Sunday, January 22, 2006

"Check, please."

I lived in Boston for eight years. It's a compact and energetic city that features a tremendous amount of American history and culture. Bostonians are used to visitors and transplants; Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall is the second most popular tourist destination in the continental United States, after Disney World. One of the great things about moving there as a young'un was that most of the people I met were in my age group. Thanks to the 140 colleges scattered throughout the greater Boston area, roughly half of the city's population is under the age of 35. That type of environment made it tremendously easy to make new friends, and even strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, whether I was waiting for the "T" (the Boston subway system), shopping at the Prudential Center, or watching street performers in Harvard Square. It's very easy to adjust to a small city with so many historic spots and cultural events, especially one that's inhabited by an athletic, youthful population intent on going out and having fun after a long work or school day.

Boston is also freezing cold for at least five months out of the year. Nor'easters (that's pronounced "Naw-EEE-stahs" by the natives) bring shitloads of snow and brutal Arctic winds down to New England by way of Canada. With temperatures that can get down to -30 degrees with the wind chill, New Englanders spend a lot of time indoors between October and April. It's a weather pattern that encourages the general population to pair up for the winter. A good number of Bostonians like to ski, ice skate and snowboard, but they enjoy their 'indoor sports' as well, and as you've read, the indoor sports season lasts quite a while in New England. The prospect of spending five months' worth of evenings watching snow fall and listening to gale force winds rattling your window panes is a lot more palatable if you're sharing the experience with another warm body - preferably under a thick blanket, hot chocolate in hand.

While I was living there, the personals was one of the more popular ways for overworked young professionals to acquire a cuddle partner before the first frost. Until the early aughts, I had never gotten into online dating; it just didn't seem necessary in a city where I was always meeting new people so easily. Then again, I didn't want to date most of the guys I was meeting, so why not try something new? My singles scene partner in crime, a gorgeous and hotheaded Latina named Tabitha, got on my case to try it. She set up a starter profile for me, which had a screen name - Missgingerlime - that she had created for me, and the appalling tagline "Is it hot enough for you?" under my picture. It made me laugh, but I had to sign into my profile and edit it. I wound up filling out the entire thing and posting it, curious to see what would happen.

In March of 2003, well into a brutally stormy winter, I started corresponding with Joe. I had been getting lots of emails from stoned and bloated frat boys just looking for a quick fuck, so Joe stood out; he was a former corporate lawyer who had left that profession to do social work. At the time, he was counseling teenagers at a halfway house downtown. I've got a serious humanitarian streak - I work with the homeless here in LA, and have done plenty of volunteer work in the past - so I was impressed. It didn't hurt that he was also cute, with thick, curly dark hair and a square jaw. Dear readers, I love me a square jaw on a man, oh yes I do. Joe and I had grown up in the same area of New York, and had gone to the same college, but we had never met. After a few "wow, we have so much in common!" - themed emails, we decided we'd like to meet face to face.

Joe wanted to take me to dinner. Having not met him in person yet, I wasn't really into that idea. The thing about online dating is, no matter how great your phone or email conversations have been, you're still essentially going on a blind date. You can't get a read on the chemistry between you until you've spent a little time together. I was more partial to just meeting at Au Bon Pain for an hour. I would rather pay for my own cup of tea and muffin, chat for a bit, and then if it's not working out, I can just say so. No flag, no foul. I don't feel guilty and he doesn't feel used. On the other hand, if we're both feeling it and he'd like to take me out to dinner on our second date, then fine. Dear bepenised readers, I do not view you all as free dinners with legs. I've been a feminist pretty much since I was conceived, and have always practiced what I preach. I bought my crush a box of chocolates for Valentine's Day in the fifth grade, and when I invited a college guy to be my date to my senior prom, I paid for the tickets, because he was the invitee. See, I started young. Sure, I have had guys insist on paying when I'm the one who asked them out, and no, I do not stomp my feet and sing "I Am Woman" at the top of my lungs when that happens. I smile and say "Thank you, you didn't have to do that," and I mean it. My basic guideline is, when you're the one doing the inviting, regardless of gender, paying is the right thing to do.

I digress. Anyway, Joe was the one doing the asking this time. I told him that I would prefer a more casual first meeting, but he said that really wanted to take me out to dinner. I offered lunch as a compromise, and he seemed ok with that idea. We were both working close to Boston's Theater District, so we decided to meet at the Bennigan's across from the Shubert Theater. There was nowhere to eat in the Theater District at that time except Bennigan's, PF Chang's and Dunkin' Donuts. So, we set a date.

I took the T down to the Boylston Street station on a blustery but sunny Wednesday afternoon. As I walked down Tremont Street, the frigid wind whipped my hair into a tangled mess and made my eyes tear. Getting gussied up to go out in Boston is an exercise in futility; either you're getting rained on, snowed upon, blown about, or melted by humidity. I got to Bennigan's early and made a quick dash to the ladies' room to fix the damage.

When I came out, Joe was waiting in the foyer. He was wearing a dark blue suit with a light blue shirt and striped tie. Freshly shaven and clean cut, the stereotypical lawyer look. We exchanged hellos and got a table. The conversation was fine at first; a basic re-hashing of everything we had emailed each other. Joe seemed kind of jittery, though. He tapped his fingers on the table and on the menu nonstop, and didn't make a lot of eye contact. He's just nervous, I thought, trying to figure out what I was going to eat and talk about for the next hour. Dear readers, you will notice in this and future posts that I've made the "nervous" excuse for a lot of my dates, and it has gotten me into an awful lot of trouble.

I ordered a grilled chicken salad and Joe settled on the fettucine alfredo. That done, we made the usual first date small talk about our families, where we had traveled, and what we liked and didn't like about Boston. I wanted to know all about the shelter he worked at, what the kids were like, how the counseling sessions were. His answers were vague, along the lines of "yeah, I like working with kids". He was more interested in my jewelry.

"These are cool, can I see these?" he pulled the bracelet and rings right off of my hands. "These are so cool." He held them up to the light, turning them over and over to look from every angle. Yeah, weird. I tried to laugh it off. "Wow, it's every woman's dream to land a guy who knows his jewelry," I joked.

"Yeah, these are cool, these are cool." Joe spoke slightly too quickly - the sentence came out as one word, "Yeahthesearecoolthesearecool." I put my jewelry back on, thinking, is he on something? "So, what do you like to do in your spare time? Got any hobbies?" I asked.

"You have such a good vibe about you," Joe replied, as if he hadn't heard the question. "I feel good being near you. You have, like, a good aura around you or something."

"Uh, thanks," I said. This was awkward. Luckily our food came right then, and we were silent for a minute or two. Joe ate as rapidly as he talked; a quarter of his fettucine was gone before he spoke again.

"I like your hair." Oh my god, this guy is random. Be natural, roll with it. You can't just walk out. Be openminded! He's probably nervous! "Thanks," I said as brightly as I could. "Actually, I'm thinking of going brunette."

"No, stick with the red, the red is hot. It is hot." He was speeding up again; Stickwiththeredtheredishotitishot. I changed the subject, and started talking about the play that I was helping to prop and costume. As I talked, Joe started to mumble under his breath. Dear readers, when people pull fucked up shit like that, Yours Truly pretends it isn't happening. I kept talking; he mumbled a little louder. I couldn't even process such bizarre behavior.

"You didn't hear what I said, did you?" Joe asked me. "Did you hear me?"

"Oh, did you say something?" I was really starting to grit my teeth. Has this guy never been on a date in his life? Who acts this way? "I didn't hear you, I was talking."

"I said, you're so beautiful, I'm having trouble even looking at you." Oh Jesus Christ, I've got a live one here. Sure am glad I brought my Mace. Readers, it's normally very flattering to me when somebody tells me that I'm attractive. I'm certainly no Charlize Theron. I have my bad days and my days when I look pretty cute. But even on my best days, I'm not going to burn a hole in a guy's retinas if he looks directly at me. Even Charlize can't do that (I could be wrong, she's pretty hot).

Our waitress, a petite college girl maybe 20 years old, came over to ask us if everything was ok. Well, the food is fine, but I'd like to send this guy back - he's way overdone.

"So, how many dates have you gone on from this site thing?" asked Joe.

"Oh, a few," I said. "I don't use it much, really."

"Well, is 'a few' 4 or 5? 6 or 8? 8 or 10?" Joe demanded.

"Um, 8 or 10, probably." My annoyance was starting to show. "Why is that important?"

"So, you live in an apartment? Is it a studio? A one bed? What do you pay for it?"

Holy shit, this guy must be having a psychotic episode. Buddy, you're never going to see my apartment. You're never going to see me naked; in fact, you're never going to see me again. "I live in a one bed," I said, speaking slowly, as if Joe were just starting to learn English. "I don't think what I pay for it is your business."

"Does that make you uncomfortable?" My date clearly had a freeway between his brain and his mouth; he was born without the filter that most adults develop as a result of normal interaction with other humans. "I think everybody should be able to talk about that stuff."

"Sure, maybe after you get to know each other." I was praying that Joe would get up to go to the bathroom; I'd be able to grab my bag and bail. "But when you barely know somebody, it's inappropriate, like asking how much they make or what they weigh."

"Oh," he said, nodding. Then: "OH! What do you weigh??"

I put down my fork and sighed as the waitress finally delivered the check. "How was everything?"

"Terrible," Joe replied. He was serious. I looked at his plate; all of his food was gone, except for maybe two bites. The waitress looked to me for help. I shrugged and shook my head. You don't know the half of it, sister. "Um, sir?" she said meekly, "why didn't you say something before? I could have brought you something else..."

"The sauce is wrong," he insisted. "I've eaten this here before. It's oily this time. It's wrong."

I couldn't speak, I was so embarrassed. The waitress got the manager; Joe argued with him, basically angling for a free meal. The manager gave him a coupon book, but still charged him for the fettucine. I sat silently as Joe put some cash into the check folder and handed it to our mortified waitress. "So," he said, turning to me, "I see you didn't even reach for it."

"Reach for what?" If I stare at him and really concentrate, maybe I can make his head explode.

"Well," he said huffily, "you didn't even offer to pay."

Now I was laughing, imagining the looks that would be on my friends' faces as I told them about this maniac over drinks that evening. "You asked to take me out, you insisted on it." I dropped any pretense of politeness. "I'm not a Rules girl, but, hello - that's Dating 101." You should be paying me for wasting my time, you whacko.

The waitress put Joe's change on the table. He pulled out a few dollars for the tip, then threw the rest of the money on the table in front of me. "I guess you think I should give you that, then!"

"Okay, THAT'S IT. I'm done." I threw the money back onto his side of the table as I rose. "Thanks for lunch, Joe. I have to go. I've got costumes and props to pick up."

"I'll walk with you."

"Um, NO, that's not necessary." I couldn't even look at him. "I'm sure you have to get back to work."

Joe followed me for the whole ten block walk to Boston Costume, chattering about God knows what. I walked so quickly that I was almost jogging. I didn't reply to him; I didn't listen; I completely tuned him out and kept my hand on my Mace, which I was sure I'd have to use at any second.

I finally made it through the door to Boston Costume. By that time I was absolutely sure that I'd just been on a date with a serial killer, and was trying to avoid confrontation. "Thanks for walking me, Joe, I can take it from here."

"So, where is this going?" He put his hands on his hips. "When am I seeing you again?"


"Oh, I'm busy for the next two weeks," I said as sweetly as I could. "Maybe after that." That satisfied him, and he finally - finally! - left me alone. He emailed me about fifty times over the next couple of months. I deleted each one without reading it.

Well, at least I got a good story out of the experience - all that the poor waitress got was a shitty tip.

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Blogger yogaprincess said...

wow! imagine if you'd gone somewhere a little more $$$, like PF or West Street Grill. I would have been tempted to pick up the change, say "thank you", and walk out...but then that might have turned him on...gross!

10:41 PM  
Blogger mar mar said...

well, this is yr godmother!!! having visited yr blogging site i have these words of advice...
ditch the youngins, you need to meet an older man...

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Anonymous Casey said...

I'm STILL waiting, ARE there any normal dudes out there, PLEASE, MAYBE?

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Alline said...

Sounds like Joe was autistic - obsession with minutiae and numbers, obsession with the jewellery, OCD that he has to know certain things and have things exactly the way he wants them. Disruptions to the delicate routines and preoccupations of the autistic can distress them.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Ginger said...

Or, maybe he had Asperger's...either way, he was too much for me to take.

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