Authors: JoAnn Hornak
Is dating getting you down? Are the personals profiles you’re responding to more fiction than fact? Have your recent rendezvous been more ordeals than orgasmic? Then contact Date Rescue! The next time you find yourself on a horrendous date just dial our toll-free number. Date Rescue will respond within minutes to your location—strip mall restaurants, budget movie cinemas, NASCAR events—wherever you may be. Our crack team of rescuers made up of former Armani models and Chippendale dancers is trained in CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. They
will whisk you away and take you to our nearest safe house where you will be revived with a pep talk assuring you that Mr. Right is right around the corner.
Within a second of seeing Trevor, Bachelor #1, “Mr. Hopeless Romantic” from MilwaukeeDates.com, I knew that the hopeful flutter I’d felt just before I’d entered the bar where we were
meeting would soon become a distant memory, like the after-effects of a migraine headache or a bout of botulism. In Trevor’s e-mail to me, he’d said that he’d be wearing a blue shirt, and although there were three men with blue shirts, I knew him in an instant. He was the one in the bowling shirt with ivory-colored buttons shaped like bowling pins and the name
embroidered in big white letters above his breast pocket.
I forced myself to approach him. Trevor had either sent a stand-in for our date or had mysteriously shrunk four to five inches and his weight had ballooned fifty pounds or so. His skin had the flaccid, doughy consistency of someone who has spent their entire life in a dark windowless room, only allowed out on holidays and special occasions.
I followed him to the suburban strip mall restaurant. When we were seated Trevor launched into a conversation about his job as a computer technician, relating in excruciating detail last year’s near “thermo-nuclear meltdown” in accounting because doddering old Mrs. Phillips hadn’t de-fragmented her computer in nine months.
“Can you believe she’d never even heard of de-fragmentation?” he asked, sitting across from me in a corner booth at a chain seafood restaurant.
“Shocking,” I mumbled.
Next our conversation had moved into the area of international intrigue. Trevor believed that a group of local high school computer geeks was plotting to hack in to the new website that he’d designed for his company, Mutual of Michigan Insurance. Sounded plausible.
What group of teenagers wasn’t completely captivated by the insurance industry?
“Ahoy mateys, what can I get you two landlubbers for dinner?” asked the waitress in a weary voice, as if she’d been
swabbing the deck for three days straight without any sleep. She had bags under her eyes and a white sailor’s hat bobby pinned to her head at a jaunty angle. I couldn’t help thinking that making a human being who was probably someone’s mother dress and talk like Popeye the sailorman was a cruelty that should be reserved for terrorists and child molesters.
A few minutes later, when she brought our appetizer plate, Trevor made a perfect deep-sea dive onto the plate with his fork, leaning forward to shovel several hush puppies into his mouth. Trevor didn’t bother with a little nicety like swallowing before speaking as he asked me the sole personal question of the evening.
“You don’t watch TV?” he asked after I’d given my reply. He looked stricken, as though he’d just been harpooned.
And then, as usually happens in times of my greatest stress, I was struck by divine inspiration. What the single women of this country needed was Date Rescue. As surreptitiously as possible, I pulled my journal out of my purse and scribbled down a few notes about this idea under the table. I don’t know why I was worried about hiding this, since Trevor was staring at his hush puppies with rapture.
“How long have you been divorced?” I asked Trevor during a particularly painful lull, remembering that fact as a plus in his profile.
“Oh, I’ve never been married,” he told me while still eating. “My mom told me to say that because she thinks some girls might think I’m a loser if they find out I’m forty-six and never married.” Trevor had never been to college either, but I guess those little details were extraneous in the eyes of his mother, who was no doubt eager to have her baby bird finally leave the nest after nearly half a century.
* * *
I’m on a beautiful country road in Wisconsin lined with towering one-hundred-year-old oak trees, passing white clapboard farmhouses with dilapidated red barns, and herd upon herd of black and white cows grazing peacefully in sunlit green pastures. Grabbing the reins tighter, I feel the ostrich moving smoothly between my thighs as it picks up speed to a gallop. I look over my shoulder and there they are, a pack of men and women also riding ostriches and carrying ray guns, chasing me. Just as a death ray whizzes dangerously close to my left ear, I’m lurched to the middle of an empty field where I land in a swivel chair behind a desk. The black rotary phone on the desk starts ringing, and ringing, and ringing ...
“Hello?” I said, still 90 percent asleep. Six
“Good morning, Samantha,” Elaine said cheerfully. “Still sleeping? Or perhaps you’re busy with an overnight guest?”
There was a hopeful lilt in her voice.
Yes, Elaine, I’m in the middle of amazing sex and stopped to answer the phone. “No,” I said, “I was still sleeping.”
“Glad to hear you’re catching up on your beauty sleep. So,” said Elaine, all business now, “how many dates have you had so far?”
This made me think of Trevor, whom I’d done my best to strike from my memory bank, although over time that might be impossible since he holds the record for the worst date I’ve ever had in my life.
“One,” I admitted, blinking at the bright slivers of light sneaking in through the mini blinds that fell across the gray quilt on my bed like prison bars.
“You need to pick up the pace, my dear,” said Elaine in a dry
voice. “A three-hundred-pound trailer park mother with eight kids and a goiter the size of basketball could do better than that.”
I’d only been in Milwaukee for four days, but if I expected Elaine to be even marginally pleased with my efforts, I was doomed to eternal disappointment.
I heard a loud
and the machine-gun staccato of helicopter blades slowly increasing in speed.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing wrong,” she shouted, as I held the receiver a foot away from my still-dreaming left ear. “I’m on my way to Martha’s Vineyard for the weekend. Dinner with the Von Strobels. Write up your first date and make it sound good. Fax me your weekly report and article by Monday morning. And remember, the dream! We’re giving our readers the dream!”
Unable to fall back asleep, I dragged myself out of bed and made a pot of strong coffee before shuffling over to my computer to type out my weekly report about applying to Single No More and the date with Trevor, an exercise that proved to be cathartic since the report only took five minutes to write. But writing an article about my date with Trevor and making it sound good would be about as easy as making an ad for septic cleaning services read like the greatest love story ever told.
After gazing at the blank computer screen, I zoned into a trance. My mind conjured a horrible apocalyptic vision that Trevor and I were holed up in an underground shelter, the last man and woman alive after a nuclear holocaust, burdened with the awesome responsibility to repopulate the earth or let our race die out. I chose death.
Another idea for my humor column sprang easily to my mind and I grabbed my journal from my purse to jot it down. I would call this column “Is Asexuality an Option?” This piece would be succinct and to the point: “No.”
I drank more coffee and urged myself to get those creative mental juices flowing so I could focus on my immediate assignment. For goodness sake, surely a person armed with an undergraduate and a master’s degree in literature could dredge up something positive to write about Trevor or that would at least indicate some commonality between the two of us. Many minutes of intense concentration later, I came up with the following exhaustive list:
1) Trevor has a vigorous enthusiasm for computers and deep-fried seafood;
Both of us are in our forties and never married; and
Both of us are carbon-based life-forms that breathe oxygen.
Finally, I gave up writing about Trevor and wrote an article called “The Mystery Woman’s Strategies for Sifting Through Online Personals:
How to Read Between the Lines,” including such tips as: “When he describes himself as a ‘hopeless romantic’ focus on the word
and move on to another profile.”
and thought, Screw it. If Elaine doesn’t like this, she can send me to a city where I might actually have a chance to meet someone.
* * *
The next night I stood in my bathroom getting ready for Milwaukee date number two. Bad dates were like getting a root canal. You’re stuck in a chair for two excruciating hours, and then when it’s finally over with, you have nothing to show for it. I didn’t know one married couple who had met through a blind date and the few cool single guys I knew, like my traveling friend Andre, would sooner take up embroidery than agree to go on one.
I had a sudden urge to slather my makeup on really thick to make myself look like a Kabuki dancer just to see the reaction of my date, whom I’d chosen from Single No More.
Services like Single No More took little away from the blindness of these dates. Yes, you saw a photograph, watched their videotape, and learned a thimbleful of “facts”—and I use the term loosely—about your date’s life. But there could be any number of alarming oversights lurking behind that well-pressed suit, great job, and commitment to saving the manatees or fighting homelessness. Halitosis for example. Or worst of all, he could be an emotional midget, a man with the IQ of a snail who was incapable of thinking about anyone but himself for more than five seconds at a stretch.
I’d gone back to Single No More a few days ago after my background check had cleared. Bunny Woods had reverently led me to the vault, placed her hand upon the cover, and hesitated for a moment before launching into the most revolting cliche ever uttered by a married person to a single person.
“They say it happens when you least expect it ...” Bunny paused as my stomach turned, “... but, at Single No More, we say, it happens right here, right now.”
Yeah, right, whatever, Bunny. The fact was, I never expected it. I found myself in a nearly constant state of expectation-less anti-anticipatory limbo when it came to romance. It was the ultimate
Catch-22. Either you were expecting it, a state of mind that men could sense with their amazing radar that detected the slightest amount of interest in them, or you could project an air of indifference, which also scared them off because then they were afraid you’d turn them down. It seemed as though you couldn’t win unless you found that fine line between giving them enough encouragement to ask you out and also making them think that you didn’t need them at all.
Casually flipping open the Single No More album, my eyes had landed on a photo of a certain Robert Mack. Was I seeing things? Had his photo been air brushed? Included as a cruel joke? I liked his face immediately. The intelligence and trace of sadness in his eyes suggested that he’d experienced much more than your average forty-four-year-old. His only physical flaw as far as I could see were his ears, which stuck out at an obvious angle. The poor guy had probably been taunted with “Dumbo” as a kid, but I thought they were kind of cute. As for his half a grin, it told me he could be interesting as well as dangerous. Divorced. Law degree from the University of Chicago. Runs his own business. Wow!
Bunny had searched, but couldn’t find his video, for which she’d apologized, explaining that maybe it had been misfiled, and then adding with a wink that it might have been stolen.
“You’re lucky he’s still available,” she said when I filled out the sheet officially making him one of my selections. The service would then e-mail Robert to notify him that a client was interested in meeting him. I’d hoped when he received it, he would make the effort to come into Single No More, check out my photo and video, and be interested enough to call.
Robert must have called me the day he got the e-mail, since here we were, just three days later, at a delightful Italian restaurant drinking Chianti and noodling about with our pasta and flirtatious conversation. I thanked the powers-that-be that I’d restrained myself in applying my makeup, was having a good hair day, and that my premenstrual zits had disappeared, because I found myself gazing into a set of gorgeous blue eyes framed by the impossibly long lashes that God seemed to bestow only upon the males of our species.
I could feel so much chemistry pulsating across the white tablecloth that I pinched my thigh, hard, to remind myself to slow this
down. Gasoline, fire, third-degree burns!
I’d decided that my Peruvian travel fling with Wayne the entomologist, which had ended disastrously with the tearful call from his pregnant wife, should be an important wake-up call for me to stop jumping into bed with men before I really got to know them. It was clear that I’d fallen into a bad pattern: the occasional travel fling mixed with a disappointing string of monogamous relationships, all of them started by the same common denominator, lust.