The Date from Hell

Oh, it’s a scary thing — that dive off the shelf back into the social whirl after being married for many years. Some of us handle it more gracefully than others. Then there is yours truly, who doesn’t so much handle it as flail about neck deep in water, feet barely touching bottom as I try to keep one eye on the tide and the other on the circling sharks.

No question — I have made more than my share of blunders. My cursed optimism and naïveté concerning the motivation of what seems to be a good part of the male population have drawn me to the lip of the whirlpool more than once. Often, though, my misadventures are simply funny; perhaps not at the time, but in retrospect, the experiences I have had as a result of Internet dating are almost uniformly cause for great amusement. This has been proven time and again at gatherings and parties, where recounting my forays has evoked no sympathy but merely convulsed my listeners with helpless laughter.

Let me share with you today a chapter from my journal, “The Dates from Hell.” This was one of the earliest meetings I arranged as a result of a man answering a personal classified. The person in question presented himself as youthful, outgoing, attractive, educated and available. After many witty and engaging exchanges of email, and the receipt of his picture — which showed a rather studious-looking but not unattractive man with dark hair and glasses — I graciously condescended to give this man — let’s call him Griff, because I don’t know anyone named Griff for real and hopefully will be insulting a very small number of actual Griffs who may exist out there — my phone number.

He called. We talked. We laughed. We exchanged sardonic witticisms and clever bon mots. He expounded lengthily on how much he enjoyed treating a woman like a lady and would I mind if he opened doors etc. After a few of these phone conversations, I agreed to go to dinner after work on the upcoming Friday. I left it to him to choose the place. He was all hot and bothered about a particular restaurant — part of a large nationwide chain of the sort that appeals to senior citizens, tightwads who spring for early bird specials and the great unwashed who know nothing of decent cuisine — that promised a succulent delight the name of which I cannot recall but consists of bits of fried lobster meat that have been previously rolled in corn flake crumbs.

Although the choice of venue should have given me pause, I gave him my address, we agreed on a time, and I immediately began planning what I would wear. Being me, the major choice was blue or black jeans. Nonetheless, I gave this a good deal of thought and finally decided on black jeans, a white peasant blouse, a classy black gabardine blazer and black pumps with three-inch heels. Yes, I’m tall, but he told me he was six-three so even with the heels I knew I wouldn’t be looking at the top of his head as we strolled in and out of the restaurant together.

Thursday evening after work, I arrived home to find a note stuck in the door of my second-floor apartment. It sported a drawing of a smiley face and the message, “Griff was here. Just wanted to be sure I could find you.”

EEK! The man had been nosing around my sun porch — possibly peeking in my windows! I emailed him immediately and suggested since I was rather busy at work, I would stay until 5:30, the time we agreed to meet, and he could pick me up there. I gave him directions and he emailed back saying fine, he’d be there at 5:30, wearing a red shirt. (“Red shirt?” I thought. Hmm — yeah, I knew he was some sort of engineering type at a nuclear plant — another, no pun intended, red flag, and that should have tipped me off right away — shades of Homer Simpson — but stupid me just thought, “Cool! This red shirt with my black and white; what a stunning couple we’ll make.”).

Friday, I got more and more antsy as the day went on. I was eager to go out on a real dinner date and even though the thought of Griff prowling around my sun porch wasn’t exactly appealing, I wanted to meet this person with whom I had shared so many entertaining emails and phone calls. Promptly at 5:25 PM I locked my office and exited the front of the building.

My office was located in a renovated turn-of-the-20th-century mansion, set back from the road across a rather long sweep of treed lawn. I waited on the columned porch, occasionally repositioning myself into what I hoped were nonchalant yet attractive poses. After six or seven minutes of this, I grew hot and uncomfortable. The sun was still strong and my jacket was a tad warm. I decided rather than waiting on the unroofed porch I would lounge sexily against one of the trees on the lawn. At least it was cooler there.

After about 10 minutes of uncomfortable but sexy leaning, a car slowed down as it drew near the building. I glimpsed a flash of red and my heart began to pound. Here he was — this soon-not-to-be-a-stranger about whom I had had many happy thoughts. I waited for him to come striding across the lawn with his long legs and sweep me off to paradise. Ha! What to my wondering ears did appear but the loud braying honk of his car horn? I squinted and waved in the general direction of the car. He honked again!

Now I was beginning to question the sincerity of his commitment to treating a woman like a lady, since apparently he expected me to respond to his honking by leaping across the lawn, dashing across the busy street and helping myself into his car. Never one to cave to Neanderthal expectations, I merely waved again, languidly and with, I hoped, a certain amount of royal hauteur. Apparently Griff got the hint. He turned off the car and came galumphing across the lawn. With every step that brought him closer I began to realize the picture he had sent me must have been at least a dozen, if not fifteen, years out of date. Oh yes, he was tall, but had grown quite an impressive paunch in the years since that picture was taken. As the paunch grew his hair must have abandoned ship, and what was left of it wasn’t dark. His face was puffy and red and altogether he looked like a caricature of the man in the emailed photo.

Being the impeccably polite creature I am, I stifled my annoyance at his initial lack of manners and photographic deception and held out my hand in greeting. He grasped it firmly and somehow spun me around. The result was I was held rather more closely against his side than I would have liked as we walked to the car. On the way he chattered about getting lost a couple of times on the way to the building and how he couldn’t wait to taste the delights of cornflake-coated lobster. Amazingly, he did open the car door for me. Unfortunately, he had parked against the curb where the land slopes down and I more or less pitched headfirst into the front seat. He summarily slammed the door, got into the driver’s seat, and off we went.

Our conversation on the way to the restaurant was pretty one-sided; he did most of the talking and most of that talking was about his ungrateful son — an artist, apparently, who didn’t know what it was to make an honest living — yammer, stammer, and bore.

I inquired, as he took a short breath, as to his son’s age and he told me the lazy son-of-a-bitch was 32. I was beginning to feel I was going out with the wrong generation of this particular family. This entire exchange, by the way, took place at an earsplitting level of volume because the tape player in the car was blasting the Stones at full volume. Now, I am a Stones fan from way back, but somehow his playing them loudly enough to cause eardrums to bleed struck me as a feeble attempt to impress me with his hipness. Or, perhaps he was merely losing his hearing along with his hair.

We finally pulled into the restaurant parking lot. It had been a twenty-minute trip, and I was sincerely grateful it was over. He shut off the car and got out. I figured rather than jump out myself, I would give him the opportunity to indulge his fantasy of treating a woman like a lady and waited for him to come around and open the door. After about 45 seconds I realized if I didn’t let myself out of the car I was likely to miss dinner altogether, so I clambered out and off we went, hell bent for leather, his arm looped through mine as he dragged me across the tarmac, me stumbling in my three-inch heels as I tried to keep up.

All of greater Hartford must have somehow zoned in on the fact

this place served cornflake-coated lobster meat, because the lobby of the restaurant was jammed with people, chattering, laughing, yelling and shoving as they made their way to the hostess station to put in their requests for a table. Now I am not one to wait long — be it for food, a movie or any other form of evening entertainment. I am perfectly willing to spontaneously change plans and find a place that can accommodate me without waiting forty-five minutes for the privilege. But of course, Griff had his heart set on the lobster, so he gave his name and guided me into the bar.

We sat in a tight corner on high stools that were shoved up against a large barrel that apparently was meant to be our table. In due course, a cocktail waitress materialized and handed us bar menus. We each ordered a drink — usually I would begin a dinner evening with a glass of wine, but with my disenchantment with Griff growing steadily by the second, I ordered a double bourbon and ginger. The man himself asked for a martini. We also each selected an appetizer from the bar menu. They were unmemorable enough I can’t recall what we ordered. The bar was smaller, louder and more crowded than the lobby. Pleasant conversation was next to impossible because of the noise level. After a few sips of his drink, Griff excused himself for a trip to the WC, as he called it. While he was off relieving himself, I took inventory of the room. I figured, as I glanced around the place, if this is what single people do with themselves on a Friday night I hadn’t been missing much all those years.

Griff wended his way back to our barrel and began gulping his martini in earnest. Waving and snapping his fingers in a lordly fashion, he summoned the server and ordered more drinks. I was only halfway through my bourbon but he was determined I shouldn’t fall behind. What the hell, I thought, maybe if I anesthetize myself I’ll get through the evening without telling this man what a jerk he is. As we waited for fresh drinks, we munched our appetizers. Most of his conversation, thankfully, was inaudible due to the cacophony around us, but at one point he leaned in very close to me and picked up a handful of my hair, held it out away from my head, and sniffed it.

“Mmmmm,” he said. “Very shiny. Smells good. Is it real?”

How I wished it had been a wig I could have snatched off and waved under his nose! Instead, I smiled lamely as I tried not to visibly pull away and said, “As real as L’Oreal can make it.” He thought this was a spectacular witticism and laughed so heartily bits of food sprayed out of his mouth and decorated our glasses, the barrel top, the remaining food and me. He ordered yet another martini while I firmly refused a third bourbon. He drank it quickly and suggested we go outside for some air. I agreed — anything to be able to get a few more inches away from his leering face and grabby hands. Besides, he was well on his way to being drunk and we hadn’t even gotten our table yet.

We stood up, waltzing past the hostess at the desk, where she assured us we had at least another fifteen minutes to wait, and stepped out into the pleasant evening. Griff grabbed my hand and we began a swift patrol of the parking lot, walking around the side of the restaurant, by the dumpsters, then around back through the parking lot of a rug store and back toward the front door. Again, he did most of the talking, but by this time I wasn’t paying much attention. I concentrated on nodding and smiling at what I hoped were appropriate intervals.

As we frogmarched our way to entrance, a man suddenly drew up close behind us on the walkway. Griff glanced over his shoulder and suddenly pulled me aside. I awkwardly tried to keep my balance as one of my heels caught in a crack on the paving stones.

“Sorry, guy,” Griff said with a shit-eating grin. “Didn’t mean to hold you up, but it’s our wedding night, and we’re just trying to get into a romantic mood for later.”

The man behind us drew alongside. “NO SHIT?” he cried jovially, so loudly everyone within fifty yards could hear. “Congratulations! Here, let me get the door for you newlyweds.”

I wanted to die. I wanted the concrete to buckle and suck me under and magically transport me back to my quiet, welcoming apartment. I closed my eyes, knowing my face was as red as those unfortunate lobsters being sacrificed inside. Once we pushed our way into the still-crowded lobby, the hostess motioned us over and shoved us toward the dining room. I breathed a sigh of relief, figuring if I ate fast I could be out of there in half an hour.

No such luck. As soon as we were seated Griff ordered another martini. I asked for ice water. The waitress, a short, dumpy, motherly type, smiled as she handed us the menus. She came back quickly with the drinks.

Griff, by that time, was in a state because he discovered, upon perusing the menu, the fabled cornflake lobster was merely an appetizer and not a full meal. The waitress was apologetic but embarrassed as he complained in a less-than-quiet tone about false advertising and the like. I forced myself to reach across the table, touched his red arm lightly and said, “Why don’t you order it anyway? I’m not that hungry. We can choose an entrée we’d both like and share it.”

Griff grumbled agreement and sent the waitress off for another martini. We browsed the menu together. I suggested the prime rib and baked potato — things both filling and easily shared. He agreed and lightened up considerably. Of course, if I had four martinis in me I’d be so light I’d be floating in the vicinity of the rafters. The waitress delivered the fifth martini and I ordered the meal, leaving Griff to slurp his drink and smile. Just before our server disappeared, he reached out and closed his hand around her wrist.

“Did you know it’s our wedding night?” he stage-whispered conspiratorially. “You don’t say!” beamed the waitress. “Congratulations!”

She cast a dubious and slightly pitying glance my way and scurried off, doubtless thanking her lucky stars it was I and not she who was lawfully wedded to this numbskull. I toyed with my napkin as Griff finished his fifth martini and burbled on incoherently about who knows what. The waitress came by to refresh our water glasses and I was trembling in fear he would order yet another drink. Miraculously, he must have forgotten. I slid to the edge of the booth and stood up.

”Where is the ladies’ room, please?” I asked our server. She pointed toward the lobby. “Take a left around the hostess station.”

“Thank you,” I said, and, leaning closer, I said sotto voce, “There wouldn’t be, by any chance, a door to the outside from there?”

She laughed uproariously. Little did she know I wasn’t entirely joking. I took as long as I could in the bathroom, cursing my stars, my stupidity, men in general and Griff in particular. By the time I returned to our booth the food had arrived. Griff was happily chowing down on his sacred cornflaked lobster. He did generously save one small piece for me.

I began to cut into the prime rib so that he could reach across with his fork and help himself to some already bite-sized pieces at will. At this point I didn’t trust his skill with a fork, let alone a steak knife.

After polishing off the lobster he took one small piece of meat and a forkful of buttered baked potato. I guess the vodka had really kicked in by then, because he laid his silverware on the table and leaned back, eyes closed, communing with whatever voices were speaking in his head. I left him in peace and devoured my dinner. Not having tanked up during the previous hour and a half, I was actually ravenously hungry. At some point Griff must have emerged from his coma, because as I reached down the placket of my blouse to remove a bit of stray potato, he suddenly lunged across the table and boomed, “Can I remove that for you?” Startled, I shrank back in my seat and said weakly, “Oh, I’ve got it, thanks.”

He continued staring at me, his eyes semi-focused on approximately the second button down on my shirt. I said nothing, merely continued to clear my plate hungrily. As the waitress cleared the table, Griff began mumbling something about music and philosophy. None of it made any sense. He shook himself awake and asked if I wanted dessert.

“Absolutely!” I responded. I figured even if he was a washout that didn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy my dinner. And besides, I figured the longer we sat, the more sober he’d be for the drive home. He looked craftily at the waitress, who hovered uncertainly, waiting for further instructions. “See?” he said loudly. “She’s just trying to put off going back to the motel. Ha ha!”

I turned sixty shades of scarlet and the waitress laughed in embarrassment. Alas, even my plan to stall for sobriety failed miserably, for, as I ordered a parfait, Griff demanded an after dinner brandy to top off all those martinis he’d already tossed down. By the time he finished his brandy, Griff had stopped trying to make any conversation at all. I bolted my dessert and figured it was best if we just got out of there. He fumbled in his wallet for a credit card and signed the bill. I insisted on leaving the tip. I didn’t want to wait for him to try to drunkenly calculate the tip and then rummage around for folding money.

As we headed out toward the lobby, Griff put one hand on my shoulder and one on my waist and literally danced me through the crowd, loudly proclaiming our nuptials and making crude references to what lay ahead of us for the rest of the evening. By this time, I was praying the only thing that would be laying would be him, face down in the parking lot, giving me an excuse to snatch his keys and drive us back to my office. No such luck. He remained upright and firmly in control of the car keys. He got in, eventually remembered me and leaned across to unlock the door so I could slink into the front seat.

Never have I more regretted the lack of an airbag as that ride home. Unbelievably, given the amount of alcohol he’d consumed, he wasn’t drunk enough to be totally out of control — just enough to scare the living shit out of me as he talked incoherently and every so often closed his eyes while speeding at 75 miles an hour down the highway, that damn tape still assaulting my eardrums. I said nothing, but remained alert in case I needed to grab the wheel or open my door and jump out.

After what seemed an eternity, during which my fevered brain conjured up visions of bloody death and destruction on Route 91 –

starring us — we exited the highway. I guided him to the office parking lot and we finally arrived at my car. He pulled up behind it. I thanked him for dinner and grabbed the door handle, grateful to be alive, almost home and soon to be blessedly alone. But Griff wrapped his thick hand around my upper arm and demanded, “Why didn’t you want me to pick you up at your apartment?”

I wanted to tell him exactly why — because I was afraid if things turned out as they had, he’d try to force his way inside or make a scene if not invited up for “coffee.” Instead, judging cowardice to be to be the better part of valor in this particular instance, I fudged. I told him I thought it was easier to meet at the office since I had to work late anyway. He grunted and let me go.

I hopped out of his car and scooted into my own, locking the door immediately. He slowly backed up. I waited until he was gone before breathing a deep sigh of relief and, laying my head against the steering wheel, laughed hysterically as I thought, So much for romance, wit and gallantry.

You’d think I would have taken a hint from this disaster of an evening and given up on net dating. Alas, that was not the case. But, that’s another story for another day from my journal of “The Dates from Hell.”

© 2000, renewed 2011 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved

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