Friday, December 08, 2006

Sleepwalking into romance

Today's a red-letter day in the personal history of the blonde and me. It's the milliondesecond anniversary of our first date.

Actually, there's some disagreement about this.

The blonde insists our first date was a week earlier, on December 1st. I refuse to accept this.

We did in fact go out on December 1st, but it wasn't a date. It was just a couple of classmates going out for pizza and a movie.

It could have been our first date, if the blonde hadn't gotten impatient and asked me out first.

Happened like this.

I was planning on asking her out. But I wanted to be casual about it. I wasn't sure she was interested in going out with me. She was a very friendly sort back then. (She hasn't changed much that way.) I thought there was a difference between the degree she was friendly towards me and the degree she was friendly towards other guys, but I saw no point in taking any chances.

Two things I didn't know at the time. She had a boyfriend back home. The fact that she never mentioned him would have been a clue, except of course that she wasn't cluing me in. And just before Thanksgiving she'd assured herself I was working my way towards asking her out so she'd gone home and broken up with the guy. Another good clue that I never got.

So I had my plan. I'd ask her out on a date but I'd ask her in a way that wouldn't sound like I was asking her out on a date, necessarily, and I'd ask her somewhere that wouldn't seem like a place a guy'd take a girl on a date, necessarily.

I was going to invite her out for pizza.

I got a good opening too. Couple of days after Thanksgiving break we bumped into each other in line at the cafeteria at the student union. One of the items on the menu for lunch that day was pizza. It was dorm pizza. I hear dorm food has gotten a lot better but back in those days, children, dorm pizza was a square of overcooked cracker-thin dough with some tomato paste held onto it by a congealed, yellowish goo that masqueraded as cheese.

The blonde and I expressed our mutual disgust at the sight of the pizza looking cold and inedible under the glass. I saw my chance.

"You know where they serve really good pizza," I said, casually.

"Where?" the blonde asked, in her usual friendly way.

"Regina's," I said, even more casually.

"Where's that?" the blonde said, just as friendly before.

"In the North End," I said, so casually now I might have been talking to a stranger on an elevator, "Would you---"

"Let's go this weekend!" she said.

"Er," I said. "Um," I said. "Well," I said.

"How about Saturday?" she said.

"Swell," I said, replacing casual for sullen, I think.

So it was a date. But it was not a date.

I'm not saying that because she asked me out and I didn't think the girl should ask the guy out. For one thing, she didn't exactly ask me. She just jumped the gun. She saw where I was going and couldn't wait for me to get there. This, by the way, should have been a warning to me. It set the tone. A lot of our history since has been her thinking she's seeing where I'm going and rushing to get there ahead of me, figuring I'll catch up since of course I'll want to be wherever she is. This hasn't always been the case, and much of our time together has been a matter of me looking at her standing on some doorstep there's no way in hell I want to climb and having to decide whether or not I'll go over and join her, despite my own feelings, or if I'll stay put and wait for her to wander back to where I am, something that never happens without a lot of shouting back and forth. The problem is that some of the time the places she's actually rushed ahead to have been places I wanted to go, which convinces her she was right to run on ahead, and many other times I end up enjoying myself whenever I give in and chase after her, which convinces her that she knows me better than I know myself so it'll be ok for her to charge off in a direction I do not and will never want to go.

For all she really knew that day, I was just passing along some usual information about living in Boston. Want good pizza? Go to the North End.

At any rate, it wasn't that she asked me that made me not think of our date as a date. It was her unreadable, unchangeable friendliness.

For all I knew, she was just being a pal.

There was something else too. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to make it.

One of my profs had just handed me a flyer he'd gotten announcing a playwriting contest. "You should enter that play you've been showing in class," he said.

Gulp, I said. No quote marks because I said it silently. I'd been letting on that the play was finished. I'd only written a few scenes. But I wanted to impress the prof and I told him I would enter the contest.

It was November 28. The deadline was December 1st. Entries had to be postmarked by that day. Which was a Saturday. That meant that I'd have to have the completed play at the post office before noon when it closed.

I knew that without a great effort and a lot of luck I was going to wind up pulling an all-nighter, after which I would very likely want to crawl straight into bed. I expected I'd wind up calling her on Saturday afternoon to ask for a rain check.

During the week, I made the effort, but I didn't have the luck of being a genius and genuinely inspired.

Friday I was still working on my play. Friday night I was still working on my play. At midnight I was still working on it. At three in the morning I was still working. At dawn...

I finished at around 11 Saturday morning. I ran to the nearest Kinkos to get it copied and bound then ran to the post office and watched the clerk stamp it with a Dec. 8 postmark just as another postal worker was locking the front doors behind me.

I'd been awake for about twenty-eight hours by then, but I felt pretty good. I went and had some lunch.

Somehow I managed to avoid my apartment and the temptation of my bed for a few hours. When I finally wandered home, I considered taking a nap, but I worried that if I did I wouldn't wake up in time to go meet the blonde. I was still feeling pretty good. A little tired, but not all that beat or even sleepy. I decided I could make our not-really-a-date date. A cold shower and a pot of coffee and I'd be fine. After all, we were just going for pizza. How long would that take? I figured I'd be home and in bed by nine.

I met the blonde at the Kenmore Square T station. She was her usual friendly self and I was...

Suddenly exhausted.

My legs turned to rubber bands. My vision blurred. When we sat down on the trolley I could feel that sinking inside myself that signals the onset of sleep. I don't know how I made it to Haymarket with my eyes open. The blonde says that the whole ride I alternately babbled like a madman and sat stone silent, my eyes goggling.

By the time we got to Regina's, I must have looked like a lunatic or a zombie or a wino crawling out of his cardboard box with the DTs because the waitress at the pizza place took one look and decided to hate me. She was surly to me and overly solicitous of the blonde all night. She was a short, middle-aged woman with bobbed graying hair who wore her glasses on the end of her nose for effect. She would lower her chin and stare over the tops of her lenses to give you---me---one of those hard, cynical, sharp-eyed looks professional waitresses develop, those looks that say, Go on, bub, do the annoying thing you're going to do that will prove to me you're just as big a jerk as I already know you are.

I proved it again and again all through dinner. I couldn't talk straight, by this point. When she asked me what I wanted to drink, I had to think long and hard about what the word drink meant. Trying to decide whether or not to have pepperoni on the pizza or sausage felt to me like trying to decide whether or not to have chocolate sauce on my sushi---none of the items sounded as if they went together. You mean you actually serve meat products on this exotic dish you call a pizza?

I knocked over the parmesean cheese. I knocked over the oregano. I knocked over my glass, which fortunately was empty. I knocked something off the table and I'm not sure to this day what it was because I was too stunned by lack of sleep to take in my own behavior. I just sat there while the waitress bent and put whatever it was back on the table and gave me another look over the top of her glasses and shook her head pityingly at the blonde. When it came time to pay, I pulled all my change out of my pocket with the bills and scattered quarters and dimes all over the booth.

At last, dinner came to an end. I just had to stay awake for the subway ride home.

But during the course of the conversation on our walk back to the T stop something began to dawn on me. The blonde didn't think we were going home. She thought we were going to the movies. Apparently sometime during the evening I'd mentioned that the student film society was showing a double feature, Casablanca and Play It Again, Sam and the same thing that had happened when I told her about Regina's pizza had happened again. She'd jumped the gun and now we were on our way to three hours in the campus movie theater!

I had seen both movies several times. They were two of my all-time favorites. Hers too, as it turned out, which is why As Time Goes By is the song we danced our first dance to at our wedding. At any rate, I had them both pretty well memorized, so I don't know if actually stayed awake through both of them or just dreamed my way through them.

The movies ended. It was close to 11 PM. I had been awake for 40 hours straight. When we got outside, I said goodnight and staggered off towards home.

Yes. You got it right. I left the blonde standing alone on the sidewalk at eleven o'clock at night with a five block walk of her own, on her own, back to her dorm.

To this day, the blonde's story of our "first date" finishes with "And then he didn't even walk me home!"

Forgive me. By that point I was on auto-pilot.

You can see, though, why I wouldn't want that date to be our first date.

And when you hear how I went all out the following Saturday you'll understand why I like to think of our second date as our first date.

Ok, maybe it won't sound like I went all out. But for a college guy I think it was a pretty good effort.

We went to the movies again, another double feature, more Woody Allen, Interiors and Manhattan, but this time to a matinee. Then we went back to my place and I made dinner. After dinner I took her to a Christmas party at a friend's apartment. Not a big party. A small, friendly, quiet party where the blonde and I could sit and talk. Dessert and coffee at a diner after that, and then I walked her back to her dorm.

She invited me in.

We sat in the lounge on her floor. Her dorm was a high rise and we looked out through the big windows across the Charles River at the lights of Cambridge and talked and talked and talked until dawn.

Now, isn't that romantic?

Isn't that a much better memory for a first date?

I probably shouldn't have waited until four in the morning to kiss her, though.


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