When you’ve been on as many blind dates as I have, you come to recognize “The Moment.”
What I mean is this:
“The Moment” is that very second, that very instant, that you know when a date is going to end well, or going to end poorly.
I’m not talking about whether or not you’re getting invited up for a drink. I’m not even talking about whether there’s a goodnight kiss or a second date in your future. I’m talking about “The Moment” – that second where you either relax and start to enjoy yourself, or realize that you are in for the kind of night where you try to memorize all the horrible details, so that you can at least get an amusing anecdote out of it.
I wish I could say this was a funny story.
Maybe it’ll be funny to you.
My date with Jennifer was, naturally, set up by my mother. I say this is natural because she’s been “retired” since she was about twenty-five.
It’s an odd story.
I never knew my dad. The way my mom tells it, he was handsome and dashing, and even though he took off the minute he found out that he’d impregnated my mother, she still refers to him as, “My knight in shining armor.”
I finally got one of my aunts to spill the beans about the guy responsible for half my DNA after plying her with several beers at a family reunion. It seems that the guy left mom with some sort of strange trust fund setup, which meant she could quit her job at the local supermarket, deliver me, and live off some variety of compound interest.
(It also left us with enough money that I could see a really great shrink about my issues with my absent father. My doctor said, and I quote, “If he left you with enough money to pay my fees, you don’t really need me. You need a girlfriend and a hobby. In that order.”)
My mom needed a hobby as well.
What I mean is this:
If you’re thirty-seven years old, and you’ve never been married, and your mother doesn’t have a job, you become her hobby.
When I asked my mother what she knew about Jennifer, mom clammed up. Which was different.
Most mothers, when setting their kid up on a date, want to talk the girl up. She’s so smart, or so pretty, or so well-liked, or so talented, or in one memorable case, “So rich she’s worth marrying just to knock her up and get a divorce so you can get partial custody and some rockin’ child support and I can be a grandma and I don’t have to worry about your financial security any more.”
But Jennifer? Nothing. No info. I eventually got my mother to admit that she’d met Jennifer’s mother at her book club, where they’d been reading their way through a popular series involving wizards and witches and their many adventures at school.
(When I pointed out to my mother that the books were supposed to be for kids, she admitted that the club had tried to read “Pride and Prejudice” first, only to discover that everyone had opted to watch the movie instead of slogging through page after page of turgid prose.)
“Do you know anything about Jennifer at all?”
“Well, her mother is very… unique. I thought that if Jennifer was anything like her, perhaps you’d get along.”
“Unique?” I pressed.
“It means,” sighed mom, “that I’ve been setting you up with normal women for years and none of them have worked out, and perhaps if you try eating the fried Oreo instead of getting the same old chocolate cake again, maybe you’ll find you like the new flavor.”
I love my mother, but her metaphors border on lunatic babbling sometimes.
Going on a blind date is not unlike trying to solve a murder mystery before you hit the last page.
What I mean is this:
Everything you discover about your date is a clue about who she is and how the night might go, starting with her place of residence.
When you get to her house or apartment complex, you generally know what kind of neighborhood you’re in, and how much it costs to live there.
Jennifer lived on the fourth floor of a five-floor walkup, in an okay-but-not-great part of town. Which said to me she was probably working a blue-or-pink-collar job and paying all the bills under her own steam.
So I was somewhat surprised, when the front door of her apartment presented me not with a woman in her mid-thirties, but a woman in her mid-sixties.
Her hair was short, and a perfect, uniform white. The kind of white you only see on old people wearing wigs. Her shapeless dress was covered by a bizarre white robe shot through with some sort of metallic piping.
Gold, maybe? Silver? Hard to tell.
Also, she was holding a stick.
I stood there for a moment, as it finally hit me why my mother hadn’t told me anything about Jennifer. She was old enough to be a grandmother.
“Good evening, Jennifer,” I said, when the saliva returned to my mouth.
The woman in the door sized me up.
“I’m not Jennifer.”
“Oh,” I said.
Now, perhaps that looked a lot like “The Moment,” to you, and on paper, I can understand that. But rest assured, that was not it.
Granted, I was in trouble. At this point, I had possibly insulted Jennifer, and possibly insulted her, what? Mother? Grandmother? Aunt? Uncle-becoming-an-aunt (she was a little man-ish in the face)?
I finally decided to plunge right in. “I mean, by, um – by saying ‘Oh,’ I meant, ‘Oh, of course you’re not Jennifer.’”
That was also not the moment.
The next moment was.
What I mean is this:
The woman in the doorway extended her hand. The hand not holding a stick.
“I’m her fairy godmother,” she said.
“Her godmother?” I replied, as I took her hand, and gave it what I hoped was a firm-but-not-too-firm shake.
“Fairy godmother,” she repeated.
Now, I’ve had “The Moment” early on before, but this was kind of a first. I had always at least met my date before I realized that things were just not going to end well.
You can judge me if you want to, but people have gone to war on less substantial grounds than the one that caused me to step through the doorway, rather than fake a sudden urge to vomit while manufacturing a story about how my lunch meat had smelled a little “off” earlier in the day.
When it comes down to it, though, I was lonely, and in my late thirties.
Plus, hey, it looked like it had the makings of a great story, assuming I made it through the entire evening. “And then, before I even got in the door? I met her fairy godmother. She even had a wand. Well, a stick, but you know…”
Jennifer’s fairy godmother turned her back to me for a moment. “Jennifer! Your date’s here!”
I heard a faint “Coming!” from behind a door just outside my line of vision.
The white-haired woman turned to face me again. “Typical princess,” she said. “Always running ‘just a little late,’ don’t you know.”
“I – uh – I don’t mind,” I replied, unsure of what to say. I’d dealt with a few meddling mothers before, including one who took pictures of me with my date before heading off, as though it was prom we were going to, and not a first date at a minor league baseball game. A minor league baseball game where we bought a lot of beer because we were both over the legal age by a decade, and had discovered that we had only one thing in common: we hated her mother.
“You should,” she replied, glancing over her shoulder again. “If you can’t put a princess in her place right off the bat, she’ll walk all over you.”
At a loss for anything else to say, I opened my mouth to ask the fairy godmother if they lived together, when Jennifer stepped out of her bedroom, dressed for – something other than what I had planned for the night.
What I mean is this:
I came to her house in my usual first-date garb. Khaki pants, turtleneck, sport coat, loafers. If you’re a guy, you’ll recognize this as an easy dress-up-dress-down outfit. Good enough to get you into a reasonably upscale eatery, but not out of place at a bar, either.
She was wearing – and I am not exaggerating to make this story more amusing – a ball gown and a tiara.
I think there are probably some girls who could have pulled this off – but Jennifer wasn’t one of them. It’s not that she was unattractive, not really, but she wasn’t hot or gorgeous or stunning, or really any descriptive term that I could think of outside of ordinary.
Her straight brown hair was ordinary. As was her face. As was her figure. As were her other accessories, which consisted of an ordinary purse that didn’t go with her odd ensemble, and some unmemorable jewelry.
That was the moment when I decided to bail out. I breathed in, willing my brain to come up with a reason I couldn’t go out – and found a stick pressing against my nose.
Well, okay, it was kind of up my nose.
Jennifer’s fairy godmother leaned forward, and in a voice I’m sure only I could hear, said:
“If you hurt her, I will turn you into a toad.”
The moment she stopped talking, she took a step back from me, and said, pleasantly, “Sorry about that. The old balance isn’t what it used to be, you know? I’m constantly bumping into things.”
“It’s true,” confirmed Jennifer.
“No harm done,” I said. I turned to Jennifer. “Shall we?”
Jennifer stepped up to the woman in the robe and pecked her on the cheek. “Don’t wait up.”
“Oh, you know me,” she replied. “Won’t be able to sleep a wink until I hear you come clumping into the apartment.”
“I won’t keep her out late,” I said, and Jennifer followed me out the door.
As I let Jennifer into the car, I realized that I had a serious problem. Outside of the threat to turn me into a toad. So, two problems, really.
I had no real place that I could take a woman in a ball gown. The eatery I had chosen was on something of a mid-range scale, much like my clothing for the night. There were better restaurants in town, and I ate out often enough to get preferential treatment at a few of them (provided I tipped everyone well).
But were any of them ball-gown-worthy? No.
I got into the driver’s seat and looked at my date, who smiled and blushed. “Sorry about that. She can be…” she took a moment to select a word, “overprotective.”
“I… ” I began to say, then trailed off. What was there to say about a woman who clearly needed a visit from the nice young men in their clean white coats? “You know what? Let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s worry about where we’re going to eat.”
“I thought you picked a place,” she replied.
“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure if it’s quite up to the task of working with that dress.”
Jennifer looked at me, uncertain. “This old thing?” I was reasonably sure she wasn’t kidding.
“You know what? Why don’t we just go to the place I have a reservation for.”
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