By Anthony Paull

Dating Diet

There's a time in every adult man's life when he realizes he's no longer a kid. For me, it occurred while hanging out at a theme park without a kid of my own, right when I realized I looked like a pedophile.

I know. I shouldn't say that. But that's what crossed my mind when my friend Pete asked me to take his pic while mounting a pink bunny on the merry-go-round at Dollywood. I kept asking myself, "Is this something that needs to be frozen in time?" Nevertheless, I snapped anyway, blaming my ill discretion on lack of sleep, food and the inability to shit. The night before, two friends and I set across the Southeast and somehow landed in the middle of Dolly Parton's tits or the Smoky Mountains or whatever you want to call it where the air is too thin to think. Luckily, we promised ourselves not to think anyway. The one rule of the trip was to be totally random, not having a clue where we'd end up. I suppose that's how we arrived in Dolly Parton's fancy tour trailer, marveling over her journal and wig collection after 13 hours of driving. The next day, after blacking out in a flea hotel, I wake to wonder what will happen next.

"I've always wanted to see Charleston," my chipper friend Hailey says. "I hear it's haunted. They have ghost tours."

A paranormal fanatic, that's all Pete needs to hear and we're in a car, winding down a mountain, headed to South Carolina. Later that night, Pete holds the lantern as the tour guide tells us the legend of the boo hag: a mythical creature that steals one's breath when sleeping. Single, Pete likes the idea of someone riding him in the night but he has sights on something more human. Later, after listening intently to the story of a ghost dog named Poogan that haunts a local restaurant, Pete tells me he needs someone to bone. At least I pretend that's what he says. Technically, Hailey and I decide that for him. To keep the night random, we figure it would be fun to set him up. En route to the gay bar, streetlights cast an eerie green glow on cobblestone streets, illuminating the fact that this is the first bad idea of the trip.

You see, it takes Hailey seven drinks before she's no longer lucid during her reign as matchmaker. "My brother think you're hot," she slurs, finding any cute guy who will listen. When Pete catches on he disappears in the crowd.

"Where is your brother?" one shrewd fellow asks.

"Uh, I don't know. He was here a minute ago," Hailey says. She eyeballs me to help, but I'm too drunk to be a good wingman.

I shrug. "I don't know where he went."

She grits her teeth, and the guy turns to me with a wink. "You know, her 'bro' sounds pretty desperate. Maybe he ought to tell me I'm hot himself." He lingers for a response. "So are you going to tell me?"

"Tell you what? I'm not her brother. And I don't think you're hot."

Hailey laughs, pushing me on the dance floor. "He's lying! He is my brother, but I was talking about my other brother. My other brother thinks you're hot."

"OK. Now this is getting weird," the guy says, returning to his friends.

Snubbed, Hailey skips off in the crowd, and I drop my beer on the dance floor, where it smashes into a million pieces. Shooed by a drag queen, I later find Pete in a dark corner of the club. He stands by a short guy who seems equally uncomfortable. "Do I spy a romance in bloom?" I dizzily ask.

Pete turns red, brimming with anger. "No. This is Hailey's friend."

The short guy squirms, avoiding eye contact. So I get in the middle of the two, pulling them in with my arms. We sway to the music, but the short guy won't answer any of my questions. Agitated, he finally coughs out he's from Miami.

"Wow, Pete's from Florida too! You have so much in common," I state. "I think you should have sex."

With that, Pete bails to the bathroom, where he updates his Facebook status. Do not go to the club with your coupled friends! They will try to set you up. I've never been so mortified in my life!

I relay the message to Hailey, who's located the owner of the restaurant with the ghost dog. She thinks he'll be a great match for Pete. Unfortunately, Pete doesn't agree, racing over to tell us he's leaving.

"But he owns the restaurant with Poogan the ghost dog!" Hailey declares. "He wants to take us to lunch tomorrow. Isn't that nice? You should talk to him."

Enraged, Pete throws up his hands. "Why?"

"Because he has a ghost dog."

Pete gets right in the guy's face. "Big deal. So you own a ghost dog? You own a freaking ghost dog?"

"I...own...a restaurant where...the dog used to live," the guy calmly replies.

"Whatever!" Pete says, dashing outside. Returning to the hotel, he grabs some beer and heads downstairs, leaving Hailey and I alone.

"Uh, do you think we made a mistake in trying to set him up?" she asks.

"Maybe. But we were just trying to be good friends." Soon, we both close our eyes, falling asleep. Two hours later, I wake and Pete is still gone. The next morning I learn he'd fallen asleep watching TV in the lobby. In his absence I felt the presence of a ghost after all. Hailey felt it too, and we agreed when it comes to the supernatural world of dating Pete would need to float on his own.

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