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Roses are red, Late fees are due.

Stephanie Hughes

January 23, 2011

Stephanie Hughes is an LA Valley gal who worked in the music biz for many moons. She then jumped ship and went on to help make Yelp.com a household name and now spends her days fondling food and working on her first cookbook. She is also scribing a comedic tell-all book about two decades of dating wrong. We expect many a great thing from this red wine and red meat lovin’ vixen in the future! Look out for her, folks!

Hello. My name is Stephanie and I was once a 20/20 Video girl.  Back in the 90’s, you pretty much only had like, 3 cool options for work during college. You could be the too-cool-for-school indie record store chick, a Hollywood coffee house barista or a video store clerk at a locale with a killer porn section. I, being a fan of airbrushed covers and parody skin flick titles, chose the latter. Along with a free employee rental policy, came a stream of adoring fans. One of them was Kurt. He’d always struck me as a quiet soul who usually hung out by the ‘Employee Picks’ section if my line was too long in an effort to avoid anyone else but me checking him out. However, the minute there was an opening in my line, a b-line he made.

After a few months of this shy and seemingly cute flirting ritual, he finally worked up the nerve to ask me out. He wasn’t really my type, but the guys at work all vouched for him and decided I should go out with him. That’s kinda how it is in the Video Store family, much like the mafia or an arranged marriage, they tell you to do it and you do it.

A date was finally set for a Friday night and I let Kurt take the reins on the planning. He decided he’d pick me up at 7pm, we’d go to dinner and this sounded kosher to me. As I got ready for the date, I decided the new pair of heels I had scored the weekend before at a 50% off Steve Madden sale would be a nifty choice and I paired those with a blue dress and a cute little sweater. After my mirror shot back an approved good-to-go look, Kurt and I were on our way to one of the most memorable first dates of my life.

Kurt was kind of a weird cat. I realized this as we were driving clear out to Santa Monica to go to dinner. It wasn’t an apparent weirdness that you picked up on at first, but his oddly-timed conversational pauses and long, glaring stares at me quickly began to reveal his freak flag and we hadn’t even entered the restaurant’s parking lot yet. Having been on one or two dates with odd and awkward guys like him before, I figured he was weird, but harmless.

When we got into the restaurant, the conversation went from weird to whoa as he spent the very long hour and a half telling me how he’d had a crush on me for almost a year now and knew that if he just rented enough videos and impressed me with never being late on a return, I’d one day agree to go out with him. Um, okay. He then bought me a red rose from one of those roaming flower ladies and said it didn’t hold a candle to the beauty that was me. Wow, really dude? He then informed me of just how mesmerized he was by me and wondered if I felt the same way about him. Check, please!

As we drove back to the Valley I began to pull out my tired card.

“Wow, what a long day of school today…” I said as I yawned and tapped my open mouth with my flattened hand to emphasize my extreme levels of tired. Nothing.
“Wowzers (yes, I actually said wowzers), I sure have a lot of homework to do tonight. I don’t know how I’m gonna get all of this done before my finals on Monday…” I said yawning again, trying to look really stressed and like the epitome of someone frazzled over finals. Nada.

“Yeah, yikes, look at the time. It’s already 10pm, this is soooo past my bedtime. I really should be getting home now, Kurt.” I lied, being an insomniac and unfamiliar with this sleep concept you humans refer to since the age of 17.

These, and the four other angles I tried, all fell on deaf ears as he proceeded to take the Mulholland Drive exit off the 405.
“Why are we getting off here when the 101 is just up ahead and far closer to my house?” I asked a bit puzzled.

“This is the scenic route and far more favorable…” he explained. Favorable? Favorable for what? I’m totally going to die.

As first-turned-terrifying dates would have it, Mother Nature had delivered one of those rare and foggy LA nights that only come out to play a few times a year. In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen fog this thick before or since, which as you might imagine made for quite the soothing ride with a guy obsessed with me along a deserted road. Yep, definitely gonna die and this man will be having sex with my severed head in about an hour.

He then popped in a mixed tape (remember those!) that he’d made especially for our “special night” together.

“I call it my Stephanie Serenade…” he said as we listened to love songs and other ditties to sit and cherish your last moments of life to. I was now really nervous and definitely past the point of thinking he was a harmless little guy who seemed a little weird in a cute little way. Newp, I had graduated with honors to, why the hell aren’t cell phones that don’t weigh 10 pounds and can actually fit in your purse for times like these a reality yet?!

“I really should be getting home,” I said again, hoping this would encourage Norman Bates to snap out of it and take me home. Sadly for me though, all this did was prompt him to lean forward and turn up “Love Cats” by The Cure. “This one is my favorite…” he said as he stared straight at the road going somewhere between 12 to 15 miles an hour. Yep, we bite and scratch and scream all night, let's go and throw all the bodies we know... I can go ahead and kiss my life goodbye now.

After winding through swerve after frighteningly foggy swerve, and praying that he was actually just taking the back way to my place in Studio City, we finally pulled up to a house in Laurel Canyon.

“Umm, this isn’t my house?” I said, trying to appear strong and fearless.

“... I know. Well, not yet anyway” he said smiling and got out of the car and headed up the stairs, leaving me in the car, alone.

What the fuck was happening right now? Was this some warped dream I was having?

After sitting there for a few moments and almost half laughing at the ridiculousness and absurdity of it all, I debated whether or not to tackle Laurel Canyon in a pair of 3 inch heels. That option seemed even more insane than the reality of this sitch and it was then that I started to get really pissed off. Was this freak coming back to take me home or did he really think this was acceptable behavior and assume we were going to be love cats and I was going to call this place home sweet home and make sweet, passionate serial killer love to him?!

Another few moments passed and I finally got out of his car and slammed the door. I then started heading down his steep street to find my way back out onto Laurel Canyon. This was all well and good until my heel got stuck in a crack and knocked me square on my ass. This would not be the last time a shoe would do me wrong in the pursuit of love, but this was seriously straight out of a movie. A bad movie! A movie you throw away even if it means excessive late fee dues and a possible account closure!!

“Ugh! Fuck this!” I screamed as I took my heel off and marched back up to John Wayne Gacy’s house. This was ridiculous and I had had enough of this bullcrap! This jerkoff was going finish this date from hell and drive me home!

As I walked up the steps to his house, I fumbled around in the wet darkness trying to find my way towards something resembling a door. After stepping in mud and almost slipping again, I finally saw a light inside an open kitchen door. Disregarding anything I had learned from watching horror movies or documentaries on murderers, I entered the house and called out, “Hello?”

No one answered, so I walked a bit further into the house and called out another about-to-be-killed classic, “Kurt! This isn’t funny!” Oh yeah, that’s rich, Steph. That will totally snap him out of it and he’ll magically appear with keys in hand and maybe even balloons saying, “Ha-ha, surprise, I was just kidding!”

I then walked down a hall and saw a flickering light up ahead that looked like possible flames. Was I on a date with Satan? Was I about to walk in on a goat being sacrificed during a Pagan dance ritual? Oh shit, was I the goat??? I then turned the corner to find Kurt doing what I can only imagine was his best Burt Reynolds circa 1972 Cosmo impression, lying in front of his fireplace on a rug. You have seriously got to be kidding me!

“Kurt! For fuck’s sake, this isn’t cool. Take me home now!” I demanded. He then slowly turned his head back at me and the flames dancing on his face mirrored a scene from Dante’s Inferno.

“What’s the hurry…?” he said casually as if there was all the time in the world for this love of ours to unfold.

“I’m serious, Kurt. This isn’t cool and I want to go home!” I said even more sternly as fear and adrenaline rushed through me. He then paused and shook his head and turned back towards the fire to, I guess, continue listening to Zepplin’s “Stairway To Heaven” playing backwards in his head. Glory, glory to my sweet Satan, much?

As he sat there with his back turned to me, I started thinking about my childhood. I’m sure I had read somewhere that people do that just before they are about to die, so the timing seemed fitting and Charlie Manson was ignoring me anyway. Visions of playfully pushing my little brother down our hill in the backyard began to fill my head. Dancing in the livingroom with my Dad to “Barbara Ann” by The Beach Boys fluttered through my mind and as I surrendered myself to the fact that this may very well be it, he was beginning to crawl over to me. Yes, you read that right. The grown man was crawling.

Soon he was at my feet trying to take my hand. I snapped back into Scaryville and pulled my arms away, looking for a way to flee. 

“Please don’t be scared, Stephanie.” He said in a tone more likely to be paired with the announcement that the ice cream truck was making its way down the street than in the scary confines of his tucked away canyon house. “I just… I just really think that we would be amazing together. Don’t you feel it too?” he urged.

By feeling “it,” did he mean the feeling of my hair standing at full attention on my arms and neck and the queasy sensation of possible pending death? If so, then yes Kurt, we were one with the feelings.

“No, I don’t feel anything for this, for you, for anything. Take me fucking home now!” I belted out and began to run for the door. He quickly got up and began to chase after me. As I scurried out of his kitchen through the back door I had come in through, he continued to shout, “Please! Come back, I’m not gonna hurt you!! You have it all wrong!” Yeah, sure dude. This is totally normal. I’ll just pull up a chair and stay for awhile. Tea, anyone?

After swishing through the mud, I finally got to his stairs. Having now caught up with me, he threw his arms around my arms stopping me dead in my tracks. The guy was a skinny thing, but surprisingly strong. As I struggled to get away, he kept saying, “Please just stop! I can’t have the woman I love acting like this!!”

Errrr, what? The Woman I Love?!? What the hell was that! This cat was clearly koo koo for Stephanie Puffs. As the reality of this hit me, I stopped struggling and thought I would try a different approach. Maybe if I calmed down, he would think I was interested too and take me home and not kill me. It was worth a try since really, what were my other options?

As hoped, he released me from his arms and trying to compose myself into a convincing character of calm, I said, “Kurt. I get it. You love me. But I am really tired and this is a lot to take in right now. I think it would be best if you just take me home now.” He then turned around and walked away. “Where are you going Kurt?” I called out to him. “I’m getting my keys” he answered back.

Holy crap, was this plan actually working? Maybe I was going to live after all! I walked down to the street near his car and waited, almost half expecting him to return with an axe. Sure enough, he had returned, but minus the axe and with keys in hand and a parting towel gift to clean the mud off of my legs. “Here, looks like you got kinda messy.” Talk about host with the most!

I then fearfully got into his car and he drove me over the hill and pulled up to my house. As he slowed the car, he began, “Stephanie, I really think we need to talk about this. I have so many feelings for you and I really do think that I’m in lov…”

Yep, didn’t really stick around to hear the rest of it and bolted from his car and ran down my driveway. With my keys in hand, I made it to my front door, unlocked it and raced in, out of breath and officially terrified. Crazy party of one, CRAZY!!

About a half hour later, my phone began to ring. Of course. Why would this be over yet? As my machine continued to pick up call after call of the same message apologizing for scaring me, turned I just love you, turned why didn’t you give me a chance, turned I’m sorry again, turned I LOVE YOU STEPHANIE!!!, I finally turned down the volume and turned the ringer off, popped a sleeping pill and went to bed.

The next morning, the tape was practically full. Wow, I really thought this stuff only happened in movies. Guess I drew the lucky stalker straw. As I got ready for work and walked up to my car, I saw a long stem red rose and a blue note sitting on my windshield. Oh my god, had he come back during the night?! I looked around me thinking he may be hiding in a bush or something, but the coast seemed to be clear. I then reached over and picked up the note to read…

Dearest,
Words can’t explain how sorry I am for scaring you last night. I understand though. Love can be scary, but we’ll work it out. I am confident.
-Kurt.

There were so many things wrong with this I didn’t even know where to begin. I started however, by chucking the rose off my windshield, getting in my car and going to work to murder my co-workers for putting me in this position! If it hadn’t been for the note and the answering machine messages I played them as we called my machine from work all day, I don’t think they would have believed me. It was pretty unreal even to me. But then the calls started coming into the store. Every hour on the hour. “No, Stephanie’s not here right now, would you like to leave a message?” Click. “I think she moved to Alaska this morning, dude.” Click. “Yep, she finally decided to go through with that sex change operation. Sorry, dude.” Click. Hardy har har, this was sooo not funny.

For the next two weeks, the red roses on my windshield continued, as did the notes, the calls and the increasing stress and loss of sleep this was causing me. There was still a part of me that thought this was all just going to go away. The guy had a blown out of proportion crush on me, but that had to pass, right? Please? Pretty, please?

At the end of the two week mark, it did stop. Finally. No more roses. No more notes. No more video store account. No more Kurt. It seems he found another victim to woo at another video store in Hollywood and I was off the hook. To this day, I still watch 48 Hours, Dateline and Lock Up and half expect to see him on an episode, but until then…

Be kind, rewind.