The following is the second part of a fictionalization of my first date with GrecoMorgan, of the Online Dating Chronicles fame, written way after the fact, but way before the Advent of Mr. Right-Click, and with only a very vague commitment to verisimilitude. Still, if you recognize some resemblance to real persons alive or dead, it is probably not coincidental. But we sha’n't speak of it.
. . . and this is disturbing, because although Jane was very annoyed with Frank for his behavior about canceling, on the phone and over the internet, she had already felt so close to him that she wanted to meet him with an eagerness that she could not explain. In that moment, when she first saw Frank and thought “GAY,” her heart sank. This possibility was over. She could not date a gay man, why in the hell was a gay man trying to date her? Was it true, then, her hypothesis that only people who are attracted to men (i.e. gay men and straight women) were attracted to her, that somehow she emitted something akin to testosterone, and so gay men went out with her when they were trying their best to pretend that they weren’t gay?
Jane looked at him pointedly, as he almost walked past her, and he pointed and smiled, hugging her in greeting. Immediately she started wondering why he had hugged her, what that meant, did it mean he was attracted, or was he just friendly, she did not know men who hugged. What was this behavior?
“Hey, have you been here long?” he asked.
“No, just a couple of minutes,” she lied, putting her cell phone away.
“Sorry, I was on the phone,” he said, leading her into La Poubelle.
“The trashcan,” Jane translated, “how appropriate.”
How dare he talk on the phone when I’m waiting for him. Who is this guy? They sat at the bar, and since it was too late for dinner, and since Jane knew that Frank knew she had already eaten, she decided to not take his lack of a dinner offer personally. They sat down and Frank looked at a menu, the bartender asked them what they would like, and Jane ordered the usual Diet Coke, bracing for the Moment—the Moment being that in which the man figures out that she is not drinking, and starts to wonder about it, ultimately culminating in an uncomfortable question and the revelation of the dealbreaker to end all dealbreakers, Jane was an alcoholic—recovering, yes, but it was worse to have to admit this than to be a practicing alcoholic, she sometimes thought, although only in this context. If she were still drinking, she could order a glass of wine, and white knuckle it through the date so that she didn’t order another, successfully hiding her neurosis until it was too late for the guy.
But Frank didn’t seem to notice, he was too busy asking about the wines they had.
“I’m sort of a wine snob,” said Frank.
“Ah,” said Jane, thinking, Wine? what kind of a man chooses wine and not beer? A gay man, that’s who.
“So, you sounded pretty pissed at me on the phone.”
“Yeah, I’m actually kind of surprised you’re even here.”
“I’m not pissed, I’m just—”
“Where did you eat dinner?”
“Oh, it was crappy.”
“Where were you?”
“Where did you go? The Vermont?”
“Oh, no, we went to—have you ever heard of Mimi’s Café, it’s this crappy place, kinda like Denny’s—”
“Oh yeah, I know Mimi’s Café. We put together a deal for them.”
She liked the way it sounded, putting a deal together. She never had been with a man who spoke this way. The men in her past, such as they were, had nothing to do with business, there were a couple lawyers, but for the most part it was academics and more academics, there was something interesting about being able to talk to them about her work, but as her work became less and less interesting, so they became less and less valuable to her.
The letdown of Frank’s physical presence could not be ignored. No, Frank Christakis was not gay, but he had struggled and lost with appropriate fashion choices, and the trace of a cold he had been battling gave his voice a nasal quality to it that night, making him seem that much more anal retentive. The conflicting elements of his dress confirmed his heterosexuality—his jeans were somewhat dirty, she could tell even with the blazer that he wore that he had a fat, womanish butt, two things that a gay man would never allow—but she could already see in him the shadow self of an old balding Greek-American patriarch, despite his clear efforts to outrun his ethnicity.
Besides, she could tell immediately that he was in the midst of The Crisis, that five-year span in a young urban professional man’s life in which he waits for someone or something to send an unmistakable sign, assuring him that he Had Arrived, finally, at what he had worked so hard for, that this was It, this was as good as it gets, it was time to Settle Down and Start a Family because he’s Not Getting Any Younger. Jane made a point of avoiding men in the midst of The Crisis, which effectively eliminated most successful men from ages 28 through 33, and breaking this rule for Frank seemed absurd, not to mention risky.
“So, tell me about some of the men you have gone out with,” Frank asked, eating barbecue chips.
“Are you going to order anything?” Jane asked, wondering why he would come to eat barbecue chips at a sub-par French bistro, thinking it odd that he was munching on junk food, and she was sitting there ripping her napkin to shreds.
“I was going to, but—” he stopped himself to look at his cell phone, which was again ringing. “It’s my boss, I don’t want to talk to him right now.”
“Why don’t you just turn it off?” Jane asked, a little more forcefully than she had intended.
“You’re right—that’s just rude.” Frank admitted, turning the phone off and bringing the conversation back to what men Jane had met, and what she had thought of them. She noticed in him a particular interest in refuting the credentials of the men she had dated, claiming in several instances that these men were “bullshitting” her, that she could not believe anything they said.
“I have some friends who have dated guys who said they were bond traders, but if they were really bond traders, they wouldn’t live on the west coast.”
“Wait? Female friends?”
“You have female friends?”
“What? Do you think that I’m gay or something.”
“Ohhhh, no, it’s just, uh, well, I always assume that men are only friends with women because they want to sleep with them.” Jane explained, realizing that Frank, whether he knew it or not, was picking up on her thought patterns with a creepy accuracy.
“Well, at first that was true. But now, not so much.”
“Why not anymore?”
“Well, they’ve been with all of my friends.”
“So, why do you have them, then?”
“Sometimes it’s nice to have somebody to talk to.” Frank said. Jane thought about this prospect for a moment, still not convinced that Frank wasn’t gay, but feeling close to him anyway, and not in a platonic way. She worried that she was blowing it, everything, starting off the night badly and getting worse with the whole gay factor, she heard him speak of women who were “hot” and disregarded the possibility that he was being honest. Everything was off. Something had happened. This was somebody, but she could not figure out who.
“Can we go for a walk?” Frank asked.
“I can’t believe you were a Tri-Delt. I’m going to make fun of you so much for that,” Frank said, leading her into a convenience store, where he bought a pack of Parliaments. His use of the simple future implied that he intended to see her again, but Jane was troubled by the eagerness with which he lit up his cigarette—shouldn’t he be more concerned about what she would think of him smoking? and who smokes Parliaments, anyway? Is that gay?
They walked down Franklin, Jane rubbing her shoulders absentmindedly.
“Are you cold?”
“No, I’m OK.”
“I was going to be a gentleman.”
She smiled. He smiled. And it began between them, him, overweight, overwrought, pale, hirstute, hysterical—a 28-year old boy holding on with one pinkie to his only salvation, a job at a boutique investment firm in Brentwood, his third in five years; her, lost, but pretending she wasn’t lost, and tanned, and beautiful. And Jane knew how it would end, but felt helpless to avoid it, the safety of him was something that carried this danger in it, it was a necessary part of it all, the getting of Jane.