Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Fix-Up

He called three times on the same day. I somehow, perhaps prophetically, missed the first two messages on my cell phone. And then it was, “Excuse me, do I know you?” I was awkward and rude, realizing who he was as I was asking.

He sounded gravelly, like Al Pacino in “Sea of Love,” which I had just re-visited on cable. It hadn’t held up well—the version I’d loved now seemed slow and simplistic, and Ellen Barkin’s big white trash hair kept the movie’s former sexiness firmly bound in 1989. That perhaps was another sign.

His name was Jimmy. I ached that it wasn’t just “Jim.” And then before you knew it, I was hearing about his high blood pressure that kept him from drinking all but red wine, his tendency to gain weight these days, hence his preference for sashimi over sushi due to the effects of rice on his mid-section, but after all he was Italian, so that was nevertheless his number one “cuisine.”

“So tell me, what’s your favorite color and flower?” Was Jimmy serious? I was thrown. I felt like I was completing a quiz in teen Cosmo. OMG, what might my answer reveal about my personality?

“Black,” I blurted automatically. “Oh—and lavender”—why did I say that? I actually like coral better, thinking about a T-shirt I’d recently bought, but both sounded silly. Did he plan to bring me flowers on our first meeting? “I hate roses,” I added. “I like unusual, architectural flowers, like anthuriums.” I knew he wouldn’t know what they were. Penis flowers, a friend once termed them. Actually, they’re hermaphrodites. Perhaps that was significant about this fix-up, too. I was feeling less attracted and more hopeless with every revelation. But even I couldn’t shut up. I answered all of his questions, pretty much honestly. I found out more about him than I wanted to know. That he referred to himself as a “bean counter,” and that he liked to play bridge. That, being an accountant, he didn’t make much money.

Neither did I, I bemoaned to him. We were two hapless, pathetic middle-agers looking for love. We lived far away from each other and had virtually nothing in common. What had my friend been thinking? Nevertheless, Jimmy and I made a date for two weeks ahead, and as soon as we hung up, I didn’t think I could go through with it.

We had spent a good twenty to thirty minutes encapsulating our lives, a telephonic version of speed-dating. I had thought that a fix-up would be better than Match or Salon or the other online dating services. But at least there you had a photo and a profile, even if the person had hired someone from craigslist to write it and you had to add at least five to seven years to the photo. I was chagrined to think that this was a worse method, not a better one! My friend was, after all, a co-worker who had never met nor even seen photos of any of my significant others—how could she possibly know my type?

Jimmy and I had agreed to talk the weekend before The Date to firm up a restaurant. Normally I’d just meet for coffee, but since the guy was driving an hour to my city, it seemed cruel to deny him a meal. We had talked of dinner. Now I was thinking a quick lunch and get out. But what if he wanted to take a stroll afterwards? Definitely no place by the shore. Definitely split the check. I didn’t want to feel guilty about not wanting to see him again.

And then I thought, why am putting myself through this angst? Why not just call him and tell him that I have to wash my hair that day; in fact, I’d be washing it all the livelong day and night, so any kind of meal would, unfortunately, be out of the question. This tack would work for David Sedaris, I realized, but aside from its faulty logic (I mean, my hair would be squeaky clean the next day if it hadn’t all fallen out), I didn’t want to insult Jimmy, who came across as a fundamentally decent guy. Even if his name did make me think of the sausage links I eat on Sunday mornings.

And then I thought of another movie. We put ourselves through the angst because we all need the eggs. And stripped of the venues of youth—our college classes filled with endless multitudes of singles (not to mention dreamy brilliant professors), the martini lounges of our thirty-something neighborhoods (bars are no country for old folk)—in middle age we’re pulled back into that terrible awkward territory that mirrors the horror of, aptly, middle school.

So what’s a woman to do? I don’t have the answer yet. But I sure wish I’d kept that platinum wig hat I had in sixth grade; it might have come in handy as a barometer—either to scare Jimmy off or to attract a kindred replicant soul who’d respond to my inner Daryl Hannah.

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