My friend Jackie recently acquired a list of all the single men in our town who are between the ages of 24 and 45, which she somehow feels is the correct age range for two just-turned thirty-year-olds--that would be us. I'm not too sure how she came across this convenient information, but I'm not complaining, either. Jackie works with political campaigns doing demographics--creating inventories of potential voters and their ages, incomes and other data that they'd probably prefer to keep secret. So I've seen lots of lists around her house, besides the ones that say milk, cheese, cookies. This list, though, is the first one we've ever read together, with a bottle of wine ready to mark the right spots.
We're going over the pages tonight, spreading them out on Jackie's blue, hypoallergenic carpet. She says it's hypoallergenic, and although I've never seen a tag or anything to prove this, I also don't recall ever sneezing at her condo. So I believe her. We leave a trail of stone-ground crackers from eligible bachelor to eligible bachelor, Jackie especially noting the more British sounding names, me trying to avoid any more Daves or Andys. We know what we want.
This isn't to say that I would in any way try to meet one of these 24- to 45-year-olds with an income above sixty-five thousand dollars. Jackie's a different story. My oldest friend, Jackie Steinem (no relation to Gloria) was known in college to wear her hair straight and parted in the middle, and even went so far as to purchase some aviator frames, through which she would stare defiantly at our male college professors. Those who lacked the courage to ask about her relation to Gloria (really, there wasn't any) suffered her most painful glares. She got all A's.
Now it's several pairs of contact lenses later, but here we are ten years older, singles bars and personal ads behind us, reading lists of strong sounding names that live in zip codes our mothers would approve of. It has come to this. This list has something to do with The New Yorker magazine's subscribers, and Jackie insists they are all local. Some names may also appear on a list Jackie has of Playboy subscribers, but naturally, we will scratch them off as possibilities. We have standards.
"Blind Date was calling around at our office today, looking for eligibles," I tell her.
Jackie's cracker falls out of her mouth into her wine glass. She leaves it there. "I think you should go on it," she tells me, crossing off George McDermott from the list with a black marker. She knows him.
"I am not going on that show," I say, looking through the D's. Matt Damon is on the list, although I'm pretty sure he's not the same one. Still, he's a possibility, and his street name sounds nice. It's a house, not an apartment. You learn to notice these things.
"I don't see the point of going to work every day," Jackie says, "if you're not going to take advantage of extra-curricular activities."
"Yeah, yeah." I nod and rip a perforated page.
"Didn't your mother ever tell you the office was a valuable place to meet men?" Jackie asks wide-eyed.
"Eleanor? Are you kidding? When I told her I was going to work in a small advertising firm on Main Street, she said, 'That's nice, dear, just make sure you eat lunch at a restaurant where there are lots of single lawyers. ' "
Jackie shrugs. "Yes, but what she really meant was, Can't you work in Century City where all the high-paid lawyers are?"
"She'd settle for an accountant," I say reasonably. "Her demands are fair."
"Good to hear," Jackie says, circling a man. I notice her putting an asterisk by his name. When I try to get closer, she grabs it away. "Mine," she says.
"You controlling female," I say, well into the F's by now. I haven't circled any possibilities yet. I do have several question marks, though.
"And what would Eleanor say about this scheme?" I wonder, preferring the way Jackie thinks of my mother to my actually having to think about her myself.
"Eleanor would be pleased that we were using our overeducated little minds on such a task. Then she'd take us to the beauty salon to get our nails done."
"So we could keep our priorities straight," I say.
"Hmm," Jackie says, looking at a nail, then biting at it.
I will not go on Blind Date, despite my officemate Dennis's
requests that we go on together.
"Come on, Claire. That way we could go out to a really great dinner," Dennis says. A great free dinner, he means.
"You're thinking of the old Love Connection," I tell him. "You don't get dinner on Blind Date."
"You're thinking of Elimidate," he says. "You get a lot more than dinner on Elimidate. It takes years to get rid of it, I hear."
He's right, I was thinking of Elimidate and now can't figure out what Blind Date is. Dennis tells me it's like Elimidate only the people dress up more.
"They wear more clothes, anyway," he says. "Well, the women do."
Let me just say that Dennis Cooper is not gay, that we have never had sex and never even kissed, but we did get very drunk one night and go dancing at one of those ballroom dancing places where everyone else was over sixty. Maybe seventy. We danced to something an elderly gentleman swore to us was the Rumba, and it did involve body parts touching on occasion, and if I hadn't had so much wine that night, I might even be able to remember which parts.
Dennis is one year younger than I am, and at his 29 to my 30, he sometimes seems to me to be part of an entirely different species, the not-quite-thirty-year-old male, someone without the wisdom you magically seem to get when you cross the big 3-0 threshold. Or at least the wisdom you like to think you get, because you might as well get something for turning a year older and leaving behind the last decade most people I know attribute to youth. Dennis just isn't there yet, and it's a good thing to tease him about, not that I need extra things to tease him about.
Dennis and I are copywriters at a small advertising and promotion company in Venice, California, although our job descriptions don't involve half of what we do in our small firm. Technically, we've never really seen any job descriptions. We arrived on the same day at the same time for the copywriting job interview, and the owner, whose name is Persephone, although we're allowed to call her Perri, hired us both. This job fulfills us, we joke, unlike the jobs we had in grad school (we both went to the same school, UCLA, and were in the same English department even, although we didn't know each other well). My grad school part-time job was in publishing, where I was responsible for the letters to the editor section of a bimonthly magazine for young girls in love with horses and not particularly interested in commas. Dennis was a plumber while writing his almost useless thesis on French themes in English literature and the symbolism of water, believe it or not. I think he found his plumbing work somewhat fulfilling, actually. He joined an otherwise all-woman group that formed their own plumbing service. They took courses for about six months at the tech college, then plumbered by day and read classics by night, among other things, in a huge old house many of them lived in. Dennis has a lot of sordid stories he tries to keep to himself, but on a really slow day he'll slip one in. Our small advertising office here has found him invaluable, one because everyone loves him (he has a furry brown beard, which I think is what makes the occasional intern we have around here so quick to get him coffee), and two because he has fixed the bathroom sink five times. I find him invaluable too, if we're admitting things here.
Dennis has agreed to come over tomorrow night to watch Blind Date with Jackie and me. He knows exactly when it is on, and on what channel. This, I think, is something I didn't want to know about him.
Dennis scratches his bearded left cheek. "We can watch Blind Date, but just for you, I'll dress like I'm The Bachelor," he says, as I notice his mismatched socks, not quite hidden by his frayed old jeans.
I invite Jackie over because she has met Dennis but never wanted
to dance with him, as she finds beards too harsh on the skin. We wouldn't
want anyone here to feel like they have to impress anyone else, as it really
detracts from the TV watching, we've found. Jackie has commented on Dennis's
appearance: "When he's done with the interns, he'll lose the beard,"
she's said to me. Actually, Dennis isn't interested in interns, I know, and
pretty much seems to have given up dating after his last and very serious,
not to mention serious-minded, girlfriend, Annie, but I didn't go into that
I'm fiddling with my remote, going through my thirty or is it sixty channels of cable you pretty much need out here in Venice just to get even the blurriest reception. My mother insists on paying for my overpriced cable in hopes that we'll watch the same melodramatic shows and have something to talk about. It will bring us together, I guess she thinks, and in a way I suppose it does. I simply do not watch enough television for my mother's taste, it seems. She would agree, though, that I watch far too much of it alone.
"Did you know that Golden Girls is on like nine times a day now?" Jackie asks me, daintily eating the non-buttered pieces of popcorn from the bowl. I have a really large bowl for such occasions.
"Why do we know these things?" I ask her. I knew about Golden Girls.
"We're single, we live alone. TV is our friend."
Dennis is late, and I'm no longer at my best, which I'm convinced is somewhere between 11:15 and 11:30 in the morning, and now is about twelve hours later. "We could be watching David Letterman," I tell her.
"I hear he already has a girlfriend."
Realizing I'll get no help here, I put the TV on Bonanza for a minute and look at the pudgy men. Jackie and I exchange a look, then make fun of their clothes.
Dennis arrives with a thud at my front door. I open it.
"A simple knock will do," I say.
Dennis has dropped his backpack and books have spilled out all over my doorstep. They have French titles. I don't even ask why he's got books with him to watch TV, or why he didn't major in French instead of English. Some things you just get used to about a person.
"Hi," he says, dropping a book for the second time.
Maybe he's just doing that helpless male routine. I can't tell, and Jackie's glued to Little Joe, so she's no help.
I pick up a few books as Dennis comes in. I hand them to him.
"You just want me to feel sorry for you, right? It's a male manipulative thing," I tell him. "I've had a lot of experience with this type of behavior."
"Passive-aggressive," Jackie says, mouth full.
"Give me the popcorn," Dennis says loudly.
"So much for that theory," I say.
Dennis looks at the Bonanza boys.
"If you don't change this, I'll sing the theme song," he says.
"Be nice," I say, "or we'll make you watch Golden Girls."
We have counted only three references to dating in the half hour of Blind Date and even fewer references to vision. I'm really disappointed that it wasn't more lurid.
"Isn't The Bachelor better than this?" I ask.
"Depends what you mean by better," Jackie says. "It's more demeaning toward women, but the men are cleaner."
"Bachelor repeats come on next," Dennis says. Both Jackie and I respond with "Oh, good," which makes Dennis look at us funny. Really, it's very late.
"It's like looking at Vogue," she tries to explain to him. "It's something you can make fun of without really losing any karma points for."
"Harmless critical behavior," I add. "While yelling at an inanimate electronic household item." Really, sometimes it doesn't get much better than that.
Jackie is right in her assessment of The Bachelor. The guy is better groomed, as well as far more capable of stringing together the responses that have been written for him. Dennis says the girls are more "Penthouse" than the ones that used to be on the old Love Connection. We don't answer him, but we know what he means. We spend a good portion of the rest of our time together talking about the carefully rounded holes in the guy's jeans, and whether women find this attractive. Dennis really wants to understand the appeal. Most of his jeans are ripped, I've noticed, but not really in the same places as the bachelor's. I wonder if he has even noticed.
At work all week I'm trapped in a writing frenzy where I'm trying to devise several new radio and newspaper ads for a local store that sells cowboy boots. I have lost all track of time and friends, and Jackie appears late one night at my tiny apartment with a bottle of Chablis and a quart of chocolate chip. She is my true friend.
"It's time you had a home-cooked meal," she tells me.
I agree, and immediately wash two spoons and two wine glasses. I know how to entertain.
Jackie, who's an even better entertainer, has come with what she calls a "bedtime" story. It seems not only did she find a nice sounding man on a nice sounding street from her list, but she went right out and met him. I am so impressed that I go back to the kitchen to wash a bowl for her. I think she appreciates the gesture.
"Details," I begin.
"I headed for his house with a bunch of old handouts, you know, fliers from the last election, a guy running for city council. I also had some fliers for a woman running for school board, but I thought they might be distracting, so I left them behind."
"The woman in the black turtleneck?" I ask.
"Yeah, the blonde."
"Good move," I say, toasting her.
"Wait, wait, listen," she says, beginning to shape the air with her hands. "He answers the door in a blue denim shirt--"
"Yeah, freshly washed, and he listened. Really listened. He said something about meaning to get more involved in local politics himself someday."
"Hmm," I say, trying to picture him. "Levis or khakis?"
"With white socks, no shoes," Jackie adds.
"Really good," I say, feeling my heart race a little from too much chocolate and the thought of a man out there alone in soft denim.
"Oh, and no TV in the background," Jackie says. "He did ask if it wasn't some time before the next election."
"Sharp," I say.
"Right. I told him it several months away, but that we needed to keep the public informed. He said he admired me."
"I admire you."
"Yes, Claire Duncan, but you never pay for dinner. Anyway, he offered me a glass of ice water--"
"He had a clean glass handy?"
"Some people are like that," Jackie says, looking at my wine glass from a fundraiser about ten years ago. It's aged some. "And since the glass was clean and it didn't have a decal from a bar on it, I decided to flirt with him."
"My mother would be very proud of you. Did you ask if he wanted children?"
"I'm saving that for the second date. The first one's Saturday."
I'm envious of Jackie, naturally. But then, I have a root canal scheduled for Saturday, so I'd be jealous if she were just going to do her laundry. Jackie pushes her red hair behind an ear--a gesture she's told me drives her own mother crazy--and rubs at a freckled spot to the left of her nose, as if trying to rub the freckles off.
"You aren't nervous, are you?" I ask her.
"I tend to get a little anxious without fliers in my hand," she says. I nod, knowing the value of a good prop. A stack of papers can keep you from making swooping movements that scare people away. A wine glass in your hand, however, can be a dangerous thing, especially on a first date, especially if someone keeps filling it.
"You could hold on to a pair of gloves," I suggest.
"Gloves look pretentious, unless it's snowing. Do you think it will snow?"
Since it's about 70 degrees, I doubt it, and tell her we need a Plan B. We finally agree that she'll bring a small leather accessory she has that doubles as a wallet/date book. It looks professional but also classy, like she's a woman who's going places, but isn't in a big hurry, in case she's having a good time. Since Jackie never has a problem properly dressing herself, she doesn't ask my advice there. I might lose all respect for her if she did.
"I've had him checked out, of course," Jackie says, closing the subject. "We ran a TRW at the office, and a friend checked through FBI files."
Honestly, I don't know why I worry about her.
In the morning Dennis comes into the office and puts a cup overflowing with frothy liquid down on a small side table we share. His morning latte, not to be confused with his afternoon and/or evening latte, or any of the other lattes I don't even want to know about. His desk is such a clutter that he often puts really important things, like food, on the side table. I'm not sure if it's an offer to share, but I usually take some.
I stare at the froth with a look of general displeasure.
"I know, I know, I shouldn't be drinking it."
Dennis looks down at his stomach and I follow his look. Really, he's not fat, but I can tell it worries him.
"It's not that," I say, removing the cup to find a brownish ring on my papers. "It's that."
"Sorry," Dennis says, "I'll make it up to you. I'll come over and feed you Jell-O after your root canal."
"I prefer to think of it as mild dental work, thanks."
"You're only kidding yourself," Dennis says.
"Yes, but it doesn't cost anything," I say.
Dennis begins searching his desk for something. He does this every morning for about ten minutes, then stops abruptly and begins making notes. He scribbles frantically for about five minutes, then puts the notes away and never seems to be able to find them again. He's a creature of habit, I guess. It's funny, but I find I can't really start the day until I watch him all the way through his routine.
"I don't like Jell-O," I say.
Dennis thinks a minute. I hear our office clock tick. Finally, he raises an eyebrow and slowly says, "Chocolate pudding."
It's a date, sort of.