Every year around this time, for whatever reason -- be it sympathy, altruism, or a secret desire to make everyone around them just as miserable as they are -- all of my (many) married friends become infused with the urge to pair up one of their (scant) single male friends with their (only) single female friend (me).
Now, I don’t like fix-ups under even the most benign of circumstances (I mean, let's be honest here; if these guys were so great my friends would have snagged them for themselves a long time ago instead of marrying their current spouses and then trying to pawn the rejects off on me), but during the holiday season the pressure to couple up becomes almost relentless, and with it the usual guilt, shame, and revulsion that seem to accompany me on every misguided foray into the dating arena. So this year I’ve put the word out on the street: no more fix-ups, now or in the future. Being single for the rest of my life is one thing. But being single and friendless for the rest of my life is something else entirely.
As far as I am concerned, no good has ever come out of any date one of my friends has arranged for me. At best, everyone walks away with hurt feelings. At worst, we all end up hurt, angry, and insulted, lifelong friendships lying in tatters at our feet:
Me: I can’t believe she actually thought I’d be attracted to that toothless reptile. How big a loser does she think I am, anyway? What an idiot!
Toothless Reptile: Why the hell would he ever think I’d want to spend more than five minutes in the company of that raving bitch? What a moron!
Well-Meaning Friend: I can’t believe them! They were perfect for each other! Here I go to all this trouble for them, and neither of them appreciates my hard work! What a couple of assholes!
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the thought behind the effort. It’s just that the end result is rarely what anyone expects or wants. Better to just leave things alone. Believe me, I’d much rather nurture my friendships into my golden years than suffer through a single evening in the company of some of the individuals my friends thought were my ideal match:
There was the guy Tracy fixed me up with who drove a shiny gold Jaguar and had decorated his entire house with Jimmy Buffet memorabilia, parrots included, and for some reason found it necessary to lick each finger with a lingering, smacking sound while looking at me lasciviously after squeezing a lime into his margarita.
There was the guy Regina met on a plane who, within five minutes of meeting me and learning I have two single sisters, peered closely into my face and demanded to know “what the hell was wrong” with my family, anyway?
Oh! And there was the lawyer who handled one of the closings I attended during my real estate days, whom I had actually met and thought was cute. I was very excited to learn from my client that he wanted to go out with me. Until he called me up to arrange the date and, at the end of the conversation, said, “Okay, baby, so there were three brokers at the closing. Which one were you?”
And then there was Kevin From Heaven.
No, that’s not a cruel, sarcastic nickname I made up for him after the fact, although I certainly wouldn’t put it past me to think up something like that. That was how he introduced himself to me when he called me up to ask me out.
Kevin From Heaven worked with my friend Renee at a brokerage firm down in the Financial District. She insisted we were perfect for each other and, when I expressed my trepidation at his rather presumptuous self-introduction, told me he just had a sarcastic sense of humor.
“But Renee…” I said weakly, “he called himself ‘Kevin From Heaven.’”
“He’s just being funny!” she trilled.
“But Renee…” I tried once more. “When he left me a voice mail with his number he used up my entire tape reciting his daily schedule so I’d be sure to get him. And at the end he mentioned he was going to catch the 5:10 p.m. ‘choo-choo’ home. HE SAID ‘CHOO-CHOO,’ RENEE!”
“Oh, that’s just a joke he and I have,” she assured me. “Honestly. He’s great. You’ll have a blast.”
Kevin From Heaven wanted to take me out on a Saturday night, which was okay, because even though I wouldn’t be able to use the Big Day At Work Tomorrow, Gotta Go! Bad Date Escape Excuse, I was still in graduate school at the time so I figured I could bust out the Major Term Paper Due On Monday, Gotta Get Some Sleep! Bad Date Escape Excuse if things went south. He also wanted to take me to his “favorite restaurant,” which was a seafood place located right on the waterfront, he said. And he insisted on picking up me at 6 p.m., which was way too early for my tastes -- see? I was already trying to delay the evening as long as possible; that should have been a warning -- although I was able to negotiate him down to 6:30.
“Oh,” he added before finalizing the arrangements, “I forgot to ask. What kind of wine do you like?”
Oh, that explains it, I thought benevolently. He wants to come early so we can relax over a nice glass of wine first. “I like Cabernet,” I replied.
“Okay, see ya,” he said, hanging up.
Thirty seconds later my phone rang again.
“Uh, I forgot,” he said. “Do you want a red Cabernet or a white Cabernet?”
Saturday evening rolled around. It was a miserable night: sleet and freezing rain. The kind of night you would rather be curled up beneath a blanket with a big glass of Cabernet -- of the RED variety. Instead, though, there I stood the stroke of six-thirty, looking quite cute, I thought, in my black sweater, black suede miniskirt, black tights, black boots, and black leather jacket. The epitome of hip, funky elegance. Not too dressy, not too casual. Just right for an evening on the waterfront, sleet or no sleet.
Six-thirty came and went. Then seven. Then seven-thirty. Then seven forty five. I was actually foolish enough to be a little worried about him because he was coming from the South Shore and the roads were treacherous. Unfortunately, I didn't have his number. So I had nothing to do but wait.
Finally, at 8:10 p.m., my buzzer rang. I buzzed him in and he clumped up the stairs. He stopped at the top of the stairs and looked at me. “I thought I told you we were dressing down.”
I paused long enough to take in his jeans, fleece, and battered tennis shoes -- not to mention the absence of any sign of a bottle of Cabernet, red or otherwise -- before replying, “This is dressing down.”
I should have ended it then. I should have. But I kept hearing Renee’s voice in my mind, urging me to “just give him a chance,” so I bit my tongue.
“Is it okay if I use your phone?” he asked.
I held the door open and he entered. He then placed a twenty-minute toll call to his mother in Walpole, and I was able to glean from listening to his end of the conversation that the reason Kevin From Heaven had been late was because this thirty-four year old stockbroker lived at home with his parents and had been waiting for his mother to get home with the car.
Okay. Breathe. Don't be a snob.
I finally suggested we get going -- first, because I was starving; second, because learning all about someone’s grandmother’s hemorrhoids is just as unpleasant when you’re only hearing half the conversation -- and Kevin From Heaven finally hung up and escorted my to the car.
“My mom’s car is nicer,” he apologized, gesturing toward the gun-metal gray station wagon, circa 1978, that sat double parked in front of my building.
I smiled. “Oh, that’s quite all right,” I said. “It’s nasty out. At least we’ll be safe.”
Words that came back to haunt me later.
He gunned the engine and sped forward, narrowly missing two parked cars and a couple of pedestrians, as I fumbled for my seat belt in alarm.
“Oh, shit!” he exclaimed suddenly. “I forgot your wine!”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We can just have a drink when we get there.”
“No, no, no,” he said, reversing course. “I saw a liquor store on the way here.”
I opened my mouth to say something -- I have no idea what it was going to be -- but before I could utter a sound he had pulled up next to a hydrant in front of the liquor store and dashed inside. A few seconds later he rushed back and tapped on the window.
I rolled it down gingerly.
“I forgot,” he huffed. “Was that a red Cabernet or a white Cabernet?”
“It only comes in red,” I said.
He nodded, committing the fact to memory, “A red Cabernet...A red Cabernet,” and darted off again.
Please, God, let him not come back, I silently prayed. Let him interrupt a robbery gone horribly awry and die a hero.
But he was back in five minutes, bearing a nondescript California Cab, two plastic cups, and a corkscrew.
He had brought the wine for me to drink in the car on the way to the restaurant.
“Look, Kevin, I really don’t --”
“No, no, it’s fine,” he insisted, making a big show of opening the bottle and pouring me a cup.
I took a sip and smiled weakly. "Yum," I lied.
“Okay,” he said, pulling away from the curb and reaching behind the seat with his right hand. “Now I can have my drink.” The hand emerged with a brown paper bag containing a half-full jug of vodka with a label that read "Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice" but contained only the very lightest tint of pink. “I love a good Cape Codder!”
Oh, Christ. I decided to wait until we got to the restaurant, ditch him, and take a cab home. But, wait…why was he pulling on to the Expressway?
“Where are you going?” I asked. “I thought we were going to the waterfront.”
“We are,” he said. “Down towards the Cape. Don't worry. It's a nice drive."
And therein lies the truly insidious nature of the Blind Date. You can’t get out of it. Your friendship with the setter-upper hangs in the balance. Because, you see, blind dates are not really about the participants. We are mere puppets, cavorting on stage for the amusement of the setter-upper. Oh, she may delude herself into believing she’s doing it all for the sake of her two very good friends, but she’s really just doing it to make herself feel good. Once you realize this, you have essentially taken responsibility for your friend’s happiness. Telling your date to shut the hell up and take you home is akin to slapping your friend in the face. It is simply not done. Your job, as a friend, is to stick it out, no matter how horrific the outcome. And if there’s one thing I can say for myself, it is that I am a damn good friend.
I grimaced and tightened my seatbelt. Kevin from Heaven glanced over at me and snorted. "What are you so worried about?” he demanded, skidding around an eighteen-wheeler that had suddenly materialized directly in front of us. “I’m a great driver! I’ve raced snowmobiles! I competitive-ski! I ran the Iron Man Triathlon!”
If that last was meant to reassure me, it didn’t work. I simply gazed out the window, watching the twinkling lights of my urban comfort zone diminish with terrifying rapidity as we headed ever further into the depths of the suburbs.
At this point, Kevin from Heaven decided it was time for a show of affection and took my hand. His palm was sweaty and a tad sticky from the cranberry juice with which he had spiked his jar of vodka. I vomited into my mouth a little.
“Have you ever been to Pier Three?” he asked solicitously.
“Uh, no,” I replied, pulling my hand away and wiping it quickly on my skirt. “I don’t go to the suburbs. Ever.”
He missed both my pointed tone and my tearful glare. “It’s my favorite restaurant. It’s right on the water. You’ll love it.” He went on to chat inanely about topics he thought I would care about. He mentioned that he raced snowmobiles, competitive-skied, and had run the Iron Man Triathlon, evidently forgetting that he had already told me all those things less than five minutes ago. I pretended to be impressed and choked back a quiet sob as we left the Expressway and veered onto Route 3 South.
For someone who claimed to be headed toward his favorite restaurant, he seemed remarkably clueless as to which direction he should head. We exited Route 3 in Cohasset and sped down Jerusalem Road, a lovely, winding thoroughfare that boasted magnificently decorated houses with pretty Christmas candles glowing in all the windows. It would have been quite heartwarming if I hadn’t been looking at it all through a mist of tears.
After about twenty minutes of admiring the scenery, I suddenly realized that all the pretty Christmas candles looked a little familiar. Almost as if I’d seen them before. Quite recently, in fact. Like, within the past few minutes.
“Hey,” I said. “Didn’t we just come this way?”
“No, no. We’re fine.” He took a right turn at the same fork in the road we had turned left at approximately fifteen minutes before.
“Really,” I insisted. “We’ve been here before. Look at that house over there. I remember it.”
He glanced over, not slowing down one iota. I involuntarily gripped the door handle, mentally calculating the odds of being maimed versus killed outright in the event of a collision with one of the many trees flashing by and debating whether it would be prudent to just fling myself from the car ahead of time and hope for a well-placed snowbank.
Kevin from Heaven swerved at the next corner and suddenly pulled over into a wooded area and killed the engine.
I shrank against the door.
He chuckled a little to himself. “You must be really nervous right now, huh?”
I whimpered slightly and wondered if I still had that can of pepper spray in my purse.
He reached over and pulled a tattered road map out of the glove compartment. “Here, hold this,” he said, shoving his jar of cranberry-tainted vodka into my lap.
After ten minutes of muttering and map-studying, he suddenly folded the map up and started the car. “Okay,” he said. “I know what happened.”
And before you know it (well, actually, it was more like forty-five minutes later) we were tearing into the parking lot of Pier Three in Scituate just as the rest of the dinner crowd was trickling out. “Come on!” he shouted, grabbing my hand and dragging me toward the door. “I want to get a window seat!”
Given that we were the only two people in the restaurant, getting a window seat was the least of our problems. The larger problem was that the kitchen had stopped serving and they were on the verge of closing the restaurant for the evening. At that point I was so hungry that, as much as I wanted to call it a night, I didn’t think I had the strength to walk back to the car, let alone survive the ride home. I needed food. And more alcohol. Pronto.
Luckily, the staff quickly discerned that the fastest way to get rid of Kevin from Heaven, who was still haranguing them over the window seat, was to just sit us down and feed us. So we were grudgingly ushered to the desired booth -- overlooking a black swirl of fog that probably had an ocean somewhere behind it -- and served, if not graciously then at least efficiently. I promptly abandoned the wine and ordered a double margarita, praying that Buffy would make a surprise reappearance and spare me the agony of consciousness for the remainder of the evening.
Oblivious to both my misery and the hatred of everyone around him, Kevin from Heaven sprawled out in the booth and waved his fork around expansively as he detailed his adventures in snowmobile racing, competitive skiing, and, of course, the Iron Man Triathlon.
He also flirted quite blatantly with our waitress. Ordinarily, this would have bothered me, but in this instance I found myself rooting for him. Maybe if the two of them hit it off I could find a motel somewhere and walk home the next day.
“Hey!” he called after her as she deposited our check and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen.
“We're going to a party later! You wanna come?”
A party? Okay, sorry, Renee, but this was definitely not part of the deal. “Actually,” I said, pulling out the I Have An Important Term Paper Due On Monday Excuse, “I really need to get some sleep.”
“We’ll just stop by,” he assured me. “It’ll be fun!”
That clinched it. I was definitely not going to offer to chip in on the dinner check. The bastard owed me.
When we got back to the car, my spirits had brightened a little. It wasn’t raining anymore, for one thing, the food had been edible, and I was starting to feel a little more optimistic about my odds of surviving the evening. Or maybe it was the tequila.
“So who’s having this party?” I asked.
“A buddy of mine from work. We just need to swing by my house for a minute first.” And off we zoomed into the swirling mist.
A brief geography lesson for all you non-Massachusetts residents out there: We were in Scituate, which is on the South Shore, next to the ocean. Kevin from Heaven lived in Walpole, which is not on the South Shore and nowhere near the ocean, but more southwest of Boston. There’s no easy way to get from Scituate to Walpole, and it took us another forty-five minutes to get to his house for the sole purpose, I soon discovered, of switching cars because he didn’t want to be seen arriving at this party in his father’s station wagon.
What, I fumed inwardly, are you afraid someone might think you’re a LOSER or something?
While at the Heaven-ly Homestead, I was treated to a tour of the basement in which Kevin
dwelled -- a bleak, depressing room consisting of a rumpled bed, a desk piled with scraps of paper, and a few surfing posters stuck halfheartedly to the cinderblock wall -- and of the closet in which he stored his athletic equipment. I saw his skis, his roller blades, his snowshoes, and his ice skates, and was then escorted to the garage to gaze upon his two snowmobiles. During this tour he mentioned he raced snowmobiles, competitive skied, and had run the Iron Man Triathlon. Who knew.
It was now nearly midnight, and I decided if I was ever going to get home I should try to pick up the pace of the date a little. So I reminded him we had a party to go to and gave my best imitation of an "I'm having fun, let's keep it up!" smile.
“Oh, right,” he said. “I just need to get the directions.”
We headed back into his room, but rather than look through the clutter on his desk for the directions to the party, he picked up the phone and dialed 911.
“I’m trying to get the Norwood police station,” he explained.
“You’re calling the police to get directions to a party?” I was disgusted by his complete disregard for the integrity of our precious Emergency Response System.. “Aren’t they on the invitation?”
He ignored me and eventually obtained the directions from a desk sergeant who evidently had nothing better to do than converse with drunken imbeciles who had no idea where they were going. I just shook my head and resolved to make the best of a bad evening. At least there would be other people at the party, I thought. I would be safe among them.
Having abandoned the warmth and relative safety of the station wagon for the dicey flash of his
mother’s unheated sports car, Kevin from Heaven did not adapt his driving style to our new mode of transportation. If anything, he just went faster. I braced my feet against the floorboards and hoped my death would at least be a swift one.
Luckily, Norwood was just one town over, so it only took fifteen minutes to get there. Not so luckily, Kevin from Heaven had neglected to bring along the scrap of paper on which he had scrawled the directions, so it took another fifteen minutes to find our way to the right street. By the time we pulled up to the house, I was cold, tired, and, worst of all, the tequila had completely worn off.
We got out of the car and I followed him sullenly up the walk.
He started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I grumbled, shoving my hands into my pockets in a futile effort to warm them.
“I’m just thinking…Mikey’s gonna be so fucking shocked when he sees how I’m crashing his party!”
I stood stock still on the pavement. “You weren’t invited?” I gasped. “You’re taking me to a party you weren’t even invited to?”
I should have known. What on earth had made me think he actually had any friends, much less friends who would let him into their houses?
“No, no, it’s fine,” he insisted for the umpteenth time that evening, pulling on my arm.
“I’m not going in there!” I tried to dig my heels into the snow, but he was too strong for me. After all, he had run the Iron Man Triathlon.
The door opened and we were swept into the crowd. I headed straight for the Christmas tree and ducked behind it, out of everyone’s sight lines, stopping only to scoop up a beer out of a nearby cooler, and watched silently as, one by one, the party guests caught sight of Kevin from Heaven and exchanged quizzical looks, as if to say “What the hell is he doing here?”
And there I stood for the next twenty minutes, nursing my beer and peering wistfully out from behind the branches as the people around me laughed and frolicked, overflowing with Christmas cheer. Oh, how I longed to join them! I, too, wanted to laugh and frolic by the fire. But I knew if I abandoned my hiding place he would find me and expose me before these strangers as not merely a loser, but as a loser of such magnitude she was willing to go out in public with the likes of Kevin from Heaven.
So I continued to hide, grateful, at least, that no one there knew who I was --
I looked up, a terrified rabbit in the blazing headlights of unwelcome recognition.
Bob, one of the cute brokers who worked for our commercial real estate division stood before me, perky blonde on his arm, looking puzzled. “What are you doing here?”
I opened my mouth to try to make up an excuse, but Kevin from Heaven chose that moment to pounce on me. “There you are!” he boomed. “C’mon! I want to introduce you to Mikey!”
Bob blanched as Kevin tugged at me.
“You didn’t see me!” I hissed to Bob as I was dragged off into the crowd. “Remember that! I wasn't here!”
The human mind has a marvelous capacity of blunting the most unpleasant of life’s memories. In the dark of night, though, when sleep eludes me, I still have momentary flashes of the rest of that party: the sudden silence as we entered the kitchen to greet the host; the scatter pattern of the others whenever we approached a group; the occasional sympathetic glance shot my way by other female partygoers. But, for the most part, it all remains a merciful blur, obscured by time, alcohol, and the sense of denial that often accompanies acute public embarrassment. What I do remember is, by the time we were finally heading back up Route 93 toward my home, I no longer wanted him to slow down.
“Can’t you make this thing go any faster?” I snipped. “I thought you were some big snowmobile racer! Step on it!”
I didn’t speak to Renee for almost a week. When she finally tracked me down the following weekend, she was effusive. “Kevin says he had a really good time on Saturday! He wants to go out with you again!”
So maybe I’m not such a damn good friend after all.
Epilogue: Three months later, Kevin from Heaven was fired from the brokerage firm and his parents sent him off to rehab. No one ever heard from him again.
I was the butt of many mean-spirited jokes around the office for quite some time.
I finally broke down and told Renee the whole story. Well, that is, I started to tell her. I got about as far as the part where he showed up almost two hours late and she stopped me cold. “I would have slammed the door in his face right then!”
Now she tells me.