.

As we settle on a bench above Santa Monica beach and unpack our Chipotle bags, a man stops by. Scrawny, like my dad, and about the same age.

“Excuse me, could you take a photo of me? I wanted to take a photo here, and then I saw you and your girlfriend…” He glances at the heap of paper plates between us. “No, your friend. You’re sitting too far away from each other.”

“Oh no, Alice is my girlfriend. In fact, we’re married.” Craig gives me a quick sly look and moves a little closer.

“Right.” The man seems unconvinced. He’s clearly down for the dare, even though there’s no sign of romantic interest — probably out of sheer competitiveness. I stuff my face with rice and beans and wait for the show to unfold.

The two of them needle each other for a while but eventually drop it, and by the time it’s dark I learn that the man is a plastic surgeon, who once reconstructed an entirely smashed jaw; that he lives here in Santa Monica and is newly divorced and has trouble meeting someone, because all those dating websites keep feeding him women either our age or his own, while he’d rather be with someone who’s maybe 35 to 45; and that he could probably meet a woman in a bar, but all his friends are married and refuse to go with him; and that it’s creepy and weird to go to a bar by yourself.

“Sounds like you need a wingman. Do you want me to be your wingman? I can do it!”

My date grins in a way that makes me wonder if he means it or is just screwing around. The surgeon laughs it off. He supposedly needs to be somewhere and says goodbye a dozen times, but keeps remembering important things and coming back. When he finally walks away — another hour later — I turn to Craig, ready to roast the intruder who ruined our whole takeout-and-sunset plan.

“Can you believe that guy?!”

“Yeah. I feel bad for him, just imagine how lonely he is.”

I take a closer look at him. The cocky beach bum I met a few hours ago, who mocked my sense of fashion and wouldn’t take no for an answer, is gone. This new face I’m seeing might just be the real one, and who knows, maybe he meant it when he offered to play the wingman. All I know is, if a wingman’s job is to provide perspective, the plastic surgeon absolutely nailed it.

***

The person’s name in this story is fictional, because I want to protect what’s left of their privacy.