Let’s take a trip down Mating Dance Memory Lane, shall we? I invite you to fall down the rabbit hole with me to that time I was the Bad Date, capital B, capital D, to my first ever Internet Date. It culminated in an incident involving a Tony Little Gazelle but we’ll get there in due time. If this were a screenplay this is where the fuzzy flashback fade-in would happen, revealing the me of yore circa de 2003. Younger, lither, slightly less wrinkled. My liver definitely less pickled since all I knew about wine back then could fit into an Arbor Mist bottle. I’ll take the strawberry please….
Queue the dissolve Mr. Demille! The black on the screen swirls away, revealing a young woman sitting cross-legged on a rickety office chair tucked into the corner of a wood-paneled living room. She’s patiently waiting for the phone line to connect to the new-fangled Internet. She sways the chair a bit from side to side, her hands pushing off the bottom shelf bargain computer desk as the not so soothing sounds of Dial-up fill the space. Booooop. Beep Boop. Boop Boop. Whir. Whirrrrr. Shhhhhhhhh-kershhhh….. Wait. Is this the part where Skynet gains consciousness and nukes the world? No? Wrong movie? Ok. You got me. It’s me, about to make my first ever online dating profile and not Sarah Connor. Though…… If I had to be Sarah Connor I would totally pick bad ass T2 Sarah Connor. It’s possible I’ve thought about it before.
Back then the only game in town was Match.Com. I know it’s hard to believe kids, but keep in mind my cell phone (my first one ever!) at the time wasn’t one of your fancy I-Phone version 1 Billion and 2’s. It was your standard issue blue Nokia that you played Snake on if you were bored. No crushing candy back then children. You chased a black dot around a tiny screen with a black line that got longer. Quality entertainment! Apps were something you ordered before your entrée.
This was long before the era of Christian-Mingling in a pond of Plenty of Fish, Bumble-ing our way through trying to E-Harmonize with OKCupid and Zoosk, seeing if it was Our Time to Tinder Chemistry with Elite Singles in the meat section of Adult Friend Finder to see if we were a Match.
Which brings me back to Match Dot Com. In 2003 it was basically just a listing of people within a specified radius of your location. It was a picture (maybe) and a short description. The age of compatibility algorithms was in infancy. It was an era of innocence, long before I felt an urge to punch Dr. Neil Clark Warren in the face every time I see an E-Harmony commercial.
It wasn’t like I had never spoken with strange men online before. I had chatted in chat rooms. I was familiar with the AOL messenger running man. I had even cybered a time or two, mostly for my own amusement. This was the first time I was using the Great World Wide Web for the intent purpose of finding someone to meet in Real Life. Prior to this I was involved in a four year relationship through high school and college that ended mutually because we were two kids that grew into two different adults, followed by an eight month long one night stand with a pothead I met on a dance floor when I backed that ass up that ended because I got emotionally involved and he didn’t. At. All. I know I’ve mentioned him before. I promise to tell it someday. Followed by a two month stint with a dude I met through a friend I actually really liked, with a really small penis I was doing my damnedest to try to ignore as a problem for me, that broke it off because he “suddenly realized” he was in love with his best friend’s wife. I figured it might be time to try something new. Who knew I’d still be trying it 14 years later? Hope. Eternal. Springing. Blah. Blah.
It didn’t take long before Josh messaged me. I mean Joshua. He preferred the use of his full given name. Hey, judgment free, it’s what your mama gave ya’, but perhaps that should have been my first sign I may have been a bit too laissez-faire for him and him a bit too pretentious for me. He seemed eloquent in his emails. We had some things in common, absolutely none of which I can remember right now because it’s been 14 years and I’m quickly approaching an age when it might be prudent to take me some of that ginkgo biloba for my memory. Honestly, I had to think hard to remember his name. And then I only did because he insisted on the Yacht Club, Harvard Business School, yuppie secret society version. He played the violin which was probably another sign but also intriguing. I’m a sucker for any creative type. My roommate at the time was a first chair flutist in high school and I had visions of private orchestra performances in my living room. Did I mention at the time I was living in a dirt cheap basement apartment of suspect legality, surrounded by cornfields and situated directly, DIRECTLY, across the street from a shooting range? I was having severe hunger pangs for a spot of culture that wasn’t the lilting concerto of the nearby Tractor Pulls. If you aren’t savvy to the thrall of a Motor Sports Park, Google yourself some diesel entertainment fun. Yes. Tractors pull things. People pay to watch.
The first rule of dating in modern times I broke (or at least Internet dating) was having him pick me up at my apartment. Put away you Mace Marcy! Yes, it was my first online date so a bit of naivety was to be expected. However, my mama used to tell me, “You’ve been 30 since you were 12.” I’ve never been a Gullible Gilly and have been well acquainted with the Fear Inherent from a very young age. I trust my gut instinct way more than my overly rational brain telling me I’m being paranoid. This has led to a lot of No Thank You with strangers online over the years. My innards haven’t steered me wrong yet. Joshua wasn’t sending up any Danger Will Robinson alarms. It was also a time before the Craigslist Killer, and social media threat level red always paranoia sharing of my cousin’s friend’s girlfriend’s sister had this happen, when it was still considered customary to pick your date up like a civilized human being. All dating through time has always been a calculated risk. The Internet didn’t make it more of a risk than meeting someone in a grocery store you don’t know and giving them your phone number. If anything, it’s less risky because I can get a sense of a person before giving personal identifying information like that.
I opened up the door to a straight-laced gentleman, a crisp striped shirt tucked into carefully creased slacks. I think the only creases I have in clothes are from sleeping in them. I swear I do own an iron. Somewhere. Given his outfit I was glad I was wearing one of the only dresses I owned. Less glad for the Black Site torture devices strapped on my feet people refer to as heels. If y’all haven’t guessed by now I was more of a climb a tree, play with Matchbox cars kind of tomboy than a Polly Pocket, Barbie girl. My Barbies tended to lose their heads quickly….. But perhaps that’s a story about therapy for another time….. The details of Button-Down Brock’s face are hazy all these years later. It’s a muddle of non-descript, like a blank faced posable wooden drawing mannequin. No crinkly laugh lines, no memorable twinkle of the eye. His hair was short. His spine was straight. He opened his car door for me all gentlemanly like while I climbed in all Basic Instinct un-ladylike because dresses are so not my thing. Some lessons my mama tried to teach me never quite stuck. I guess I was always meant to be more of a Broad than a Lady. Broads have more fun.
We had agreed to your basic dinner date but living in Tractor Pull Territory means if you want to eat anywhere that doesn’t have Family Restaurant or Country Kitchen on its sign you’ll be driving for about a half hour to get there. We had a perfectly nice, perfectly bland, perfectly forgettable conversation on the way to the fancy Greek restaurant I suggested. Why Greek you ask? Because Opa! It was one of my favorite places around at the time, mostly because they served saganaki and I LOVE any time wait staff sets my food on fire next to the table. We’ve established my love of cheese. Then to pour alcohol on it and set it ablaze with crackling, sizzling fire?! I clap every time!
They sat us upstairs in the more ‘intimate’ dining room. I guess the dress was a tip off to the date-ness of it all. In all the years I patronized the place until the owners retired, including a few other dates and hosting my mother’s 50th birthday party there, the ONLY time they sat me up the stairs is the ONLY time I was tottering on heels. Really? Fuck you whatever Trickster God is playing with me. This is a Greek place so I put my money on Ate. Glad there was a handrail.
Since these were my Arbor Mist days I ordered some sweet sounding Sorority Girl wine. Moscato wasn’t all the rage yet so I’m sure it was your standard blush on the menu. It definitely wasn’t the Sauvignon Blanc my palate is swilling right now. Don’t get too excited that I’ve broken my budget. It’s still the trusty box o’ wine vintage. I downed it too quickly, trying to quell a few jitters since this was my first sort of blind date. While we waited for the server to return for our food orders I tried to be all ladylike spearing an olive with a fork instead of picking it up with my fingers like the heathen I am. Instead of cutely popping it in my mouth as I envisioned I proceeded to accidently FLING IT right off the fork and on to the floor at Straight-Laced Stefan’s feet. It rolled back and forth a little, its olive eye staring at me accusingly, its roundness echoing the surprised shape of my mouth. Joshua very nicely chose to ignore my pitted faux pas.
A few minutes after ordering a swingy, space age-y sound emanates from the bag at my feet. It disorients me because, like the dress, carrying a purse isn’t really my thing. But the dress equals no pockets. No pockets equal needing somewhere to put my keys and standard issue blue Nokia cell phone. The phone that’s ringing. The phone I didn’t shut off or silence. I warned it was the time I was the Bad Date. Capital B. Capital D. At least I didn’t answer it. Though. Though then I did offer my apology and listen to the voicemail. I KNOW!!!!! There’s no excuse. Cell phones were still a new phenomenon to me. I didn’t have a handle on the etiquette yet. I was enraptured with this shiny new technology and so caught up in my early 20’s narcissism I didn’t think about how discourteous I was being. It seemed eminently important for some reason to listen to a message from my recently ex-roommate about wedding plans I didn’t care about but was ‘required’ to feign an interest in when I agreed to be a bridesmaid when we were still sharing living space a few months earlier. Cheetah spotted living space. She lived there first and decorated with many a Cheetah inspired throw rug, pillow, and lampshade. Yes. At one time I lived in a suspect basement apartment across from a shooting range, bespeckled in big cat inspired décor. Take a moment. Digest it. Yes, this is also the time I found myself playing bridesmaid amongst target practice, standing beside my chain- smoking, Cheetah print loving, 5’ ex-roommate as she married her 6’2” ex-con fiancée who used to spit his chewing tobacco into his empty sweet tea bottle in the middle or our shared living room, all while he used the Dial-up to play EverQuest for 14 hours at a time. So yes, I thought a nice boy named Joshua who played the violin might be a nice change. And here I am, classing up the joint, throwing food on the floor and checking my cell phone obnoxiously, all before the flaming cheese even comes.
Then the gooey block does arrive and they ignite it in a burst of pan frying deliciousness. I clap enthusiastically. Joshua does not. I order another glass of wine. Joshua does not. The conversation continued in run of the mill, bland fashion. The small talk kind of what kind of foods do you like, do you have any siblings Q&A humdrum variety that quickly has me packing up now and Adultly saying “No Thanks.” There was no banter, no spark. Back then it was my soft opening to Internet Dating. Kinks to work out. I thought that’s what nice, normal people did on nice, normal first dates. I wasn’t yet comfortable and embracive of my there is no such thing as normal self. I was bored so I ordered another glass of wine and maybe another. I proceeded to get toe up to use the proper vernacular of 2003. If you don’t feel like consulting Urban Dictionary I was in a stage of extreme, sloshing, drunkenness. Capital B. Capital D. Bad Date. Oh, but I was sooooo extra glad for that handrail for the way back down the stairs in those damn heels. Kissing Zeus’ feet glad.
Of course, Joshua was the kind of nice boy that paid for dinner without flinching. I offered to at least leave the tip but he declined. A part of me offered because I had waited on tables for eight years and try to be exceedingly generous because I know exactly what an overly generous tip feel s like. It’s a golden light restoring faith in humanity, combatting all those douches that clink their ice, shaking their empty glasses in the air from across the room instead of patiently waiting and politely asking for more. But I’m the asshole that just checked their voicemail and left their phone on during dinner so who am I to judge douchery right now? Joshua left exactly 20%. I snuck a peek when he went to the bathroom. Nice boy. Nice, bland boy.
The half hour ride home did a bit for the sobering. I had ditched my heels as soon as the car door slammed shut in the restaurant parking lot so the short, barefoot walk into the apartment wasn’t a 20 clowns balancing on a tiny ball act. Like the nice, straight-lace Emily Post boy he was, Joshua walked me to the door. He proceeded to follow me as I flung it open and slurred “Come on in”. Though it probably came out “Commie in” like I was tagging in my KGB ally. I dropped my keys and heels on the kitchen table like the Classy Cathy I was that night and tromped down the hall with Joshua trailing behind.
I rounded the corner to the living room and doubled over in laughter, further solidifying my ladylike class with my dress clad ass now pointed straight at Joshua’s face. To what did my wondering eyes appear? My current roommate and best friend whooshing away on my Tony Little Gazelle. If you aren’t aware of this As Seen on TV exercise gem, YouTube you some pony-tailed nostalgia. This, in itself, may not have been cause for the fish out of water open mouth gasping laugh that had me bent over with glee but it quickly became apparent I was not the only one that been imbibing that evening.
“Girlll!!! Aw my gawd! I had me some wine and now I can’t figure out how to get off!”
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
“It feels like flying! “
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
“I’m flying like a gazelle! Cause I’m on the Gazelle!
I was laughing so hard my knees were giving out and now I was getting some of those Danger Will Robinson alarms flashing from my own bladder. I dropped my dress clad ass down on the love seat, holding my sides. The whooshing slowed.
“Okay. Oh-tay! Imma try to get off!”
“Do you want some help?” I tried to squeak through my laughter.
“No. I gots it! Hold on!” One leg makes it down. “Nope. I don’t gots it!”
She clutched the arm handles, teetering the whole beast to the side as she dismounted the other leg. I would have been pre-dialing 9-1 just in case had I not had tears streaming down my face from laughing at her. I mean…. with her. She stumbled at me, right hand out, index finger pointing straight towards my face.
“I can’t feel my legs. Holy shit! Holy shit! That shit is fun! I’m walking on air!”
She collapsed on the love seat next to me.
We took one of those deep, hiccup inducing breaths you take when you realize it might be time to stop laughing. Mostly because we became aware of Joshua there, leaning against the doorway. Not laughing. In the slightest.
I stifled a guffaw. “This is Joshua. Hey, he plays the violin. You play the flute. ” Paused. Resumed uncontrollable laughter. I don’t really remember Joshua’s face all these years later, but I do remember that pinched, disapproving frown thrown at me in the doorway of my own living room at that moment. Even in a sweet wine fog I knew this date was unequivocally over. I swallowed my next giggle and hoisted my drunken ass off the furniture.
At the front door I remembered my manners and thanked him for dinner, did all the nice to meet you pleasantries. He shook my hand. I knew about the time the olive flew off the fork there wouldn’t be a good night kiss from this one but a handshake? Not even a half-hearted hug? Just as well, his handshake was weak and limp-wristed. I couldn’t imagine how stiff the hug might have been. I deserved it. In 20/20 hindsight I’m surprised I even got the handshake. I was an asshole. We were obviously not meant for each other anyway but I was definitely the Bad Date culprit on this one.
I locked the door and trounced back to the living room, hiking up my dress to fold my legs under me as I collapsed criss-cross-applesauce on the couch. No need to try to pretend to be a lady anymore here, back in my 70’s wood paneled living room across from a shooting range with my best friend.
“So…… how did it go?” she inquired.
“Ohhhhhh. There’s no way that dude is calling me again.”
“Just as well Mamacita. That fucker seemed like he had a giant stick up his ass. Want some wine?”
Of course I did.